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It's been 176 days since I returned to New Orleans after Katrina . . . and man, what a wild ride it's been.

When I got back home I found our house sealed up just as we had left it, albeit damaged by the effects of having stood in 5' of water for three weeks.  To say it was a mess is something of an understatement, but after what seems like a never ending marathon of demolition and cleaning and electrical rewiring and reconstruction I finally reached the place Monday night where I was able to call the job "done".

And now I might be going to jail . . .

It's been an incredible experience, although I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Contractors were impossible to find when I first got home, so I took time off work so I could act as my own general contractor.  I farmed out a lot of the work but I've essentially operated as an architect, contractor, carpenter, carpenter's assistant, electrician, electricians assistant, plumber, mason, painter and interior decorator, and other than the new shingles on my roof I don't think there is any aspect of the finished house that I haven't had my hands on one way or another.

And man, the really amazing thing has been that nothing has happened without a fight -- we fought to get power, we fought to get gas, we fought to get paid by our insurance company, and we've fought to keep our streets clean -- the crews who are tasked with picking up the debris are coming less frequently and with more restrictions on what they will and won't take. We're glad to see each and every one of our neighbors return, but we know that the price we pay is that as they gut their houses all of their furniture, clothes, appliances, sheetrock, flooring, and whatever else they have to take out comes out into the street. The least of the problem are road hazards caused by nails and screws and boards with nails; the really ugly contaminant is the mold that is released in the air, particularly when the crews pick up the debris.

But like I say, the good news is that we're done with our house -- I gave away all of my heavy tools and unused paints and caulks and hardware to my neighbors on Monday afternoon just to re-enforce that notion.  I've done my part and contributed a very comfortable, reasonably stylish and very solid home to the pool of housing stock in a city that desperately needs all the housing it can get.

And for having done that I'm damn proud -- I had a policeman in yesterday and he couldn't believe that we'd had 5 feet of water -- he marveled at how clean and sharp the place looked, and he said that for all the flooded homes he'd been in he'd never seen one so completely renovated.

And that's the irony of the whole post-Katrina experience -- no sooner than having declared myself "done", I found myself "negotiating" with a crew of people from EE&G, a subcontractor to Phillips and Jordan, a subcontractor to the Army Corps of Engineers, a subcontractor to FEMA, about picking up the debris on our corner. It's gotten really ridiculous; we have folks who come out and "segregate" stuff, but for whatever reason until yesterday we haven't had a clean up crew on this block for almost a month -- the guys responsible for this neighborhood were called away on a "special project", and we got the short straw -- such is life in NOLA, I suppose.

So anyway, I'm negotiating, and that means I'm emptying trash bags full of screws and nails and other construction debris into the middle of the street cause they can't take anything in black contractor bags for fear it might contain household garbage, and another guy is pulling my neighbor's bleach bottles out of white plastic household trash bags because that's chemical debris, and make a long story short one arrogant, hard headed mofo pissed me off so much that I let him know what I was thinking in return. Along the way we were negotiating by moving stuff back and forth between two piles of stuff that was going and stuff that was staying and he reached over as I moved the broken broom I was using to sweep up my trash towards his pile close to his hand  and damn if he didn't accuse me of assault. Evidently some of the other guys backed him up - my neighbors and I are well known for holding the clean up crews accountable for doing a good job and there is no love lost between us -- and now I've got an arraignment date for Friday for assault.

Not for hitting a man, mind you, but for coming too close to his hand with a broom I was using to sweep the trash in the middle of the street.

I suppose it all comes back to expecting too much from the $500m P&J contract we're all paying for -- I expect them to do a good job and to make the street right, and they showed me for having the nerve to call 'em on it.  The mistake I made was that I was out there all alone - all my neighbors were at work or inside their homes, so I don't have any witnesses on my side.

So go figure -- all I've tried to do for the last six months is to clean up my house and support my neighbors and to help our little slice of paradise to come back to life, and now I'm facing 90 days in jail for passing my broom too close to a guy who has "Muscle" and "Hard Head" stenciled on his hardhat . . .

I used to be amused, then I was disgusted, and now I'm wrongly accused of a crime I didn't commit. And damn, I knew I should have never watched "Alice's Restaurant" on cable last weekend; I may have to spend time in jail with drug dealers and murders and mother rapers and father rapers all cause I just wanted somebody to pick up the friggin' garbage I never wanted to have strewn all over my street in the first damn place.

Is this really America?

~j



Originally posted to leo fender on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 04:46 AM PDT.

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