Monday, January 16, 2006

Life After Katrina :

The day after we returned to Gainesville—Dec. 29—I drove nine hours, alone, to New Orleans. The main reason for the trip was an old tradition: Every year since graduating from Tulane, no matter where in the world we happen to find ourselves, my friend Les and I have met in New Orleans around the New Year. Les and his wife, Lee, have lived abroad for many years (presently in the Netherlands) and hadn't visited the city since the hurricane. That night, when I met them at the Carousel Bar in the French Quarter, they seemed subdued.

"This city is toast," Les said as we settled onto our stools.

He and Lee had spent much of the day at an old Uptown haunt, the Mayfair Bar, where they'd encountered a self-proclaimed mold specialist. This man was a dire pessimist. In terrifying detail he described how lethal mold spores luxuriate in the mucus membrane for five years or so, then you get sick and die. Anybody who had entered a moldy house without a certain kind of gas mask—not the $40 kind, but the $60 kind—was doomed. Mark my words, the man had said: Within five years, the population of New Orleans will be decimated by killer mold.

"But Les," I said. "I spent days in my moldy house without any kind of gas mask at all. I mean, it was too damn hot to wear a gas mask."

He and Lee looked at each other.

"You're doomed," said Les.

Lee nodded. "According to this guy anyway."

"But … I feel fine."

My friend Les lit a cigarette and splayed his hand ("five years") then tactfully changed the subject. The Carousel Bar rotated, creaking, while we sat chatting.

6:59 PM