Did You Know?
Home ownership will fill you with a wealth of knowledge via bruised body parts, fume-filled lungs, paint spattered everything, and emotional breakdowns.
And now I am able to start most of my conversations with "Did you know?", For example, did you know that Windexing your indoor windows on a sunny day will result with a sunburn/chemical-burn? That ammonia doesn't play. And that sunshine comes right on through those lovely antique glass panes. I did know to wear a mask but should have armed myself with goggles. Yes those KN95 masks not only keep the Covid cooties at bay—they protect against (to some degree) paint fumes, mold, dust, and Windex. Old masks can be cut up to slide into and clean the vents of that nasty mold-infested piece-of-crap window A/C unit.
Did you know that after a new roof you do not get to afford that central air and heat you dreamed of installing? Did you know that after the foundation work is paid for, you have to eat peanut butter sandwiches for the rest of your life? Fortunately, I like peanut butter.
My methodology for interior house painting, generally receives a look of "what the f**k." When getting an estimate from some painters for our interior, we insisted on one coat per room and one gallon per room, to which they empathically said, "Two coats, two gallons." We thanked them for the estimate and walked them to the door. Also they required $300 per room, which was a fair price to charge, of course, but we figured we could save a grand and a half doing it ourselves and our way.
Did you know that a paint brush uses less paint than a roller? We did all the rooms with 3-4 inch-wide brushes and averaged one gallon per room. The trick is to use the primer/paint-all-in-one combo and cover the walls with excessive art to obscure imperfections. Vision-impaired house guests give us rave reviews on the paint job.
Another less-than-professional painting tip from me is to paint around furniture and pictures. This tactic came in handy a few years back when redecorating my apartment. It saved a lot of time and paint and gave new meaning to "coloring out-side the lines." Also, if you run low on pink paint, touch-ups with Pepto Bismal work. Did you know that if you forgot to buy that little itty bitty trimming brush, you can just dip your finger in the paint have at it?
Of course, we bought our first home just in time for an arctic blast. Ahead of that freeze front, all I could think of were pipes, frozen pipes, busted pipes, and an additional bank loan (to add to the others we will never live the centuries needed to pay off). This was our first rodeo with under-the-house pipe wrapping, and I am here to tell you that there is a secret world that lies beneath your floorboards and it is frightening. To think that just inches away, under those heart-of-pine freshly waxed floors is a Neil Gaiman/Stephen King collaboration of horror. This parallel universe is fraught with spiders waiting to greet you, broken glass, and all other forms of discarded debris, and a foundation comprised of rotted support beams and crumbling brick piers. A foundation contractor was booked the next day.
If I had been a brave (and foolish) kid I would have found it worthy of exploration, but if I ever see a child, man, or beast try to crawl under a house I will call 911. Well, except for this one time when I sent Husband under to wrap the pipes (we tried to find a plumber, but they were booked solid ahead of the freeze).
I have never been prouder of him as when he shimmied under the sewer line to dress our pipes in their little winter coats of Styrofoam tubing. I assisted by kneeling on the sidelines. With shoulders to head under the house and my ass catching the frigid rain dripping down my jeans (that reminded me to call roofers to install rain gutters), I provided flash light illumination and I screamed a lot. "Be careful, Darling" was often followed with "Don't you dare break that new sewer line." Love and monetary concerns certainly compete for my attention.
Duct tape is at the top of my list of modern marvels. Of course it is it essential for clothing repairs such as a busted seam. My glue gun reattaches buttons as well. Does this answer your question as to the level of my sewing skills? However, my beloved duct tape can repair pipes, cracked rain gutters, holes in the floor, and plaster cracks from foundation work, you name it. And you thought it was only good for hemming or reattaching that bumper from the fender bender accident at Lowes parking lot.
By the time my next column rolls along, I hope to have many more tidbits of advice to share with you, oh gentle reader. My mentor for such lifestyle/domestic knowledge was the columnist Heloise Bowles Cruse. She penned the column Hints from Heloise, along with many books, dealing with domestic dilemmas. So in the grand tradition set by my mentor, I will honor her and pay tribute (and a huge mortgage) to our new/quite old house AKA Missy Money Pit. Hints from Hell will appear on this page as time goes by, not only imparting great wisdom but also allowing you, my dear reader, to provide me with someone to share the depths of my angst as a homeowner.
One more (and very humbling) "Did You Know" before I sign off. On a given night, there are 500,000-600,000 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S., about 1/3 of whom are sleeping on the streets and 2/3 in shelters (Becker Friedman Institute 6/30/2022).
And they only wish they had a house to crawl under.
Forever Home, Forever Dreams, Forever Expenses
The American dream of home ownership can be perilous and an adventure to say the least.
There's a mysterious pop sound. Then, twenty minutes later, another. Then a flash/spark of light burst forth from the electric wall heater. Oh! and all the electric outlets on one side of the house don't work. They did; now they don't.
Welcome to Day Two of home ownership. And why am I only prescribed ten itty bitty strength valiums a year? Sure the electric stuff will be replaced, repaired, and made safe, but then there's the roof, foundation, sewer lines, not to mention the rain gutters. Ah! but it is all ours—not counting the bank and natural disaster's first dibs on it.
I will never be able to enjoy hurricane season again. Instead of panic-shopping for beer, wine, stockpiles of toilet paper, and pet food, I will be buying tarps, fire extinguishers (actually always had this item), and regretting not having storm windows. I can picture myself flung across the roof to protect the shingles. No more hurricane parties. I will just be staying alert all night reviewing my flood insurance policy by candle light—nix the candles, they're a hazard.
Winter freezes will be another thing, too. I never ever enjoyed approaching cold fronts, but now I will really hate them. As a tenant, we always did our utmost to protect the pipes, the outside washer, and water heater. Last big freeze, I went outside during the night with a blow dryer to warm exposed pipes and ran the dryer to warm the washer. But now all the cats, our dog, Philipe, and I will have to sleep under the house to warm and cuddle the pipes. And you think I am kidding.
I have never owned a house, never uttered the word escrow. Now terms like mortgage, title, lender, estimate, discloser, promissory, and security instrument are nails on the chalkboard to my ears. And the word "documents" fills my heart with dread and my brain with ADHA confusion and overload. Just writing about this has the chronic stress-triggered pinched nerve in my back vying for attention. I have writer's cramps from signing my name in full legal and legible form.
But not all this house hunting and house buying has been painful—much of it has been educational and eye opening. And while it has always filled me with terror to see termite damage on any building anywhere, I now go weak in the knees when I pass a sagging roof, cracked rain gutters pouring water over unprotected window sills, or vinyl siding camouflaging rotting exteriors with lead-based chipping paint. I even look under random houses and shudder at the foundations. But as I said the house hunting has been informative and I walk past buildings now with a curious and keen eye. I notice slate roofs, eaves (closed, boxed and open), gutters, different types of porches and stoops and does the rental side of the double include a handrail (required by insurance). I already had a bit of knowledge of the various styles of architecture found in New Orleans, but now I look to see what kind of attic ventilators adorn the roofs. And my observation does not stop with the houses themselves: Are the trees planted too close to sewer lines? Of course I look to see if the AC compressor is mounted on the roof or ground level. Oh the slippery slope of house gazing—speaking of which aren't those tile steps a liability when it rains?
Clearly I am not totally on board with this home ownership thing. Most folks congratulate us with enthusiasm and seem a bit saddened when I respond with my POW look. I feel trapped and frightened beyond belief. Husband sees a "Forever Home," and I see foreclosure documents. He wants me to take a leap of faith as I teeter at the edge of a cliff. But a leap was made and the hurdle is high and there are and will be plenty of scraped shins as we climb into home ownership.
Oh! Did I tell you? We are now landlords. As you may know most of our New Orleans houses are doubles (duplexes). Used to be this set-up would provide the homeowner with income via the tenants' rent—not so much the case anymore. If you want to not be a part of the problem that renters in this town now face, you can only raise the rent just enough to break-even with the ever rising expenses of ownership.
There is no denying the house has good bones despite a bit of osteoporosis. She is 130 years old but a tough old bird. Yes, she is a lady. I view most houses as of the female persuasion and skyscraper type architecture as male what with the obvious phallic look. She has retained so much of her original charm and despite my best efforts to wish away this purchase it seems this house wants us—like it was simply meant to be (or it's akin to a staph infection that won't go away). Regardless, she is ours now and like a feral cat, we simply must nurture her back to health. She will from now on be named Miss Money Pit. This name, this title, is given with a degree of affection and is most befitting. I will do my best to tend to her and respect the history and craftsmanship of this house. I will make it our home.
New Year, New Goals
The ancient Babylonians have been credited as the first folks to make New Year's resolutions. Of course every culture likes to lay claim as the first to do this and that. But let's just agree that making resolutions is not a new idea, and lord knows, it has been exhausted over and over every year.
We make grandiose plans for self improvement at the end of the calendar year and with great earnestness, implement them on the first day of January—unless of course, one is too hung over from the New Year's Eve party hours earlier. So we nurse our party wounds, watch some football, eat black-eyed peas and cabbage, and begin the next day with vim and vigor. This is a common game plan and a good one, except we often aim too high.
Often I have set rather lofty goals deemed important and then, if I can't reach them, I give up, feel the need to berate myself, and there I am with a new obstacle to overcome—low self-esteem.
Last month, I wrote of empathy and have been seasoning my resolution ideas with this ingredient. I am going to suggest that instead of the usual "self improvement" goals (i.e. weight loss, exercise, less drinking, more yoga, etc.) we focus on improving someone or something else's world. And, most importantly (in my humble assessment), start small—make what you pick to improve doable and even easy. Yes, easy.
There is no shame in striving for improvements that are attainable and easily accomplished. Remember, most New Year's Resolutions (NYR) fail because they do not fit into our everyday routine, budget, or interest. Find a project, person, or a bit of nature that you have the ability to help.
Are you computer/tech/web savvy? Then donate an hour a week to fund raising or campaigning. Help a struggling entrepreneur build his website. If you are a "people person," consider reaching out to that shut-in/house-bound neighbor, who might be terribly lonely and visit them or offer to run an errand for them, even dropping them a greeting card with a few kind words every day. I have a friend in a nursing home that I have totally allowed to drift to my mental back-burner. He doesn't live here but mail is still a treat to receive. Letters, a box of sweets, a phone call are all easy habits I plan to make a part of my routine. Procrastination is my problem. I think I will sit one day and address a month's worth of envelopes and have them stamped and ready to pop in the mail. It's so easy but developing a routine is what will make it happen.
We face many problems within our community and often these issues are above our pay grade, meaning we don't have the means as individuals to fix the city's infrastructure (streets, power-lines, sewers and water systems). Don't get me started on our town's politics, and lack of social and environmental policies and services. However we—you and I—have the ability to make a huge difference in quality of life just outside our front door. The removal of litter is within our means. Litter truly impacts the quality of our lives. It encourages all forms of neighborhood and community disrespect, even crime. A littered street shows a lack of oversight and sends a message that anything goes. A little trash becomes more trash and then vandalism and graffiti are given the green light to move in, and graffiti should not be confused with murals, as fabulous muralists have added much beauty and creativity to our New Orleans' cityscape.
If your resolution list includes litter abatement, pick an area that is small. Be consistent, and bite your tongue when overcome with the urge to curse someone out for not helping or for littering. You will never recruit neighbors to assist if you shame them. Encourage others by example and compliments. Sounds corny? Maybe. But alienating folks never wins. For example, instead of scolding a dog walker for not pooper-scooping, just offer them a bag with a simple comment such as, "Don't ya just hate it when you forget your bags? Here's one for you." Of course your inside voice may scream with abandon, "You lazy lard ass. Pick up your shit and stop embarrassing your poor dog." The same goes for litter. Be proactive and encourage folks to want to help by being a good neighbor. And, again, don't try to clean an entire block—start with the street/sidewalk in front of your home or place of business.
If you feel passionate about a cause, yet unable to write a check or grow your credit card debt, then give your time. Just a few hours a week at a food bank, nursing home, grass roots politics, and/or animal shelter. If you are a cat lover, then helping community cats (feral/homeless) by volunteering with a group or a neighbor can be very rewarding. Contact the SPCA, local veterinary hospitals, and animal welfare activists for information.
The bottom line is to find an attainable goal and make it about something other than you. Inadvertently, in doing so, you actually will be giving yourself a boost, karmic brownie points, and a better sense of worth. And that's a good thing because the better we are, the more we have to contribute to others.
She was walking in the street
Looked up and noticed
He was nameless he was homeless
She asked him his name and
Told him what hers was
The absolute power of a song to reach that soft spot in your heart, to make you—make you—wake up and feel empathy for someone you might have walked past. Every day we unwittingly turn a blind eye to someone that needs to be seen, to be respected. Sure you might never have the resources to rescue that person from the streets, from life under the overpass, but a smile, a hello, can convey respect. And who knows, once you see that person as someone who is more than just a hot mess, once you realize that they have a story and that sometimes reasons beyond their control forced their plight, maybe you will then go a step further to assist them in some manner.
The first time I really listened to "The Underdog" by Ms. Keyes (and co-composers Ed Sheeran, Jonny Coffer, Johnny McDaid, Amy Wadge, Foy Vance), it felt visceral. The words, the music, even the video all hung in my head and played over and over as I walked past those lost souls with an elevated highway for a roof and filthy sidewalks and concrete neutral grounds to live upon. One day heading to work in the Quarter, I walked past a homeless lady who I had side-swiped with a degree of indifference for months—hell, perhaps even a year. But this time I stopped and said, "Good morning," and she looked up and smiled and returned the greeting with a heart-stopping smile. I was surprised by her beauty. Had I assumed she would be some drug/alcohol-addled mess? Was it easier to pass her up each day thinking she self-induced her situation? Perhaps I lumped her in with her milk crates, bags, and all the detritus of her sheltering-in-place. Whatever. The point is I dehumanized her. Unwittingly, yes, but nonetheless. Her articulate manner and loveliness surprised me. And shame on me for forgetting that any of us could be in her situation. We exchanged names and, for a brief moment each day, now we exchange pleasantries. Her name is Lois. Will I ever be in a position to really help her? I do not know. But I like to think it all begins with respect.
Empathy is the first step to respect. Once this emotion is tapped into and you have a moment to walk in their shoes, so to speak, you can better respect how life feels in those shoes.
It has long been understood that reading fiction helps to develop empathy, just as journalism, film, theater, and music have the power to enhance and nurture compassion and understanding. Take for example how a film or a theater production can illustrate a point, present an alternate viewpoint, or simply put you in the shoes of another. For a couple of hours, you can become one with a character (historical or fictitious) and be immersed in their world. And the power of good television can allow someone to see the humanity in someone that they might otherwise never know.
Let's consider All in the Family (Norman Lear's CBS comedy, 1971-1979), which gave people like my parents, from the comfort of their recliners, an opportunity to "invite" Black folks into their home. For many Americans living in White communities, this was a big deal. Whether by choice or happenstance, many towns are without diversity, especially back in the 70s in places like my hometown of Mobile. And the same goes for Black families that never knew an Archie Bunker and never got to even imagine that some redneck could actually have a heart. Yes, I am over-simplifying the complex issue of systemic racism and social segregation, but I stand by my belief that any inroad into another person's world creates empathy. How can you laugh with and love a character and not reconsider, in real life, preconceived notions about those people seemly different from yourself?
Music is visceral. The poignant and gut-kicking lyrics of Tre Burt's "By the Jasmine" exemplify the dangers of walking while Black. The song's hero, Dante, simply went for a walk one night, headphones on, and, "He let the soundtrack move him through the city…Karen Johnson was out jogging…she bought a house for next to nothing…across the street from where our hero lays his head..And on a poor lit street she saw Dante standing…to her he looked like a big black gun…reached for her phone dialed 911 and in a matter of minutes Dante was gone."
Maybe my white privilege will never place me first hand within such a tragedy that the Dantes of the world face daily, but I, we, must not only know of these societal atrocities but feel them and take them to heart.
Not all of life's lessons involve pain and death, but they do require attention. Understanding, sympathy, and empathy most certainly can grease the wheels and make everyday life smoother and kinder. Sometimes it isn't literature or music that summons a rapport with someone else—it can be as simple as remembering that first day at a job when you screwed up everything and were so grateful for an understanding and patient customer. Be that customer next time your server or cashier is only human and in error. And take a moment to look up and smile at a person you pass on the street. They might just need to feel respected, if only by a stranger. And if lucky, you both rise up.
One conversation, a simple moment
The things that change us if we notice
When we look up, sometimes
Sometimes the good ole days make it hard to reconcile the present.
My French Quarter is slowly disappearing. This, of course, is how long-time Quarterites must have felt back in 1989, when I first moved here. I accepted their observations and knew it to be true that much was gone. Memories remained but the actual businesses and dwellers they had known for so long were dying off or being priced out. All the love in the world for this historic and quirky neighborhood could not tether the soul and life of its inhabitants securely. However, not having had to say goodbye to what had been there before my U-Haul pulled into my new home was wickedly weird and wonderful. Bohemia still held a strong foothold in the Vieux Carré. And I suspect even the old-timers would have agreed then that it was still possible to live there on the cheap.
My first apartment reflected the "new" that was to come—gutted and remodeled, with a real-estate company as the face of ownership. Affordable, unlike gentrified apartments today (but kinda high for those days) and I was grateful; yet, I later realized this was a glimpse to the future of rentals. However, it was 1989 and for the next twenty plus years, the Quarter was affordable. In fact, the city was affordable. After four years, I found a truly inexpensive French Quarter apartment with solid landlords, nice folks—not a corporate manager. In 2008, my renter's good luck held as Husband and I segued out of the Quarters down the road to Bayou St. John.
I suspect we were a city undiscovered—a romantic and strange place to visit but not to actually move to. Oh sure, there were many, like myself, who knew "home" when we saw it. Those that fell in love with her moved here but somehow this town was still off the radar. Exactly why, I don't pretend to know. Much of my observations are felt rather than researched. The historians and urban planners can walk you through the economics and such, but I simply know that things began to change in earnest after Katrina.
The world watched as an American city drowned, as waters raged and slowly receded. This was before catastrophic unnatural disasters and failing infrastructures became a daily occurrence world-wide. We were the heartbreaker, the canary in the mine, and folks gave money and came to rescue us. Humanity stood up for humanity and many of those volunteers fell in love while here and pledged their hearts to New Orleans. Those newbies were invaluable to us here. But greed sniffed them out and often empowered slum lords to lure them into higher rents than we locals would ever have considered. And then the opportunistic carpet-bagger-developers joined in.
Tourism slowly grew as the city dried out and steadily increased. With it, came visitors who were willing to look beyond Bourbon Street and take in the music, food, and culture. We were the darling of the media—the Comeback Kids. And I personally feel indebted to the media for its continued focus on our struggle to rebuild and the loving attention it gave to our creative verve and uniqueness. Young (and older) entrepreneurs moved here and brought fresh energy into the city. They supported our culture, music, opened micro-breweries, bakeries, cafes, and brought an element of environmental activism into the mix. I applaud these urban pioneers and the tourist dollars spent with purpose and devotion. But fame has its price and we became too popular and rents began to edge up and up. Soon it became hard to differentiate between heart-felt immersion into our various neighborhoods and gentrification.
In thinking about my former life as a resident/Quarterite/Quarter-Rat of the French Quarter, I zoomed out over the entire city. Please allow me to refocus on the Quarter. Lately (for me), it resembles a faded photograph pulled from a dusty scrapbook. I took a long hiatus from my former haunts and upon return (I'm blessed with a lovely job in the Quarter), my daily walks from the bus stop to work are akin to a stroll through a cemetery. Businesses, apartments, and most of my old haunts have truly become haunts. The demise of a business or the condo-fication of former apartments hurts me to the bone. Passing a locals' watering-hole where the barstools were once occupied by now deceased friends is something I take personally. There is a malaise that has settled, like dust, over much of the Quarter. The Pandemic and economy take blame for much. But time, age, and death take its toll, and the replacement troops have not fully arrived.
Perhaps I have just been living outside the French Quarter so long that its lack of trees and grass, birds and squirrels, and brightly painted exteriors have dimmed my view of it. Yet, there is a disrepair and sadness to the sidewalks and streets. And too many buildings are occupied by foot massage businesses where once a uniquely New Orleans shop thrived. Look closely, and you can see that way too many restaurants are owned by the same corporations. The once illegal t-shirt shops that plagued the Quarter thirty years back are now gussied up as gift shops—but all the same company. Uniqueness has been on life-support for some time now.
The other morning as I walked to work, feeling out of place and regretting the passing of familiar days, someone I hadn't seen in years popped up on the sidewalk. We hugged, talked, and we were the same folks we had been. And after that much needed trip down memory lane I realized there was still a lane, a sidewalk, just waiting for me to create new memories. Funny how the Quarter looked a bit brighter after that, and a bit of color seemed to flush forth.
Trick or Treat
Before Halloween was marketed, beaten, and transformed into a holiday "season" and taken over by adults as a "party" it was fodder for kick-ass nightmares, tall tales, and paper bags filled with sweets.
Halloween was that one night of the year when the line between "this" world and the "other" was blurred. You felt you could slip between life and death and it was the fear of the Boogie Man, the Grim Reaper, ghosts, and goblins that made this one evening unique for us kids. We knew nothing of its history, we just knew that on October 31 as the sun went down, our adrenaline went up. When I was a kid, we never trick or treated during the daytime, and we certainly never attempted to change the date of this respected, revered, and feared holiday.
Of course, that plunge into fear was sweetened with more candy than the Easter Bunny could bestow. Belly aches and dental degradation always loomed large but was worth it. And the treats garnered on Halloween night always carried clout and could be traded at school the next day like baseball cards. I was that kid who put more stock in the treats than in tricks. The only memorable tricks I recall were rolling yards with toilet paper. And frankly, I can say for sure that I never participated in these shenanigans because that would have detracted from energy spent filling my bag to the brim with candy. But all us kids sure got a kick, if only vicariously, out of seeing the aftermath of what looked like a Roto-Rooter explosion. And, guilty or not, our parents gave us the stink eye for days after.
Costumes were first and foremost for most kids. I have already admitted my devotion to sugary confections, but costuming was right up there as a priority. I still remember which aisle of the TG & Y five and dime store that hosted ready-made costumes. My favorite was the skeleton with its one-piece black jumpsuit with the embossed shiny glittery bones and, of course, a plastic skull mask. There must have been troops of us dressed-alike skeletons prancing through my neighborhood. Again, all that free candy holds court over my memories. Sure dressing up was fun and a very important part of this celebration of the macabre. But tell me the truth. Snagging a full size Hershey bar—wasn't that the bottom line?
Momma had many stipulations about what kind of treats I could consume. She was a bit of a germaphobe; therefore, treats had to be in original wrappers—not homemade cookies, Rice Krispy bars, or candied apples. Apples (or any fresh fruit) were a perceived threat because, as we all knew, razor blades might be inserted and waiting to cut off my Chatty-Cathy tongue. Yet there was a disconnect to this safety precaution regarding fruit when encouraged to snack from the fruit bowl the rest of the time.
"No, you cannot have that candy or cookie. If you want something sweet grab a piece of fresh fruit."
"But what about the razor inside?"
"Oh don't be silly. You've been watching too many horror movies."
Parents were quick to rewrite the rules. But I was fine with abiding by the urban myth of danger to politely decline a healthy treat and go for the Three Musketeers bar.
Then, just like today, one of our parents was selected to escort a small mob of kids from the neighborhood to various houses so the other parents or older siblings could hand out the treats and make all the predictable oohing and aahing over our costumes. Then, unlike today, Halloween decorations were pretty simple and generally consisted of hand-carved pumpkins with candles inside. There were of course the ghosts made of old sheets and tethered to the porch or trees—trees that might soon be home to streamers of toilet paper. And despite never having been a "roller," my mom wasn't taking any chances—all toilet paper was removed from my reach starting on Halloween afternoon and until I returned home that evening. The tissue was doled out on an "as needed" only basis. A mom couldn't be too careful. These precautions didn't so much apply to the chaperoned young kiddies as to those deemed old enough to trick or treat without adult supervision.
There was that age when we could be allowed to roam the neighborhood without an adult. And while we might have thought ourselves all grown-up at ten we were actually more easily frightened by the boogie man. We would never admit it to each other but we all knew that the parental barrier against monsters worked and now, without adults, Halloween had that delicious edge of nervous fear. What we didn't know was that the things that went "bump" in the night were parents hovering nearby keeping a low profile eye on us, and that missing roll of Scott 1,000 sheet single-ply tissue.
Only now as an adult, can I appreciate how scary it must have been for my parents to grant me the freedom to venture out without their hand-holding and words of caution. Halloween was that cautionary tale of hidden perils and gave us kids our first taste of danger. It was a time, a coming-of-age moment when urban myths and superstitions were all we had to fear. It was a practice dry-run for the dangers that reality had to offer. I was a lucky kid and only had to face the fear of my first candy-induced cavity. Sadly, there's not enough Novocaine to blunt today's monsters.
The Thin Red Line
I was no longer Teflon Mary. I had crossed the line and was now Typhoid Mary.
There we were, cruising along, feeling like we'd traveled past the danger after so many close calls, accidents, and poor judgments. Finally, we felt safer, like we had distanced ourselves from the relentless attacks. We were on cruise control, when a precautionary glance into the rearview mirror let us know it wasn't over. There we were—jacked by the Covid Cootie Monster.
For well over two years, I (Husband included) have been brushing past potential danger, but with eyes wide open, face fully and tightly masked, and packin' a can of Lysol. I poured over enough data to qualify as an epidemiologist. My conversational vocabulary increased with words and terms I had never uttered before: viral load, immunocompromised, variant, monoclonal, incubation, and intubation. And oh the oxymorons: social distancing, flatten the curve, virtual hugs. And hats off to the WHO for juggling music and the health needs of the world.
I felt my sincere interest and concern over this contagion and my deep affection for masking would spare me. But my adherence to masking, which I believe was and still is the best defense, began to wane. And damn it, I actually look younger with a mask and saved a ton on sunscreen as half my face was covered. I had mastered great eye contact and learned to emote with my eyes and the raising of my brows. I thought maybe I had honed some skills worthy of auditions for local theater. Just give me a can of Lysol, and I could make an entrance in a cloud of disinfectant.
The vaccine—the holy grail—was created and manufactured in record time (in my humble opinion), and I was proud and delighted to take my four shots. I was going for a record for most nasal swab tests taken. The drive-up testing site run by the National Guard became a regular thing for hubby and I—they greeted us by name when we drove up. I could cram a Q-tip swab up my nose in my sleep if need be, and not flinch. I know, weird shit to be proud of.
"Why so many tests?" folks would ask. Well, Husband and I both discovered how fun it was to volunteer with food distributions. Sure it was helpful to folks in need but, if being honest, we got so much more from it. We made many friends, and it was a fabulous way to socialize (especially back during lock down) and be helpful; however, work required working in close proximity to others, so even with strict masking, it just seemed logical to test often. An outbreak could shut down a food site.
Okay, you get it—I enthusiastically, almost patriotically, embraced Covid protocol. And I will admit that when it got stupidly polarizingly politicized, I wore my mask and tested with a rebellious righteousness. But as we all know, masks only work when you wear 'em. Think condom: if not properly worn, then—well you know what can happen. And I let my guard down more often than I should have. Same went and still goes for so many, many very conscientious folks. Just take Jazz Fest, for example.
Jazz Festers are ultimately one of the best crowds to be in. Some years back, my friend Gallivan said of the out-of-town festers as they poured into NOLA: "The collective IQ of our city just went up." But despite the "cool" and the appreciation shown at this creative festival, not to mention the monies lavished upon us by locals and visitors alike, we were also showered with a whole bunch of airborne cooties. And lord knows I was in that number of unmasked festers. How I escaped that one was dumb luck.
And I tried my luck again and again, like being seated in the Saenger with 2,600 other Hamilton enthusiasts. Once more—luck. I had so many close calls with those who tested Covid-positive during the past two plus years—and again, I was always unscathed. I was about to turn myself in to Tulane for any studies they might be doing on Covid immunities.
Around this time, despite my uncanny good luck, I started masking more and more. The numbers were going up and up. It seemed like most folks I knew were getting it, and for some, a second time. Of course, these people were vaccinated and boosted but the vaccine doesn't give you superpowers. The vaccine is designed to keep you alive in the event you become infected. It is a miracle drug, in my opinion—one that saves lives and lessens pain and suffering. It never claimed to make you bullet proof or non-contagious. But every single day, I hear a well intentioned, seemingly smart person try and put my mind at ease when they walk into my place of employment without a mask (optional) with the, "Oh! I am double boosted." We, at work, have chosen to wear masks since day one and never for a moment lifted this voluntary protocol for ourselves. And thank god, because I can silently mouth behind the privacy of my KN95, "You dumb fucker."
Call me a hypocrite—I wouldn't blame you. I fuss at myself for letting my guard—and my mask—down. I believe this is how I got run over by the Cootie Monster, but the vaccines and the Paxlovid (a 5-day treatment) have saved my grateful ass. Today is July 22, 2022, and we are currently in a 6th surge—enhanced, I guess, by the new variants. When this goes to press, perhaps the situation will have improved. And by the time this column is being read by you in October, maybe you can let your guard down. But baby, I am gonna keep my eye on the rearview mirror.
Back To School Days Revisited
This is my "Thank You" to teachers, librarians, and all others involved in education from principals to cafeteria workers. I salute you.
"Back to school days" were never something I looked forward to. I have always been taken aback when a kid tells me they can't wait for school to start. I never fully connected with school. Sure, I made some good friends through the years and managed to learn a thing or two, but much of it was an exercise in procrastination.
Delaying my homework assignments was a thing. Starting the first grade a year late didn't garner me any cred among classmates who thought I had "failed" kindergarten. My birth date fell in an awkward place for enrollment, and I had a bit of a speech impediment that I outgrew quickly—my speech therapist said I was just in too big of a hurry to get my words out. Whatever. Insecurity and what was, and still to this day is, most likely ADHD were packed into my school box alongside pencils and plenty of erasers.
Having gone to Catholic school for eight years—I was set free of the nuns when I shifted to public high school—I never got to enjoy back-to-school shopping for my wardrobe. I was fitted for uniforms and ugly saddle shoes, and my creative spirit just hated this. Of course, as an adult, I now see much merit in uniforms, and those shoes look kinda cool nowadays. Aside from fashion, don't get me started on the rather repressed nuns with rulers, and the strong grip Sister Agnes had when yanking my hair to reign me in. Funny, I must have had the last of the old guard of nuns because years later, some of my heroes of social justice were Catholic nuns. In fact, a dear friend of mine is a nun.
It is a given that I was a little heathen; therefore, a teacher, especially a nun, had every reason to regard me as an adversary. But I was also scared of them and not very understanding of the penguin outfit they wore, and even more intimidated by the arithmetic applied to the blackboard with that nail scratching squeal from the chalk. Oh! very little about school appealed to me except for recess and those little cartons of chocolate milk.
High school was more exciting and allowed for a bit of fashion sense to develop, but I still hadn't mastered the art of learning. Certainly, there were teachers and curriculums that engaged me, but I still glazed over in pure terror during algebra. I passed only because my stare-straight-ahead-hostage-eye-contact with the math presented on the chalkboard was mistaken for effort and concentration, but it was nothing more than me holding my breath until the bell rang. English and art—I loved both, but I suspect I could have been more studious.
My senior year was spent skipping classes and escaping the campus like a soldier under fire. I was really good at this. When not belly crawling my way to freedom, I did attend all three lunch breaks—cafeteria food back then was home-made, and I really was dedicated to showing my respect to the kitchen staff by showing up for seconds and thirds. Needless to say, I did clearly see the handwriting on the wall and knew I would lack the credits to graduate with my Class of '72, so I took the initiative to drop out and spare everyone any further drama. Upon reflection, I have come to question the wisdom of that decision.
Despite my less than sensible exit from formal education, I have few regrets about the path my life took afterwards. I easily landed in the wonderful and wacky world of food and beverage. I was extremely lucky to be articulate, smart, and white.
Yes, being white opened doors for me that more deserving folks of color were not privy to. I am not particularly proud of my skin color, but it allowed me jobs and apartments that my Black friends struggled to get.
Aside from this guilt segue, I am reasonably happy with my career and experiences, but if I had it to do over again, I would like to have learned more. And I wish I had been guided or counseled in ways to deal with my deficiencies in focus and whatever the heck made not only math but most of school so frightening. We didn't have names for dyslexia, ADHD, and all those things. My mom called it my lack of "stick-to-it-iveness;" therefore, I always thought this was a flaw that I should control—that it was my fault. Mom wasn't being mean. I just must've seemed lazy. Now, I suspect that I simply didn't have the tools to work it out.
Teachers today have so many more "tools" to work with and to assist students. Of course, students need to do their part and many do. I am so impressed with Mayor Eric Adams of New York. He was diagnosed with a learning disability in college, and, today, he is introducing dyslexia screenings into his central policy. Sometimes, things do really change for the better.
In recent years, I've come to revere teachers. I also realize, a bit late, that I had some amazing teachers and wish I could have reached out to them to say thank you. The best I can do is thank those involved today in education for their service. For without good teachers, our chances for a smarter and more just world are slim. I enjoy telling teachers that one day, maybe not now, but there will be a time when that student they feel they can't reach, can't influence, will sing their praises—albeit later in life. To all who gave of themselves to teach me: Thanks, your efforts did pay off.
Dinosaurs Still Roam
More and more, I see my life, even my recent past, as seemingly obsolete. Oh! I am fairly current and more than relevant today, yet much that is near and dear to me has become a thing of the past in the eyes of younger folks. And not just sentimental stuff but simple everyday, commonplace terms, phrases, and references that were second nature to me. I first noticed this a decade ago as my elevator humor caused a "duh" look among the other riders in the lift (there I go again—a term no one uses). Anyway, I thought myself clever with my, "Second floor: ladies' apparel," or "Fifth floor: household goods and appliances. Watch your step please." That's when I realized I had outgrown my hotel elevator audience—they were too young to have known that lady operators clad in snappy uniforms once controlled the elevator and its etiquette.
A few years back, in my book shop, I often had to take credit card info directly from a customer and when requesting the security code for the card, I would follow with, "And now we will share the secret hand-shake and your decoder ring will be mailed to you." Then one day my two twenty-something customers paused, a bit confused, until one said to the other, "Oh! I'll explain it to you later. I saw it in an old movie." Also, I was beginning to notice a curious look when I would count back a customer's change—they were now accustomed to a computerized register doing the math and flashing "change due." Both ways achieve the same results, but mine required being able to count—a little motor/brain skill no longer widely used. At this rate adding two and two will soon require a calculator.
Does anybody remember phone numbers anymore? You know—have them stored in your head—your memory. It began with speed dial on my landline, and that was a slippery slope. Now our devices store and remember these for us. Is this healthy for our brains? Perhaps we shouldn't overburden our gray matter with mundane stuff; yet, doesn't our memory need the exercise? Then again, don't we get enough of a work-out just trying to remember all those damn passwords and user names we are burdened with these days? To protect ourselves from identity theft, we're told not to use the same ones for everything—screw that. They want my weird-ass identity (and all my neuroses), they can have it, and I say best of luck.
Another rear-view moment recently was the discussion with a young tourist, of my childhood road trips from Mobile (hometown) to New Orleans. They asked how long a drive that was, and I replied, "Well, before the Interstate, it was a four to five hour drive." They just stared at me. I responded to that look, "Yes, I am that old." For that look of near pity, just give someone under fifty your AOL email address—@aol really freaks them out. God, I just wanna slap 'em with a flip phone. Okay, with a degree of regret, I must fess up: I no longer have a burner phone (you get more street cred asking the Boost Mobile sales assistant for a burner). Fun fact: Guinness World Records lists Debbie Lindsey as the "Last Person on the Planet to Get a Cell Phone."
When dinosaurs roamed, we had phones that remained attached to our houses. They did not fit in your pocket, or your ear, and they only accepted a human voice for communication. No typing notes, no viewing movies or TicToking, no breaking news. They still exist and are known as landlines, but their habitat is shrinking. You didn't talk on them during dinner or when you had company. Only doctors and drug dealers had mobile phones, and they were big and looked like a walkie-talkie, also referred to as "the brick." And it wasn't that long ago that cell phones were not allowed and/or frowned upon at work. Now, you damn well better have a cell on you at all times for work related interactions. Times change; rules change.
The Good Ole Days never really existed. Racism went virtually unchecked, and women were kept in check. There was no LGBTQ, just a lot of lives lived in secret with unnecessary, unwarranted shame. Therefore, I am relieved for much that is gone and grateful for so many of today's changes and advances. But much change is careless, profit driven, and cloaked in the disguise of progress. Replacing people (jobs) with self-serve check-outs, gutting the soul of a historic cottage, and placing digital tablets, cell phones, and e-books in the hands of children without at least showing them the beauty of a real book and the pleasures of a library. Change requires thought and care.
Admittedly I'm spoiled by the conveniences our current world provides. Do I find it easier to write this column from a device that allows me to edit, spell-check, research, attach, send, and make copies without carbon paper? Heck yeah. Do I find this piece of equipment to be a mine-field of rabbit holes and mindless distractions? Yes. Did I rail against digital cameras? Vehemently. Do I use my cell phone camera now? Constantly. I feel conflicted, like a sell-out. So I suggest to myself and others: compromise. Stay current, enjoy the perks, but take the time to dust off that vinyl, check-out that library book, get lost in the genius of classic films, and bake a batch of cookies from scratch.
The other day, I saw evidence of roaming dinosaurs. First, there was a young boy content with a real book. Then, a young woman was reading a newspaper. Later, a twenty-something spoarting a Golden Girls T-shirt was loading film into her Minolta. Maybe we're not extinct, just endangered.
Evidence of Dinosaurs
This magazine has allowed me a space for over twenty years to rant, reminisce, rejoice, and review everything from Jazz Fest to my earlier life in Mobile and subsequent escape to my beloved New Orleans. I have climbed upon my soapbox and written about social and political issues and you, dear readers, have endured my opinions on all. I have been repetitive with my Katrina experiences, initiation into the Who Dat Nation, years as a waitress, my cats, my dogs, my family, and my friends. I wrote about a bag of flour, a cockroach, a cast iron skillet, a house, litter—just about everything I could think of. Oh! And the Covid Cootie Monster nudged my writer's block many times. Jobs, relationships, health issues, and my love of food have gifted me with many topics to exploit. Yet, every month my deadline looms over me like a loaded gun. I panic and can't think of a topic. And then along comes Tony, a neighbor, and once again I am brimming over with stuff to say-to write about. I want to use my column as a "thank you" card to all the Tonys in this neighborhood.
In a matter of one hour, Tony walked by my porch to chat, joke, and share political commiserations and kindly give me a Covid test-kit to assuage my concerns over my attendance at Jazz Fest (super-spreader event?). Then another visit over the fence with Mary, and, on her heels, came a lovely gal bringing me a gift her mom made for me—a cloth purse bursting with a sunflower print (solidarity for Ukraine). So despite the time-lag from today (May 9) to this July issue, I am able to send them a "thank you." For all my pontifications and bitching that this column has expressed through the years, I am also able to openly share my love for so many people, places, and things (thanks dear editors). Also my writer's constipation of what to expound upon this issue has been resolved. My neighbors once again have come to the rescue in allowing me to exploit them for my word count.
Many New Orleanians (and those visitors/readers from other hoods) have great neighborhoods, but, with due respect, I think my neighbors are the best. Okay, you may think yours are and then that just means there truly are more good people than not. It's a win/win situation. But allow me to shout out my peeps.
You know who you are—you're the neighbor that makes me feel like a million bucks by taking the time to say good morning, to remember my dog's name, forgive her barking, and shower compliments over my garden. You are the neighbor that drops a Gambit off on my porch every week for me. You are the neighbor that sewed face masks to protect Husband and me. You are the neighbor who rescued birds from a gutter and expected no thanks for such kindness.You are David and Mary who power washed our entire block's sidewalks with the help of Gene and Chris, and many others, kept our street clean during Jazz Fest. And hurricane season always requires much prep and clean-up and showcases the best in team efforts. I remember Tom, just off from work, still dressed in his "good" clothes, cleaning a neighbor's storm drain and gutter in anticipation of street flooding since they were out of town. Same thanks go to Rene, Karen, Chris, Lezley, Margaret, Christian, Michael, and the list goes on and on of those who pitch in when needed.
Manuel gets the humanitarian award for giving his front steps and porch over to the dining needs of two slightly homeless/mostly nomad cats. And, Manuel, thanks for sharing your trash bins with me when my grass clippings and yard trimmings overwhelm my garbage can. (Hey Mayor, how's 'bout a composting program?) My gardening passion also relies on Christian for allowing me to clutter his alley space with all my rakes and brooms—thanks for never once bitching about it. In addition, I rely on your humor which has always made me howl.
There is something special about this entire neighborhood. Maybe it's not unusual to have a familiarity and even friendship with those next door or across the street, but block after block, folks are so friendly, approachable. Perhaps it's due, in part, to New Orleans with her style of architecture that gives most a front porch or stoop to socialize from. Also more folks than not have dogs that are tethered to them for daily walks. We may not know all the bipeds' names, but we damn sure know each other's dog's name. Yo, Rocket, Roxie, Maple.
Husband and I live at the crossroads of Maurepas Street and North Lopez between Liuzza's by the Track and the Holy Land (Jazz Fest). And this corner house was a godsend during the Pandemic because most everyone passed us with walks to Canseco's Grocery and Terranova's (open as "essentials" during lock-down). Also folks could safely take to the streets with their kids and dogs for some social outings. Our porch allowed us a chance to meet all the folks in the neighborhood and friendships were formed or grew. I know this was a common occurrence everywhere back then, but I still stand by the uncommon friendliness of this little hamlet.
Before I ramble aimlessly anymore and wear out my welcome with you, my patient readers, please indulge me one final shout-out to my neighbors. Thank you John and Mabel for allowing us the privilege of renting half your wonderful house—you rock. And to each and every business and neighbor that makes this a special place-take a bow. You guys lift my spirits and make my life sweet.