Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Nine Months, One Week, and Four Days Later ...

… I got my insurance money. I mentioned in the last post that my blue roof is among the many in New Orleans that are, officially, gone. The roof was the first thing to get fixed because fixing anything else only to get it leaked on really sort of defeats the point.

For all this time, the first question most everyone asked me whenever we spoke was, “How’s the house?” Still, I’ve been putting off writing about it because first, there wasn’t much to say, and second, it’s boring, mostly a tale of bureaucracy and regulations, minutiae and percentages, inspections and waiting on hold, oh, so much waiting on hold. In short, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, more often than not signifying nothing. Still, things are finally happening, so here goes.

First, history:

The Good Dr. Arwen and I bought the place together – it’s a shotgun double which, for the non-New Orleanians, is a traditional style house here with two front doors that both open to a long row of rooms one after the other, with no real hallways. They say the name derives from the idea that you could shoot a shotgun through the whole house, front to back, if you wanted.

We bought it “as is” from people who weren’t finished renovating it on July 29th, and spent the next month finishing renovations. In fact, we worked right up until evacuation – Gavin and I grouted my new bathroom floor on Saturday, then evacuated Sunday, and Katrina hit Monday, August 29th. Actually, the house survived the hurricane pretty much intact, losing only a handful of shingles from the roof, which resulted in the leaks that were the first things to be fixed. The failure of levees – thank you government and Army Corps of Engineers – wrecked it, though.

The three feet of water that sat in the house for about three weeks pretty much destroyed everything inside. If you doubt that, take a yardstick around your house with one end on the floor and imagine everything within its length soaking in water for almost a month. Then imagine mold growing up the walls and over everything else straight to the ceiling. Pretty much does it, doesn’t it? Plus, since I was just moving in, everything was packed up in boxes on the floor. If you haven’t read “Operation Bass Save” from way, way back in October, it’s got a quick description of the results of that particular misfortune.

So the first thing I had to do was shovel all the moldy, stinking trash out. Wearing big rubber boots, a respirator, and gloves, I tossed to the curb, oh, almost every book I had ever read, along with hundreds I hadn’t gotten to yet, and somewhere in the gluey, slimy, largely unreadable mess, my copies of the journals that had published my short stories. Since I’m a writer and English professor, I did that first because I knew, for me, that would be most upsetting – the books themselves are of course replaceable for the most part, but all the scribbled notes in the margins were not, nor were the signatures and dedications from all the writers I met, nor were the first editions and antiques, like the complete Poe in ten volumes published in the late 1800s. They made a pile about ten feet long, a couple wide, and three or four feet high.

On top of that went photos and posters, the hand-made “7 Deadly Sins” sign my friends and I carried around for the Greatest Mardi Gras Ever, all my notebooks and papers from college, not to mention costumes and toys and videos and kitchenware and beer-brewing equipment and all the other little knick-knacks that clutter up our homes because they remind us of who we are. That took a long, lonely week in early October (happy birthday to me!). At the end of every day, I would go back to the old apartment and shower, even though we weren’t supposed to bathe in tap water those days, but I couldn’t live with the sweat, stink, and muck on my skin.

Meanwhile, my neighbors, who had actually lived in their houses, threw out even more.

It’s an odd thing to have your whole life rotting on the curb for all the neighbors to see, waiting to be picked up by the garbage collectors. I felt totally exposed. My friend John said to me one day, “I saw your Tank Girl down the street,” and I wanted to cringe because it’s a comic book and it’s embarrassing to still be reading comics at my age, especially one called “Tank Girl” and this despite the fact that I knew John would hardly hold it against me, in fact had read them himself. But what of everyone else? The piles sat there for quite a while, weeks in fact, plenty of time for anyone who cared to learn about my reading habits, or to note the Star Wars toys that came out of the house of a single thirty-something non-parent. It’s also plenty of time for you to remember that “adult novelty” tucked away deep in a box and think, “Oh gee, I hope that’s on the bottom somewhere.”

I did rescue three bottles of wine that had spent those five or six weeks in the house. One I drank the night I rescued it, with a hearty “fuck you” to all that had happened and all that had caused it. I saved the other two, the first of which I plan on drinking my first night back in the house, the second on the anniversary of Katrina, though the way things are going that order will probably be switched. Either way, both will be drunk with some sorrow but with more defiance and determination, and don’t worry, if they’ve turned to vinegar, I’ll have back-ups.

After that came the gutting. I got help from my dad, as well as my friends Gavin, John, and Karl. As soon as we pulled the drywall down, we discovered the mold covered the plaster underneath, since the previous owners had put drywall up on top of the original plaster and lath. If you don’t know, lath are narrow thin boards nailed horizontally on the studs all the way up a wall, with maybe a half-inch of space between them. Cover that with plaster and ta-da! Wall. At least that’s how they did it around here in the days before drywall. Preservationists insist the plaster should be cleaned of mold because it’s part of the history of the house and whatnot, but I was too busy getting that moldy shit out of what was left of my house to listen.

And what a nasty, dirty job it is – first of all, the plaster crumbles into small chunks and powder which gets up your nose and into your eyes and ears no matter what kind of mask and goggles you wear. They help, but the stuff is insidious. So you break the plaster with a hammer or crowbar (I called mine “Big Max”) and it flies off in all directions, and then you pull the lath down with Big Max or your bare hands. You would be surprised at how much of a house you can pull down with only your hands. I just imagined that rather than plaster and lath, I was pulling Brown’s vapid stare and Bush’s smug smile off their bloody, shrieking skulls and the rest was easy. Pretty good therapy, actually.

After getting all the walls down, then I just had to spray the whole place down with bleach, which makes all the dried mold puff out in clouds of powder. Even with the respirator, this doesn’t feel exactly healthy. All of that – the trash, the gutting, the bleaching – was done before October was out, and then all I had to do was wait for the insurance money to come so I could start rebuilding.

Did I mention that I finally got the insurance a couple of weeks ago?

For the seven months in between, the house sat – gutted, bleached, ready – waiting. So when you all asked me what was going on with the house and for months I said “Nothing,” it wasn’t that I was being rude, or didn’t want to talk about it, or didn’t want to bore you with the details, it was because literally nothing was happening.

During that time, I spent an awful lot of time talking on the phone, working my way through endless bureaucracies, inching toward that ever-elusive, apparently mythical goal – rebuilding money.

For those with a tolerance for financial minutiae, here’s how it works: the insurance adjustor comes out (this happened in October) and works up an estimate of damage. This then needs to be okayed by a gazillion cubicle-dwellers in a gazillion offices around the country if not the world. All of these people need to weigh in with their opinion, even though they’ve never been anywhere near N.O. and haven’t taken one look at my house, as far as I know. Once they all decide that the adjustor knows what he’s talking about (or haggle out the differences), the insurance company actually cuts a check. In our case, two of them – homeowners’ and flood. Homeowners’ covered the minor roof damage, flood everything else. Luckily, homeowners’ didn’t try to blame everything on flood (a common problem around here that leads to court cases and even more delays). Both checks arrived sometime in May.

Here’s where it gets fun. The flood insurance comes in two parts – contents and structure. We easily maxed out the contents coverage, so when they tell you most people go with $25,000 – don’t listen. It won’t even begin to cover everything, and we didn’t even live there. Then, the structure check was made out to us AND the mortgage company. Apparently, we’re not to be trusted, though how it could possibly be to our advantage to run off with an insurance check that doesn’t cover what we owe in mortgage in an age when running from your debts is practically impossible, that eludes me.

So the money to repair our house passed briefly through our hands, only there as long as it took us to sign it, and then off it went to work it’s way through the mortgage company bureaucracy. That only took several phone calls (“Yes, I swear we’re fixing the house. No, we’re not living there – there’s no power, no water, no nothing. No, I didn’t receive that – please don’t send anything to the house because there is no mail service there.”), as well as many signed documents, all of which had to be signed by both me (here in N.O.) and Dr. Arwen (3 hours away where her job has gone since New Orleans’ version of a psychiatric hospital is an emergency room set up in the old Lord and Taylor’s). One of those documents had to be notarized, requiring we were both present at the same time. Lastly, they wanted a signed, detailed estimate from the contractor. After all that, the mortgage company consented to send us a third of the money.

Yep, just a third. We get the second third after the mortgage company has sent out an inspector who confirms that half the work has been done, and the final third when an inspector determines that 90% is done. Interesting how we’re supposed to get 90% of the work done with only 60% of the money.

Again, that check stuck around just long enough to get signed and then off it went to the contractor. Gavin took maybe a week and a half to get to my place, which is remarkably fast considering the amount of work in this town, but then if I hadn’t been a good friend with a contractor, I probably wouldn’t have considered buying a house in the first place.

In the last few days, the roof has been fixed, a floor torn up and redone, a couple of closets torn down and another two put up, and the egregious errors of other renovators fixed (they took out a load-bearing wall, which John discovered while walking in the attic and almost falling through). Gavin said it could take as long as six months before I can live in it, an estimate not based on the amount of time the actual work takes, but rather on waiting – for an electrician, for inspections, for getting appliances delivered, and for money. We’re hoping for better.

All that said, and it was rather a lot – anyone still with me? – I do a little jig every time I think about how the work has finally begun, even if it was 9 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days later.

I try to go by everyday and see if anything needs doing. I’m probably more in the way than anything else, but when we started renovating back pre-K, it was Gavin and John and Karl and me – I ran wire, I knocked down a wall, I laid tile – and that’s the way it’s going to finish (with a little help from some more friends). So far, this house has claimed my blood, my sweat, and my tears, and probably will get a few more things before it’s done, but when I’m home that first night and I uncork that bottle of wine, well, nothing will be sweeter, and everyone’s invited.

Friday, June 23, 2006

In Which Our Narrator Discovers the Recuperative Benefits of Travel

I went on vacation, got out of town and visited Brooke and saw some other friends. (Here comes the annoying shout-out to people you don’t know – hi Sarah, Brandon, Laura, Benjamin, Jennifer & Jennifer’s funny drunk friend!) I meant to blog from there, but not surprisingly that didn’t happen. I should have put up a post like newspapers run, explaining their columnist is on vacation and will return and here’s a greatest hit from a couple of years ago. Though I suppose to deserve that, I would need a regular schedule like newspaper columnists …

At any rate, this was the first time I had left New Orleans since December. Everyone I mentioned this to agreed that six months is a REALLY long time to spend in this town without a break, and they’re probably right. One tends to forget what it’s like to be somewhere where everything works and the streets aren’t constantly lined with trash. Places where firefighters don’t have trouble putting out fires because the water lines are all broken and leaking or where restaurants and bars don’t have hand-written signs on their doors proclaiming their “temporary hours,” and it’s important to remind ourselves of stuff like that because if we do forget, then we don’t mind. We accept that things are just that way now, and we don’t stay angry, and we don’t turn that anger into resolve, and we don’t demand change. (Our ability as a species to adapt to just about anything is a double-edged sword.) The long march to a repaired New Orleans, that “bigger and better” one we kept hearing about several months ago, is a very long one, years long in fact, and we have to fight exhaustion and depression every step of the way.

So here are a couple of the things I got excited about while visiting Jersey and New York – no blue roofs! Flying in to Newark, the only blue visible was the light, translucent blue of swimming pools. Someday, I thought, New Orleans will look like that again from the air. Also – working public transportation! Not that New Orleans ever had great public transportation to begin with, but I really miss the St. Charles streetcar. Also, taking the train from Jersey to NYC got me really hopeful of the plans to expand the streetcar lines and add some lightrail commuter lines to Baton Rouge and the Gulf Coast. Just being where those things actually exist and work was a good reminder along the lines of, “Um, hey, we could do that, too.”

Here’s a funny thing about people that live Out There – they’re not obsessed with New Orleans. I know, I know, totally crazy but true. Don’t get me wrong, they do care; they’re just not obsessed with it to the exclusion of all else. People would ask how things are here, and I would launch into what surely would be an absolutely fascinating lecture of several hours full of telling detail and perceptive observations and strident recommendations, and then people would tune out after a couple of sentences. It was shocking and a little upsetting (why isn’t everyone totally centered on MY problems?!?), but it turns out they have their own problems. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to ask a cab driver if he or she thought we should rebuild New Orleans, but I really wanted to.)

Brooke took me to this musical, “Spring Awakening,” which I’m not giving too much away about by saying it was all about sexual repression, teen suicide, and death from illegal abortion. It was based on a play written in 1891 that was banned for seventy years. Not only was it very well done and extremely well-performed, but it was a good reminder that all sorts of old problems and fights are still here, that many things haven’t changed significantly, an idea they underlined by punctuating period scenes with songs with contemporary lyrics and music. (Some of the recent legislation passed by the Louisiana legislature also reminded me of the same old fights, but more on that later.)

I’ve been pretty tunnel-visioned lately, and it was good to shake that off a bit. A broadening of horizons, if you will.

In a kind of opposite directioned connection, there’s a production of “Waiting for Godot” up in New York that takes place on a roof surrounded by floodwater, where the implication is that the Godot the characters are waiting for is FEMA. If anybody’s seen it, I’d like to hear about it, because I like the idea of connecting the disaster in New Orleans with something beyond the disaster itself.

Here’s one last observation from my trip Out There: as we flew into New Orleans, I watched out the window as we soared over Lake Pontchartrain and came in over the suburbs. The last couple of times I did this, New Orleans was Blue Roof City, but this time, they were actually few and far between. I was so surprised I kept staring, looking around, trying to find all those blue roofs I had seen in December, but they just weren’t there. (Including my own, by the way, but again more on that later.)

From the ground here, while in the middle of it, I just couldn’t see much progress. In fact, I came back to a city where five teenagers were gunned down several blocks from my apartment last Saturday and the National Guard has returned, which looks and feels more backwards than forwards. That expanse of repaired roofs was the best evidence of progress I have seen in six months, and if I hadn’t gotten anything else out of the trip, that alone would have been worth it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

"The corps is responsible"

That's from Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, on the failure of New Olreans' hurricane protection system. For the full quote, see this Times-Pic article from last Friday that I'm linking to because I suspect the rest of the country didn't get the story.

In short, the article relates the results of an eight-month Army Corps of Engineers-sponsored study of New Orleans' hurricane protection system that concludes that the blame for the catastrophic failures lies with the United States' inherently flawed flood control planning.


Added some more. Most of them are New Orleans related to some degree, though not all. I considered slapping up every New Orleans related thing I could find, but quickly realized that, first of all, that's really tedious, and more importantly, other people have done it for me. So instead, it's just stuff that I've enjoyed and/or felt was important lately. Hopefully, there will be more in the days to come, so you too can spend your entire life reading everything on the web, every last page.

Nothing Works, and My Apartment is Slowly Killing Me

My car has been in and out of the shop so many times in the past two weeks I can't even remember what I originally took it in for, and it still has a nail in one of the tires (the fifth or sixth since my return) and has developed a mysterious clunking noise it didn't have before. Everytime it goes in, it comes back worse.

Meanwhile, my computer is crashing in slow motion. I took it in for help and the guy told me he could recommend a few good places to buy a new one. It can't even handle routine maintenance anymore - any defrag attempts always end in seizure. I waste so much time everyday waiting for it to catch up with my typing, and don't even ask about trying to read everybody's blogs. Every day feels like Russian roulette - will today be the day of the Black Screen of Death?

Then this evening I stuffed my clothes in the only washer the apartment building has, fed it my quarters, poured in the detergent, closed the lid and got ... nada. No amount of turning switches, checking plugs, or switching fuses achieved anything. When I tried to call someone for advice or at least an ear to vent in, I got a "we can't place this call" recording and flipped.

I think I can at least partially blame my perhaps inproportionate fury on PTSD - that recording took me right back to the days immediately after when phones were useless, so naturally I flipped out. I did what I usually do when I'm angry and lacking anything or anyone to righteously take it out on - pace up and down the apartment muttering angrily about why the religious right are evil and unAmerican. A few minutes of that usually works the anger out of my system.

Also for the past couple of weeks, I haven't been able to shake this annoying phlegmy cough, which I finally figured must be allergies even though I have never had allergies before. I started paying attention to when and where it was at its worst so I would know what to avoid if possible, and discovered that it's worst at night and first thing in the morning. It always gets better when I go outside. The conclusion: I'm allergic to my apartment.

This isn't nearly as far-fetched a notion as it sounds. My apartment is in this old mansion that has been chopped up into oddly shaped little units, and it is slowly but surely disintegrating around us. The landlord takes exactly zero care of it, so I've always been plagued with leaks and other annoyances. One time I found a mushroom growing out of a crack in my wall. This was even before the storm, and I'm sure it has only gotten worse. No doubt there's some sort of horrid mold growing in the walls, giving me and my cat mutant black lung or something. My flooded-but-gutted house is probably healthier to live in, and it doesn't come with loud downstairs neighbors trying to drive me crazy, like in "The Tell-Tale Heart" except I didn't kill anyone, not yet at least.

Hmmm ... apparently I wasn't entirely done venting.

But hey - maybe this is a sign that I'm returning to something akin to normal. Even as I write all this, I can't help but realize how trivial it all is, but perhaps that's a good thing. Getting all worked up over this stuff is actually a nice change of pace. Maybe I've really turned a corner here - it's okay to hate the neighbors and the landlord and the mechanic again. Ah, sweet, sweet normalcy!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

And so it begins … hurricane season, that is. Not that hurricanes haven’t been known to happen outside the borders of the official season, but nonetheless today’s date – June 1st - has been tying my stomach in knots for months. Now it’s here and you know what – I don’t feel any better.

It’s all we talk about around here. Conversations used to all start with “how’d you make out?” and now they all start with “you staying or going?”

A lot of us have already left – students have decided now’s a good summer to do that whole off-campus program/European vacation thing. Families are heading off to visit relatives in places inland, preferably ones that have just finished thawing out from blizzards and the like. Those of us still here walk around all jittery and suspicious, like kicked dogs.

Because we’re scared. We’ve seen what happens when the Big One hits, or rather, when the Not Actually that Big but Big Enough near-misses, and as they keep telling us It Could Happen Again. So, yeah, we’re a bit spooked.

Maybe because the city hasn’t made enough progress, maybe because they’ve been telling us to expect four or five evacuations this year, maybe because last week one of the new levees “slumped.” At least, that’s the word the media seemed to have agreed on using to describe how a large section of levee just dropped several feet. I guess “slumped” sounds better than “collapsed” or “broke” or “fell the fuck down.” Slumped has a kind of casualness to it, as if the levee was just feeling a little lazy and decided to kick back on the couch and crack open a beer for a bit.

Maybe because those new levees are being built by the same people that built the last ones, the same people that told us the old levees would hold.

My father the other day told me the new levees were being built higher. I opined that kinda didn’t matter since the levees weren’t over-topped, they breached. I think he got my point.

So why am I staying?

Last Saturday, some friends and I met up at the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo. Billed as the “first annual,” it took place on the Bayou St. John that winds through my neighborhood – or, to be more specific, the neighborhood my gutted house stands in. Picture a canal surrounded by green space curving through little shotgun houses, schools, restaurants, a couple of bike shops, a funeral home, an old factory turned into apartments, and one ugly gas station/convenience store and you have the general idea. Now imagine a bathtub ring on everything and you have it exactly.

The Boogaloo featured all the standard N.O. fest treats – food, art, drink, music. Nearby restaurants, many still closed, set up booths and provided Mexican, pasta, Middle Eastern, and good ol’ N’Awlins cookin’. The Mid-City Art Market – a venue for locals to show their stuff and make a buck – moved from its usual City Park locale for the occasion and a wine shop sold a quite nice rose for $9 a bottle (and if you don’t know about the rose revolution, get yourself to a decent wine store; it’s not that sickly sweet stuff you’re expecting). We sat by the still water sipping wine and watching the fish jump while listening to the music, a fabulous eclectic mess that I’ve come to expect in N.O. and know I can’t get anywhere else – jazz, blues, folk, rock, funk, reggae, Caribbean, Brazilian, and the uncategorizable Mardi Gras Indians. One friend wore a Big Easy Rollergirls t-shirt (“We skate come hell and high water”), and I briefly considered knocking him down and stealing it, but he assured me there were more where his came from.

Keep in mind, this is a neighborhood that remains mostly empty, a neighborhood with little going on besides planning meetings, where nine months after there still isn’t enough of the hopeful drone of power tools. Where that same day, as my friends and I enjoyed the Boogaloo, firefighters found a body, not a new one – a Katrina body, in what was left of a bathroom, in a bathtub.

So why am I staying?

The next day, I threw a party in the gutted remains of my house – the Festage in the Wreckage, very definitely not billed as the “first annual” but rather “first and hopefully only.” I never expected to have to rent a portable toilet for a party at my house, but such are the times. I filled my bathtub, currently resting comfortably in my bedroom, with ice and beer and water and invited people over in the afternoon while the light lasted. A bunch of friends and some strangers came over, stories were exchanged, gossip relayed, bad jokes told, and all the beer got drunk. One friend spun fire out on the street, which I recommend for any good party. We fired up a generator and made everyone listen to our band Smuteye for a half hour, ‘cause it was my party and I was gonna play if I wanted.

Afterwards, I spent an hour or so closing the place up as the light died and I had to lock the windows by flashlight, and then I walked half a block to Finn McCool’s (“Rebuilding Mid-City 1 Pint at a Time”), open since St. Patty’s Day, all bright lights and cold beer. Inside, I found my friend Miss Amanda and her guy, deep in conversation with a couple of women I didn’t know. I grabbed a beer and introductions went around; soon we were all chatting like old friends. I asked one of the women how they knew Miss Amanda and she smiled and said, “We just met five minutes ago.”

So why am I staying?

I keep hearing about people who don’t think New Orleans should be rebuilt, that we simply got what we deserve for living here, though I have yet to talk to any of these people myself. Perhaps because the people who don’t think we should rebuild are people who have never talked to a New Orleanian, I don’t know. Perhaps the Chris Matthews of the world assume they exist without bothering to find them because the news isn’t any fun unless you argue about something. Perhaps the President and I live in our own exclusive bubbles. I don’t know why I haven’t talked to anyone who doesn’t think New Orleans should rebuild and more to the point, I don’t care. I don’t care why I haven’t talked to them and I don’t care what they think. Personally, I don’t think we should be in Iraq, and yet there we are. Theoretically, a democracy is run by the majority, not the nut-jobs on the fringes. Theoretically.

Way back when, we needed a city at the mouth of the Mississippi to serve as the port to move goods and people in and out of the heart of the country, so we built one. We built one on the highest ground we could find at the bottom end of one of the world’s biggest rivers, on land that wouldn’t even exist if the river hadn’t carried silt here over thousands of years. At the time, New Orleans faced plagues, wars, hostile natives, river floods, ever-changing colonial allegiances, a fire that burned down the entire French Quarter, and even the occasional hurricane, but we endured because the country needed us, and it still does.

85-90% of this city got out. Of those that didn’t, the vast majority were either unable to or, like many of my friends, taking care of those who couldn’t leave. Many of them made their way to the Superdome where help was supposed to be on the way; they were following the plan. The Army Corps of Engineers had told them that the levees would hold. Their government officials (local, state, federal, all of ‘em) told them help would come.

When your house floods for the first time since 1923 when it was built, when you have to chop your way through your ceiling with an axe, when your entire life just washed out into the sea and you’re sitting on your roof with the rats, snakes, and alligators also looking for high ground, there just ain’t much to do besides wait for help.

Nevertheless, most of us didn’t just wait for help. We got out, we got friends and family out, we helped those who couldn’t get out. We loaded bed-ridden patients onto helicopters, we rowed canoes from rooftop to rooftop, we trucked in clothes, food, whatever we could get our hands on. We re-opened schools, we gutted houses and rebuilt them, and while fighting with insurance companies we used our own money to hire local contractors so they could use that money to fix their own places while fighting with their insurance companies. We’re still doing all those things, and we’re telling stories, and playing music, and yes, sometimes we help by throwing a party. Most of us didn’t wait around for the feds to help then, and we aren’t waiting around for them now.

I’m actually still waiting on the insurance and mortgage companies, on the wonderfully efficient magic hand of the free market.

So why am I staying?

What else am I supposed to do? Insurance is supposed to give me enough money to fix my house, not pay it off. If I don’t fix it, the money goes to the mortgage company, and I owe $70,000 on a hunk of junk I have no money to fix and couldn’t sell for $30,000. Maybe other people can walk away from that, but I can’t. Us new professors don’t exactly rake in the big bucks, and this house is pretty much all I have.

Well, that and I have a job I love. Sure, Loyola and I have our differences, but I’ve taught at seven universities so far and Loyola is easily my favorite. I have friends here; not as many as I used to, but still plenty, and new ones come along all the time. I have a band, a loud, obnoxious, rude, silly punk band that people seem to actually enjoy, much to our surprise. I have writers around me that are smart, encouraging, and talented. I have the Bayou Boogaloo and the Festage in the Wreckage.

And finally, I have a city of suffering people, and the U.S. is supposed to be the kind of place that doesn’t turn its back on suffering people, whether halfway around the world or in its own backyard. But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps those that think we shouldn’t rebuild, those that think we got what we deserve are right, and the U.S. isn’t that kind of place anymore.

But I’m still that kind of person.

So why am I staying?

Who wouldn’t?