Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why Did the Egret Cross the Road?

After two weeks of genuine vacationing, Simon and I returned home on Sunday evening. We had two cars instead of one this time, since we were transporting furniture we'd bought (or were given) in Atlanta. I drove my dad's old Subaru station wagon--with no A/C--and while the lack of air conditioning may have been all right in Asheville, NC (where we spent a week of our trip), it was SO not okay in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. We stopped several times so I could wring out my shirt, and the misery of it all was compounded by sporadic heavy rains and no radio, whatsoever. I sang a lot of songs I remembered from my nerdy choir days, and I ate gummy worms and pork cracklins in order to stave off sleep and boredom. Ah, road trips!

Our vacation, itself, was lovely. In Atlanta, we spent lots of time with family, and specifically with my nephew, Damien, who has grown like a weed. He now does cute little-person things. He laughs, for one, (and not just when he has gas), and he grabs things. Babies. Ain't they grand?

Parents Paul and Aalia appear to be doing well, although Paul seems to think that Damien is much more evolved than he really is. One night, he mentioned that Damien was going to get a "big ego" from all the love and attention he was getting. So of course we attributed any of his typical-baby behavior to his colossal "ego" from then on. I think Paul is more frustrated than anything by the fact that babies can't be controlled--and by the fact that they also can't communicate their needs. Babies. Uh, ain't they grand?

We visited Simon's brother, Tom, and sister-in-law, Brandi, at their new home just outside of Asheville, NC, too. They've bought a cute, albeit cookie-cutter, home on a ridge in the "town" of Candler. Their home overlooks Hominy Creek, and Tom has built a wonderful deck by the creek, where we enjoyed sunsets and summer ales. Both Tom and Brandi appear to be taking to "country life" fabulously. Tom has set up a woodworking shop in the basement, where he turns bowls, and where he constructed the kitchen butcher-block island we inaugurated on our trip. Brandi will be teaching hip-hop dance classes at the Asheville ballet; she's even been asked to choreograph a hip-hop version of the battle-scene in The Nutcracker. She and I had some really nice evenings on the deck, talking marriage and family and other 30-something matters. (Though I should mention that Brandi has yet to reach the 30-year milestone!) I was reminded of how wonderful it was to have them here in New Orleans, and I miss them terribly now that we are back.

I can't say much about their new hometown of Candler. It's got a single "strip" on which some pretty darn good fried chicken gets served, and down which many a mullet-wearing mountain-man cruises in his beat-up truck. It stands in stark contrast to Asheville, where Subarus are as common as hoopdies are in New Orleans, and where the Friday-night activity is a city-sanctioned "drum circle" where hippies, old and young, gather to do the chicken dance (a la Grateful Dead concerts) and beat bongos. My favorite joke from our time in Asheville: the HBO program, "The Wire" is planning a sequel, "The Wire: Asheville." At the end of the first season, a waitress at Tupelo Honey gets undertipped. At the end of season two, someone gets turned away from the drum circle.

The best thing about Asheville is the access to the outdoors. There are some really incredible hikes--along rivers, to waterfalls--all within an hour's drive, and the weather was cool enough that we didn't sweat, but warm enough that we could swim. I wanted to walk every day, and I now find my heart aching for access to that kind of outdoor-space here in NOLA. Our new home boasts access to the Mississippi River levee, which thrills me, but it's no hike alone in the woods. In fact, there are not many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors here in New Orleans, and having been a child of canoers and hikers, being in the mountains of NC reminded me of just how important that time outside really is to me.

Okay, I'll admit it: there was even a moment when I thought, "I could live here." Well, it was more like, "We should live here." My family is close to Asheville, and Simon's siblings are all now close to Asheville. And then here we are, far, far away. And, of course, not only are we far from family, but we are living where we live.

When we drove in on Sunday, in fact, I was sad. I never feel that way. I mean, sometimes I feel mad, as in, "c'mon, people, let's fix these damn roads," or, "folks, cut it out with the littering, already." But on Sunday I felt sad, heavy-style. As in, "How the hell are we ever going to raise a child here?" As in, "When will our city even be un-broken?" I wanted to cry.

Then, of course, we got home and I saw my cats and our backyard, and Mr. Washington and Mr. Taylor waved hello, and the sun was setting in a saturated-pink kind of way, and Simon and I unloaded furniture and did a bit of nesting and it all felt good again.

Still, I will admit to feeling more than a little tired right now. When we were away, I read about the latest city-wide scandal, and I found myself crying rather than being pissed off. At the liberal arts faculty meeting on Monday, the chancellor talked about post-Katrina numbers and recovery (or the lack, thereof,) and I didn't feel my usual surge of commitment--my typical sense of resolve to stay, to dig in, and to make it all better. When I drove home from work that afternoon, I saw a contractor peeing in someone's yard, and I had to stop my car to let an egret cross the road. I wanted to kill the contractor, and I wanted to save the bird. What were they doing here? What am I doing here?

Last night, as Simon and I were eating dinner and watching women's platform diving on television, I told him what I'd read online about Tropical Storm Fay: there's a path that has it heading back out into the Gulf and then perhaps right back in toward us. I realized as I talked about it that I was almost mad at Simon--and at myself--for being where we are. Now, on top of living and working in this mess, we have to go out and get plywood? We have to prepare for the possibility of its happening again?

Yes, I knew this when we returned. I knew when we bought the house here in New Orleans that we were putting down roots in a hurricane-prone city. But knowing and really experiencing that reality are two entirely different beasts. And I simply cannot fathom doing the past three years all over again. I have lost nearly ten pounds from stress (which, yes, probably puts me at a healthier weight, but I don't think stress is ever a good way to lose weight, and besides, my clothes don't fit.) Keeping on as things are already seems overwhelming... what if things got worse again? Do I have it in me to repeat this process? And, more importantly, will we even be able to recover now that we are not only emotionally committed, but financially invested in this city, as well? I don't know... I really don't know.

So, the important thing is that we pray (or whatever) like hell that Fay stays away. In the meantime, we need to deal with the drainage-problems we're having. We need to put another coat of poly on the cork tile in the shower (the contractor didn't do a thorough job, and now we're seeing signs of rot). We need to hire someone to mow our jungle, to put up a fence. And I need to quit this oh-woe-is-me blogging and do some "real" writing and some genuine school-prep.

In the meantime, I have promised to post pictures of the house, and my dad gave me a camera-cable so I can upload those pics. So, here, Mom and co., is the guest bathroom, where you will bathe in our wonderful clawfoot tub... Enjoy!

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