Sunday, July 02, 2006

Xmas in July comes to Debrisville

By quitting time Friday, the debris piles were gone.

In mid-afternoon I sat on my porch with a glass of iced tea and marveled at the sight, estatically watching the cart-mounted claw toss the debris into the truck, as excited as a small boy demolishing his backyard with a new Tonka vehicle on Xmas morning.

Amy across the street, who'd called and called and lately erected a sign pointing out that pile reference number 52086 had been placed out on May 6 and requested for removal shortly thereafter, rushed out to give the crew--the size of which would have embarrassed the Sewerage & Water Board--cold drinks.

Bit by bit, the claw boom pushed the pile up in the same way we'd sweep the porch, then latched onto the roofing and drywall and odds and ends of a life, lifted it high into the sky, and deposited it in a trailer the size of two dumpsters stacked, a trailer I had cursed just a few days earlier on Carrollton Avenue as the dually pulling it had cut me off.

I approached Bill, who had the pile from his place removed, and asked him how he felt about it. "I kind of miss it," he said, with a grin twisted not just by his squint against the sun, but one which acknowledged the oddness of the thought. It is not so strange that the removal of debris is called for as a return to normalcy, but the piles have become normal here in the town blogger Adrastos has named Debrisville.

This is more than a warped sense of the normal in a town where normal is not a consensual affair: there is progress in the removal of the old piles, and there is also progress in every new or growing one I see. I saw a newly deposited refrigerator a few weeks ago. My first reaction was, man, I don't want to even imagine what the inside of that is like.

Then, as I drove the remaining blocks home, I remembered: every new refrigerator, every growing debris pile, is itself a sign of the return to normalcy. It is a sign that someone else has come home, that the insurance check and the SBA money have come, and they are starting on another house. I new see progress in each new or growing pile, and not just disaster and dysfunction.

I'm still amazed that the local governments had to argue with FEMA about extending the deadline to help with debris pickup. I worked in Washington for several years, and always tend to rise to the defense of the people who work there, most of whom are well intentioned and hard working and, well, you get the idea. Then there is FEMA, where there is clearly some sort of sick building syndrome problem, perhaps a carbon monoxide leak into the ventilation system, that produces ranks of the terminally incompetent and stupid. Ten months later and they still don't grasp the scale of what occurred here.

But the deal was done, and so the claw tractor and big trailer will continue to roll through Mid-City, clearing the sidewalks and gutters of debris. I hope they have a hard time keeping up. Every time I roll through an S&WB sinkhole to avoid the scattered roofing nails of a fresh pile, I am as happy as a farmer driving past a field and thinking "knee-high by the Fourth of July". I notice if there are children's toys scattered in the pile, and hope they are not gutting to sell, but coming home to a city that still has too few children. I look for art or books as if I were strolling a new acquaintance's living room for the first time, drink in hand.

I search, most of all, for the telltale signs of rebirth. I browse for the scraps of fresh cut drywall or cans of paint, the things the contractors are supposed to haul off themselves but increasingly don't bother to amid the many mounds of Debrisville. I look for the signs that this house is not just being cleared out to meet the city's do it or lose it deadline, but that it is being remade into a place that will live again and I think, welcome home.

Care to read your post for WTUL's Community Gumbo?

Reply to communitygumbo at yahoo dot com.
Sure. I sent you an email.
Yes, it's a wonderful thing to see the piles diminish!
Mark, let me know when the reading is. Post it on the Yahoo group.
Ahh, I love it when you call it Debrisville. Merci, for the link, Markus.
But I can't find the link to your original Debrisville post, even in a Google cache. You gotta save that for posterity, man.
Thanks, Markus. I'll look back BUT I think it was just something I started calling the city out of disgust with all the trash in my unflooded area. I don't think I debuted the term as the title of a post.
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