Thursday, January 25, 2007

Slimbo from the Block (An Annotated Schematic of Our Little Neck of the Woods)

Sometimes I try to give you folks in the arid highlands a general idea of what's going on down here, but of course, it's impossible to give a comprehensive account of the storm's impact and our city's erratic recovery in its wake. So let's just take a little sampling, hopefully a reasonably representative one*, of one little neighborhood and where it's at. And since I'm lazy, let's make it really easy for me. Let's do my block.

Here's my block (give or take a house):

And here's what's going on in each of the houses:
A: Miss Elmer's house (of the Elmer Candy family). Miss Elmer died before the storm; the house was sold and then remained vacant for about a year. After the storm, the owners promptly gutted it and secured it, but made no moves towards restoring it. Later, a "For Sale" sign appeared, then disappeared. It's still gutted and vacant.

B: Us. You know our story.

C: A rental property before the storm. For a long time afterwards, there was no activity, and we feared we'd be stuck with a festering mold-farm next door. Finally they gutted it, then did nothing else for many more months. Now, once again, there are drips and drabs of activity, but the pace is glacial.

D: A couple (the wife of whom giddily hugged us after the Saint's last victory) and their dog. They moved back in a couple of months ago and were the first ones back on our block though they're living exclusively upstairs while the downstairs is still being restored. (They just got sheetrock.)

E: The blue house. That house. Pretty much every not-so-fancy neighborhood around here has at least one "that house" (and sometimes several)—the house with an excess of sociological woes: a large and indeterminate number of residents, many with irregular or non-existent employment, lots of kids with not lots of supervision, lots of coming and going, more than their share of public disputes, and the occasional visit from the police.

And it was home to Montrell, the incredibly sweet older girl who would stop by our house regularly to play with Louise and June.

After the storm, I was concerned that they were precisely the people who would have the hardest time making it home, the ones with the fewest resources to return and rebuild, but surprisingly they were the first one's back in the neighborhood, months before the rest of us. Not all of them—at first it was just a couple of the men, then others trickling in. It's still not nearly as crowded as it used to be, but I'm happy to report that I just saw Montrell for the first time the other day. (Looking a lot older. With us grownups, we just feel eons older, but with the kids you can really see the time that's passed.)

F: A younger couple and their new post-Katrina baby. They're not back yet but expect to return shortly.

G: A couple and their adult son. They've lived their for decades. They're not back yet but expect to return shortly.

H: Miss Sally's house. Before the storm, Miss Sally was the eldest of four generations of family living in the house. After the storm, they were scattered to Texas and elsewhere, and I recently learned that Miss Sally has since died.

It's a grand, glorious old house but was in serious disrepair before the storm and would now take a small fortune to fix. The family was not wealthy; they were, I suspect, underinsured; and their prospects for return don't seem promising.

I: A modest shotgun double. I didn't know the people who lived there before the storm. There are no signs of work.
So that's it. Some good. Some bad. Some back. Some coming back. Some gone forever. The city in microcosm. Any questions?

* Though "representative" is a tricky business since there's such a huge variation in the pace of recovery across different parts of the city.