New Orleans. July 2013.
“Every week or so he comes out of his house with an old Mardi Gras cup and a paintbrush,” says Val, my scientist friend who lives here. “And his glasses are perched way down on his nose like this,” she puckers her mouth and squints her eyes as if balancing a pair of old-man glasses on the ridge of her freckled nose. “And he carefully, oh so carefully paints a few inches of the siding with this real-tiny brush.” She mimes the action of her neighbor slowly poking paint onto a bit of the siding on the front of his house as her long dark ponytail falls across her shoulder and bangs fall into her chestnut eyes. She straightens up suddenly, and flashes her wide grin at me and Satsu-Man, my poet friend who has come to Val’s house to visit and walk around the neighborhood with me, to see what we can see in the 89 degree heat.
If you look closely at this house across the street from Val’s stoop, you can see that the white paint on the crumbling facade has been re-touched along maybe six feet of the siding, at the man’s eye level. There’s about two more feet of distance from the left side of the house to the left front door than there is from the right side to the right door, creating the illusion that the house has pressed one shoulder closer to us, as if to lean into our front-stoop conversations. The man’s house is one of about a dozen peeling houses in slight disrepair that pepper the renovated ones in Val’s Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, east of the French Quarter and not far from the locally famous Hubig’s Pie company, which burned down almost a year ago today. (They are re-building.)
“Well, if you cut and place the doorframe wrong, it’s way more work to do it all over again,” said my friend Jay, when I told him about the stupid lopsided house. Jay is a cook at various restaurants around town. He used a tone reserved for when I am being dumb. “So it’s a little off. Really no big deal when you think about it.” And this, my friends, is what reminds me I’m not in Denver anymore. It would be hella work to re-hang a doorframe! Who cares if your house looks like an optical illusion created by Salad Fingers’ David Firth! This is New Orleans, baby, and shit doesn’t stay where you put it for long anyway.
It’s like when I visited the old Latter library on St Charles in uptown and realized a bunch of the furniture was from the original mansion. “They should preserve this stuff,” I said. “Not let us sit on it and use it.”
“This is New Orleans,” my friend D. told me. “We don’t put stuff behind museum cases. Everything is old here. And it’s not going anywhere.”
“I see him getting in and out of his car,” Val says of the slow moving neighbor. She points at the brown Datsun station wagon that’s got to be as old as I am, parked picture-perfect in front of the crumbling house. Val isn’t sure if the man forgets about his home improvement project, or if maybe he’s uncommitted to following through, or, as my friend Satsu-Man theorizes, perhaps her neighbor is engaged in a year-long project inside which divides his attention.
“Like, maybe he’s deep in a year-long process of preparing dinner,” Satsu-Man says. He hunches over Val’s kitchen table and apes slicing an onion in really slow motion, and we laugh.