Monday, May 26, 2008

When a Cat-Lady Goes Dog...

It's been too long (again). Sometimes blogging feels a bit burdensome, actually, and I think it's partly because I don't know who my readers are (with the exception of my ever-faithful mother and a few friends), and most of my readers don't comment. I'm not guilt-tripping here. I'm just sayin'. Sometimes it feels good to get a little chatter started. And knowing you're being heard can make all the difference when it comes to deciding whether or not to even open your mouth in the first place.


We'd planned to move this weekend, and it looked as though it'd be possible. My parents had arrived to help us pack up the old house, and the new one was moving along wonderfully. Progress.

The countertops are in (and I love my black matte laminate, thank you very much--especially the gentle curve the carpenter put in to compensate for the bumped-out sink cabinet beneath the giant window). The drawer hardware has been installed (cheap and lovely, thanks to Target.)

The lighting fixtures and ceiling fans have been installed, the closet shelves, built, and the appliances, ordered and delivered. All that was left to do was the plumbing trim, a second coat of poly put on the floors, and finishing-up painting...

And then, we got robbed.

Yes, Saturday morning, we got a call from our dear neighbors, Earnest and Donna Taylor, who said they'd just chased off three teens on bikes who'd been in the backyard.

I couldn't imagine what they'd be doing. I mean, what kind of bike-riding can you get done in our yard? You can't steal a washer and dryer on a bike, right? I thanked the Taylors and my parents and I piled in the car to head down, 'though we were in no hurry.

When we got there, it was clear that the rear french doors had been forced open. There were pry marks and the doors were open. But all the tools appeared to be on site, and our brand-new appliances were still sitting, untouched, in their boxes. I called the contractor, just to be safe, and he headed down. While I waited, I called the police. Even though we didn't see anything missing, it was obvious the door would have to be replaced (and that dang door was expensive as all getout, in spite of its ugliness.)

While I was on the phone, I saw three guys on bikes, like the ones Mr. Taylor described. They were headed towards us from the levee (my dad and I were on the stoop, getting some blessed Mississippi River breeze), but when they saw me step out onto the stoop, they turned around and left. I don't mean to be all, "Guilty as charged!" (insert ridiculously jump-to-conclusion-ish red-faced expression here), but it was obvious that these were the fellas Mr. Taylor had seen, and they had that "up to no good" look about them (there I go again with the sounding like a paranoid oldie...)

The National Guard arrived quickly and asked for a description. (I remember when this, in itself, was remarkable: the National Guard arriving. It was so... so... novel back then. Now, it's just regular, and, in fact, I fear, necessary.)

It's hard to believe this is the second time I've given a perp-description on Deslonde (the first was back when we saw three very, very young boys stealing VCRs and sports equipment from the Holy Cross school, way back when we were contracted to buy 701), but it is, and both times, the guardsmen began by asking, "African-American" with a sort of knowing nod, as if it were a foregone conclusion. Then: "Hairstyle?"

I don't know why I felt so self-conscious, and almost bad describing the guys (well, yes I do--it's the guilt of privilege and the curse of empathy: I feel bad for everyone--especially young kids desperate enough to rip off copper piping) but I had tried to memorize what I could (from a block away), and so I felt pretty good about my description: all three were very dark-skinned. One wore a white "wifebeater" tanktop, the other two, black baggy T-shirts, and all three wore long jean shorts. At least one of them had embroidered patterns on bottom of their shorts. Their bikes were painted black, and one had neon green accents.

Mr. Taylor's description was more vague (I love me some Mr. Taylor, BTW. To him, they really are just your average "teens up to no good," but to me, there was still a panicky newness to the way I felt, this sense that I really had to be specific and particular--and I suspect our different reactions/attitudes/perhaps even perceptions come from our differences in age and experience). Still, it was clear we'd seen the same kids, and when I'd seen them, they had likely come back to finish what they started.

"What they started," I later learned, after the Guard took off "in pursuit" and the contractor showed up, was a rather expert copper-theft job. The perp/perps had gone into the attic and stolen at least 30 feet of copper piping from the HVAC unit. Those who I've talked to since then have said we should be grateful they had the good sense and copper-pipe-thieving expertise to turn off the water before they went to town on our pipes. Otherwise, they could have flooded our home.

Today I went up to the attic to photograph the damage, but I realized I was photographing absence more than presence, and I didn't know what I was looking at. The damage to the underside of the house was more obvious. (See hanging pipe, below... its angle hinges at an incomplete cut.)

These pictures I am meant to submit to the insurance company, I think. I don't know, really. But I Googled copper theft and "builders risk insurance" and did what I was told.

Back to Saturday: I don't quite know how to describe how I felt all day. I was bummed and a little angry, but mostly there was this kind of resignation about it all, like, "Here it is," as if I knew it was coming but had been blocking it out, blissfully picking out lighting fixtures.

It was just so disappointing, I guess. My parents were in town to help us move, and here they were seeing this, one of the very worst sides of the New Orleans recovery, and one that I wish I could say was uncommon, but isn't. I wanted my parents to see how beautiful our home is and will be. I wanted them--and I guess, everyone--to see that it was possible to rebuild in This City and even in This Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood, since, after all, I have These Kick-Ass Neighbors and This Beautiful River, and Our Incredible City. And then this: here It was... the ugly underbelly, flopping us.

While we waited for the NOPD, my dad went up to the house to retrieve water and chairs, and my mom and I lay on the dining room floor and stared up at the new chandelier. Our "settling in" says a lot about what we expect from New Orleans' finest: I warned my parents that there was a better than even chance we'd be there all day. So my dad went to be practical and bring water while my mom did the good thing of lying on the floor with me and complimenting our 100-year old wooden ceilings, the Pottery Barn chandelier the electrician had just hung, the occasional breeze from the river. She kept saying how beautiful the house was. And it is. There's that, too, thank goodness.

Two hours later, the NOPD arrived. Officer 1972 was a wonderfully kind woman. She took my info, spoke to Mr. Taylor, and sat in the car filling out paperwork while my mom and I assembled IKEA dining chairs so we could sit. At one point she honked her horn and asked for my ID. "You know," she said, "I haven't been down this way since the storm. I mean, I've been on this side of the Canal, but I haven't been back here to Deslonde. It's nice. It's really nice."

I've always felt that way about our neighborhood. It's tucked away and beautiful, and it's also blessedly populated--mostly by good family people. It feels like a neighborhood that's loved by its residents, and it was that, more than anything, that drew us to Holy Cross, even if there were less people around to do the loving.

But after Saturday's incident, I felt f-ing pissed and targeted, and the area's vulnerability was what felt more evident than it's beauty. I felt as if I could see it in the way my parents must have, the way I suppose most do: it's got potential, sure, but it's all kinds of broken, and broke things are risky. What's to like about that?

I went inside and cried for a minute. Then, Mom and I sat on our newly-assembled IKEA "Ogla" chairs and waited for Crime Lab to show up.

The man from Crime Lab ACTUALLY DUSTED FOR FINGERPRINTS! Of course, we'd been so damn sure that no one would come, or that whatever officer who did come would scold us rather than trying to help that we'd all touched everything. (I have been scolded before after reporting an attempted break in. What on Earth is a young woman like me living in a place like this, I was asked. What could I possibly expect?)

Still, this guy made the effort, and I don't need to tell you that in Times Like These, going through the motions--however futile said motions may be--can provide good comfort. I don't mind admitting that the illusion of safety was something I needed right then. After all, one must keep moving, keep rolling with it, right? One must not freak out and put one's home on the market and move away. One must stay through this because one loves this place, dammit, enough to deal with it, right? And yes, all of it: one has to deal with all of this, yes.

This is what one tells one self, anyway, as one's local Crime Lab guy snaps on his blue rubber gloves and uses the finger-printing brush on one's brand-new door frame and fingerprints--one's own? someone else's?--develop, like a spreading stain, just exactly like they do on TV.

And by one, I mean me, of course. I tell myself this so I can stay here. And because I believe it.

Because I have to if I've got any chance of maintaining.

After the Crime Lab guy left, two detectives showed up, completing the TV-episodic quality of the morning-now-afternoon. They were all detective-like, too: one was handsome and young and he referred to the other man (who was stoic and quiet and old enough to be his dad) as hi partner. They wore streetclothes and showed up in an unmarked car. They were friendly (the young guy was more talkative than the other) but still appropropriately serious (which, by then, had begun to seem silly to me. It was PIPE, after all. It wasn't a keepsake or even a laptop. It was copper, people: copper.) Still, this copper-theft stuff has gotten bad, I learned. They'd been over on our street twice in as many days and they'd just that morning arrested two men for copper theft. The men were going to jail. They asked for times and names of the AC guy, the plumber, and the electrician. They interviewed Mr. Taylor. They said they'd be in touch. I'm not holding my breath.

The detectives, the NOPD officer, the Crime Lab guy--all of them said how beautiful our house was, and how important to protect it. They all shook their heads in disgust with the damage done by thieves who were clearly desperate (copper goes for $4/pound), and with the scrapyards who were taking their booty--most of it clearly new copper... copper that each and every homeowner in New Orleans trying to rebuild must, must, must have in order to, well, rebuild.

Anyways, it really was damn hot, and I was trying to put on a calm and confident face for my parents, but I just got madder and more worried as the day went on. How could we pay for the damage? How long would it set us back? We've been planning to move for over a year now, and then this--this lame sh*t is gonna stop us? Oh, HELL naw!

It had all been so very "deal, deal, deal with it"-like, that I didn't even think to call our insurer until late in the day. When I did, I learned that our Allstate agent had only opened a flood policy--NOT a Builder's Risk policy like we'd requested--and while I was flirting with breaking the f-down, I told myself (and my husband and parents) that there was No Way we could have gotten this loan without insurance (I still believe this.) So I submitted a "manual claim" that I hope will be sorted out once our lender comes back to the office, and I reminded myself that it was just copper piping, dammit.

Later that night, Simon and I tried to forget things by going to the Bayou Boogaloo in Mid-City. But once the sun set, I began to worry (I swear the sun's setting changes me in this way. I emote more. I worry more. It's uber mom-like and also werewolfy/vampirish, and very me). I worried because the guys who broke in to steal the copper from the attic had clearly SEEN our appliances, all five of them, sitting tidily in their unopened boxes. They'd surely be back, and a big ol' piece of plywood screwed over the back door would in no way stop them from getting our appliances once the neighbors were asleep.

We decided we needed to make the home appear occupied. So we parked Simon's truck by the house and left a battery-operated Coleman lantern and radio in the master bedroom. On night one, we chose Soft Rock. Night two, WWL talk radio. Tonight, the AM Latino station the workers chose to work to today. In the meantime, I haven't been sleeping. I've been reading and packing and obsessing over insurance, cursing Memorial Day. If we have to pay for the repairs... well, we CAN'T pay for them. We are, quite frankly, spent out, and we had thought we'd be moving this weekend... When I finally slept last night, I dreamt that I was late to teach my summer classes and that my students rebelled by refusing to take their exams.

At any rate, I feel like there should be more to say or feel or think about this--something conclusive--but I don't know what it is, and I am very much NOT looking forward to thinking about security fences or security systems, or, God forbid, getting a DOG. I want to go back to relying on my neighbors and on faith in the goodness of others. I want to stop "dealing" and get into "delving." I want to move, and I want it to be exactly the right move, and not at all scary, not one bit.

But since Saturday, I've been wired and tired from worry, and scared, as I get back to packing
my things, that I am preparing to move to house that may or may not be safer than this one, however "right" it may sometimes feel. And as I keep swatting my kitties away from the boxes they're taking so much pleasure in upending, I'm telling myself--and them (because we need it, dammit), that this cat lady will never, ever, as long as she can help it, go dog.

1 comment:

Trochee said...

Hi S! just saying hi, and I *do* read your blog. I don't say much, but it's nice to know I know somebody in New Orleans besides my wife's anonymous bio-dad.

at trochee dot livejournal dot com FYI.

--Jeremy K