A night that's dropping below freezing in New Orleans. My department chair called to let me know that the protocol down here is to make sure your faucets are dripping so that the pipes don't freeze. I'm aware of such things, being from the north, but you had to go a little more than just below the freezing point before you had to worry about that. That's been the weird thing about New Orleans: I've moved down south, I'm giving what I know as winter a pass this year, and just enduring a prolonged autumn where barely any leaves have turned colour. I even sent a video to the nieces the other night, talking about how during our "warm snap" that got up to around 70ºF a few days ago, there were even lots of flowers blooming in the middle of December. But I have never been more cold in my life.
The friendly guy who installed my cable and internet service back in July, Jeremy, gave me a warning about that. He mentioned how that, pre-Katrina, most of the housing built in New Orleans knew nothing about insulation. I can't imagine that they failed to notice how cold it can be in these months, but I suppose that before the advent of air conditioning, it made sense to build a big old house like mine to be as heat-bleeding as possible, and that during the winter you could just keep the fireplaces and coal stoves roaring. Now, my central air struggles to keep up, and I've a major crack around the window next to the toilet in my bathroom (itself a questionable design flaw) that I need to have the landlord caulk as soon as possible. I frequently have the heat set around 78º or 79ºF and in order to keep warm I still have to wear a sweater (or, mostly, the Notre Dame sweatshirt Tom Patamia gave me as a going-away gift all those years ago), as it is clearly not that warm in the house, although I fear that perhaps I had already started acclimating to the extra heat down here and therefore might be feeling the cold even worse. I'll be curious to see how I do over my visit up north. But all that said, I still have to marvel at the weird little things of life in having moved to the semi-tropics and having never been more cold in my life.
The other night, a little after I had made my note about watching Inception, I was still sitting here at my computer, doing a little work when I heard a faint noise from the street, almost as though I could hear a girl sobbing. I paused, and a few moments later, heard some guy run down the sidewalk in front of my place (this room faces the front porch), calling out for a woman to wait for him in a demanding voice. This didn't sound good. I stood up and went into the living room and picked up my cell phone, hesitating. There were voices arguing for a moment or two more, and then suddenly much louder, and the girl started to scream for help. I've never actually heard that before. Rather than run straight out the door, I dialed 911 first, just in case things were going to get even worse, but felt torn at every second I wasn't yet out the door. Freaked out as I was, I forgot to press "call" after dialing, and only heard an irregular beeping in my ear. After a moment, I looked at the screen again, and saw that my cheek had been pressing more numbers. I deleted those, got back to 911, and pressed "call," feeling like an hour had gone by with me just standing there. Again, I paused, waiting for a signal, but I wasn't getting enough of one, and I wasn't even sure that I was going to get local 911 with my cell phone being from another area code. (I checked, afterward, by the way: "911" always goes to a local signal receiver, and is not based on the area code of the phone making the call.)
After another moment or two, I gave up and started running out the door, but in however long a space of time had passed – and I can't imagine it was more than 20 seconds – the screaming had stopped, and as I opened the door, I already heard the squawk of a radio. The local safety patrol, mercifully, had been there almost instantly. (This is a private security firm that patrols the neighbourhood in addition to the police, apparently hired by the area landowners.) A few other young women came up the street and gathered around the girl, who was now kneeling on the corner across from me, crying uncontrollably. From what I could gather, this young woman's boyfriend had started some sort of altercation at a party that was going on in a house a block or so away, and had pursued her out of the house when she fled. I guess he hit her in the throat or throttled her in some way before fleeing because of her screams or because of the Patrol truck pulling up. With the police, and then an ambulance to take her to the hospital (which she was able to walk into herself), it was probably an hour or an hour-and-a-half before everything was over out front. I don't know whether she was lucky in the New Orleans Private Patrol just showing up when it did, or whether someone at the party had called already, but it was as quick a response as you could hope for. Myself, I never felt more useless in either not making a successful phone call, or in not running straight out the door the first moment I heard her. I know I followed the "rules," given that there is some occasional gun crime in the area, but hearing someone actually that scared was horrifying. I didn't get much done the rest of the night, with the adrenaline surge taking about four hours to dissipate, but I did finally get around to putting all the security numbers in my phone's contact file.