Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Last Night

Tomorrow morning I'm heading back to Brooklyn. I had high hopes for enjoying this last weekend seeing lots of friends and visiting festivals and museums at a leisurely pace.

It was a good plan when I believed my flight was on Wednesday morning. Instead, much of the weekend was spent packing up three decades worth of belongings into boxes. Trying to protect breakables from painters, carpenters, electricians, masons, window-people, and carpet installers.

Thank goodness for Shokufeh. Without her pointing out that the 28th of May is a Monday and not a Wednesday (as I was so sure it was...) I probably wouldn't be on that plane tomorrow.

Friday, May 18, 2007


There has been no doggie drama for the past couple of days. After Woobie's fainting spell, she seems to have recovered and all is well. She's boarding at a vet's for most of the next week because our house is swarming with construction guys and she acts like she wants to bite off a piece of everyone of them. They have invaded her territory.

This is the family room. What's left of it. Actually, it only looked this bad for a few hours. Once the walls and ceiling were all ripped out, the drywall started going up pretty quickly.

The living room is encased in the furniture equivalent of a body bag.

My mom and I try to escape the house everyday while the destruction and repairs pound and shudder the frame of the house. Today we went to Craig Elementary School in Treme and helped build a playground.

There is an organization named KaBOOM! which is committed to building 100 new playgrounds in the Gulf Coast region. I think the one we worked on today is #49. Regis and Kelly Lee or whatever her name is are going to be building #50 for a taping of their show in two days.

Early in the morning Craig Elementary had a big empty field and an old basketball court. Six hours and three hundred volunteers later, there was a giant climbing structure, a swing set, climbing poles, a large student mural, picnic tables under a shaded awning, benches, planters, a new basketball court and a hundred or more student paintings permanently hung on the back fence.

Volunteers work in teams to assemble playground equipment and there was so much activity going on at all times that being on the school grounds felt like being a part of an ant colony.

Spreading 200 yards worth of mulch was the biggest job. We did that from time to time. Mostly I helped out at the painting tables. The kids were so excited to paint. They got even more excited when a clown came around and passed out plastic noses.

My favorite kids were the second graders. There was one girl who was hanging around after her painting was finished. She told one of the boys that his painting looked good. He answered back that her painting was "stanky!" She turned to me and asked if I could believe that after she said something nice, he said "stanky" back. I told her that if he said her painting was "stanky" that it probably meant that he liked her. Of course, he was standing right there listening. "What?!" He chased both of us with his paintbrush for saying that. But he was smiling.

Volunteers hung the paintings on the chainlink fence at the back of the playground. The benches in front of the paintings are part of a outdoor classroom space.

One of my favorite paintings was of a shotgun-style house. I excitedly said to my mom, "Look at the painting of the shotgun!" The woman next to us clutched at her heart. She thought I had spotted a kid's painting of a gun that was now hanging in the communal play area. No guns. Just architecture!

Overall is was an impressive experience. Highly organized and with absolutely no waste. The was just the right amount of pre-cut lumber to build everything. The right amount of paint. The right amount of mulch. The right amount of twisty ties to hang up the kid's paintings.

The concrete will set-up over the weekend and Monday the kids finally get to play. A group of boys was watching the swarm of activity during the build. One of the boys asked, "Are you going to take it away at the end of the day?" The boys could hardly believe it when they heard that the playground was not going anywhere, that it was built to stay. If I went to school one morning where there was no playground and then before the final bell there was a huge one, I wouldn't hardly believe it either.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Today, I picked up our dog. For the first time in the 13 or 14 or however many years she has been a part of our family, I picked her up.

Most of the afternoon there were heavy thunder-showers and no opportunity for Woobie to go out for a walk. With a break in the weather, we went for our regular stroll around the neighborhood. Mud to sink paw into. Puddles to splash through. An increasing number of squirrels in the park. There used to be too many squirrels to count, and Woobie could spend hours chasing them up trees and barking them to death. After the storm, for a long time there were no squirrels. And then there was one. And after a year two. And now there are six.

Today we walked past the squirrels without a bark. Woobie's eye-sight is not so good anymore. And she doesn't run, she just walks now. She still barks. You can ask any of the construction guys that have been working at our house. If they get too close she snaps at them.

We got all the way around the park and had reached the corner to turn back to home when Woobie lay down. She lay down and then rolled over. Her head lolled to the side and her eyes rolled as she rolled onto her back with her feet sticking up in the air. It was like watching a goldfish go belly-up and dogs are not supposed to do that. The life was going out of her.

I had no phone. No one was out walking or driving. It was just me and a limp dog. I called her name, shouting. Nothing. Time was being lost. I picked her up and almost dropped her after the first step or two. She was too heavy and awkward to carry. I set her down to get a better hold and tried to pick her up again. She came to enough to snap at me. I felt a wave of relief. She's always hated any attempt to pick her up and being snapped at meant a return of her senses.

She looked at me, stood up, and walked on home, like nothing ever happened. I got inside and collapsed in a pile, crying hard. All the tiredness and sadness of the last long-while all came out at once. Not Woobie. Don't let Woobie go too.

She's old, I realize that. We don't actually know how old she is. One day she followed my brother home from a walk and she's been with us ever since.

Tomorrow she visits the vet.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Rumor has it that the electricians are coming tomorrow. Maybe we will get an extra light fixture or two installed. Or the socket in the bathroom will be connected. Or they will leave more nails on the floor and in the carpet that we can find with our bare feet as we wander through the house with flashlights at night.

I spent much of the night sorting through a giant box of overflowing papers. I've got movie ticket stubs, airplane boarding passes, museum admission tickets, pamphlets, notes, Polaroids of Santa Elvis, postage stamps, and Mexican wrestling promotional fliers going back for the last 20 years and covering I don't know how many countries. The intention has always been to collage things into scrapbooks. Two scrapbooks have been started... and no scrapbooks have been finished. But the giant box is now at least organized. Spain and New Zealand no longer co-mingle. Mexico '98 is segregated from Mexico '04.

The scraps of paper have made old memories fresh again. The inexpensive hotel room in Delphi, Greece, with the balcony view of a steep gorge and the sea in the distance. Business cards printed in Japanese with my name in strange characters and the address and seal of my old school. An unused paper number from the waiting line at the Indian Embassy in Paris. A cardboard train ticket from a Turkish train that chugged past olive groves on it's descent through the mountains. A K&B paper bag from the defunct New Orleans drug store. Photos of friends willing to pose with plastic donkeys and sombreros on the steps of the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Obituaries of people long gone but unforgotten. Valentines from my former students.

Contained scraps. One step closer to collage time. One less thing in the electricians' way tomorrow.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Heaps of Books

Last night I had terrible dreams. Not nightmares, but the kind of dreams where there is an endless mutation of menial repetitive tasks that have to be performed under time pressure. The kind of dream where you experience working so intensely at something tedious that the body wakes up tired in the morning.

It was a mistake to read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America directly before going to bed. The stresses endured by the author from trying to live on Wal-Mart and Merry Maids wages found themselves communicated into my dreams. I spent much of the night trying to keep some green pickle blobs watered and alive for some job my subconscious concocted. Tonight I’m reading a book about teaching 5th graders in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and will probably dream of mischievous boys flicking boogers.

It’s good to be reading for pleasure. I’ve noticed more than once that I haven’t adjusted the “Currently Reading” information on the blog sidebar in about 4 months. It looks like I’ve been keeping company with Vera Nabokov for a long time. I actually did have a dream about her last week. I dreamt that I was responsible for projecting a film for a class she was teaching. The projector had problems and she was not happy with the offending machine or with me.

Over the course of the last semester, I actually did read a lot of different books. Most of them were written for 5th to 8th grade students and were related to the course I was taking in "Children's Literature in a Balanced Reading Program". Sometimes I was a little self-conscious on the subway ride to and from school. The large print and pictures in some of the books I was reading earned some scornful looks. People tend to be nosy about what other people are reading, contorting themselves to glimpse the title and author of a book. Sometimes I make the people work to find out the title. My book goes down down down slowly to the side… and if they don’t catch themselves, they’ll let their noses stray so far into my business that they are in eminent danger of falling over.

Now the only one cosying up to me while I’m reading is Kitty. He’s looking for a lap and and someone to rub him between his ears. He keeps me company as I work through the stack of books I’ve picked up from volunteering for the local library system. My mom and I spend Thursdays sorting book donations for the fundraising book sale. One of the “thank you’s” for our dusty sweaty hours is that we can take interesting books home.

There are 11 books in the stack that have come home with me in the last two weeks. Probably all but two will go back. There’s a posthumously published Mark Twain book named A Murder, A Mystery, and a Marriage that I have never heard of before. If it's good I may hang on to that. There’s another book called The Age of Missing Information that may be useful for future teaching projects. It’s about a man who spends 24 hours watching cable TV and what he learns vs. 24 hours in the woods and what he learns.

Tonight I went up in the attic and put together about 30 books to take to the library to be donated. For once the books are going out faster than they are coming in. It's the right balance. I don't want to hold on to most books anymore. One of the lessons of traveling. They are too heavy and bulky to keep for keeping's sake unless they are favorites or useful for reference at a later date. Read them and set them free.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A week already...

My roommates made me miss New York a little bit tonight. Nerb is texting me with messages about fruit and "Heroes". Miss Nola is sending links to articles proclaiming that David Bowie has taken over Manhattan. Very intriguing.

I love being home in New Orleans. A week has already flown by. I'm afraid the next three weeks are going to fly by as well. It would be so easy to stay here. Once I have my degree I can stay. That's three semesters and a summer away.

Monday, May 07, 2007

This photo pretty much sums up the state of my parents' house.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

I'm home!

The school semester is over and I'm home!

Home is a construction zone covered in dust and plastic. It's kind of fun. We never know what will have happened to the house in the hours we are away. Yesterday we could see outside through a hole in the exterior wall in the entry way. Mom was ready for bed and discovered it was occupied by a disassembled ceiling fan. The dog is getting lost amongst the aisles of displaced furniture. The bathrooms are sometimes flashlight zones. We never know.

I'll be in New Orleans through May 28th.