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Setting the Tempo: TOM PIAZZA

Writing the book so quickly was a very strange experience because it was partly cathartic and partly corrosive. I was writing about things that were of such importance to me, knowing they might not be there anymore. It was very difficult emotionally. In the middle of writing it, about two weeks after the storm, I took my first trip back down to see what had happened, and then I knew I had to write about that in the book, too. I finished it in about five and a half weeks.

SS: What part of New Orleans do you live in?

TP: I live where I’ve lived since I moved to New Orleans in 1994, which is an area they call the River Bend. It’s right up by where Saint Charles Avenue meets Carolton Avenue, up around by the Maple Leaf bar and Maple Street Bookshop. My place was spared, minus some damage to my roof.

: What about your partner Mary’s house — did she lose anything?

TP: She lives in a part of town called Midcity. In her particular area they probably had seven or eight feet of water in the street. Her house was razed and she had three or four feet of water in it. Basically what happened is they had to knock out the entire first floor of her house. She had a second floor that was okay, except for the tree that fell on the roof and knocked off part of the roof and bashed in the windows and the water damage and all that shit. It was basically okay upstairs, but downstairs everything up to about three and a half feet was either ruined or messed up by the — you can’t even call it water, of course. It was a mixture of all these terrible chemicals. What happened was all her upholstered furniture got thrown out. She lost thousands of books or at least hundreds and hundreds of books. She lost her piano, all her musical instruments and basically lost her house for a year. They busted out all the plaster and it was down to the studs. You could see through every wall. It was just like a skeleton with bare light bulbs hanging down while the construction crews rebuilt the house essentially exactly to how it had been before the storm. It was amazing. It’s a good title for a poetry chapbook — “Priceless Ephemera” — or an Elvis Costello album.

She had insurance. She was one of the lucky people who was able to do that. Luckily a lot of the art she had collected was above the water-line.. Her books — every time I’m in a bookstore somewhere I try to replace a couple of them. Now she’s back in her house. She moved back in exactly a year after the storm. A very talented guy named Eric Overmyer — he’s a TV writer for The Wire — loaned us his house. We lived there for close to six months. It’s right in the French Quarter, right across Esplanade Ave. It took six months for my apartment to get repaired. We moved in here in February last year and it took another six months for her place to get fixed. The landlord hired Mo, Larry and Curly to fix up my place. The roof blew off and the ceiling fell in so you’d look around and say, “Oh, it looks pretty good.” Then you’d look around and say, “Something’s different about the ceiling.” And you realized they had sheet-rocked over the central air vents. We’ve had to undo a lot of what they’ve done. We’re in the middle of repairing the whole place — it’s crazy.


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