Daniella's Misadventures
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Seven Months Later

Chris Rose is a genius. His writing is so very, very good.

From here.

Misery in the melting pot
Along Toledano, the only thing worth having is patience

It has been seven months.

I am walking down Toledano Street, the wide pitch from Broad to Claiborne, 10 blocks of classic urban American landscape: sad grocery stores, chicken, pig's feet and dirty rice to go, brick revival churches, funeral homes, auto parts stores and ramshackle row houses.

There was a time when optimistic paint jobs -- orange sherbet, burnt sienna and sea foam green trims, posts and porches -- did their best to cover the age and decay, but it's all laid bare and painful now. The optimistic veneer here -- everywhere -- was stripped by the water.

Seven months ago.

The corner of Broad and Toledano once marked a turf war for customers between Cajun Chicken and Cajun Seafood, two caddy-corner carry-outs owned by Asians in a black neighborhood.

Welcome to the melting pot.

But the war is over; both stores have been shuttered. For seven months.
Just down from the corner at Broad, there's a sign that says: "No Dumping: $500 Fine."

That's almost funny. Eight feet above the ground, the crooked sign has the brown water mark across it. And there are, about every hundred paces, big piles of debris, like a dump -- carpet, plaster, furniture and televisions, lots of televisions.

You have to figure the local Nielsen ratings took a beating in this hurricane. The revolution was televised, but all the TVs are broken.

This is one of those puzzling neighborhoods where you look at some of the houses and you tremble at their altered states of decline but you sometimes realize: This one or that one was falling down even before The Thing.

The Rhodes Funeral Home anchors this unwieldy boulevard, all stately, grand and white, looking like nothing more than a mausoleum itself. It is gutted now and masked workers are removing the floor with shovels.

You don't want to think about what happened in the funeral homes. The only consolation is that at least the people inside were already dead.

But still.

In the middle of the afternoon, there's a wan ghost town feel to Toledano, with weeds gone wild and power lines dangling and swaying in the breeze like electric spider webs and Styrofoam cups and potato-chips bags drifting this way and that as motorists speed by on their way to or from Uptown or the interstate, destination always someplace else -- anyplace else -- but here.

It's easy to fall into a listless state after a while out here on Toledano. You get an irritation in your throat or maybe that's just your imagination -- that Katrina Cough that people talk about, but is it real?

Work crews around here are spotty and slow-moving; there seems to be no urgency.

Many houses have been gutted but that's as far as the work goes in most cases while the residents wait to learn the future of Broadmoor, this neighborhood, designated "green" by many specialists who suggest that low lying areas such as this should be returned to their natural state and their natural state didn't include crawfish egg rolls or jazz funerals.

Or Bible study or happy hour, so both the Pleasant Zion Baptist Church and Tapp's II are gutted and waiting. Cap'n Sal's Seafood is cleaned out and cleaned up with shiny stainless steel counters in place and a fresh paint job, but there's no one on the premises, hardly ever is, all boarded up and waiting.

Inside the storefront window, on a table top: Work gloves, industrial wipes, small electrical fixtures and a book, "Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential."

Indeed. Talk about self-help. Best of luck to you, my friend.

There's an unmarked green tin building down the block, the parking lot still full of drowned cars, but life and commerce stir around them.

This is Dooley's Auto & Wrecker Service but you'd only know that because that's what's printed on the brand new shirt that the man named Dooley wears in the office.

There's no actual wrecker visible on the premises but gospel music blares from the back auto bay where Dooley's grandson-in-law -- the only current employee -- busies himself with auto repair.

Dooley sits at his desk eating lunch out of a Rally's bag with "Guiding Light" blaring on a TV against the wall. After losing every tool and every machine seven months ago -- to say nothing of the eight cars he was working on at the time and all the old mechanic uniforms with names stitched on the pockets -- he's been back in business for three weeks.

New uniforms. Some new tools. Still need new machines, but can't wait forever.

"Need to get back to work," Dooley says. He's cobbling this thing back to life with no help from FEMA or the Small Business Administration or anything else that's government-related or spelled by acronym.

"I don't fool with that," Dooley says. "Just doin' it myself."

Doin' it with no sign and no phone; there is still no land line service in this part of town. Seven months later.

A customer walks into Dooley's shop. Broken headlight. Dooley loses interest in his conversation with a stranger and attends to the customer and the gospel music in the back bay blares and the sound of tools -- new tools -- clatters in the shade.

Moving down the block, more piles of debris. Big and small. A pile of riding lawn mowers stacked up on the sidewalk speaks of the loss of a small business. One small story. Many small stories make the big story.

Other places, little things, cosmetics, bedding, toys, small appliances. It's just stuff. Possessions. But it was somebody's stuff, and it took a long time and some scrap to get this stuff and in a lifetime, this stuff amounted to somebody's comfort zone. Their home.

We are Humpty Dumpty, laughing on a wall one minute, then cracked and flat on our back the next.

A work crew is gutting a home, its debris spilled out onto the traffic lane and marked off with police tape. A man in a mask delicately lifts and tucks strands of Christmas lights that hang from the aluminum awning on the front porch to keep them from getting tangled in the floorboards the workers are ferrying out. It's as futile and loving a task as you could witness.

Let there be light. Let there be life.

Most houses here on this stretch of Toledano are one-story and empty, but some folks here are living in the rare upstairs and there are some trailers dotting the landscape, though not much sign of activity in them.

Clara Hunter watches this world from her front porch. In a housecoat and plastic hair net, she is the only resident in view on this afternoon, one of the first back.

"I was in Metairie but I didn't like it," she says. "Didn't like paying rent. So I came back home. There is nothing like home."

Her front lawn, all 12 square feet of it, holds two new azalea bushes and one gardenia, the only living plant life other than menacing, spiky weeds you see up and down this street.

She regards the boulevard before her, silent but for speeding, anonymous drivers seemingly oblivious to the stirrings out their windows. They've got their own problems.

A retiree, Hunter has lived here for 35 years. She says most of her neighbors own their homes. From what she has heard, the neighborhood will rise again, but she doesn't hear much these days because there is no phone service and she can't afford a cell and there's no one on the stoop next door or next door to that or next door to that.

"I can't talk to my friends," she says. "But the lady up the street says some folks say they're coming back here soon. And some folks say they're not coming back at all.

"You got to be patient, I guess. You're not patient, you get a stroke or a heart attack."

Words to live by. Seven months in.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
That's it

I'm on strike from my life.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Why is it?

Why is it that the "low-battery" indicator sound that the smoke detector makes always, always starts beeping at 3 AM? You never have the low battery sound come on at like, say, 7 PM when you would get up, like a normal, sane person, go get the step-stool and change battery.

No, in my 33 years of living, it has only ever gone off between the hours of 2 AM and 5 AM, particularly when you have a 6 AM train to catch for a breakfast meeting in Philly, so that you are stuck in bed cursing impotently and trying to throw a shoe at the damn thing so it will stop beeping and you can go back to sleep.

This is my life.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Single handedly the funniest thing I've seen in a long time...

What people really mean at work. Click here and prepare to laugh.

**warning, not safe for work and needs sound