I was not a very good hostess when my friends came to visit from Chicago two weeks ago.
I mean, I picked them up at the airport, drank a Pimm’s Cup with them at Napoleon House, window-shopped with them on Royal Street, and made sure they were well-fed. I pointed them in the right direction for decent live music and treated them to beignets and café au lait before they left.
But I was doing all of this without any real passion for New Orleans, to be perfectly honest. Between the crime and the boil order and the state of the school system and the rising cost of freaking everything, I just was not in the mood to be an ambassador for the city.
My rotten attitude started two nights before they came to town, the night of Wednesday, Sept. 23. It was a typical school night Chez Crawford-Peyton. Ruby was doing homework. Georgia was watching unboxing videos, a bizarre genre that holds some weird power over the toddler mind, on YouTube. I’d just taken the recycling out to the curb – and I was scared the entire time because I am always scared when I leave my house after dark, even if I’m just going out to my own car because this is New Orleans and innocent people get shot for no good reason all the time – and when I came back inside, Ruby had colored part of Georgia’s hair pink with hair chalk.
“Oh, I was going to ask you if I could do this,” she said sweetly, “but you were outside, so I just did it. Can I color the other side of her hair blue since we have to wash it now anyway? Thanks.”
“Yes, go ahead,” I said. “You’re about to take a bath anyway. And next time, actually ask me, and wait for an answer.”
I started getting the kids’ pajamas out of the dryer and checked the progress of the dishwasher.
“Five minutes, kiddos,” I said. “Five minutes until bathtime.”
My phone buzzed against the kitchen countertop, and I went to pick it up.
“A boil water advisory has been issued for entire east bank of New Orleans,” I read. “Boil water for 1 minute before using.”
I said … well, I said a whole lot of things I probably shouldn’t have said in front of my kids.
But I was just so done.
Having no clean water is an inconvenience when you don’t have kids. But when you have kids – kids who need to be bathed because their hair is blue and pink, kids who can’t be trusted to not drink bathwater, kids who go through a ton of dishes (all of which were now going to have to be re-washed) – having no clean water is an enormous problem. I gave Georgia a sort of effective sponge bath with some Kentwood, and we brushed our teeth with more of the same, and it wasn’t the end of the world, I know, but we just did this in July. This isn’t funny anymore, New Orleans.
It was one thing to put up with this city’s dysfunction when it was a cheap place to live. But now, rents are through the roof, and of course buying isn’t much better given how much money we pay on homeowners insurance.
My car insurance is also ridiculously high, especially since I have never in my life had a speeding ticket and I haven’t had an at-fault accident since 1999.
And although it was the right choice, I am no longer benefiting from the public school system here either, having pulled Ruby from a charter school for a variety of reasons.
So when my friends, who have a kid, said they were seriously considering moving here, I laughed.
“Don’t do it,” I said. “Crime is terrible, it’s insanely expensive, and the schools are a mess. Oh, and we have boil orders like every other month.”
“You just described Chicago, pretty much,” said my friend. “Except instead of boil orders, we have six months of temperatures below 0 degrees. But you can drink outside here, and the music is better, and you have Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, come on down, then.”
It wasn’t like I suddenly felt better about everything. I am still horrified and saddened by the crime here. I am still frustrated about the frequent boil orders. I still curse like a sailor every time I hit a pothole. I am still a little shell-shocked every time I write a check for the mortgage or the summer power bill.
But when stacked against half-a-year of arctic temperatures, it doesn’t seem that bad, I guess.
My friends were sad to leave, and I was sad to see them go.
“I take it back,” I said. “You should move here after all. We need more good people down here. Come on down. Just remember you won’t ever really be able to drink the stupid water.”
“Don’t worry,” said my friend. “We’ll just drink Pimm’s Cups.”