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Labor Day 2012 all about clean-up at home

It has been a federal holiday since 1894, but Labor Day 2012 carries additional meaning in these parts.

Labor today, for New Orleanians, has more to do with after-Isaac clean-up than celebrating “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” as the initial proposal for the holiday mandated.

I don’t know about you, but labor organization for us this week starts at home.

Labor Day 2012 in New Orleans: Not your usual holiday. (Photo by Matthew Hinson; click on the image for more of his photos)

A dozen jumbo lawn bags of storm debris line our front sidewalk, looking for all the world like short, fat plastic sentinels guarding the still-muddy concrete curb, which they toe with precision. They are vanguard only: Enough debris for another dozen bags awaits rake and broom in the back yard.

The city’s stately live oaks (we have two) are lovely but, like any celebrities, their beauty requires a practiced and fulltime regimen of care.

Indoor clean-up, alas, continues the labor theme. Isaac was our first storm in the Garden District, and proved that elegant old homes may have been built for the climate, but their age makes them vulnerable to the whims of Mother Nature. Wind gusts washed rain under thresholds and windowsills; is that how our ghost, Henri, slips in and out, I wonder?

Four days without power brought time for more profound contemplation as well. Here are some thoughts gleaned from Hurricane Isaac.

Americans are spoiled. It’s not that we can’t live without TVs, computers, washing machines, dishwashers, toasters, doorbells or player pianos. It’s that we get so grumpy when the lights go out. We don’t quite know what to do with our time, sitting in the dark, silently reading our iPads until the battery dies and we have to go recharge them in the car…

Living off the grid is not glamorous. Woody Allen and Midnight in Paris aside, Isaac has cured me of any fantasies of time travel and living in a golden age. Life before AC is simply not for me. I admire those opting for the simple life, the ones who raise chickens in backyard coops and hang sheets out to dry. But … see “Americans are spoiled,” above.

Disaster brings out the worst in people. Who was that guy leaning out of his truck window and screaming at me for talking on a cell phone in the car? And yes, I know it’s annoying that Entergy is taking so long to get everyone back online, but, hey, 47 percent of the state lost power, and they have crews in from half the country working to repair things. Of course, my own lights were turned back on Saturday, so it’s easy for me to keep my cool.

Disaster brings out the best in people. Offers to share everything from generators to couches reconfirmed that New Orleanians are the friendliest, most community-minded people in the world.

I wouldn’t live anywhere else. See “Disaster brings out the best in people,” above. And, while people helping people may not be exclusive to our corner of the world, I dare anyone to find another place with our weird way of living and quirky sense of humor. Some memorable storm moments:

Driving down Magazine Street on Wednesday afternoon, we passed a pair of Tulane co-eds standing curbside with a sign that read “Honk if you got wet in Isaac.” They were still there an hour later, laughing uproariously and reveling in the moment as people honked and waved. Simple pleasures.

After the bulk of the storm had passed, dozens of slicker-clad patrons gathered outside Ms. Mae’s, sharing anecdotes and cups of beer. Down the street, others lined up for the $5 special at the Taceaux Loceaux truck. A block further, we stopped at a lone open corner store, where customers groped for canned goods and wine bottles in the dark and the proprietor kept a careful eye on things with a shotgun by his side.

On Tuesday night, under a dull yellow sky, with the tops of the holly trees whipping in the wind, my daughter Christina and I sat on the back porch, sipping Bloody Marys as the rain blew sideways into our faces. It was a night of pageantry, a time apart when we sat and absorbed the moment, as we in New Orleans know so well how to do.

In the South, Labor Day is the symbolic end of the summer – a time when we put away our white shoes, get out the fall linens and plan our Sundays around Saints games.

For New Orleanians, this Labor Day will, hopefully, mark the end of storm season as well. Two dat? Not with hurricanes, surely.

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie.


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