Thursday, August 31, 2006

Killing An American City From Within

To My Lawyer:
Yesterday, I was vividly reminded of the post-apocalypse M.O., typified by FEMA trailers sans keys or electricity, our sociopathic President restoring electricity in Jackson Square just long enough to spew a pack of badly-rendered, at that, lies, and putting harried, exhausted, Domed citizens on planes without informing them of their destinations - you know, kind of like slaves.

The word "disgrace" doesn't come close to describing how horribly the federal and state government, as well as incompetent city officials, have treated and continue to treat those in the throes of suffering: not refugees, but taxpaying American citizens.

When the National Guard or FEMA kicked in my apartment door early last September, they jarred the door so much that it was no longer properly aligned. When I returned in early November, my deadbolt barely locked from the outside with my key, the same key I'd used for two years. My landlords had installed a few screws to the inside portion of the deadbolt, holding it in makeshift place until repairs could be made, which, as it turned out, didn't occur until the day after the one-year anniversary.

In the last year, I repeatedly informed the property manager that I could not lock my deadbolt - only the skimpy, manual doorknob lock - from the outside. Well, I could, but the key that had functioned fine before now required five to ten minutes of fiddling for the lock to spring. Given that I live alone, that said manager has this bad habit of surrounding me with psychotic male criminal tenants - such as the gang of foreign roofers downstairs, one of whom was arrested for beating up his underage girlfriend on the front lawn, or a long-standing tenant's new "house boy," who is all but stalking me with his level of intrusiveness - and that crime has skyrocketed to the point where groups of young men are walking around screaming at women in the street, I do not want to be playing with my deadbolt outside at night, alone in the dark.

When I visited my native New York for a few weeks this month, the friend watching my place was able to jimmy the deadbolt with her copy of my key - but she also knows how to pick locks. I don't and, fortunately, neither do my neighbors because they're the sort who would rob me blind, then come sniffing around asking "what happened."

Why don't I move?

A perusal of New Orleans Craig's List should answer that question - i.e., I am not paying Manhattan prices to a) live in a disaster area or b) go to a parallel - and more expensive - situation within this city. C) I am not ready to give up on a place I love just yet, though the hate side of our relationship has been steadily flourishing and I've - sadly - accepted that it may become too psychologically detrimental to live here, which some will scoff at, much as they sneer "Good riddance" to Harry Anderson, who, while no genius, held town hall meetings to try and generate some sort of dialogue and progress. There is a faction of natives here, though, that seem allergic to positive growth and change, and I'm beginning to think that theirs is the majority attitude. Until the last six months, I thought I'd live here forever. Now, that seems doubtful.

There are transient types afoot everywhere, too, as well as our very own homegrown criminals, emboldened for years by the revolving-door court system. The difference now is that there are less of us non-criminal types, given that not even half the former population has returned, and, thus, slimmer pickins for the criminals. They must turn to the people closest to them for sustenance: their neighbors. A female friend who also lives alone is confronted and followed by a roofer neighbor from Tennessee every day. "Don't be afraid of me - have a drink with me" was his opening salvo and he is hardly atypical. In the Lower Garden District, my pretty-on-the-outside, CandyLand-esque neighborhood, which is falling further and further down crime-wise, I am the only woman I know who lives alone. This, apparently, makes me a target. I understand, of course, that I am more likely to be harassed, bothered, raped, even, living alone as a woman, though I don't accept it, but I have never felt threatened and hunted as a result of my single occupancy - until 2005, post-apocalypse.

There is a spectrum of harassment; on the lighter side, we have a dude I've never met coming up to me at the Alternative Media Expo and saying, "You live at such and such. I used to live next door - you never said 'hello' to me," as if I owe him something, as if I should stop, smile, bow and curtsy to every male I see on the street, as if they're automatically worthy of my trust when at least half of them in my 'hood are drug dealers, sleazeballs, predators, and, on the heavier side, we have Houseboy II trespassing and smoking on my porch on a daily basis, despite having his own porch and me having asthma, and trying to involve himself with me and every male visitor I have over, including the repairman yesterday.

My biggest fear is not him attacking me, but me tossing his meddlesome ass down the 15 stairs leading up to my porch if he gets in my face one more time and, part two, subsequently being remanded to OPP - the New Orleans court system is such that the opposite of justice will be served in almost every scenario.

So, here I am with these neighbors, in this neighborhood, in this city, with no functioning deadbolt in place when I am away from "home."

And here I am, after the repairman replaces the door yesterday, in the same situation: a key that no longer turns the deadbolt sans lock-picking skills. The door being misaligned has been my property manager's explanation for this key malfunction. I have asked her a handful of times now whether she has or will replace the deadbolt or key and she has answered "No, it's the door, not a new key or lock" every time.

Imagine my rage when, after the repairman informs her my key still doesn't fit my only door, she looks at my key, then pulls out her own key to my place, which is a totally different shape and size, and tells me I got "confused" and have been using the wrong key all along - that there is no way the deadbolt key I have, which functioned for two years prior to our apocalypse, ever worked.

At times like this, it comes in very, very handy to have a friend to drop in on, declaring an emergency toke session, and literally scream your head off to, sans backing away slowly, admonitions to "calm down" or judgment.

Takes the pressure down a notch or so.

The repairman agrees with my conclusion that she changed the deadbolt without telling me. He arranges to finish his work today and lets me know he will get the key for me from her; he sees, I'm sure, how illogical and unnecesarily antagonistic - if in a lax, clueless Barbara Bush/Michael Brown fashion - she is.

Why?

Why are people berating those who decide to leave when there is very little impetus for them to stay?

Why are people still throwing garbage everywhere instead of bagging it when some had to literally wade through garbage and sewage to survive, not as a result of slovenliness?

Why, more often than not, is the reaction from natives to the increased armed robberies and public drug dealing in the LGD "Oh, it must be spilling over from Central City" sans any anger, disgust, worry, fear, desire for change and/or the desire to be a part of this change?

Why is "renovating," which the repairman informs me - on the sly - will be happening at my building, often a synonym for throwing struggling disaster victims out on the street and/or jacking the rent?

That this sort of behavior is acted out not by aloof, short-sighted government types, but fellow citizens makes it all the more sick and shocking.

As of 2:30 P.M. on August 30, 2006, over a year after my deadbolt lock was changed, I have yet to receive the right key, though I'm told via phone that it's on my coffee table waiting for me, now that repairs are - supposedly - done. I have yet to not feel, but be truly safe or at ease in my apartment thanks to my realtor's propensity for criminal tenants and cowering in fear, shared with many in the LGD and the city as a whole. I have yet to dial 911 or contact my local precinct today, but, the way these honkies roll, I just might have to.

If only to get a key to my own apartment.

If it weren't for my friends and fellow writers and artists, there's no way I'd still be here. I should note, too, that most of these fine people lived here before the apocalypse and came back to rebuild for love of this city, though a lot of us were not born and/or raised here - and that, contrary to the provincial snobbery certain native New Orleanians like to engage in, a true slap in the face given what we've come back from and what a bad job they've done on basic infrastructure and educational issues, we are not outsiders, Yankees, carpetbaggers, tit flashers or opportunists: we are the lifeblood of this city.

And we are leaving in droves.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Leslie said...

"There is a faction of natives here, though, that seem allergic to positive growth and change, and I'm beginning to think that theirs is the majority attitude."

This is very true. And it's why many native New Orleanians are leaving in droves, not just transplants.

Keep in mind, too, that when native New Orleanians get annoyed with those bohemian hipsters who move in and throw their weight around, it's usually because so many of them think that the city revolves around the Quarter or the bar scene or whatever. They used to irritate the hell out of me when I still lived there and continue to do so via the wonderful world of LiveJournal.

This is not directed at you or Harry Anderson. We've had a similar discussion about this before so I know you know what I mean. Unfortunately, the non-local locals who really GET and LOVE the city get caught in the crossfire.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Mom of Three said...

Your blog is brilliant. You have a perspective that people need to hear, God knows CNN isn't going to run it.

Those of us who poke around more than just watching McNews knew of W's propensity to use the power grid on a temporary basis, while speaking near a backdrop lest the Naieve American Public suspect that the rebuilding is not as extensive as he implies. But many people don't have a clue.

I will continue to read, from Oregon, because your words are real, and reality (much as it may hurt)is good.

1:53 AM  
Blogger Kelly O said...

Hey, this gave me chills. Rock on, Lisa.

9:51 AM  

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