Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas, all! Simon and I are spending our holiday with my family in Atlanta--a fast and soulless city that nonetheless works. Well--with one exception: we could not find a place to watch the Saints game yesterday that wold broadcast the sound. No--they needed to listen to the depressing calls of the Falcons descending deeper into their pit of mediocrity. Still, we drank pints and watched the soundless game as happily as we could, sound or no. Mostly we wanted to be with other fans. There are 85,000 New Orleanians now living here, so you would think we could have found them. Anyway, the Saints stomped the Giants, and it was a fun game to watch (even in the ultra-lame ESPN Zone in Buckhead).

I have been feeling a lot older this Christmas. At the midnight service last night, I ran into the mother of a girl I used to babysit. Her daughter is now 23 and living with her boyfriend. Our usual Christmas traditions have taken either a hiatus or have permanently ended this year (a Christmas Eve dinner we've gone to since I was nine.) And we fought at the dinner table last night; not an adult event, but one that felt, somehow, like the result of us all getting older and more stubborn. It appears I have become my father's daughter to the umpteenth degree--and while I love him, the mean-streak I've developed is not a gene we wear proudly. We fought over who left the lights on. Yes, really. And now I want to go home. I'm hoping the gluttony and spoils of the day (I am always, always, spoiled when I come home) will change my mood.

Before we left, things were much more jolly. I'd started a post which I never finished. Here are its beginnings (from the 22nd):

Ah, the holidays... this is what I needed. Simon is in the kitchen (where a man belongs! ; ) making spaghetti, we've got family with us, and we spent a lovely day--strolling the Quarter, riding the Algiers ferry across the Mississippi, and (loudly) singing carols in Jackson Square.

Yesterday was not as jolly. It rained for hours and hours on end, and when we drove down to Holy Cross to see the house we've been considering buying, we discovered six inches of water covering the street and saturating the yard.

I was sad. We'd fallen in love with a house that the Preservation Resource Center will be renovating--a lovely little shotgun that was in the same family (whose German name suggests they may have been part of the substantial German immigrant population in Holy Cross) for 85 years. She's small, but the PRC has planned an addition that will allow us room for a family, and she backs up onto the now-abandoned site of Holy Cross school, which could become something wonderful--like a community center--or something lame (condos). Buying in Holy Cross is a gamble for many reasons. But for a couple of teacher with a hefty load of school-debt in tow, it's our only option--and it's one we're happy about, actually.

We'd discovered Holy Cross after I published a piece on my friends' website--a piece about realizing that we're a) grown-up and b) middle-class, and at the same time c) unable to afford a home on high ground in New Orleans. The neighborhood where we rent has become populated by a bunch of aggressive investment realtors out to make a buck off of renters, and also aggressive gentrifiers who call the police when they see more than two black people sitting on a stoop together. There are no longer children, and the artists that once populated the Marigny/Bywater can hardly afford to live here. While we CAN afford to live here (thanks to our kind landlords who are also dear friends), we don't want to live in this whitewashed neighborhood any longer.

The neighborhood association meetings here are mostly bitch-slapping bouts focused on aesthetic matters like roofing-style or policing dog-poop. In the months immediately following the storm, neighbors shrieked about their cable taking too long to be restored, and it felt, well, embarrassing.

Many of the most active neighbors here remind me of my entitled Tulane students--how they are ignorant of others' suffering, and therefore have an exaggerrated sense of their own suffering. Just as I chose to leave Tulane for a (less prestigious) job at UNO (where I love the students), I know want to leave the cat-fights here for the community we've found in Holy Cross.

Of course, there are also the more obvious reasons to leave our neighborhood: no parks, no green space, and one very loud train that we were once used to but that now seems all of a sudden to be louder, closer, and running more frequently. There's a sometimes-violent bar on the corner, too. And the traffic and the noise. And the house under perpetual renovation next door. And there's the wasted money on rent. Plus, I think we're just ready to go.

So anyway I wrote this piece for my friends' site, and in writing it I did research on what houses in the city we COULD afford. I put $150,000 as the price limit (too much, actually--we can't really afford that much) and found nothing but gutted and flooded homes. I kept looking, and soon two pretty renovations appeared in the Holy Cross neighborhood.

When I mention Holy Cross, folks generally want to know where it is. Holy Cross is a mile and a half east of us, just on the other side of the Industrial Canal. It's in the lower ninth ward. Yes-- that lower ninth ward. That is usually enough to have people asking why we would want to live there.

We want to live in Holy Cross because we can afford it, because it is on relative high ground, because it has access to walking trails along the levee, and because it is still diverse. We attended a neighborhood association meeting recently and when we left, I was glowing. I sang carols with Miss Maebell--a real, live old person living in the neighborhood. Simon and I painted pet rocks at the kiddy-table. We met diverse and kind neighbors. I glowed.

(...Here's where that previous, unfinished, post ends. I will continue the tales of our journey towards a home of our own soon.

In the meantime--I love you all, dear readers (Mom, Dannielle, and Mickey). Merry Christmas! Mickey, I hear that Henry's "sacbutt" (sp?) is in the shop. Nevermind--we'll make kick-butt music, all the same.)

Here's to a day of glowing! Oh, how I love to glow!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rest In Peace, Gus!

On Saturday--my Dad's birthday and the day of our annual holiday party--my mom called to say that our family cat of 17 years had been attacked by a dog in the driveway. They had to put him to sleep. Gus (short for "Generally Useless and Stupid") was a good cat. Fat and unhappy, but he gave the love freely, for sure. I picked him out with my dad when I was thirteen.

Gus did NOT deserve to go that way. Unfortunately, that he did means that this cat-lady is now even more anti-dog than I already was (the licking, the humping, the smell--I just have never really "gotten" dogs).

This is not the first cat I lost to a dog. In 1999, shortly after I moved into this house, I woke to hear a brawl outside. I was living alone--Sam was off travelling--and I got up, put on a robe, and went out to find four dogs emerging from the yard next door. I called for my cats--Poydras and Georgie--and only Georgie came. I remember I wnet in and grabbed some cat food to shake--the usual way I'd get the cats to come inside--but Poydras still didn't come. I felt like I heard a whimper at one point, but I still couldn't find her. After about an hour, I went back to bed, hopeful that Poydras was merely off with a new buddy.

The next day, when Poydras still didn't come when called, I walked around the neighborhood with the cat food. I remember that when I came home, I saw a stray in the yard next door. It was eating something dead. I went into my backyard, climbed a chair, and discovered Poydras--dead and being picked at by a stray. I wailed. I mean I wailed and wailed and wailed. My dear friend and fellow cat-lady, Jackie, came over and helped me bury Poydras. It took me a long time to recover from that one. In fact, there are certain images, certain memories (knowing, for instance, that my baby could hear me calling but couldn't answer) that I try not to recall. Losing Gus to a dog brought all of that up.

So this dog's name was "Beethoven," and it was his birthday, too. Evidently he belongs to the schizophrenic son of some neighbors who have struggled over whether or not to have him euthanized because he had already mauled another neighbor's cat (that one survived but now has just three legs). This we learned when they called to apologize about Gus and to ask for advice about what to do. It seems the son has not been doing very well lately, and the parents worry about what the loss of his dog would do to him. So they shared this on my parents' answering-machine, and now my mom is struggling with their own grief--and now the burden of knowing their own struggles, too.

Now, I am ultra-senstitive to the needs--and rights--of the mentally-ill. But I am frankly a little angry that the family chose to share this with my mom. An unfortunate trait that I share with my mom is perpetual guilt. We are empathetic to a fault. So I know exactly how she is feeling right now--torn. But why did the family have to share this? I'm sure they are genuinely struggling with what to do, but it almost feels manipulative that they would share this with my mom, who really should only be concerned with how to keep that dog away from other families' pets. My advice to my mom was to call and tell them that the decision to euthanize would have to be their own, but that we would like the dog to be removed from the neighborhood. Maybe they have friends or relatives with some land--and hopefully no helpless cats or kids around.

Sigh! It all just sucks a whole, whole lot. I know it was hard on my dad, too, who in the usual dad-fashion handled everything very well but said to me, "If I see that dog outside again... that's it." I share that unfortunate trait--blind rage--with my dad. And I know that if I were to see that dog, I'd have a really hard time not wailing on him something good. I am really tolerant, and very understanding of flaws and mistakes and all of that, but if someone or something hurts those I love, all that love and understanding gets compressed into rage, rage, rage. It's worse after the storm, too. So the bottom line is that the dog needs to go before Simon and I go to Atlanta for the holidays at week's end.

So on Saturday, while I made spinach dip, stuffed mushrooms, red-and-green cornflake treats, and hot cider, I put on a sad CD and allowed myself a good cry. Later, around the campfire, my friends listened to my rummy speech about the cat and we all "cheers"-ed to Gus and poured a little booze out for my kitty-homey. I have really very excellent friends.

There's so much more to tell--about our plans to move, about the state of the city and all things Katrina--but I am drained from the cat and dog episode, and also perhaps from the long semester. Now that I've had a few days to decompress, I feel more tired, not less. I have been slowly wrapping gifts, sleeping late, contemplating taking on any of the myriad tasks on my long list, and getting a whole lot of nothing done. Maybe it's the gray weather and all the fog. Maybe it's that I am really just tired and need to listen to my blues and sleep while the gettin's good. Who knows. For now, I'll make my way to the mountain of dishes in the kitchen, drag myself to a going away party that promises to be sadder than hell (another friend who's decided to leave the city...), and get up at the McCrackin' of dawn for a dentist's appointment.

Tis the season!(This, by the way, is our Christmas tree. Last year we got a real one because they were giving them away on Canal. This year, no more free trees. It appears even Santa has Katrina-fatigue. This one still gets the job done, though--and an added bonus was that it attracted buckmoths. Buckmoths come from the wretched and poisonous buckmoth caterpillar that rains from oak trees in New Orleans. While they are generally just vicious creatures, they make excellent ornaments! There: that's a cheerier ending!)

What I MEANT to say was 'TIS THE SEASON!!!!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Today was uplifting, thanks to my ESL students. It was our last class, and so we gathered for a party. Kanyaluk brought a spicy Thai "salad" (even the salads in Thai food are meaty); Prudencio brought a bubble-gum tasting lemonade from Peru; Naun brought sandwiches from the shop where he works as a line cook; I brought myself--and a stressed-out self at that.

The semester is ending, and so I have been swamped with grading piles of student papers and fielding panicked phone calls of students who should've decided to care a long time ago. These are my UNO students--and while some of them seem grateful for my teaching, they are nowhere near as enthusiastic about learning as my ESL students are. I will miss the ESL group, and I hope I'll have time to volunteer in the spring.

In addition to the happy fact that the semester is ending is our upcoming annual holiday party. This will be the fifth year I've thrown the party--and it may be the final year that the party will be held at this address. Our backyard is the perfect place to entertain. It's big, and the branches of a large oak tree in the back yard spread over the entire space. That canopy keeps us cozy in the winter air (yes, it does get cold in New Orleans), along with candles and a camp fire (and music and friends and hot cider with rum).

I get almost weepy thinking about leaving this backyard behind, but Simon and I have decided to move. The housing market has begin to favor buyers, and we have decided that 2007 will be a good time for us to move. We wish we could stay where we are, but the home has sentimental value to its owners. Of course, it does to us, too. But we'll be able to put down new roots, to make new connections.

I have such an attachment to place... I think it is the Taurus in me. And the Gemini in me flits about and is unfocused. I have so much to say, and yet I really need to get to bed and prepare for another day of school madness. I look forward to updating the blog soon--particularly to sharing the details of the beginnings of our search for a home--our first home!--in New Orleans. And I promise to add pictures, too.

Until then. (Love you, Mom. Don't forget to send me the recipe for gumdrop cookies!)