"Leigh, do you really want to stay here?" my dad said after we'd passed the National Guard Humvees at the Superdome Holiday Inn. After I'd told him, yes, the Guard is still here. After I'd told him about the trouble the NOPD was having holding on to the officers they have, much less recruiting new ones. After I'd told him about the firefighters needing firehouses and pay raises.
I went down Toulouse Street to Dauphine, to the hotel where LSU had put him up for the few nights he was in the city. I didn't answer him right off, because something in me was a tad chagrined. The old uneasiness over father-measuring-up-daughter's-actions was kicking in, and I was stunned that it was still there. I recovered and said yes. I pulled over to the curb to let Dad out and an NOPD cruiser pulled in right behind me. Two cops came out and proceeded to arrest a guy right there next to the hood of the cruiser.
Ohhh, yeah, that'll show Dad.
LSU Medical, after winning their tug-o-war with LSU proper as to hirings and firings (the head of Pharmacology fought like hell to keep his personnel and won) and then winning the fight to stay in New Orleans, finally turned around and intended to bring my dad to New Orleans. However, time was not on their side. The cards were stacked against them, really, from before Dad even accepted their invitation to come down here. He'd already finalized his plans to accept another research position in the southeast, but he figured he'd at least be wined and dined. Maybe they'd make him an offer he couldn't refuse...
Well, they got the wine and dine part right. Dad enjoyed meals at Lilette and Restaurant August before he hooked up with Dan, the little guy, and me. He thought the Pharmacology department was on the verge of being world-class in their structure and research. LSU Medical, however, is barred from giving prospective candidates a nationally competitive salary by LSU itself. In terms of other programs in the southeast, the salary is good, but then one has to contend with the rising cost of living in the greater New Orleans area (the types of homes my parents were looking at were in the $200K range, with the first floor gutted and no other work done on the house...ohhh, yeah, that'll get my dad to change his plans in two seconds...).
Dan and I served up a further reality check. We took Dad to Mandina's and Angelo Brocato's and began our nudging off the Isle of Denial. I drove Dad through Lakeview that night on the way to check the hours of Dorignac's in Metairie, so that we could pick up a bottle of some bubbly on the way back to the airport the next day, and he got a taste of what I first experienced when I went all through New Orleans after nearly four years. Nothing like a drive through ghost subdivisions at night - it's like dreams of Levittown gone bad. The Amityville Horror expanding well beyond the one house. The Five Towns area left for dead.
(I guess I'm likening so much of Lakeview to Long Island locales in part because Dad grew up on Guyland, close to the Five Towns area, and Levittown was the blueprint for loads of post WWII communities, neighborhoods, and subdivisions all over this country. I am also reminded of a New York Times Magazine article that came out a while back examining the role of Long Island and fairly recent nefarious doings on that island. Ladies and gents, in the scheme of things, Guyland can be seen as a glorified sandbar that has nurtured the likes of such things as the Amityville Horror house, Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco, a thoroughly drunk Jackson Pollock, cookie-cutter homes, and decaying Gold Coast mansions such as the ones featured in The Great Gatsby (the book, not the movie - after a thorough search, they went for a mansion in Newport, R.I., for the movie). And this could all stem from the fact that Guyland is simply one giant bedroom community...nobody really needs to be there, geographically speaking. At least, these are some of the things this article talked about, from what I can recall. If I didn't know better, I'd advocate restoring the Gulf Coast and the levee system with all of Long Island, but I've got family and damn good friends who live there, so it'll just have to stay put. So be it.)
SOOOO...the next morning, I dropped off the little guy at school and took Dad around the town. The damned disaster tour of 2007. Woo-hah. I filled Dad in on happenings in and about town, including showing him the effects of the tornado that hit the area around my son's school a while back, the construction around the 17th Street canal breach ("They're still working on this????" Dad asked incredulously. Uhhh, yeah), the forest of signs in front of homes right next to the levee castigating the Army Corps for trying to take the land from its owners, the large numbers of unoccupied homes, the vacant lots, the homes people were gutting and rebuilding, the abandoned schools, the flooded houses of worship, the abandoned boats in some yards, the concrete foundation wasteland that is now the Ninth Ward in the vicinity of the Industrial Canal levee breach...you name it, I did my best to fit it in in the couple of hours before Dad had to catch his flight out.
I talked about the blogs and bloggers, about people who were staying, about people who wanted to come back, about the idiocy of our elected officials, about the despair, the joy, the traffic, the prospect of another hurricane season and what it could bring. At one point, I took a left onto St. Claude Avenue from Franklin Avenue, and the sirens sounded behind me. Awww, great...
"Did you see the no left turn sign back there?" the cop asked.
"Uhhh, no," I said.
"Did you see the sign?" she asked again.
"I'm from Pennsylvania, Officer," Dad leaned in as I cringed a little. "My daughter is showing me all around the city, showing me what's happened."
"Ohhh, okay," she smiled. "This won't happen again, right?"
"Uhhh, no sir...uh, ma'am," I stammered, as she laughed.
We went around a few blocks to check out the miniscule No Left Turn sign at the intersection and took a short detour through the Marigny to do so. It was there that Dad was wowed by the architecture. "These houses are beautiful," he enthused. "There are some real jewels in here!" He even laughed a little at the term "camelback shotgun" when I pointed one out to him.
It was then that my mom called. She and Dad chatted about the state of their house up north, which is going through some re-flooring, re-carpeting, and basic face-lifting in order to ready it for sale. Then an interesting thing was said by my dad. Something to the effect of, "This town has been hit bad, but there's a certain amount of its architectural heritage still intact. If this place can solve its government problems, its police and firefighter problems, and bring its hospitals back, there oughta be a good recovery here."
Huh. Dad was looking at all the devastation for only a few hours, and he came up with that. Yeah, Dad has never liked New Orleans. Yeah, Dad had already made up his mind that he wasn't going to move here, that he wasn't going to take the job here. He did something that many, many others have not done since this whole mess of 8-29 and after began, however.
He came with an open mind, to a certain extent. A much more open mind than our illustrious oaf of a president, and most every politico that has come through these parts. And, mind you, there are most definitely times when Dad's mind is like a steel trap.
Maybe it was the fact that his daughter lives here, and it hasn't let go of her and her husband. His only grandson is attending a school here. We're getting a new roof on our house in time for another hurricane season, right here.
Or maybe it was the Marigny...
Glad you came, Dad. We love you.