Medical leave from teaching has afforded me nostalgia for the rigor and meaning of my on-hold occupation. It has also dealt me oodles of time with which to try and document some things that go on here. One of these being that is that as I write, a cockroach the size of a premature baby is scuttling across my suede pillow. I return from Colorado to New Orleans with a new knee. Well, old and new. The new parts are made of dead man cadaver. I only really think about this when other people’s questions make me think about this. Then my Achilles tendon starts hurting and I have to grab it. Then I try to stop thinking about the cadaver tissue thing immediately.
It is good and bad to be back.
The good: Kate, my white-girl-who-freestyles-freakishly-well roommate picks me up in her beat up Cutlass Supreme that has taken us through our best and worst days of New Orleans, and it is like nothing has changed.
“Welcome back. sista!” she cries from her faux-leather, navy blue, pimp ride.
We cook outrageously delicious dinners frequently, drink good-tasting cheap wine, and make puns into the wee hours of the morning.
But the bad of New Orleans: the humidity has already started to make my face slide off my neck. Also, the traffic. Also, the ignorance, the racism, the lack of good schools, the lack of jobs, the inefficiency of most people in positions of customer service, and the amount of work that needs to be done on even the best looking of houses that never gets done.
It is, however, THE LIFE here— the vacation kind, where it’s warm and slow, and you might have obligations, but they are on hold one way or another because of all the entertainment of which you must take unabashed advantage.
One other bad thing: my bathroom is unusable. I really like having my own bathroom with lots of lotions and potions, and a shower I can stay in for an interminable amount of time. But mine is rotting from the inside out. Literally.
Two years ago, the construction workers who fixed the outside wall never came inside to notice they had pummelled a gargantuan hole through the back of the mirror. This congealed. Smells came. Organisms came. Complaints came from me. Other workers came. The landlord put the house up for sale and said:
“Close the bathroom door and pay $100 less a month.”
This is the way many things are fixed down here: with Bandaids shaped like soggy two-by-fours. Take ‘em off and you’ve got yourself one big southern festering wound.
I like my buttercup yellow bathroom. It is one of the few girly things I allow myself. New landlord now: time for a new bathroom.
I liken the black mold covering my bathroom wall to raisins in an expensive, well-raisined raisin bread. How many raisins can you have in a sentence and still have it make sense? As many as you want!
The wall has been fixed four times since Katrina. All four times, the new sheet rock turns into mush. This time, my hand goes through the wall when I try to brush the raisins from the mush. Lots of bugs come scurrying out.
“OH MY GOD!!!!!!” but no one is home to share my shivering disgust. I call the landlord (who we’ve never met and who has never actually procured a lease) to vent.
“Elijah…Martin? Mark?” these being his multiple pseudonyms, “Are you there Elijah, it’s me, Megan?” (giggling. no response from the voicemail after my reference to middle school lit). “No, for real, I just put my hand through the wall. There are lots of creepy-crawlies now in the bathroom. I don’t know if I should sleep in my room tonight.”
Art, the repairman who lives downstairs, but never really told anyone he was living downstairs and scared Kate out of her teacher’s pants at 10 p.m. one night, comes to look at my bathroom. He calls me immediately after I leave my message for Elijah/Martin/Mariah, and comes upstairs. He is a heavier Hispanic man: lots of tattoos, sweat-soaked shirt, weird goatee-type-triangle-thing under his bottom lip that I never know what to name.
“Oh shit!” he yells when he looks in the bathroom at the fist-sized dent and wreckage. “I’m going to fix this for you.”
I like Art. He tells it like it is, and as it turns out, sweats all the time. Even in the morning when he appears magically after I call him and haven’t even had time after showering to put clothes on yet, he’s already had time to work up a massive U-shaped chest sweat.
October 15: Art carries table-sized pieces of moldy sheet rock past me as I leisurely research lesson plans on the internet from my post on the couch. I feel bad, but I just had knee surgery. I’ve worked hard in my life. Just not right now.
“You want to eat this?” he asks me while holding up a bite of the wall. A chunk falls onto the hardwood floor. His sweat drips on top of it.
October 17: Art seals up the window and puts together a new wall, putties it, wipes his sweaty hands on his putty pants, all quite lickety-split.
October 18: two twin streams of rain make their way down the new wet wall.
October 22: Torrential downpour. Cats and dogs in bathroom. Art has become Arty in my mind, I see him and we have over-the-phone news exchanges so often. Arty calls.
“Just checking on that wall!”
“Be right up.”
By “right,” he means he’s already outside the door. He has keys. I have nothing on. All that's within reach is a towel. “What's up, Art. Your wall did not hold up.”
Art twiddles his triangle non-beard deal. “I’m going to have to ask Marty about just taking the entire wall down from the outside. For now, you’ll just have to deal.”
And isn’t this what we all do? Deal.
We decide to keep it on the DL that our other friend, Sara—tall, cynical, fitting right in—is squatting here in the nuthouse for her two-month physical therapy rotation and telling lots of stories about the awkward diversity videos from the Grade D hospital she just started working at.
Did I mention we also have a dog right now, named Jerry, who excretes worms, and is chewing holes in his skin because he’s allergic to the two fleas he was recently rid of at a too-late vet appointment? I left my pristine pup, Quincy, in Colorado for a while, so Kate has a stand-in from her boyfriend’s family’s farm to keep us “protected.”
The wine is a decent brand, and only $9. We have a T.V. that works finally. And Sara, who scored a date on Saturday night with a 6'6" law student, bought scallops to sear up in a stir fry. Things are looking up.
So with wine, rain, meals…we do deal. We have to remember, it’s been worse. It is not so bad. Not nearly so bad as we usually like to think.