Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"The wheel on my car is broken and is getting fixed," my son's sitter said. "Do you think you could bring him over here, instead of having us come over to your house?"

I consented to this. We'd used these sitters for the little guy twice before and it worked out great. I wasn't about to let this kind of snafu get in the way of some fine dining with Dan, Edie, Justin, and Justine.

So I drove the little guy over at the appointed time to the sitters' apartment house. I say "sitters" because they are a wonderful husband and wife team, who were highly recommended and have worked out well for the little guy and ourselves. They mentioned, when I first met them, that they lived in this place on one of the main drags of the Garden District, but it wasn't until last night that I realized which place it was, exactly.

I have passed and repassed this nondescript place for such a while. So much of the Garden District has recovered pretty well from the storm. There was no flooding there, most of the wind and water damage incurred has been put to rights in the area, and there is even a crew filming just off the street not far from the sitters' place.

What distinguishes this apartment house from all the fancy mansions in its vicinity, however, is the Katrina graffiti it still sports just to the right of its doorway - an unmistakeable "LOOTERS SHOT". A scrubby bush partially concealed it for a time when the weather was better, but that bush has dropped its leaves, revealing the graffiti in all its defiant glory.

I didn't want to ask the sitters what the deal was with the anti-looter slogan; in some ways, I already knew what the deal was. Anyone who is here for any extended length of time can take just one look at the flooded out areas and the smatterings of boarded-up busted businesses and get the background story behind the homemade admonishment. At the same time, however, I was extremely curious about many other current issues surrounding the graffiti as it stands now.

- What is the reasoning for keeping it on the wall over a year later? Is it just laziness? A reluctance to hire painters at a time when anyone in the housing renovation business will most likely be gouging for their time and services? (Believe me, I understand that fear) Is it a subtle (or not-so-subtle) protest that the tourism boosters and the storm amnesiac "sliver by the river" need to remember the times when most of the city was literally all wet, and drowning in agony? That we need to look beyond our little nineteenth-century fiefdoms and work on the ENTIRE city?

-The sitters were ecstatic because they are now former owners of this apartment house in which they live. That's right. I noticed the "For Sale" sign up in the yard a few weeks ago, before I knew our sitters owned the place. I'm happy they got it sold, because it's what they wanted. But I now want to know: what will happen to that graffiti? Did it help increase or decrease the property value? Did the sitters even care? Will the current owners keep it on, or will they join the Garden District's spiffing-up efforts and paint over it?

Two little words, painted big on a building, and this is what they conjure up for me. I should have asked the sitters about all of this, instead of doing the endless speculation I'm doing now, but, in some ways, the answers won't really help. It won't really solve a lot of the problems around these parts. The Road Home program for those wanting to rebuild is more like "a narrow dirt goat-path winding its way up a steep mountain", to paraphrase my husband. We can't even get insurance adjusters to come out in tandem with our property managers to look at our roof properly.

I'm torn between wanting to cover over those words on that wall and keeping them on as a symbol of sorts. If anyone has ever visited the UN in NYC, they have seen the room in which the ceiling is unfinished. Any tour guide will tell you that it isn't going to be finished until there is world peace.

I guess in our case, LOOTERS SHOT could be here until this place has fully risen in some self-sufficient form - or at least a form that's more self-sufficient than it currently is.

Then again, we all need to recover in some way, and shootin' looters ain't gonna help much.


thordora said...

I still can't wrap my head around the idea of living through that. Or after that. How do you get back to normal? IS there a normal again?

Leigh C. said...

That's the thing. For people who are living here, this is still devastating, all of this. And how well you deal depends on a number of factors: how damaged your house was/is, whether or not you still have a job, and, most importantly for everyone, how many friends, neighbors, and relatives are still around.

The people who are still hanging in by their fingernails have only gotten closer to their neighbors through all of this crap, especially in areas such as Lakeview and the Ninth Ward. After all, it has become a matter of life and death for a neighborhood. Broadmoor in particular has been fighting the "green space" designations on hastily drawn up post-flooding maps that assumed few people would return after what happened.

I could go on and on, but it's making me really upset. After all this time, I never know when the tears will start, but I know I have to keep writing and talking about it all as it comes, or I'll go really crazy...

Funky-Rat (a/k/a Railyn) said...

Yikes. How sad indeed. I think it's hard to wrap the mind around it when you haven't seen it/lived in it/been neck deep in it, etc.

Over the years I've gotten attached to Centralia, and their shrinking population. In some ways, it's a similar situation. It breaks my heart every time I drive through there and see another house with a number on it, signifying that someone lost the fight in one way or another. Part of me wants to hug those who chose to stay, telling them to fight the good fight, and part of me wants to shake them and tell them to get out before they get hurt.

My heart goes out to everyone down there plugging away to make it better - gave a lot of our money and time to the relief effort put together by our church, and I hope it helped even in a small way. I guess I'll never understand how you guys down there can deal, but I admire the heck out of you.

Hope you guys had a great Chanukah! Brenda, Nelson and I miss you, and hope we can catch up some time if you make it back up here!