Monday, August 28, 2006

Up or Down From New Orleans?

At 7 AM a man from FEMA knocked on our door and said that our lot wasn't big enough for a FEMA trailer. I told him we didn't need a trailer large enough for 4 people and 2 dogs. Just something small and simple so we could live in front of our damaged house while we rebuilt. Some of us could even sleep in a tent in the back, we just needed a place with electricity, and a hot shower and functioning toilet. He said that FEMA had new regulations and they recently "simplified the bureaucracy." Now they don't measure for individual trailers, just for the largest, which is 34 feet. He said our trailer would likely be 25 feet, but we wouldn't know that until we got it, and we can't get it because our lot is only 30 feet wide. I asked if he could put it diagonal, and he said no, because there are powerlines we would be under if we did that. He said he might think about giving us a trailer, but two things need to happen. We have to cut down the palm tree in front of our house, and he needed to talk to our neighbor to see if he would be OK with the trailer's tongue hanging over onto his property. And then maybe we could qualify. He said if we had gotten our trailer a month ago, it would have been easy, but the new regulations didn't work too well for our situation. I asked him what I could have done to get the trailer a month earlier, and he said "nothing." And so I sit here in front of my computer thinking about how maybe I'm crazy to stay here in New Orleans. There are places where I could live in which my family's well being would not rest so directly in the hands of government officials, where levees are strong, streets are paved and not patrolled by the National Guard, where schools are great, and where neighbors don't go to planning meetings and prioritize whether functioning gas lines or firefighters are more important. These negative and overwhelming thoughts on this Monday morning, on the eve of Katrina's anniversary, are crashing through my mind's levees. Not overtopped, but breached. It has me thinking about New Orleans, Jerusalem, and even Hebrew grammar.

New Orleans is on my mind because I have called it home for 5 years, and I love the city. It's old, storied, and original. One of the ways that New Orleans is unique has to do with direction. The traditional North, South, East, West don't work in the Big Easy, and never did. The city is too old to have well planned perpendicular streets orientated to compass points. Down here, for example, the sun rises from the West Bank. Instead, you travel towards the river or the lake, and then turn uptown, downtown, or even "turn right by the old A & P" which hasn't been there for 30 years. Most New Orleanians can't imagine anyone could have been born elsewhere. It's hard for newcomers to navigate, but that's part of the charm.

I'm also thinking about Hebrew grammar and Jerusalem, the city in which I lived before moving to New Orleans. There are two separate verbs used in the Hebrew language to describe coming and going from Jerusalem. One "goes up" to this holy city, and when one leaves, one "goes down" from Jerusalem. This is literally true, because Jerusalem is located on a series of hills. But it also has a great deal of symbolic truth. The gist of this idea is that your heart and spirit are lifted when you're in Jerusalem, and if you have to leave, your heart and spirit sink.

To leave New Orleans, you would no doubt literally ascend, unless you had scuba gear or a giant earth drilling machine like this one.
But why do I stay? It's not like my entire family is here. In fact, we don't have any family here, and most of our friends have left. Sunday we drove to Houston to see a family who we considered among our closest friends. Therese worked with the mom, their oldest daughter babysat our kids, and their youngest was a good friend of Kalypso's. The parents both grew up here, and had nearly all of their family here. They're staying in Houston for now because their children are benefiting from a superior school system. So why do I stay and fight so hard for a city in which I have shallow roots?

I will be glad to see the one year anniversary of Katrina come and go. It's a bit overwhelming right now.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Michael. I'm not sure if any of us know which end is up any more.

I really enjoyed hangin' with Therese and you at Casa DB.

Anonymous said...


Please don't leave. New Orleans is more interesting with you and Therese, Kali, Gil, Mosey, Kochise and whatever else was on Noah's Arc that you're now keeping in Mid-City. Although I've never met you personally, I've enjoyed getting to know you family through your and Kalypso's blogs. Thanks for sharing your family with the world. I hope one day to meet you personally.

As I live in "The Sliver", I can't imagine how hard it is to rebuild a house. At the end of the day I'm too tired to change light bulbs at my house, so I know I couldn't handle what you guys do everyday.

Hang in there and know that there are a lot of us that are pulling for you.


"Andy Pauger"

Anonymous said...

We need to find you a house to stay in. Close to yours so you will be able to watch over the work. We need to put our collective heads together on this.

It is on my To Do List

LisaPal said...

Wow, Michael. We both have 30' lots too? Mine is on a corner and is 120 feet deep, which means there is plenty of space for a trailer, even a big one, along the side street. It's not terribly close to your house (but not really that far), it's reasonably close to Xavier and it's very close to Lusher. So, if it in any way solves the problem, I humbly offer this space to you and your family for the location of your temporary mobile residence.

By the way, I applied for a FEMA trailer and they denied it because I had flood insurance. What did I do wrong?