Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Okay, this week’s entry was SUPPOSED to be entitled “Battle Scars”… to highlight the “injuries” I’ve sustained thus far. But this morning, I awoke to find that my BIKE WAS STOLEN!! So, as nothing else is really on my mind but the FIERY ANGER burning inside, I shall write about this.

How could this happen? Who could’ve done it? My bike wasn’t on the street begging to be stolen. It wasn’t on display behind a fence, beckoning innocent passerbys with its shiny new handlebars. My beloved bicycle lived in a secured courtyard (with a keyed iron privacy gate) hidden in the back behind the stairs and trees underneath an opaque vinyl cover. I kept it in what I thought was a safe location. There are about 10 other bikes in the courtyard as well, but no one else’s bike was even touched. So I am convinced that whoever took mine KNEW that it was there. And it makes me doubly angry to think that someone who “knows” me - who has seen me riding that bike WITH MY CHILD on the back - would take it! Heartless!

I shouldn’t complain. Overall, things have been going pretty well for me here. Having my bike stolen is definitely not the worst thing that could’ve happened. That thought quelled some of the rage I felt this morning upon seeing a discarded bicycle cover on the ground where my bike used to be. But still… my father bought me that bike when I moved down here. He told me not to worry about the price; to get a quality bicycle that worked for my frame. Because I’m so tall, the bike shop had to special order one that fit. I’d just bought a child seat for it so that my daughter could ride with me. She was so excited to be riding with Mommy. Not only did it have sentimental value, it had become a primary source of transportation. And I PREFERRED riding it to using my mother’s car. Can’t pollute the environment by riding a bike; can’t get caught in a traffic jam on a bike; won’t ever spend $30 filling up a gas tank; PLUS, you get a good workout and you get to SEE more of the city while riding. It’s about a four mile ride from where we live now to my house in the Lower 9th Ward… and I happily rode there and back several times a week. I loved that damn bike.

I have my suspicions. Top on the list – the friendly neighborhood crackhead. Well, I don’t know for sure that he’s a crackhead, but he definitely has some sort of drug problem. My uncle hired him to do some work in the courtyard, so he knew what was back there. Living right down the street from us, he also would’ve known that we left town for the weekend. I haven’t seen him since we’ve been back. Of course none of my other neighbors know anything. My number two suspect is someone that lives in this apartment complex. There are four apartments here, all of which have access to the courtyard. One of the tenants gave me a tip today that seems to point the finger at another tenant. And that tenant told me that he saw the gate open yesterday, but none of the other tenants claim to have left the gate open at any time over the weekend. So who knows. I’m not sure that it’s worth my time playing Clue here. Again, this is not the worst thing that could’ve happened by far. But I’m still PISSED OFF about it. And I feel like I wanna start carrying a bat around just in case I see anybody riding my bike on the street.

[I’m really not a violent person.]

SO, I suppose this could still be about “Battle Scars”… this one being the scar on my heart or my ego or sense of trust or something. I’ll share the other two (physical scars) at another time. But, hopefully, they’ll be healed by then. Some wounds heal faster than others. Sorry for the drama, y’all. And sorry for this post being off subject… but I’m pissed.

I should mention that my house is now 100% gutted and has been mold remediated as of today, thanks to Jeh from Common Ground. Silver lining.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Just Say YES

A couple Wednesdays ago, Green Light New Orleans stopped by my mom’s house to install energy efficient light bulbs. While she was there meeting them, Paulette and I worked at my house. My mother returned a couple hours later, ecstatic – she’d met a journalist who was covering the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina for the German press. Apparently, Ann the journalist was fascinated with our story - two women rebuilding with their own hands - and wanted to trail us.

I love those chance meetings that blossom into beautiful experiences. Ann turned out to be an angel. Not only warm and committed to spreading the word about New Orleans, but also HELPFUL! One day, she came to the house with the intention of taking some action photos. The first thing she did, however, was ask for a pair of gloves! Ann grabbed a shovel and helped me remove ALL the debris in the shed. What a blessing! Paulette had flown back to NY the day before and my mother’s back is not so good, so it was gonna be just me shoveling. And it had to be done that day (FEMA stopped providing construction debris removal that Tuesday, but failed to notify the public*. Fortunately, since I’d made an appointment that Monday, I was still in the queue.) So I wanted to make sure I got everything out ASAP. It was a LOT of stuff. But we finished in a couple hours! And then, just like clockwork… or magic… or something, the sky opened up and IT POURED, suddenly and intensely. Unreasonable amounts of water fell from the clouds, y’all. I’m talking zero visibility, flooding, traffic accidents, etc. If Ann hadn’t been there to help, I doubt that I would’ve gotten all that debris out before the rain. And then it would’ve been a soggy, heavy mess. Oh, how grateful am I.

* I just read an article in today’s paper saying that FEMA will stop removing construction debris on June 30th. I am confused and will call tomorrow… cuz I now have more debris.

Ann and I shoveling debris into the wheelbarrow

Ann ended up hanging out with us almost every day until her plane took off on Tuesday. My mom and I both told her our stories. We talked about life before and after the hurricane. I told her about my goals for this part of my life in New Orleans. A couple days before her departure, she offered me her car free of charge. She’d bought it during her time here and had been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell it. I guess she thought I’d be a good person to whom she could donate. I thoroughly appreciated the gesture, but I declined the offer, thinking of the added expense and responsibility, not to mention the pollution. Later I mulled over whether or not that was a good decision. I thought of two things: One, people want to be able to bless other people. Turning them away denies them that opportunity and makes them think you don’t need help. The second thing I thought of was something I’d heard a while back I only remember the gist of what this guy said - “Never turn away a gift. You never know what could happen.” He’d been led to bigger and better things with each acceptance.

Needless to say, this got me to thinking. Coincidentally, a few days before, Paulette had suggested that I create a place for PayPal donations on my blog (she'd been getting lots of positive feedback from talking about her New Orleans experience on myspace.com.) Again, I said “No.” This is my email response verbatim:

this house is an investment for me. it wasn't my primary residence. i wasn't displaced by the hurricane. i didn't lose my home and all my belongings. i just lost money as a result of the hurricane. i actually was quite lucky; who gets to file such a big claim after having paid for just one year of insurance? granted, i didn't get any money for flood damage, but i think i can make the necessary repairs with what i have.

there are other people who REALLY experienced true loss as a result of the hurricane and the failure of the local and federal govt to protect the city. THEY need more help than i do. i'm young; i'm eager to work and learn; i don't have the emotional attachments to the whole situation that other people have. i don't feel like i was a "victim" of Hurricane Katrina.

so i wouldn't feel right asking people to donate to ME. maybe i could collect donations to support friends and family who really DO need it. or worthy organizations that i know for sure are using the money to help Katrina victims. but outside of that, i think it would be misleading to categorize myself as a Katrina victim and ask for donations when there are SO many people who really do need assistance and are not getting it.

So, while I was willing to accept help in the form of volunteers, I wasn’t comfortable with accepting monetary or material donations. I was thoroughly conflicted over this issue; I talked to my parents about it; I sat and thought about it a long time.

This is the conclusion to which I’ve come: I am committed to doing my part to revitalize my neighborhood. That is my entire purpose for being here. Merely witnessing the state of the neighborhood (and New Orleans, in general) strengthens my resolve daily. Right now, there is literally NO ONE living on my block. One house across the street was renovated and has been “For Rent” since I moved down here in March. And my next door neighbor periodically works on his property. Besides that, all the houses are basically “lying in state.” I am here to finish my house and create a safe, well-lit presence on my street. I know that other neighbors are waiting to see what everyone else is doing. But what can actually be accomplished if everyone is waiting on everyone else? I am young; I am eager; I am not depressed or suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of Katrina. I am fresh and ready to work; ready to revitalize. I walked away from a well-paying, comfortable “dream” job in New York and moved to New Orleans with my young daughter. We live in my mother’s one-bedroom apartment; I sleep on the floor, my daughter sleeps on a comfy cot. My dad bought me a bike and that is my main mode of transportation, besides riding in my mom’s car. Mama and I work on either my house or her house every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesdays, I help my friend Maela with her house. On Thursdays, I volunteer rebuilding homes with The St. Bernard Project. This is not a vacation. I am here to work, to help. For that, I am willing to accept donations. I have decided to Just Say YES.

So, Paulette, I have set up a PayPal account under papucharlie@gmail.com. And I will figure out how to add something to my blog page to allow for PayPal donations.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Peanut butter and Jelly - who doesn’t love a good PB&J sandwich? Pierre and Jamyla – power couple of the century. And PJ’s!! I love a nice warm pair of pajamas in the winter. Why do I mention these seemingly random things, you ask? I’m just reveling in all the good things that come from the combination of letters P and J. The latest items to add to my list: Peris and Jaye – the couple from Chicago who came down to help me with my house last week. AND NOW Paulette!! Which letter does her surname begin with? You guessed it – J. Good things come in P’s and J’s.

First, let me tell y’all about Peris. This is a man who happened to find my blog online through reading an article in The Oregonian (he does not live in Oregon, by the way) and offered to volunteer while he’s here for Jazz Fest. When he got to my house last Wednesday, he brought his burly self (when tearing things down, it is a true BLESSING to have a large person helping out) AND his lovely wife, Jaye. They arrived ON TIME (another blessing) and ready to work. Jaye and I started with removing the kitchen sink. I’d bought copper pipe cutters to release the sink from the plumbing network. But then I remembered that the pipe thieves had already done this work for me. Thanks, raggedy thieves. I appreciate the gesture. Now I can return the cutter to the store and get my money back. I’ll bet your initials are P.J. too, huh? ANYWAY, next we took out the countertop and cabinets.

Believe it or not, this is PROGRESS.

Then, my mother and Jaye commenced to rip out walls in another room. Peris and I continued with the kitchen; I tore down the east wall, while Peris removed a stubborn wall cabinet. He then single-handedly brought the STOVE to the back shed AND removed all the debris. We got so much work done that day. I’m forever indebted to these people. However, I decided against giving them my first born child, opting to offer them Jazz Fest tickets instead. They had a great time!

Me attacking the kitchen wall with a vengeance.

And then they came back on Monday and did more work! Peris removed the drywall from the kitchen ceiling (there’s BEAUTIFUL tongue and groove wood lining the ceiling beneath the drywall) AND took out about a third of the old linoleum tile and plywood from the kitchen floor.

Peris is my hero!

My mother and Jaye replaced the broken window sash ropes on two of my windows. Old New Orleans houses tend to have sash windows, which operate with a rope and weight mechanism. The rope runs along a pulley at the top of the window frame; the rope is connected to a weight inside the frame, hidden behind the molding. When the window is raised, the weight holds it in place. Without the weight, the window won’t stay up. Four of my windows were in such a state; now only two are… and we’ll take care of those tomorrow!

Too bad I couldn't get a better photo of them at work. Damn you, sunny day.

PJ #2 - Paulette came on Monday also. I will speak of her now. Paulette is a friend of mine from New York. She makes crocheted hats and scarves and embroidered shirts. She’d been reading my blog and decided to come down and help. She showed up at my house about an hour after her plane touched down in New Orleans and began ripping out moldy drywall. Now THAT’S a worker!!! Thank you, Paulette. She’s here for the rest of the week. Today, she rested but tomorrow we’ll be back at the house, gutting the bathroom. I’ll tell you all about that exciting (I’m sure) adventure next week. Anyway, Paulette pulled out the moldy drywall in the front room... with the windows closed since my mom and Jaye were repairing them. Even though she’s from Barbados, the heat still got to her. It’s not THAT hot! Wait until July/August hit. It’s gonna be REALLY hot then.

Paulette - HARD at work!

This week, plumbers do NOT make it on my PJ list. Well, besides the fact that they have no “J” in their title and therefore can’t qualify anyway, PLUMBERS SUCK about as much as electricians do. I’ve been trying to get a plumber over to my house for an estimate. NADA. I’ve made appointments, but no one’s ever shown up. So I still have no pipes. The thieves have them. No, they probably sold them already. So, some other homeowner has them. I will take this opportunity to note that if you are reading this and you are a licensed plumber or electrician, you will make a KILLING down here. It’s unfortunate for people like me to be at the mercy of skilled folks like you, but that is the situation down here. I wish I was a licensed plumber right now. Anyway, I hope y'all have enjoyed reading this week's installment. :)