The following piece, or rather – the following two pieces – are straight from the vaunted Marchives. The original entry, dated 08/10/08, was written just two months after my family and I moved to New Orleans, and a month after moving into the house we rented for the next two years. It was three-years after Hurricane Katrina.
The original posting pre-dates my blog, and was actually distributed via email, to those on my ‘Mark’s Missives’ list. I got a lot of feedback when I wrote the original piece; it seemed to really strike a chord with folks. I even hear from people I didn’t know, as the piece was passed along by others.
Fast-forward to February, 2010 for a short note that updates the original story. By October of 2010, we had moved from that neighborhood, purchasing a home less than a mile away. What’s funny is that I drive past our old place whenever I drive the afternoon carpool for Will and his buddy Joe, as Joe lives just down a few blocks from where we used to live.
A frequent reminder of…? I’m not really sure.
A new update follows the two original pieces. “It is what it is” as they say, some six and a half years post-Katrina. I hope you’ll give it a read.
August 10, 2008
A green garden hose hangs, coiled neatly on its holder. Its patina-green brass nozzle dangles, but no water drips. It sits quietly, at the ready for the mistress or master of the house to take up the call of the garden. It is a call that will go unanswered, as it has for three years.
So it goes in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans.
There are at least three abandoned homes within a short walk of the house we are now renting that provide only slight variation on the tableau above. Adding to the eerie poignancy is the fact that in each case, the house in question sits alone in its dishevelment; neighbors have returned on either side of all of them having renovated or rebuilt their homes, bookending the stark abandonment.
The hose-hanging house is a brick rambler, probably three or four bedrooms. Looks structurally sound, but the windows are mold, dirt and grime streaked and from what little you can see inside, this property has been cleaned out of most personal belongs and furniture, but renovation it seems, is not part of the equation. Though someone has been mowing the grass and weeds, it stands in contrast to the neatly manicured lawns on the bulk of the rest of the block.
But their bright green garden hose still hangs at the ready.
Another home a block or two the other way looks even more worse for the wear; a two-story brick home that at one time was probably a bit more upscale in relation to other homes on the block simply sits awaiting its fate, whatever that may be, its garden hose at the ready. The home appears to have been mostly gutted inside, down to the wall studs, but there is no sign of any renovation activity. The brick facade is missing large chunks, plywood covers a few of the windows. The neighbors on either side have rebuilt and reclaimed their pieces of the neighborhood, but this home sits; the spray painted rescue markings on the front a tangible, ubiquitous community reminder of ‘the storm’
Yet another rambler sits with a debris filled backyard while the neighbors directly behind have built what appears to be a completely new, two story brick home. Their in-ground backyard pool and raucous sounds of kids swimming a jarring juxtaposition to the shell of a home with a looks-like-new, shiny green hose that has no pool to fill, no garden to water.
The Lakeview neighborhood was one of the earliest and quickest to begin recovering, but you don’t need to go more than a few hundred feet (literally) in any direction to find devastation and abandonment speckled haphazardly amongst the newly built homes, the renovated homes and the active construction and renovation sites; bustling activity co-exists in an odd symmetry with destruction and abandonment. It cannot always be the easiest or most comfortable of partnerships, but I have yet to hear a local resident complaining about the homes in limbo. They get it, they live with it.
Those that have rebuilt and reclaimed consider themselves fortunate.
Our house is an oasis on this side of the Argonne Boulevard; there is a vacant lot with a ragged foundation remaining on one side, followed by a newly renovated home, a boarded up place with remnant hose and another vacant lot on the corner. To the other side, three lots with varying degrees of foundation remnants sit between us and the newly renovated house on the far corner.
Stark reminders, all.
The owners of the renovated place we are renting have planted some new trees out front, and they need to be watered regularly. It is a pleasant evening chore that I enjoy, but after a couple of weeks of living in this neighborhood, I can’t simply go grab the hose and just water the new trees.
Maybe something more will grow here.
Little has changed since I wrote the above 18 months ago. The ‘ragged foundation’ next door was just removed a few weeks ago, as the state prepares to auction off the property as part of their program to sell vacant lots to neighbors. Down on the corner, across the alley from the rebuilt home I mentioned, a new, two-story house is nearing completion. Aside from that, not much else has changed in our neighborhood from what I noted that August Sunday.
And three lots down, the green garden hose remains coiled neatly on its holder.
Since that last update,a lot has changed, some things haven’t. Four of the vacant lots on our old block now have new, occupied homes on them. The two houses directly across the street have been happily renovated and moved into, as has another further down the block.
The house with the green hose remains as it did when I first saw them going on four years ago. The hose, now a darker green bordering on black, still waits to water a garden long overgrown or that never will be.
Like I said, it is what it is. Not just here, but all over town. This is what as referred to in New Orleans as ‘the new normal.’ While many people would just like things like this – reminders like this – to simply be gone, they aren’t. On the other hand, for many people, these reminders are a ‘badge of honor’ of sorts.