The Mythical Month of January in New Orleans
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In New Orleans, more people are returning to their damaged homes every day. Commentator Michael Depp moved back to his house in New Orleans three weeks ago, and he says that he and all his neighbors have the same goal in mind.
January. It is all we talk about in New Orleans, a word we return to in every conversation that we have. January. For us, January promises only one simple and solitary fact: Some schools and universities will reopen. But we have pinned so much more onto January, those of us who have come home to a city half-empty. We take January's single fact and apply it to our most optimistic computations. We reason that schools will beget children and their returning families. We factor that undergraduates washed out of their old apartments will need homes. We calculate that the returning people to the city will spur more services and shops, more businesses and customers, more teachers. January's children will spark a chain reaction of improvements to our marginal quality of life, or so we hope.
January. Its evocation is constant. It is the distant point on the horizon line at which we fix our gaze and project our hopes. I meet my neighbors adding to our mounting hills of trash at the curb and we catalog our difficulties: the decimation of our jobs, the missing months of mail lost in some endless postal purgatory, the limited hours of our few supermarkets and the higher prices and longer lines we find there, the fact that we have so many bars open now but so few pharmacies. We trace the line of impediments and obstacles that runs through our world, and together we conclude that resolutions will not, cannot be forthcoming, except perhaps in January, when boards will come off windows and lights will shine into late-afternoon streets and the flies buzzing around our ankles and the garbage that draws them will be gone, perhaps.
January is the measure of our uncertainty. It is the moment when the numbers come in, when the bill arrives. Perhaps it is when the nation's goodwill for us runs out. Certainly, it is when the deferred mortgage payments are due. January is the clearest articulation of the interconnectedness of all things in our ruined city. A population will or will not return; services will or will not follow; more grocery lines will or will not open; our jobs will or won't take us back. The diaspora waits on the city, and the city waits on the diaspora. January is the flinch, the first move, or maybe it is the last.
January. One of us says it and the other repeats it; a small hymn in which we sing of our collective burdens. January. It is our non-denominational common prayer. We offer it up thousands of times a day to our missing neighbors, to FEMA, to Congress, to our employers, to people in faraway cities in whose newspapers we have already fallen to Page 28. `January,' we pray, `do not forget us. January, come back to us. Rally around us. January, let your voice sound like children and possibility and promise. We will wait for you. January, January, January.'
NORRIS: Michael Depp lives in New Orleans.
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