Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gators and Beers

I took this picture of a 5 foot alligator in the Bayou St John on Friday.
He had duct tape stuck to his torso. A neighbor explained that some wildlife management people had managed to get it on shore the day before. "The damned gator had a six pack of beer duct taped to its back" he explained. They freed the beer and much of the duct tape the day before, but then the gator got mad and escaped back in the bayou. What I'm longing to understand are the crucial moments that lead up to the gator having a six pack duct taped to it. What is the procession of thoughts that lead up to the conclusion: "I know what we need to do! Jimmy, get your dad's gator. Billy, get the duct tape. Hank, hand me that six pack in the FEMA trailer's fridge. We boys gonna have an old fashioned gator beer boogaloo!"

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Day

Today we were willing participants in Turkey Genocide Day. Our meal was very typical: turkey, mashed potatos, green been casserole, gravy, yams, cranberry sauce, corn bread stuffing, and pumpkin pie. I heard that we were among the 100,000 people celebrating Thanksgiving in a FEMA trailer. Gilgamesh said he was thankful for his hamster and kindergarten teacher. Kalypso was thankful for her family and all her pets. She also said she was thankful that our house was fixable, as many homes here were completely destroyed. Therese said she was thankful that we were all together and healthy. Me, I'm thankful for many things. I'm thankful for having such a wonderful family and some dear friends. I'm also thankful that I teach for a living, and that since Katrina I've gotten to know my neighbors and neighborhood much better.


We just returned from Washington DC, where I spent three days going to papers and meetings at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting. Usually I go to these things alone, but this year Therese, Kalypso, and Gilgamesh went with me. They toured around town to the museums and monuments in a sort of civics lesson. Gilgamesh turned 6 on Tuesday, and we "celebrated" by driving back to New Orleans, 18 hours in the car. We did a better job celebrating yesterday. Of the many things that I love about him, my favorite thing is that he calls James Bond "James Bomb."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Endymion, My Children, and Mid-City New Orleans

It seems the biggest news lately in my neighborhood has been whether or not Endymion will be able to parade in Mid-City, or if they'll be forced to parade uptown for the second year in a row. Endymion is one of the biggest and best Mardi Gras krewes, and their return would help a great deal in Mid-City's recovery. Ask any business owner in the area, and they'll tell you that Endymion equals money. Plus it's great to meet and greet my Mid-City neighbors. At first the police said that Endymion would be able to parade in Mid-City, and they would be joined by the krewes of Iris and Tucks. Then Joy Oswald, a krewe captain from Iris, said
"We will do anything not to go out there. All my members are calling me very upset. They bring all their children up, and they don't want them in that area. Their families will not go into that area. The area is dilapidated. It hasn't come back at all."

Then the mayor said Iris would be uptown, and then the Police Superintendent Warren Riley said that Endymion would not be allowed to parade in Mid-City. He said it was a matter of safety, and that he was worried that some children might get "pulled into some abandoned building." These attitudes expressed by Joy Oswald and Warren Riley bother me quite a bit, especially as I have two kids living in Mid-City. I might not be wealthy, like Joy Oswald, nor ride in an alcohol-free parade notorious for lousy throws for all of its 90 years, nor even have had the good fortune to live in a neighborhood that didn't flood, but to have Endymion back in Mid-City is important. The city council has the final say, and they have this on their agenda for December 14th.

I realize that all of this seems trivial to people who are not here. But to have Endymion return to Mid-City would be a major step in our slow and painful return to any sense of normalcy. Seeing Endymion roll down the streets of my neighborhood was one of my favorite parts about living in Mid-City. I hope that they'll be able to return, and as soon as possible. And if Endymion is forced to roll again in uptown, then I'll be sure to make a special sign for Joy Oswald and her families that won't go into "that area," my Mid-City home.

Allstate: You're In Good Hand

The New Orleans Levee has two amusing stories about Allstate (1, 2).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Monday Nights in Mid-City New Orleans

A group of New Orleanians committed to having a voice in the rebuilding of our Mid-City neighborhood have been meeting every Monday night from 6:30-8 PM (often longer) at Grace Episcopal Church since the end of May. This started when my friend, colleague, and neighbor Bart decided that Mid-City needed a recovery plan. He came up with the first draft, a few of us collaborated on draft two, and then we met the larger neighborhood and formed committees. I was chair of the education committee. Each committee wrote their portion of our recovery plan, and we worked with Lambert and Associates, planners hired by the City Council. Recently they presented their final plan for our recovery, and we compiled an "Addendum" to be read in conjunction with the Lambert plan. Then last night we did something monumental. We agreed to stop meeting every Monday night. Not even a 12-step-program, just completely cold turkey. Each committee will now work to implement their plan. For the education committee, that means we will be working hard to get a public library in our neighborhood and more important, quality public schools. My neighbors and these committees will start meeting the first Monday of every month under the umbrella of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. That sounds like good news to me, and I would like to thank all of my neighbors for working so hard to rebuild our great and historic Mid-City neighborhood here in New Orleans.

Monday, November 13, 2006

$7,487.73 and Waivers from Allstate

Allstate owes me more than $100,000 for flood and wind damage to our house from Hurricane Katrina. They've owed me this for about 15 months now. In late September 2006 they informed me that they had a check for us for $7,487.73, but to get it I needed to sign two waivers. The first was a"Non-Waiver Agreement," and the second was "Proof of Loss Supplement." The fine print on the second one caught my attention, as if we signed it we would waive our rights to claim that Allstate has acted in bad faith, which they clearly have. So now we're in a dilemma. Allstate tells me on the phone that if I won't sign the forms, then it is the same as me refusing the $7,487.73 supplement and the case will be closed. I tell them, no, Allstate owes me the money, and there is nothing in our flood policy that states that I need to sign waivers prior to receipt of payments. The homeowner's portion of the claim we're handling in court. Our attorney said to absolutely not sign those forms, as Allstate would use them in the Homeowner's portion of the claim against us. Of course we still need an attorney to handle the flood portion of our claim, but I'm starting to think that we'd be better off with the Road Home than with an attorney. If we have an attorney for flood, and we get an extra $60,000, then the attorney's fees would be $20,000. So we would receive $40,000, but according to the Road Home it would be $60,000, and they would drop their grant by that much. While I would love to see Allstate lose in court, I can't afford to pay $20,000 to see that fine day. So for now, I can't sign the waivers, Allstate is acting as awful as ever, and we wait some more.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Paper of Record

Leslie Eaton has a story about the LA Road Home program in today's New York Times. As a neophyte media whore, I was of course pleased to see that the article mentioned me and my blog. It also included this photo:

Cheryl Gerber took this picture of Therese and I, with Greg Abry of Abry Bros looking under our house.

Note to self: 1. fix house, 2. lose weight.

Later note: There is an excellent local grass-roots organization called the Citizen's Road Home Action Team, or "CHAT," that is more knowledgeable than I about how the Road Home program works.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Katrina, Elections, and 30 Years

I keep hearing about how the U.S. administration's Iraq policy influenced the midterm elections--about how people were voting for a change of direction. I wonder how much the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath had an impact. Recently I heard Steve Villavaso, one of the most important planners in the rebuilding of New Orleans, say that it will take 30 years to rebuild this great city. I imagine that for more than 30 years, if I live that long, that I'll be fighting suppressed anger and horrible memories of death and suffering that stemmed from this unnatural catastrophe caused by incompetent humans.

Fixing Our House

Today, at long last, we met with Greg Abry from Abry Brothers. Their family has been raising and leveling houses for 160 years, and they have a great reputation. The bottom line: Greg thinks that in mid-January of 2007 he would be able to put support beams on our house so we could gut it. About a week later, once the house was gutted, they would level the foundation and then straighten the walls. He is working up an estimate and contract and should get back to us next week, he said. Since we're forced to do such extensive renovations, we think we might want to add on to the back of the house about 12-15 feet. So we need to find an architect who can help us do that. Anyway, things are looking up a bit, it just takes such a long time.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mid-Term Elections

I voted today. Mid-terms. It was nothing like two years ago, when I was so crushed that people in my country would vote for Bush and the Republicans. I was so upset that I vowed to stop driving my car to work, as I reasoned that this country's dependence on oil was a major factor in making the world a more horrible place. I've been walking and biking ever since. Of course, that was a bigger statement in some ways when I had a car parked on the street in front of my home. But alas, that car got Katrina'd, so now there's not much option. I could buy another car I guess... But back to the election. I don't feel so emotionally involved in this one. First, I have no confidence in the electronic voting machines, so why get emotionally involved? But more important, after Katrina none of this seems to matter much. If Democrats take the house, many of them are in the middle and things will continue as is. If by some chance they take both houses, then I am still not sure how that will effect me. I also think that if that happens there will still be US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next several years. But I guess deep down I would like to see a strong vote against incumbants to send the message that people are not happy with the way the country is going. I haven't been happy with the way the country has been going my entire adult life, and that is especially true for the past 6 years. At least I'm not scheduled to hunt with Cheney today, I have that going for me. I'm looking forward to watching the returns, and especially the Daily Show/Colbert Report analysis.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Road Home Update

I just got off the phone with Jamal, the supervisor for Cassandra, my Road Home caseworker. He said that he believed that my $146K pre-Katrina estimate for the Road Home came from a "BPO." At first I thought he said this stood for "Broke Price Onion," and I said "Huh?" and he explained slowly "Broker Price Opinion." He said he would check this out and get back to me, letting me know for certain how they calculated the value of my home to be $146,000, especially since we bought it 4 years before Katrina for $157,000. Someone suggested that the $146K assessment might have come from our property taxes. I checked that idea out on the Orleans Parish Assessor's Office website. That said in a 2007 certified assessment that our land was worth $13K and the building $103K, for a total of $116K. I thought maybe that it was assessed after the storm, as in it was worth more before Katrina, and now that it is damaged, it is worth only $116K. But I believe our house has always been undervalued for tax purposes. That might change, or at least I hope we have a more equitable system, after the elections next Tuesday when voters decide on consolidating the many tax assessors in New Orleans.

Jamal also said that they were going to use the appraisal of our house for $193,000 that we got when we refinanced in 2003. How lucky was that? Not only did our interest rate go down with the refinancing, but it might have gotten us $47,000 extra (193K-146K) from the Road Home. But then if I've learned anything in the aftermath of Katrina, it's that things move slowly, and I won't get excited until I see the actual check. They also wrote Allstate asking for clarification for the homeowner's numbers. Jamal said that they would not count ALE money (That's additional living expenses for my beer drinking friends).

I also found out that Allstate has given us an additional $1200 for wind damage. After our attorney fees and fees to hire adjusters and all this other stuff, that meant Therese and I will get a check for just over $100. This makes me very nervous. What if in our lawsuit against Allstate we are awarded $60,000 but no additional attorney fees. Then, we might get $40,000, with $20,000 going to our attorney, and then the Road Home would calculate that as $60,000 less they have to pay us. In short, we would be out $20,000, and would have been much better off not have sued Allstate, and to let the Road Home decide if they wanted to pursue that course of action. I'm pretty sure that I can survive rebuilding my life and city once, but the next time I think I might move far away to an isolated cave somewhere in the Mediterranean. Does anyone know contact info for Calypso or Polyphemous?

Finally, I spoke with Leslie Eaton from the New York Times about my experiences with the Road Home last Monday. I'm either a media-whore or someone who feels that my story will help others.