Miracle at Gainesville
How a poet and a resurrected dead man saved a Katrina evacuee.
Silence. Perhaps she'd returned to her card game or nails.
"Well," I said, "have any inspections taken place?"
"But not in my ZIP code."
"I wouldn't know that, sir."
So what exactly would you know, you idling oaf? That's what I wanted to say, but I worried she might note any rude remarks in my FEMA file and hence I'd be inspected dead last or not at all. So instead I thanked her brightly and said goodbye.
Around this time we started looking at rental houses, since we're expected to vacate our borrowed apartment at Windmeadows by the end of the month. Given that we're still paying off a mortgage on our moldy ruined house back in New Orleans, we figured we could afford to spend maybe $1,000 a month, tops. This would have gotten us a pretty sweet crib in certain parts of New Orleans, but not in Gainesville.
Most of the houses in this price range look, on the outside, like a Walker Evans photo. Those we ruled out. When a place wasn't positively ghastly, though, we'd call the real-estate agent and schedule a visit. The first place I visited was very ugly indeed (orange concrete block), but in a fairly nice neighborhood with lots of trees. Once I got inside, though, I had to breathe through my mouth. The filthy gray wall-to-wall carpet not only reeked of mildew, but was scored with cigarette burns, as if the place were a clubhouse for chain-smoking junkies. I thought of what Cheever had said about certain houses "where everything we see, touch, smell and hear urges us to commit murder or suicide or get drunk and perform some contemptible sexual obscenity."
"You'll never rent that place," I told the real-estate agent when I returned the key. "It's squalid."
He nodded as though I'd wished him a nice day. He was an old, old man who seemed tired of this line of work. "It belongs to that Presbyterian church across the way," he explained.
"They should replace the carpet."
Blake Bailey is the author of Cheever: A Life.