Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Anniversary Wine & Air-Conditioning

A year ago today I was in Virginia at my parents' house, the place I grew up in, with no idea of when I would be able to live at my home. All I knew about my new house was that it was still sitting in fetid water (assuming it was standing) and at the time government officials were telling us that it would take months to pump all the water out of New Orleans. My rather half-baked plan involved living at my parents' place (exactly what any college teacher fast approaching his 37th birthday wants to do) until I could find a job and a place to live somewhere relatively close to New Orleans, like Jackson or Baton Rouge, where I would stay until the time in January or May or who knew when that I could move back home. Or until whatever was going to happen to the house happened to it - knocked down, repaired, set aflame? In the meantime, I spent all my time on the phone talking to FEMA, Loyola, two different mortgage companies, two different insurance companies, and various credit cards and banks, all in an effort to get my little life in order. When not doing that, I sat on the phone with whiskey in hand, tracking down friends.

Obviously, things worked out better than that, in most ways at least. Plus, I have a new computer, officially entering the 21st century. My last computer ran (if you could call it that) on Windows 98, and I must say that so far, I’m enjoying this new-fangled, futuristic 21st century technology. Like most people, I’m using this technology that was near-unimaginable when I was a child to post pictures online for all to see.

First off, anniversary wine. When I mucked out my house, I found three unopened bottles of wine. Since they had been sitting underwater and in 90+ degree heat for a month and a half, I had my doubts about them, but since no grocery stores were open and the curfew was 8 and I knew I was going to want a drink later, I took them back to the squatter apartment. I opened one (Menage a Trois red) and discovered it tasted just fine. That night, I decided to open the other two on the Katrina anniversary and on the first night I spent in the house. I popped the next one (Sin Zin) on the anniversary, and it too tasted deee-licious. So I filled my glass and held it up and said a hearty "fuck you!" to Katrina, floods, and governmental incompetence.

Two bottles down, one to go.

Here, just about a year later, is the living room. Doesn’t look like much progress, but remember, at this time last year, nothing there but disintegrating books floating in three or four feet of water.

Another view. I’m hoping for walls soon.

Here’s the bar. You can see the new wiring. Should be dancing on it anytime now.

My new closet. Shotguns don’t come with closets (everybody used wardrobes in those days, I guess), so I took advantage of the opportunity and had Gavin build me one.

The attic – not a great picture, but there’s insulation and central AC/H units there – very exciting; very, very exciting.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tales of the Couchless

I finally saw "A Love Song for Bobby Long" the other day. If you don't know, the movie is set in New Orleans, based on a novel called "Off Magazine Street" (hey - I live off Magazine Street!) and stars John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, and Gabriel Macht. Now, of course, seeing any movie with Scarlett Johansson in it is a moral imperative, but additionally did I mention this one is also set in New Orleans? It finished filming here shortly before The Thing.

The movie starts with Travolta walking through New Orleans, a meandering wander that makes no sense geographically but beautiful sense architecturally and aesthetically. It was actually a bit spooky watching him make that walk and seeing all those places in the background, most of which I recognized. Hell, I even recognized a tree. Yeah, a tree. As in, "Oh, I know where that tree is." Live oaks grow awfully individualistically. It's easy to forget just how gorgeous a city New Orleans was - the most gorgeous in the country - when too much of it is still dirty and brown and stained, but if you want to see how beautiful this place can be, watch this movie.

The three live in a beat-up old house, which I knew immediately, with its wood floors, high ceilings, rickety porch, and door-sized windows. Even if I didn't know this particular house, I knew so many like it that it feels like home. The house is mostly full of books, with lawn chairs serving as the furniture.

A couple of months ago, I went out of town for a week, which Albus the Wonder Kitty didn't take to too well, a message he communicated to me by peeing on the couch. Now, understand, I hated that couch. I got it for free when I first moved here from a friend of a friend and the damn thing has been with me since, from my first French Quarter apartment to Esplanade Ridge and even out to the dark days in Alabama and then back to New Orleans. Many people have crashed on that couch, including me, but any sentimental value could not overcome its essential identity as ugly and uncomfortable. I truly hated that couch, but I really hoped it would last another few months until I could move into my house. Therefore, when I discovered its new role as litter box, I was less than pleased. I spent a good week soaking it with anti-odor and disinfectant sprays, and finally seemed to defeat the smell.

So I'm sitting on my couch again, reading something with the tv on, and Albus jumps up on the couch next to me - no big deal, he's allowed. He seems to sit, but his posture seems a bit odd out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head and look, and lo, he is peeing right in front of me. "Albus!" I cry, "No!" and I swat him (very lightly, just to get his attention). He slowly turns his head to consider me, giving me that disdainful look that cats have that somehow says "I will kill you in your sleep" and then turns away and resumes peeing. I swatted Albus again, and that finally got him off the couch, but I knew the couch's days were over. Since the couch was too big to get out the door of the apartment (we had to take a door off to get it in, and that was when the apartment was empty - no way the thing was getting out now that the apartment was full), the next day I attacked it. It's amazing how you can tear apart a big, solid piece of furniture with nothing more than a hammer, a pocket-knife, and a little pent-up rage. Before too long, I had reduced the thing to rubble that easily fit in the dumpster out back.

All of which is to say, I now have no couch which puts me on equal footing with the majority of New Orleanians, and watched "A Love Song for Bobby Long" from my floor, sitting on a couple of pillows, and I know how it is when lawn chairs are your furniture. But I also knew these people, the people portrayed in the film, writers that drink too much, but also people that sing old blues songs sitting on the levees, that will do every meager thing they can to help someone from down the block or down the bar, that are deeply attached to the city they live in.

It's not giving anything away to say that Travolta's walk is echoed by Scarlett at the end of the movie; she walks down the streets and through the neighborhoods and past the buildings and the trees that I knew and loved and it all looks just as it did Before, before the levees broke, before the flood, before everything. I was only gone for five weeks and I've been here for over eleven months, but watching that made me realize how much, how terribly, terribly much, I miss New Orleans.