Tuesday, October 31, 2006


We lost so many things in the flood.

Big things, like a house, all our furniture, appliances, pots and pans and dishes. So many things, we never really thought about how much stuff we had accumulated over the years.

Things that made life simpler. A washer and dryer, for instance, right there in the house. One of the unfortunate side-effects of living in a compact FEMA travel trailer is the lack of a laundry. The once household chore of washing clothes is now a major duty that requires twice the time and effort.

We lost things that we used to take for granted. Like a real shower with a real glass door. I recall taking long showers under a gentle fountain of hot water. Not any more. The hot water tank we rely upon now holds about two quarts. I can’t stand straight up in the shower, and even if I could, the water would only rain on my shoulders. I have to bend down to wash my hair, and I have share tight quarters with a billowing plastic shower curtain, too.

And then there are other things we lost in the flood. A neighborhood, for instance. I’ve blogged about how glad I am to see the severely damaged houses in my area taken down and hauled away. But this is an almost empty joy. It goes without saying that I’d prefer my neighbors back in their neat, middle class ranch houses than to be surrounded by vacant lots.

You can erase the writing from the page, but the imprint of what was written remains. I still see it.

I have pictures in my office of my Precious Daughter, my Darling Wife, and my cats. One of them shows my cat Cupcake lounging on my bed. Once upon a time, Cupcakes’s favorite spot was to sit against the pillows on my side of our king-sized bed. I look at this photo sometimes, and I see a lot of things we lost in the flood--the bed, the quilt, my nightstand, my books, and--due to her relocation to Texas--my cat.

But that’s not all.

I used to sit on the end of that bed and play my guitars. I used to play games like “no Papas on the bed,” which involved wrestling with my Precious Daughter for control of the mattress. I used to do a lot of reading on that bed, back when I had leisure time to do things like read.

None of those things were included in our insurance settlement. And none of those things can be restored by government programs or charitable donation. I certainly hope to one day replace them in a fashion once we settle into our new house. But the reality is that those things are gone forever, lost in time, and lost in the flood.

We lost so many things in the flood.

Some of those things weren’t “things” at all. I miss those the most.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Happy Birthday, Blog

One year ago today I posted my first blog entry. It's still there in the original location on MySpace.

I posted 31 times over there, and then switched to this server at Blogger.com in December 2005. Since that time, I've posted another 150 stories about life in Post-K New Orleans.

I spent a few minutes last night rereading some of those posts. What I notice is how things have changed in my life--I went from an apartment to a trailer, from a vibrant part of the city with great restaurants to a virtual no-man's land--and how much things have not changed in my life--my job that demands long hours, my Darling Wife and Precious Daughter who rely upon me and I upon them. Life goes on, bra.

I started blogging for two very selfish reasons. First, for the therapeutic value, the comfort one gets from periodically emptying the emotional lint trap. And second, for the simple need I felt to tell the story of New Orleans from the point of view of people here and now, living and working at ground zero of this urban disaster zone. The commercial media just wasn't getting it right, in my opinion, and so I thought I could give a personal perspective to readers of the world wide web.

And I say both reasons are selfish because I hoped in the first case to make my life better directly and in the second case, to do so indirectly.

How successful have I been? Well, I haven't gone stark-raving postal to date, so that's evidence that I'm achieving my first goal. I don't think there's any way to know if I'm reaching my second goal.

But after looking at those past posts, after scanning some 180 blog entries, I am left with one wish: I wish I could write more. So much is untold. So much is untouched. It's as if I've only peeled the first two or three layers from the onion.

I don't regret or chastise myself for this; I do what I can and I keep moving forward. But we are all so consumed in our busy lives--work, personal finances, household chores, family, friends, dealing with insurance and government agencies and utilities and on and on--blogging just doesn't get top billing.

Still, I'm glad to be able to blog when I can, glad that I still have about 60 loyal readers per day, glad that every now and then someone sends me a kind word, glad to return the favor by posting as often as I can.

One year! Happy Birthday, Blog.

More to come!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Here today, gone tomorrow

I’ve long been a fan of Stephen King.

Oh sure, he can scare the bejesus out of the most stout-hearted reader, and he has the knack to make even the most ordinary events unseemly or downright creepy. But at the base of it all is the undeniable fact that he is one heck of a writer.

For me, one of his most memorable scenes involved the simple interaction between a mother and her son. I think this appears in The Stand. (He’s written so many darn books I often have a hard time recalling in which book a particular passage occurs!)

What happens is that a young boy runs into the kitchen one nice summer day to show his mother the bird he’s just shot with his pellet rifle. He is bursting with pride at his manly display.

But then his mother says, “Okay, now make it come back to life.”

The boy’s pride is wiped away in an instant. He learns a hard lesson that day, that destroying things is easy, so incredibly easy that anyone can do it. And thus destroying things is not special and is not to be admired.

Creating is hard.

My Precious Daughter and I had a discussion about this the other day. The big white brick house that has stood dominantly on the corner of our street for as long as we have lived here got knocked down this week. It was methodically pounded and smashed and broken into “bite-sized” chunks suitable for lifting by a backhoe and removal by truck.

A New Orleans house prior to demolition, October 2006.

It’s a safe bet it took a year or more to plan, design and build that house. It took less than two days to destroy it.

A New Orleans house 48 hours later, October 2006.

This is the nature of our existence. I’m currently reading Flags of our Fathers, the story of six Marines who climbed that blood-stained mountain on Iwo Jima to plant the flag. They are just a sampling of the thousands who lived and loved, hoped and dreamed, worked and struggled for years, only to die suddenly and violently on a tiny Pacific island.

It took so much effort to get there; it took less than a second for a bullet to strike and kill.

This is the nature of life. It took decades of effort to build these houses, this neighborhood, this city we call New Orleans. But one hurricane, one flood, one awful day in August was all that was required to wipe out most of that productive work.

And for what remains, these structural shells of houses, these tombs of family memories, it takes no more than two days to finish what the flood began.

Are we surprised that a mere 14 months later the city is not rebuilt yet?

Work on our new house proceeds. We received a preliminary set of drawings a few weeks ago, made comments and changes, and we are now waiting on revisions. It’s going to be a while before we get out of this FEMA travel trailer.

We’re creating a new city here. These things take time.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A pint of Chocolate City

We were at Dorignac’s yesterday to pick up a few items, and we came across this little gem.

New Orleans Ice Cream Company product.

Billed as “All Natural Super Premium Ice Cream,” we could not resist buying a pint of New Orleans Ice Cream. The label says it is made right here in New Orleans, and that would have been enough for me. But then, check out the flavors:

Ponchatoula Strawberry, Coffee & Chicory, Creole Cream Cheese, Praline Crunch and Vanilla Bean.

But the best of all was “Chocolate City.” We had to get that one!

The label describes it this way: “A politician’s faux-pas inspired this deliciously satirical chocolate ice cream with white chocolate chips.”

Who can resist that?

Since Hurricane Katrina trashed the place last year, I've heard all kinds of insults and taunts from outsiders about how crazy/silly/stupid we are in New Orleans. And I resent them all.

But this one is local, and it's in good humor (so to speak), so I'm all in favor of this flavor of commentary.

We watched a DVD in the FEMA travel trailer last night and enjoyed our gourmet ice cream. Chocolate City is delicious! My Darling Wife enjoyed the rich and creamy chocolate, but I was partial to the white chocolate chips.

I wonder what Hizzoner had for desert last night?

Monday, October 09, 2006

"Coming back...

...to serve New Orleans."

That's what the banner over Camellia Grill says. The exterior is getting stripped in preparation for a new paint job.

Camellia Grill, New Orleans, getting a facelift, October 2006.

But so far, nothing going on inside.

Camellia Grill, New Orleans, interior appears untouched, October 2006.

That's okay. We probably don't want the inside to change anyway!

Word is it will reopen before the end of the year. I know a lot of locals, and visitors, are looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Public safety must always take precedence

The American Society of Civil Engineers has published an important paper outlining 10 measures to improve hurricane protection and safeguard lives and property in the future.

Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later. What Must We Do Next? is a brief but powerful statement of what went wrong and what we must do to make sure it never happens again.

The big point they make is that hurricane protection is not to be confused with economic development. Building the most cost-effective levees leads to catastrophic failure as we recently experienced. ASCE’s Call-to-Action Number 1 calls attention to this weakness:

“As the hurricane protection system for New Orleans was being designed and debated amongst the USACE and state and local stakeholders, compromises were made based on cost, land use, environmental issues, and other conflicting priorities. Protection of the public’s safety was not always the outcome of these compromises.”

Hurricane protection is a matter of public safety. You can’t use a business model to justify a superior system of levees and gates. You have to build it with a mindset to safeguard lives. Anything less is a disservice to citizens that Civil Engineers are legally and ethically bound to protect.

The paper concludes:

“ASCE, working in partnership with the USACE and other engineering organizations should reinforce the need to place the safety, health, and welfare of the public first, and should communicate that public safety must always take precedence.”

I’m glad to see that ASCE understands this. Let’s see if the rest of America gets it, too.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Broken hammer

I broke my hammer today. I was trying to pull a nail.

This hammer was given to me by my father almost 20 years ago. It is one of the few tools I was able to salvage after Hurricane Katrina. I could probably get a new handle, but it would not be the same.

My broken hammer

My Dad is a great handyman. Carpentry, plumbing, electrical work--he's done it all. He started at a young age working with his father as they fixed up their Foucher Street home in New Orleans. More than half a lifetime ago, he taught me a lot of what I know about fixing up a house.

And he's still going strong. Mom and Dad's house in Slidell got about 4 feet of water. My Dad, now 71 years old, tried to hire contractors to fix it up, but apart from getting roofers and a crew to do the drywall, I think my Dad did it all. He couldn't just sit and wait for someone to show up. He took matters into his own, capable hands.

Mom was there, too. I'm not going to discount her hard work, but clearly my Dad was the foreman and the backbone of that job site.

They moved back into their refurbished home in June while we're still trying to get house plans drawn. Just goes to show you: never underestimate your parents.

My favorite part of this hammer was the red rubber on the handle. My Dad did that himself--I think he puts that on all his tools to personalize them.

A few months ago I bought a new tool box and started buying new tools. I already have another hammer so I won't miss a beat. But I will miss that hammer.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A reputation at steak

I am no fan of David Vitter, but I have to give Louisiana’s junior senator credit for putting his principles where his mouth is at least this once.

Sen. Vitter attended a gathering of the Louisiana Restaurant Association last week at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Washington. Nothing remarkable about that, except that, according to The Times-Picayune, Sen. Vitter refused to eat the free food.

As every New Orleanian knows, Ruth’s Chris was founded and franchised all around the world by our own Ruth Fertel. When beloved Ms. Ruth passed a few years ago, the company was taken over by a Board of Directors who were not from New Orleans.

The word on the street is that the company had been chaffing to move its corporate headquarters long before the venerable Ms. Ruth died, but this much is undisputed fact: in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and with Ms. Ruth out of the picture, the corporation quickly moved its world headquarters to Florida.

Common expressions like, “Kicking a man when he’s down,” and, “Pouring salt on a wound,” hardly capture the disappointment we in New Orleans had in watching them pack up and leave.

Be that as it may, New Orleans has managed to survive this corporate insult. We’ve still got more fine restaurants than most people could ever enjoy in a lifetime of eating out.

But the point of this is Sen. Vitter’s principled stand against what has become of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. I try to imagine him there, surrounded by plates of sizzling strip steaks, filet mignon, and buttered vegetables--and resisting.


Like I said, on almost any other day the senator gives me indigestion. But on this occasion, Sen. Vitter cut right to the bone and revealed the sweet pink center of life in post-K New Orleans: We stand together, and when we do, nobody can hurt us.

Fellow blogger Mr. Clio called for a boycott late last year in an attempt to persuade the CEOs of Ruth’s Chris to change their minds. I join him and our senator in his boycott of the corporation that holds Ms. Ruth’s name and recipes, but knows nothing about loyalty.

Besides, I’ve always preferred Crescent City Steaks anyway.