Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Confessions of a pigman

Today, I've been back in the city for nearly a week. I intended to return to Alexandria late last week but never got around to it. New Orleans is like that--it's still like that. More friends arrive, more businesses open, and the weary traveller gets distracted. I've never been quite sure whether the island of Circe or land of the Lotus Eaters is the proper classical parallel.

Early impressions of the city on my third trip back:

Crossing the Crescent City Connection into the West Bank, I see blue-tarped roofs spotting the suburban landscapes like the swimming pools shimmering among green squares stretching
forever, seen on landing when we glide over Long Island and down into New York.

On our side of the river, refrigerators stand sentinal up and down the block, their festering contents seeth inside, bound by duct tape. They've become ad hoc bulletin boards, grafitti canvasses: "Voodoo Day 5," "Heck of a Job, Brownie," "Deliver to: George W. Bush, Pennsylvania Ave." I was invited to a Day of the Dead party coming up "You'll see flyers around. Check the refrigerators."

Stood outside the big Uptown Rue de la Course, amid the garbage stink, chasing off the fat buzz of flies, checking my email. They were open by Saturday, overrun with traffic for the Clean Up Magazine St. effort. That in itself was mightily impressive: four or five groups per block, volunteers and homeowners, National Guardsmen, hired hands, all dragging contractors' bags, sweeping, sweating. By Sunday we all swore Magazine was cleaner than before the storm.

Elsewhere is another story. I drove through Gentilly, Lakeview, 8th Ward. A few haggard residents there, dragging things to the street, dust masks perched on their foreheads. They don't look up and wave as I drive by. So still everywhere, I feel my jeep makes a wake in the dust. In City Park rows of amputee oaks, vast stretches of dust-colored grass.

In the Marigny, everyone waves and talks now. The talking has become compulsive: "how'd you do in the storm? when did you leave? where did you go?" Everyone wants to tell the story and tell it again. Some of my neighbors stayed through the first week after the storm. They tell their stories piecemeal, not the rushed recitation of the evacuees, but one detail at a time, usually in response to something I've said:

"I heard everyone had firearms Uptown."
"I had a gun. We all did. There were three checkpoints on the block. When I went out at night, I'd flash the spotlight, once to that house there, once to the house at the end of the block, so I wouldn't get shot."


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