This miniature of a New Orleans Shotgun House was designed by Braxton Payne and painted by David Claudon, 1998. It was based on the Harmony Street house of my friends. All photographs copyright 2005 David Claudon
My friends lived on Harmony Street. The shotgun house is close to New Orleans’ Garden District and they’d spent years fixing it up into a beautiful home on one side and a bed and breakfast apartment on the other. For seven years during the 1990s, my wife, friends and I stayed at our friends’ home for Mardi Gras and seasonal visits. I fell in love with New Orleans and Mardi Gras and the people’s “live and let live” response to life. I found it important that whether I lived there or not, the idea of New Orleans counterbalanced the straight-laced other half of the world I live in. My NOLA friends taught me that “It’s not my business what other people think of me.”
Divorce separated me from my previous life and my NOLA friends. Eventually I learned that one of my friends had passed. But NOLA remains alive in my heart; and the house on Harmony still retains favorite memories. Katrina brought those memories into sharp focus. Everyday has brought new horrors and reactions, to the point of making it difficult to process all the information coming in. It’s like watching the heart attack of a close friend, where you want to help but you don’t know what to do.
This Friday, as my cardiac rehab session was finishing, Billy, a middle-aged African American male whom I haven't had occasion to speak to, sat beside me and began a conversation about New Orleans.
"You know why it happened, don't you?" he began. I looked at him rather cautiously and said, "No, why?"
"Because God is punishing all those people who live down there."
"I beg your pardon?"
"He got tired of all that sinning... New Orleans and all those places down there allowed the gambling... All the prostitutes and drinking... All that HOMO-SEX-U-ALITY... God decided to wipe them out just like Sodom and Gommorrah. You know about Sodom and Gommorah, don't you? That's where he wiped out all those HOMO-SEX-U-ALS by burning them with pitch. Served them right."
I just kept staring. "Why do you suppose, then," I asked, "did He punish all those innocent children?"
"Because they were the children of sinners and would become just like their parents."
At which point the nurse said, "David, why is your blood pressure not going down? ... Billy you need to stop talking with David so he can get his blood pressure down."
And there I was trying to deal with the overload of information about the horrors of the aftermath of Katrina and finding myself inarticulate in defending my friends and NOLA and the whole Gulf Coast from Billy’s pronouncements.
All I could think was, “Billy, I don’t know what God you pray to, but I don’t think we pray to the same God.”