Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mardi Gras...or...bust?

Recap: We had gotten through a fairly solemn Christmas, Mark's stomach virus, and a much-needed New Year's Eve...made all the more sweeter by the fact that none of Geoff's neighbors were back home yet, so we could be as loud as necessary outside as we raised our middle fingers in salute to 2005...

This was followed later in the week by me missing my first day of HRA because I had a much less severe form of Mark's bug. And there we were, hoping that this year would be better than last year.

For Mark's birthday, I wanted to replace his Mignon Faget Fleur de Lis tie tack. We'd found his matching cufflinks in the sludge in our bedroom, but the tie tack was gone for good. However, when I went to buy them, there was an 8-week wait because New Orleans-themed EVERYTHING was in such high demand at the time. I decided to wait...possibly until our anniversary.

January passed otherwise uneventfully. Although, MLK weekend brought me a phone call I didn't think I could survive.

I've discussed already how my "teaching partner" and I were horribly mismatched for each other. Well, she called me that Sunday to tell me that, while cooking broccoli, she burned her face. She singed off hair on her arms and face. It's a horrible thing, really. But I had to bite my tongue to keep from crying with laughter. A freak incident, if you will. She missed the next day. And drove up on Tuesday in a brand new car. Purchase date? MLK Day. Hmmm....especially interesting considering you couldn't really see any major damage unless she pointed it out to you.

February crept up. Then roared to let us know she was here.

February 2, 2006. I woke up, dressed for work, carefully walked down the wet sidewalk to my car, and went to work. When I got there, I saw the principal and many faculty members standing in front of the school. That's where we had arrival and dismissal. I panicked and thought, "OH MY GOD, I'M LATE FOR WORK AND EVERYONE KNOWS!!" I parked in the lot, then walked up, where the prinicpal was telling another teacher some news: The bad weather I'd slept through the night before brought horrendous tornadoes to the area, and we had no electricity and some roof damage. School was cancelled for the day, but we had to stay from 7:20 until 9 a.m. to chase off parents who, like me, hadn't watched the news for the school closure.

I called my parents to tell them, and heard some more distressing news: the tornadoes really hit Lakeview. My former neighborhood. The neighborhood where my father was trying to restore his business. A business my uncle checked out, and discovered damage. A window was broken. The hardware store next door lost its roof. The A/C units up top were gone. And the houses across the street were destroyed. A roof beam from one of them impaled an office upstairs. Houses all over the area, already ruined from flooding, had their coffin nails firmly pounded in them...any chance they had of restoration was gone. My dad made out the best of anything in the area. Driving along, it's easy to follow the tornado's path. A huge satellite tower on Veteran's Blvd. blocked the highway. National news crews flooded the area. Hmm..perhaps that's a poor choice of words...

I got off work, went home, napped, then went with Mark to get lunch. We visited my dad in Lakeview, saw all of the damage, and got the last bit of stuff out of our attic. We were done.

I started classes again at UNO. I quickly realized that I'd overloaded my schedule and was in way over my head. Tuesdays were the worst, with me teaching from 7:20 (morning duty) until 3:30, then grabbing a quick coffee, fighting traffic on Veteran's Blvd., getting a coffee when I was lucky, and then being in class from 4 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. IF my professor remembered that class let out earlier than she kept thinking it did.

It was the first year I've been with a school and been able to celebrate Valentine's Day. Not kosher at the JCC. I was pretty excited and baked some cookies to mark the occasion. I had class that night. That was the big Valentine's Day living with the parents and going to school while Mark worked until midnight. Fun times.

We had spirit week and the Winter Formal. I got into the spirit of Spirit Week, and dressed for all of the special days: from Pajama Day to Dress Like a Rock Star Day. I chaperoned the dance. I got group pictures with my students. I had a blast. It was nice to have some fun things to do in the midst of all of the not-so-fun things.

And we were in Mardi Gras season. We had to attend the Krewe of Hephaestus' ball in Morgan City. Mark's cousin Anne was the returning queen. We had good seats and got to dress in formal-wear. I thought we were in for a night of fun, but it turned out to be a rough night. It all started with a student confessing to me that she had been anorexic for the past 5 years. I knew she was very thin, and I had suspicions, and she decided to let me and another teacher be the first two adults she told. Of course we got the guidance counselor in on it, and we set her up for recovery, but it will be a long and hard journey.

Then, at the ball, all of the Morgan City relatives asked painful question after painful question. The only person who asked questions that didn't sting, and who seemed like he was truly concerned, was Anne's fiancé, Scott. We'd never really had much time to know him. After all, the first time we knew of that they'd gone out was one year earlier, when he was Anne's escort to the ball. I never appreciated him more than that night. His concerns over us and the city seemed truly genuine, and not at all as though he was looking for morbid gossip, or just something to talk about, and he seemed to understand us and the situations.

As the prying questions and the, "Well, gee, why hasn't your father reopened yet and why are you still with her parents?" questions flew at us, I got more and more depressed. The famiy had its own "open bar" setup at the table. I drank a lot of rum and Coke. It only took off some of the edge. I then started drunk texting. It was a not-so-good thing.

That week was a week off at school. On Lundi Gras, I went with Jenifer to the Quarter. We caught a free Better Than Ezra and Bag of Donuts show, walked through the Quarter, and caught some of the Lundi Gras on the River Zulu celebrations. It was amazing. We went to the Orpheus parade and stood in what would normally be a rotten neighborhood. But all of the rotten had evacuated and wasn't quite back yet. There were families...parents with smiling babies. No fear of guns. It was strange, but in a wonderful way.

The next day, we went to Royal Street to Kevin's parents' balcony. We threw beads and befriended an Australian guy, who we dubbed "Rosie Cheeks." We also got hassled by creepy smelly crusty guys. We had a ton of fun. We ended up at Sav-A-Center to buy dinner stuff, then we all hung out at Geoff's. I spent the rest of the week with Mark as much as I could.

It was the first time we'd ever been able to walk down Bourbon Street as a pack, instead of a single-file line that flowed with the crowd, and wherever it spit you out was going to be your destination. It was empty. It was sad. But oh, was it ever wonderful!

And then I started with the sinus infections. The first one, I think, never really went away. Two weeks of antibiotics did nothing. It came back with a vengeance. A woman in one of my classes got up in the middle of the class, walked over to me, and put a cough drop on my desk, casting a sympathetic glance in my direction.

In March, Pam informed me that she would be the camp director of Metairie, and asked if I would be her assistant camp director. Now that I teach, I have every summer off. I am theirs indefinitely. I was supposed to run travel camp again, and we were supposed to go to New York, but they were afraid people couldn't afford it this year. However, ACD was a pretty sweet replacement gig.

The second sinus infection came in March, and then was gone with more antibiotics.

The third one came in April. More antibiotics.

But, April is our next installment. It includes our 4th anniversary, Easter, Sinus infections #3, and an era of panic...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Part 14: A Katrina Kristmas

Recap: We had the first true Thanksgiving of our lives.

December 1 was my father's birthday. It was nice to be here for him, but celebrating was hard. He and my Uncle Dan had finished gutting their business, then pressure washed it with bleach, and were at a stopping point. The building owner was taking care of the carpentry, but until they got an electrician, they could do nothing else. Every few weeks, he would come home and say, "I think I found an electrician." But the electricians would never show up. In early December, he found a guy who would do it, but couldn't start until the first of the year. So the waiting game continued; however, there was a goal set for it. His mood improved as much as it could at that point.

Once again, I decided that my students needed so much more for Christmas. The class had grown to 14 at this point. So I went to town, buying a fake tree on sale at Big Lots for $13, and tiny ornaments at various stores, plus decorations from Party City and Wal-Mart. Stores were slowly starting to reopen, so this was a little easier than I expected. I went to Target and bought boy gifts and girl gifts in the $1 discount section. I made chocolate-covered pretzels. I made cards for each of them. I wrapped and baked and made ornaments for the whole class. I was exhausted. But it was so satisfying.

And my "partner?" She bought candy canes the night before school let out, and pencils. Then she had asked if I was doing anything for them, because she heard that the other teachers were giving presents to their classes, so she supposed we should do the same. I told her about the $1 presents, and she offered to give me half the cost if they could be from both of us. Ok. Fine. Go right ahead. The morning of the last day before break, she signed the tags. I never saw the money. It was only $7, so I don't really care, but it's the principle of the thing. I left out the baking and the handmade gifts. I didn't tell her about those. Then she signed those tags and brought her candy canes and pencils, purchased at a drug store on her way home from the Christmas pageant the night before. I was very glad that I did what I did, and that mine were so much more...if you understand.

The Christmas pageant was a lot of fun. Mark had to work, but I brought my parents with me. I think it did them a lot of good. They were not very into Christmas. They didn't want a tree.

Mark and I bought the tree at Home Depot. You may laugh, but their trees are amazing and inexpensive. We used my Rav4 to get it, and we strapped it to the roof using the luggage rack. I was very excited about my car purchase when I realized we could do that! My parents were out to dinner with their friends. To tell the truth, my dad did not want the tree. My mom secretly wanted one., I think. I told her our plan to buy one, and she teared up. We got home, and they were not back yet. We waited in the den, where the tree stood, like two grinning idiots. Finally, my parents got back. They came in through the front door. The tree was in the den, which connects to the foyer. There is no door. You couldn't help but see (and smell) the tree when you walked in. Yet, my father missed it. For the record, he lost his right eye in an accident when he was very young. However, he sort of had to walk around it to get pst the sofa and into the den. Then, he walked through the den and down the hall to his room. My mom stood there with a bewildered look on her face, then called him. He came back, and we showed him what we'd done. His whole reaction was, "I told you I didn't want a tree."

We said we'd paid for it, that we would take care of decorating and disposing of it. My mom seemed pleased. She told us to use our own decorations, which we had rescued from our attic back in October. That was strange. They were our decorations, on our tree, in my parents' house. Their ornaments, which had never missed a Christmas, rested quietly in boxes in their attic. Maybe next year...

When all was said and done, though, we got a begrudging, "It is a pretty tree" from my father. No more words were said until Christmas passed and he wanted it out of the house.

It may seem like a minor problem to some people, but giving a Christmas list was next to impossible this year. What do you get for the people who lost everything? Couldn't get anything big, because where would we store it? Couldn't get anything small, because what would we do with it? I told people, "Look around your house. If you see something you have that you love, then buy us one of those. Chances are, we don't have one any more and probably need it." We ended up with some gift cards and useless stuff. A few nice things, too. Danny and Connie gave us New Orleans-themed T-shirts. Mine has a crown and says, "New Orleans Rules." Geoff and Mark each got shirts that say, "Save NOLA."

A few months earlier, I would have been embarrassed to wear a shirt with my city on it. Hard to explain. But it's kind of like in the movie "Airheads," where they talk about going to a concert while wearing a T-shirt for the band they're going to see. "Don't be that guy!" they say. Does that help? At this point, I owned two. This one, and one that, instead of "I (heart) NOLA," says, "I (fleur de lis) NOLA." It struck a chord with me. And, these shirts generally give some proceeds to charity. I now own a third shirt, which says, "Lakeview -- If you rebuild it, they will come." I'm wearing it right now, actually.

We had a nice, quiet, low-key Christmas. It was lovely. Dinner with mom and dad and Geoff. Geoff spent the night, and it was like old times. Except I slept in Geoff's room, he slept on the sofa, and Mark was there.

Mark bought me a guitar to replace the one he was going to give me for Christmas. If you look back at the pictures of our house, there is a picture of me holding the destroyed one on our front lawn.

The day after Christmas, Mark came down with a horrible stomach virus. We'd spent Christmas Eve at my Aunt Pam and Uncle Johnny's house. John had come down with the bug right before everyone came, and spent the evening holed up in his bedroom. But, somehow, Mark caught it anyway. It was miserable.

Around this time, my mom tackled the wallpaper in their bedroom. While Mark was holed up in the bathroom or trying to sleep in our room, she and I were spraying the walls with a vinegar and water solution to ease the peeling process. We'd tried steamers and other methods, and this one, while painstakingly slow and difficult, was the best. It took a few months of grabbing some hours here and there to get it done.

New Year's Eve was tons and tons of fun, though, but not all of that can be described. Let's just say it was a night to remember for all involved. We set up the bedsheet on Geoff's house and projected movies again. We had fireworks. We had alcohol. We each brought a dish. And we had all of us reunited for the first time since Kate's birthday in June. Good times, great friends, great food, great drinks. We threw out a big F-bomb to 2005 and welcomed 2006 with open arms and drunken sloppy kisses. New Year's was cathartic. We couldn't wait for Carnival season...that's Mardi Gras to the rest of you. We were curious to see how that would pan out.

Stay tuned for part 15: Mardi Gras...or Bust?