2008, we did the best we could.


January
Moved to Belize. *Carry-on bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment. Attendant made me take out bulge on top, which happened to be a Ziploc gallon-sized bag of underwear. Held underwear on lap for duration of the flight.

Lived on an Iguana reserve. Learned how to do laundry with a hose. Experienced Belizean wedding and funeral in the same week. Set out to teach everything I knew about conflict resolution, drugs, and AIDS. Learned everything I know about love. Got accepted into grad school.

February Caught a parasite, hiked to the top of a ruin, swam in a cave, experienced my first Belizean election and confirmation. Fought a piñata. Lost.

March Overcame fear of spiders. Discovered a new love for choco-bananas. Played with a monkey. Met real Guatemalan Indians in Guatemala. Bought skirt from them. Watched the Ruta Maya river race. Said goodbye to the Caribbean. Understood that life would never be the same.

April Got a niece! Heart opened a little wider. Fell in love with her.
Turned 27. Panicked. Cut my own bangs.

May Got another step-family. Danced! Celebrated! Laughed!
First laid eyes on my new city, New Orleans. Stabbed my foot with a parking lot spike.

June Went back to work at Boys and Girls Club. Happy to find that I still loved the kids. Got shingles. Thought I was dying.

July Sold everything I owned on Craigslist. Moved out of Fort Wayne (ten years!) Received Carrie Bradshaw as a parting gift.

August Moved to New Orleans. Found the two-story target, which I had previously thought was an urban legend. Took a family vacation to Destin. Came back. Became acquainted with city life. Loved it. Went to Tulane for student orientation after a month of waiting. Got evacuated for Gustav at lunch.

September Stayed evacuated for two and a half weeks. Went back to school. Dropped ten pounds for lack of friends.

October Made friends! Gained ten pounds. Heard that Taylor Fort Wayne would be closing. Felt orphaned. Dressed up like a ninja and fought pirates on Jackson square.

November Watched history unfold in the TSSW building with snacks and wine. Found out Bry and Jess are pregnant again. Went to Belize. Delivered school supplies. Painted a cafeteria. Provided flood relief with two armed guards on the Guatemalan border. Became acquainted with Big Mac and Quarter Pounder, the tarantulas. Realized I had not overcome fear of spiders. Had the sweetest reunions I could ever imagine at San Marcos School.

Learned that a plan is usually unfolding around me even when I am not still or patient enough to see it. Discovered that if I feel lost even for a second, all I have to do is ask for help. Understood the beauty in a prayer that goes, “Hi God, I’m an idiot and I don’t trust myself. Could you make this one clear for me?” Trusted completely. Found out I am purposed. Convinced Tulane I am purposed. Doing last semester internship in Belize!

December Wrote a thousand papers. Failed a final. Got all A’s!
Watched snow fall in New Orleans. Saw Lily take her first 3 steps.
Went to Chicago. Smile.

Elvis or Racism?

Originally I planned to attend a community event that was not centered on racism. I wanted to do the New Orleans Film Festival or German Fest or anything light and fun. But then professor Chaisson offered extra credit points to attend the 10th annual Diversity Convocation where Tim Wise was speaking, and I reluctantly agreed, rolling my eyes. The thing is, she said there would be food. It gets me every time.

Apparently, this is how I felt about racism: reluctant and eye-rolly. It’s not that I didn’t think it existed or wasn’t a current issue; it’s not that I didn’t think diversity was important or necessary. I just didn’t understand what it had to do with me. After all, it wasn’t my idea. I’m in social work! I’m here to fight injustice and help people—other people, like, international kids or people affected by trauma and things. Racism just wasn’t really my platform.

(Stay with me, here.)

Then I heard Mr. Wise speak.

As it always does for me about a thousand years after every one else, a light bulb came on during that hour-and-a-half, and I realized I had never really gotten it. While I listened when people told me about white priviledge and institutional racism, and I agreed that somewhere someone was probably being treated unjustly, I could not wrap my mind around the concept that I was where I was because the system was set up for me to achieve. I’ll admit I thought that sounded a little bit conspiracy theory-ish. I’ll also admit that subconsciously for that theory to be true, I had to accept that my successes were not necessarily achieved in my own right, but through a series of opened doors I was able to walk through that, in some cases, my peers of color were not.

Mr. Wise explained it in this way, which helped in my understanding: Mr. Wise is an educator who travels around and speaks to groups about racism. He got this job because immediately after college, two guys offered it to him. He was 22, and the two guys who offered him the job were people he knew from Tulane: a professor and a classmate. He was able to go to Tulane (even though his family was at poverty level) because his mother was able to go to the bank and secure a $10,000 loan. His mother would not have been able to get the loan had his grandma not been able to co-sign the loan on her home’s collateral. His grandma’s home was appraised at a higher value—enough to cover the loan’s cost—because it had a higher property value and sat in a neighborhood that had been established as white in the 50s and 60s and retains higher property values even to this day.

So, to recap, Mr. Wise got the job from two guys he knew (1st degree) from Tulane (2nd degree), which he was able to attend thanks to his mother’s loan (3rd degree), which was awarded to her through his grandmother’s cosigning (4th degree) based on a higher-valued house in a traditionally established white neighborhood from the 60’s (5th degree). That’s 5 degrees and 50 years removed from the original racial act—and this man is still benefiting.

This is just one example of hundreds Mr. Wise listed, but when the light came on, I felt immediately burdened by my newfound understanding and heartbroken over my idiotic lack of others-awareness (as opposed to self-awareness, which I then realized I might have in excess) in how I relate to everyone else.

For this reason, for the impact it had on my racial worldview and the fact that even driving around this morning on the I-10 felt less sunny knowing that the I-10 high rise project had plowed through oak-lined park areas in the Treme neighborhood where black folks used to gather and live in the 60’s— to transport white people in and out of the city from suburbs—I decided to reflect on this community event instead.

Taken from the convocation program, Mr. Tim Wise is one of the nation’s leading anti-racism educators working toward dismantling racism. He has spoken in 48 states, on over 500 college campuses, and was chosen as the 2008 Oliver L. Brown Distinguished Scholar for Diversity Issues at Washburn University, originally named for the lead plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Obviously, the man has credentials.

As he spoke, I raced to jot down notes but at some point just put the pen down and listened, which worked out much better. I’ll first share a few points that were of interest, and then I’ll explain the importance of the event from a social work perspective.

One of the points Mr. Wise gave that made a lasting impression on my understanding of institutional racism was that prior to 1964, every white person was elevated BY LAW. This fact is so alarming it makes me wonder how there could not be institutional racism today if the supremacy of Whites was actually mandated 50 years ago. How would you ever get rid of such a mindset, especially considering those lawmakers and abiding citizens, plus children born to those same lawmakers and abiding citizens are still part of the current generation and population.

Another point I took as both interesting and funny was when Mr. Wise said a poll had been taken asking people if they thought racism was still a problem. Only eleven percent of those who took the poll reported that yes, racism was still a problem. Randomly, a different poll was taken asking people if they thought Elvis was still alive. Twelve percent reported that yes, Elvis was still alive. Mr. Wise (in humor) compared the two and noted how funny it was that more people believe Elvis is still alive than believe that racism exists in the United States.

Mr. Wise continued to make the point that in 1962, a time most people would now identify as an outright racially discriminatory decade, a similar poll was taken which asked if people believed both Blacks and Whites had equal rights, and if black school children had the same opportunities as white school children. In 1962, seventy percent of people said yes, Blacks and Whites had full equal opportunities, and 87% said yes, black school children had the same opportunities as white school children.

Mr. Wise’s point was that white people didn’t see it in 1962, a time that was clearly discriminatory, and most of us don’t see it now for this reason: white people are asking white people if racism exists. He pointed out that it’s pointless to ask the group NOT being oppressed if oppression exists because they are not the one experiencing it. You wouldn’t ask a man if sexism is operating. You wouldn’t ask the able-bodied if they were able to get into the building tonight. Of course they were. In order to find out the extent of oppression and marginalization, we need to ask the oppressed and marginalized. And then, when they tell us it’s happening, we need to believe them.

How does this relate to competent social work practice? Obviously this could relate in every possible area given that our primary mission, according to the NASW, is to enhance human well-being and help meet the needs of all people, with particular attention to people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty; but for right now I’ll focus on one specific relation to this event and social work: education. To quote my friend Kayla: If we don’t know, we absolutely cannot understand. If we don’t understand, then we’ll have no motivation to change anything.

We carry the responsibility and the duty to educate ourselves on every social issue—even when we don’t think it relates, because it always does. It’s the social part of social work. We do not exist to help and treat ourselves.

I’ll admit that after 7 hours of school and 3 hours of work, it was only natural to feel reluctant about sitting though another lecture in spite of the food and extra credit benefit. But it was my duty as a social worker to educate myself on the ways in which institutional racism is impacting all of us. If I hadn’t, I’d be right back to where I was on Wednesday at 6:29 pm: yeah, but what does this have to do with me?

Prince vs. Michael Jackson

Other appropriate titles for this post:

• In which I hit myself in the face with a bed frame
• Moving the entire Southeast Louisiana Red Cross down 8 flights
• An early morning sprint down St. Charles avenue

Last Friday, I moved out of the Med District downtown into a loft-type apartment on St. Charles Ave, uptown. When I got up the six flights to my new apartment and my key didn’t work, I had no choice but to call it a night. When I say ‘call it a night’ I mean I dumped all my stuff on the floor and met some people at Republic for the Prince vs. Michael Jackson DJ battle.

I got there at eleven, which I thought was appropriately late for someone approaching 30. But apparently eleven is the new 5:30. I made it just in time for the geriatric beer specials and sat down at an empty lounge area to wait. There were some little business cards with the Uptown Salon logo on the lounge table, and I wondered why someone had left all their business cards around. It wasn’t until I was served a bucket of champagne that I realized I was sitting in Uptown Salon’s reserved booth, and that Republic thought I was the first member of Uptown Salon to arrive.

I sent this text to Sprinky: I hit a new low. I’m at a club by myself drinking $2 miller high life in someone else’s booth waiting for a DJ battle between Michael Jackson and Prince to start. Where did things go wrong?

I was about to call it quits, but then Prince showed up. Everywhere.

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Michael Jackson followed.
And then my friends.
I’m not sure if Uptown Salon ever made it, but I should send them a thank-you for the champagne…

Prince and Michael Jackson at the DJ booth discussing weather or not Billy Jean was his lover-

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The next morning I met the furniture guy at 8:30, and the leasing agent let me into the apartment. This is what she said: Oh, there is a trick to unlocking the apartments. You didn’t know? (Hello. How could I have known that, lady?)

The apartment is amazing- full skyline view of the city, open loft-type floor plan, HUGE closet- think Carrie Bradshaw in the brownstone- and cheaper than where I was living before. Before you get jealous, realize I am only talking about 450 square feet of goodness. But for me, it’s perfect.

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I spent two days moving and still have not unpacked. I did, however, put together a desk, a futon, a bed frame and a bookshelf and arrange them all myself. And then I hit myself in the face with the bed frame. I was trying to put bed elevators underneath, and the bed shifted and fell on my face. The next day I went to school and introduced myself to all my potential employers at the internship fair with a black eye and small gash.

I also spent Thursday morning moving the Red Cross, which has been displaced for the entire three years following Katrina. They’ll fling open the doors to their original pre-Katrina office tomorrow morning on Canal Street. The chapter has been functioning out the 4th floor of the T-mobile building in Metairie—which has no elevator. We lined up 50 people up and down 8 flights of stairs and moved the entire Red Cross, one box at a time, in an assembly line from the fourth floor down.  It was exhausting, but I felt happy to help considering how unreal it is that this chapter, among everything in the city, is just now moving home for the first time, and I helped carry a box. Or two. Hundred.

On Friday, as if my body really needed the extra early morning sprint, I walked out of my apartment and caught a glimpse of the Tulane shuttle turning the corner a block-and-a-half away. I thought my days of chasing the shuttle were over. Turns out, the only thing worse than chasing the shuttle down Tulane Avenue is chasing it up St. Charles where my classmates can see me. I crossed my fingers hoping that no one was on the streetcar that day.  It was an ugly, panicked run, knocking old men out of the way and flinging people to the side with my bookbag…

The most annoying part happened when I heaved myself onto the shuttle and flopped down, gagging and coughing and sighing and looking around saying, “Thank GodI made it!”

We just sat there for another 5 minutes.

When I walked into Tools, totally stressed and falling apart at the outfit/hair seams from all the running, Allison said, “Brooke. I saw you exit your apartment this morning.”

She didn’t laugh right away, which was nice.
I asked if she’d seen everything, and she said she had.  She said she wanted to yell out after me, “Don’t worry! It’s only Tools!” but I was too fast.
Anytime I picture myself sprinting down St. Charles Avenue at 7:58 am, I laugh out loud.
Here are some pictures of the weekend:Social Work crew at Superior

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These jokers were at Lucy’s on Saturday before the New Kids on the Block show.  1992 threw up all over the room:

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Shea and I at the park on Sunday observing children for the Theory lab-

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Seriously, we’re legitimately observing. Don’t call the police. (You kids want some candy?)

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Social Workers Gone Wild- the TSSW picnic

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Note the face and the hair below. I was just coming off a triple back layout with a half twist.
Karine’s like, Oh God! Not the half twist!
Tiffany’s like, If she dies I’m getting it on camera.

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The poor kids we kicked off the moonwalk

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Tim teaching kids how to fight in preparation for the Pirate vs. Ninja flash mob on Halloween night.

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I love SGA for planning this picnic. It was fun to see everyone outside of class and outside of all the little groups. And for the record, our volleyball team won.

One month party

Tuesday was the one-month mark for me in New Orleans. I threw myself a celebratory nap and then ate some Oreo Cakesters and crossed my fingers that I would be able to go back this week.

 
Not so.
No power.
Still Sunday.
Daggers!
There are, like, 200 buildings here. Two of the only four damaged buildings on campus are schools of Social Work and Public Health. Those are the kinds of odds I live inside.

Yesterday the Grampies (that’s plural for Grandparents) left for North Carolina to check on the house-for-sale and hurry back before Hanna, Ike, Josephine and Unnamed threatened Flordia again, so I had to relocate. This put me on the road to Jackson, MS at 4:30—FOUR THIRTY—in the morning. It was a gloomy ride. Honestly, I haven’t seen the sun in days and I was passing busloads of Mississippians who were being escorted back to their coastal homes.

I was totally jealous.

The thought of not being home for another 5 days, along with a lack of Starbucks on Mississippi highway 49, along with being awake in another country’s time zone, along with not being able to get out from under the clouds of Gustav for the life of me, I almost cried. Almost. But it being so early and all, I slipped into a coma instead and pulled over for an hour and a half at Cups, and espresso shop.

I am now safely in Jackson, coma free, and staying with Sprinky’s sister’s nanny family. Strange? I know, but they offered and I said yes. I wanted to see Tulane’s shelter at Jackson State and also check up on Christy.  She just moved here last month and is still figuring things out. Together, we have located an Indian restaurant, a cute coffee/smoothie shop and a bike trail. Saturday we’ll be going to the circus. I do what I can.

Thanks to all the friends and fam who offered to host—Lawlers, Pam, Dian, Elaine’s friend’s sister.  It’s heartwarming that people love to love.

 
I should be home on Sunday.
Notice I’ve started calling NOLA home? My crazy grandma (the famous one) pointed that out to me.  Home. It has a nice ring to it.

PS- Baby Lil turned 5 months this week!

Tulane Prez & Tornado chasing

Tulane President Scott Cowen is being interviewed live on NPR’s Talk of the Nation today at 2:30pm central time.

Yesterday we were able to do a live chat with the Prez in Nashville, and he did a great job of spreading the calmness around while CNN riled us all up. At this point, Tulane is officially closed until next Monday, September 8th and CNN is officially useless.

Here is a copy of the LIVE CHAT TRANSCRIPT – AUGUST 31, 2008. It’s an interesting read.

As far as the students in Jackson, they all seem to be doing great and are being sheltered in the Jackson State gymnasium with meals and snacks provided through the dining facilities. Jackson State has also opened recreational facilities and university center amenities to Tulane students. Aw, Jackson.
As for the rest of the city… things are looking up!
Talked to a friend who is hunkered down in the Bywater in her house near the Industrial Canal with a bunch of people. (Bywater folks: It’s Stacey G.) Her notes:- The Industrial Canal is overtopping – they see it on TV like the rest of us – but she says there is no water in the streets of the Bywater except rainwater. Some of the wind gusts are stronger than they’d expected: “Some people are going to have wind damage.” Power’s out in the area, as is Internet.

– NO LOOTING. NO CIVIL UNREST. “The area is being really well-patrolled.” At the Bywater house they are BBQing on the back porch of the house and NOPD and National Guard are dropping by for food; the authorities say that they haven’t picked up a single person in the area.”

Me? I’m tornado chasing.We keep getting squall bands and tornado warnings every 15 minutes. A few hours ago, with two tornado warnings in Destin- one to the east and one to the west- my grandparents said, “Grab your camera. Let’s go to the beach!” We wanted to see the beach swells and try to catch pictures of waterspouts. How did I get lucky enough to have storm-chasing grandparents? It’s my dream evacuation, for sure.

Storm chaser Brooke:

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We stopped at the grocery on the way home for fried chicken and were attacked in the parking lot by fast-moving abandoned carts, not tornados. But the fried chicken was delish.

Home away from Home away from Home

I had to give myself a mandatory 12-hour break from the Weather Channel and CNN so I could sleep last night. According to my dad, those channels play up weather problems to bring in more advertising revenue and it really won’t be all that bad, anyway. I told him he would be that guy standing on top his house waving and yelling out “Rescue Me! Somebody help! I didn’t know! I thought it was an advertising ploy!”

I’m sure he was just trying to make me feel better.

The school texted us last night at 11:30 to tell us to get out if we weren’t already. Today they are having an online news conference at Noon in Nashville and a live chat with school leaders at 3:30. To be sure, I have a list of questions for Mr. Tulane President. Mail? Financial Aid? My first and last check from the ol’ Bookstore? Transfers? Stop-outs? Host schools?

I can’t believe I left all my winter coats and jackets and shoes, and don’t even get me started on the unopened case of Diet Coke in the fridge, DVDs, Journals, socks, hair products, hats, sheets, etc. … but I had to share the bell-cart with a bazillion other people and it was a battle of picking and choosing.

Nagin just said, though, if anyone is caught looting they’ll go straight to jail. At least SJP won’t get kidnapped. She just better not break curfew, is all I have to say.

Contraflow began this morning out of New Orleans, which was so strange. I had received a map about this contraflow business last week and couldn’t figure it out. Basically all the lanes going into the city are reversed and used to evacuate people, which is great considering gas is gone and ATMs are empty.

Here is some other good information from local blogs and papers that are funny and informative:

Saturday

Saturday

Sunday

In the meantime, I have been staying with my grandparents in Destin (on the Florida panhandle just across the Alabama border) learning about everything hurricane. We started getting storm bands from Gustav last night and swells were supposed to start this morning at about 4. We put up hurricane panels over the windows and blocked the front door from the inside—all things I’ve never done before—and then filled up our gas tanks.

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My grandma and I also went to the beach early this morning to scope everything out. It was so hazy and beautify and eerily quiet…

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(Is that a silver lining?)

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I have to say that my grandparents have been the best evacuation hosts a girl could ask for: great food, great company, great little puppy, and a full tank of gas to boot. Thanks for keeping me safe, sheltered, well-fed and gassed up! If it wasn’t on the verge of a panic/breakdown and it wasn’t totally inappropriate to joke about yet, I’d say we should be evacuated more often. It’s that great here.

Alas.

I am trying to act like a reasonable person (vs. my normal neurotic self) and realize that things happen, and we adjust.

This may be an important piece in the empathy puzzle that will help me understand what people are going through in the future. The levels of irony here are too many to list… three years ago my bags were packed and waiting by the door so I could get into the city and help, and today I am shoving everything into my car to get out- on the anniversary of Katrina itself, which is what brought me here in the first place.

“As they experience acculturation and assimilation to the culture here, these students are experiencing their first storm,” notes Johnson. “Many of our students will become leaders in public health — prevention, planning and emergency response — so this puts what they’re learning in the classroom into a real-life setting.”

-Jefferey Johnson, Associate Dean at the School of Public Health.

I’ll try not to be a baby and have the same attitude and optimism as I did before this was MY home, MY stuff, MY school, MY future, etc… it looks a whole lot different from the inside out.

For now, here I am:

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Orienta-uh-Evacuation

Today I had orientation!

I couldn’t decide between a t-shirt that said, “Be my friend” or a cute jersey-knit dress with a sash tie…

I opted for the jersey dress and took a picture of myself on the way to the bus. Yes, I take a bus. Yes, I had to use the self-timer mode. SJP would have offered to take it but she can’t move her elbows or hands, and she can’t move her eyeballs or talk. So she just watched while I positioned the camera on the counter and waited for the ten-second countdown. School, here I come.

Orientation was fantastic, and I met all the MSW/MPH people.

We also met the faculty and campus police, the librarians, the spiritual resource person, the work-study coordinator and a bazillion other campus organizations, then ate a red-beans-and-rice lunch with our orientation groups and adviser. It was all just perfect until we got a collective text in the middle of the afternoon telling us school was canceled and we had to evacuate by noon tomorrow.

Obviously THIS year, school, for me, is like a dangling carrot. Or, more accurately, a dangling slice of chocolate decadence cake from Whole Foods. It’s always one scoop away…

Ironically, the text came as we were discussing emergency preparedness with the campus officer, so we got all the latest information straight from the source. Apparently, Tulane has its own weather team contracted to provided updates in cases like this, and Louisiana has a state-wide plan to begin emergency evacuations 60 hours from predicted landfall. Thanks to Katrina, they said the days of “Well by-golly, I lived through Betsy and Camille, I’m just gonna ride this one out,” are over. The governor has already declared a pre-state of emergency, and 150 of the 700 busses needed to evacuate New Orleans are already here. If nothing else, they sure learned to evacuate.

Tulane has evacuated twice before—once for Ivan, which veered at the last minute, and once for Katrina. The year Katrina hit, 1500 freshman had moved in at 9am, and by 7pm they had all been evacuated—750 students went home, and the other 700 were bussed to Jackson State.

Most people ran out and bought water and non-perishable food items. I ran to the bookstore and bought Tulane clothes, then to the mall for some MAC eye shadow in case I never see either of them again. We all have our priorities.

I spent the rest of the afternoon re-packing the boxes I just unpacked and moving everything else away from windows and up off the floor (just in case this mandatory vacation turns into a four-and-a-half month effort to get back).

SJP agreed to stay and watch for looters while I’m gone. I am sort of devastated about my first day of school being canceled and really worried about things like having to sit the semester out or transfer to another school if we actually get a direct hit, but I’m trying to be an adult about it and keep things in perspective.

School is scheduled to re-open on Thursday, provided we have a school. In the meantime, I’ll be at Grampy’s agonizing over the 10 pairs of shoes and 12 purses that got left behind.

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My motherboard, myself

Macbook is home.

The motherboard was defective, whatever that means. I thanked the guy and said, “Yeah, my mom has been acting funny too lately, can you do anything about her?”  He would have laughed, I’m sure, but my phone rang. It was my mom. See? She knows.

Which brings me to my next topic: Adult Children of Active Facebook Users.

When did it become normal for parents start creeping onto Facebook? I realize my parents are just extra-technological with finding internet spouses and all, but honestly you guys, as a group, we really dropped the ball on this one. Parents should be confined to the geriatric network (as opposed to the Indianapolis or FW network)—which could be visited, but, for the love of God, not flung wide open for all of them to just run loose. Don’t even get me started on grandparents hanging around—there goes my whole new blog idea: Conversations with Crazy Grammy.

Brookie?
Hey grandma.
Are you working?
No.
Are you busy?
No.
Well, I didn’t think you’d ever call me back.
Grandma, I’ve been calling you all week. I left three messages.
No, you didn’t.
Yes, I did. Check your messages.
Nope. My phone makes a little noise when there’s a message.
Well, I left one. Maybe its broken or something.
No, it always makes a little noise. You must have called someone else.
Grandma, it was your voicemail. Your number is on speed dial. It was you.
No. Huh-uh. It didn’t make that little noise.
Why don’t you just check your messages. Just in case. I’ll wait.
No, Brookie. It always makes that little noise, but—Oh! (laugh) Isn’t that funny? (laugh) I have three messages. (laugh) It always makes that little noise. (laugh) Isn’t that funny, darlin? (laugh)
See? I told you.
Well, I just hadn’t heard from you in a while. I thought I might get a thank-you card or something for the pajamas I gave you last spring.
Oh, well, yeah, I love those pajamas. I thought we covered that at the house. Sorry.
Well, you’ve been busy. You’ve got a lot going on up there. Are you running around with Sprinky today?
No, she is in South Carolina
Oh! She is? What’s she doing there?
Visiting our other friends, Bethany and Mike.
Oh! Bethany and Mike live in South Carolina?
Yeah.
You never told me that.
They’ve lived there for a year and a half.
Well, you never told me.
They moved last April.
You didn’t tell me they moved.

I didn’t know you knew them.

You didn’t tell me.
Grandma, I didn’t know you wanted to know.
That’s okay. You never tell me anything about your friends. You’re just too busy. Too busy for your grandma.

Hmmm.

In other news, I started working this week. I got a job at the Tulane bookstore. I basically hang Tulane clothes all day and refold everything when waves of freshmen or cheerleaders or foreign golf players come in and try everything on in front of the mirror. My favorite is when the owner comes through, stands in front of a certain display and says, “Y’all’s folds are bad.”

I also love watching at all the bossy mothers in east coast accents holding up 80 different-colored sweatshirts to a nervous, eye-rolling new freshman while the little sister tries on $90 hoodies and the dad just moseys behind, whistling. I can’t help but imagine my little brothers being interested in a sweatshirt or a Taylor hat. It just never happened. If my brothers had been there, we would have ended the day in Allen County lockup for minor consumption, especially now that Brandon has taken to running around town with a can of Budlight in his hand pawning other people’s books. They were just never really into things like college hats or college sweatshirts or traditional college at all, really.

Moving on.

I made three friends in three days. They work with me in the bookstore, and all three wanted to know if I had gotten a daiquiri yet and where. They are serious about their daiquiris. By the third day, I was directing new students and worried mothers all over campus or to the nearest Wal-greens or Whole Foods or daiquiri stand like a good little local…

PS- I thought about this all day. Nine years ago today my aunt was killed in a car accident. It was awful and heartbreaking and felt like, at the time, someone had taken all the color out of the world. Whenever I think of her, besides crepes and laughing and hideous hand-me-down purple zip-up bathing suits, I think of Mr. Gay and what he wrote on a little piece of paper in the guestbook at her funeral: Bonne nuit joli petit oiseau – Goodnight pretty little bird.

Reflexes like a drunk cat

I feel like someone balled me up and tossed me into New Orleans over their shoulder with their eyes closed, and I landed on my feet, but then 10 seconds later fell over and broke both ankles and dislocated my knees and maybe, like, both wrists or something. Then 5 cars ran over me and I fell down a manhole, floated around and flew back to my apartment on a geyser.

The point is, I have an apartment now. Here is the order of events:

1. Arrived at Grad school dorm
2. Tried key to apartment 322A
3. Key didn’t work
4. Moved things into storage closet
5. Manager unlocked door
6. Moved things to 322A
7. Air conditioner froze, then melted, then molded
8. Moved things into temporary apartment 204
9. Waited in temporary apartment for 3 nights
10. Room was ready
11. Room was not ready
12. Went back to temporary apartment for one more night
13. Room was ready
14. Moved into new room
15. Discovered out old room was fine, they had meant to send me to 722A not 322A

Here is my new apartment:

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My original room had a view of the skyline, but that room was accidentally given away when they assigned me to the first wrong room. The new room, and I’m not complaining, I’m just saying, has a view of the hospital. I am not used to being so close to other people who can see me 24/7 and I am constantly forgetting to close the bathroom door. I step out of the shower to see 4 IV drips and a nurse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve screamed and slammed the door. Yes, it’s totally embarrassing and totally true.

Along the same lines, I had an entire list of stops to make at the uptown campus today and walked around for like 4 hours from the Accounts Receivable, which is in the middle, to the Uptown parking department, which is at one end, to the Registrars, which is on the opposite end, to Financial Aid, which is back to the middle, to the Bookstore (where I got a job!) to Student Employment to the food court. Here is where it gets great.

I bought a coke and some fruit. Yes, I said fruit. It’s a new thing I’m trying. I took the full cup of coke into the bathroom and set it on the toilet paper dispenser while I hooked my bag to that little hook. Then I turned around and accidentally knocked the coke over. It just seeped out from underneath my stall toward the drain in the middle of the bathroom. People walked in, stopped, looked at the drain, looked at my feet, and walked out. You can be sure I did not make any new friends today.

But I did get a job, which is important, and I did get a refill on my coke. I also discovered an Aveda salon in the main commons area outside the food court and was thrilled. Also there was a Fedex.

My hair stayed straight all day and I have started adjusting to the heat- I have even been wearing jeans and shirts with sleeves on them, if you can imagine. I am finding new ways to get the same places, and I have learned how to drive without getting hit by streetcars. The crazy thing is that you can never turn left. Instead, you have to do all these unnecessary u-turns. Navi would just love it here!

Sprinky and I found two great breakfast nooks with fantastic pecan waffles, a French bakery & Café (that one is for you, Elaine), two dessert places, two pizza places and two Mexican places. We were also driving down Tchoupitoulas minding our own business when Sprinky said, Giraffes. I looked up and out of the blue, across the street from residential houses, was a bunch of giraffes eating off the trees. I guess the zoo keeps them there…

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I also went to get my ID on the downtown campus and made for the skybridge, when, thankfully (although I think I would have figured this out on my own eventually) they told me that the skybridges connecting one of the 5 buildings collapsed during Katrina, and not to use it.

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Well. I guess it had.

SJP is doing fine, thank you. She keeps telling me how fanTAStic everything is. I love that in a cardboard friend.

Sprinky, on the other hand, left today at 7am. When she left, it occurred to me for two panicky hours that I was by myself here. What would do if my car broke down or if a semi ran over me or if I stabbed my toe on a parking lot spike or got shingles or ran into the bleachers during a basketball game? Things like that ALWAYS happen to me, and who would I call? It was a scary, lonely feeling.

(Pam- you are my closest relative. That means you’re on standby!)

I was thinking today- even though it seems a tiny bit backwards- that I feel like Belize prepared me for this. I have already jumped head-first into an entirely new place without a friend in sight, have even caught parasites and been in third world hospitals and came out just fine.

Welp. That’s it. Tomorrow I am driving to Destin to visit the grampies. When I get back, I start working in the bookstore, which means 35% off clothes and books!

Brooke Goes to the City

All right, you guys. After 36 hours in New Orleans, here are the current stats:

Apartment- 1
Brooke- 0

Hair- 1
Brooke- 0

Heat- 1
Brooke- 0

Streetcar- 0
Brooke- 1

Navigating- 0
Brooke- 1

As you can see, the city is winning by about 1.

We arrived yesterday (Saturday) at 10:30 in the morning. When I first saw the skyline from I-10, I went back and forth between hyperventilation and something like optimism, only less optimistic. There might have been just a few seconds of excitement, but I was trying to regulate the breathing.

I checked into the apartment building, got my key, and ran (literally) around the entire third floor until I found my room. I smiled and clapped and jumped and then took a deep breath and tried to turn the key. The key wouldn’t turn.

I tried the next door and the next door, and then I made Sprinky try. We tried about 16 more times before I went back down and told the desk lady. Of course the desk lady had to come up and try herself. She did the same thing I did—put her ear against the surrounding doors and tried them all for good measure. Then she shrugged and said the manager was gone until Monday. She also said the on-call person, who has the master key, was off. I was wondering how an on-call person could be off, since that’s sort of the point of being on-call, but whatev. There was no key. She told me that someone would be back at 4 and could let me into a temporary apartment until they could get a locksmith out on Monday to open the right one.

If you know me, you know this sort of thing is always happening to me. You can be sure it gets worse.

Since my dad had to get back to Indy, we had no choice but to unload the cars—right there in the lobby. I was immediately extra self-conscious of every single personal belonging, like the little miniature lamp that I thought was so cute until I saw my dad carrying it through the reception area, also the magazine rack. And the crate of mismatched pots and pans. I didn’t see anyone else bringing in pots or pans. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see anyone with anything. Everyone I saw showed up with about 4 giant duffle bags. And here I am carrying in photo albums and little square wicker baskets and three tubs of hair products. Don’t even get me started on the 7-foot cardboard cut-out of Sarah Jessica Parker.

The desk lady opened a storage closet for us to “store our luggage”. I think she got mad when I started carrying in things like TVs and clothes. But what could we do? My first home in NOLA was a storage closet.

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Once everything was in, we killed 5 hours in the heat of midday with shrimp that set my mouth on fire and beer. We also saw the giant oil spill, walked up and down the river and Decatur street, went to the uptown campus and garden district. But it was about a thousand degrees by three o’clock and we couldn’t take it anymore. We went back to the dorm to sit against the wall in the reception area are stare at the lady so she wouldn’t forget to call for my temporary room. Our luck, the desk lady said the manager had come back with the real key.

Cleaning up the oil spill

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Firey cajun shrimps

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We brought two loads of stuff up to the 3rd floor. The manager unlocked the apartment, which turned out to be a teeny little studio, and found that the air conditioner had frozen and then melted and then molded all over the floor. She said they would have to clean it over the weekend and I could check back Monday. She said for $50 more I could have a one-bedroom, but she couldn’t guarantee a good view. I asked if I could have it right then. She told me to come to the office on Monday.

Cripes.

The manager eventually let us in to a two-bedroom apartment for the weekend. At this point, my dad was at the bottom floor with everything in the storage closet, Sprinky was on the third floor with the stuff sitting outside the bad apartment, and Kathy was with everything else in the new temporary apartment on the second floor. All of us were running back and forth between the three floors trying to move things and keep an eye on them at the same time.

My second home in NOLA

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In the chaos, my dad and Sprinky met a girl sitting in the lobby waiting for her room, and guess where she was from? No, really, guess. Just try. Okay I’ll tell you. Fort Wayne! When they came upstairs and told me, I went back down to meet her, and from the 30 seconds we talked, I decided she was everything I wanted in a first friend. But I was too shy to ask for her room number. Plus, she didn’t have a room yet. These types of things are so awkward. Next time.

My dad left around dinner time, and Sprinky and I, too tired to find food, shared a bag of kettle corn and granola bars and watched cable until we fell asleep.

Today we woke up early with a list of things to explore and find. On the top of the list was Target, Starbucks and Taco Bell. On the bottom of the list were just boring old things like the Social Work buildings and Finaincial Aid offices.

I also really wanted to figure out streetcars. You’d think it would be easy—just pick what direction you want to go and sit in the little hut till it gets there. But no. Three streetcars passed us by until a lady selling swamp tours across the street finally told me that when you see it coming, you have to go to the other side and stand next to these little white spray painted numbers, and then they’ll stop. What the? I spread the word all day and tourists thanked me like I was a local. I told them I just moved here yesterday. Turns out, streetcars have been declared moving national historic landmarks and have been running along St. Charles Avenue for over 165 years.

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Thank GOD everywhere else I went people were friendly. One lady at a tour guide hut told me everything I needed to know, and you better believe the next time I need to figure anything out I’m going straight back to her little hut.

Once she found out my situation and how city dumb I was, she opened a map with pride and told me where to go, what to see, where not to go, where the projects are, where the good jazz is, where to catch the street cars, where the routes ended, etc.

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She told us that Canal Street is the middle of city and that all the streets change names there because one side used to be a Creole neighborhood, and the other used to be a French neighborhood or something. So the street numbers all start at 0 and fan out on either side.

She also told us not to wait in line at Café du Monde, but to slip around to the other side and seat ourselves. She said most people don’t know there is a second entrance and that tables are first come, first serve. Sprinky and I walked past a line that would have take 30 minutes and sat right down. It was local-riffic.

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After the delicious beignets, we caught the St. Charles car to the uptown campus and found all the Social Work buildings and the bookstore (which is a Barnes and Nobles!) and, most importantly, the food court. We cooled off in the cafeteria louge, which had freestanding water walls and a marble bathroom. It was such a stark difference from Taylor, I took pictures. People laughed at me. And by people, I mean Sprinky.

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We walked forEVER around that campus and toured the rec center, the park and the pool, located a Starbucks, a future Borders and a Whole Foods, and then went up to Metiarie and discovered New Orleans’ little Castelton. There were two malls, bookstores, and all my favorite fast food joints. Plus—here’s the kicker—I did it all without my trusty Navigon. I left poor little Navi in my dad’s car, which, but the time I realized it, was already in Birmingham. This week was the sole reason I purchased Navi—to help navigate my way around the city. I was stuck using old-fashioned maps and internet. Obviously we found our way…

Right to Target! The biggest best Target ever, with 22 rows of clearance racks in the Women’s section alone. Did you hear me? Twenty-TWO clearance racks. Plus, wait for it…wait for it…an escalator with a cart rack in the middle! I felt like I was in my own children’s book called Brooke Goes to the City.

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Tomorrow I should (hopefully) get my real apartment and my ID.
Tuesday, who knows.
Wednesday, Sprinky leaves ☹.