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With city decimated, residents embrace small tasks of normal life

NEW ORLEANS—Henry Schorr mowed his back lawn last week. Jamie Lindler made several trips to the dump. Raymond Hoffmann finally dispatched the old oak that has been taking its ease on his roof since the day of Katrina.

In other non-news from New Orleans, Philip Fasullo, Jr. cleaned the meat-grinder at Piggly Wiggly.

This may be the most non-news of all, because the West Bank, where Piggly Wiggly is located, had relatively light flooding, and today almost resembles a working modern American city, which the rest of New Orleans does not.

You can buy ice cream there, and take-out pizza. Gas stations are open, and some even have gas, and you'll probably wait in line no longer than 10 minutes.

Fasullo Jr.'s story of how, exactly, he came to be cleaning the meat-grinder at Piggly Wiggly is a long one, beginning with Fasullo Sr. in a small town in Louisiana in 1964 and sparing few details on its way to the present instant.

The essential points are these: Quality meat is the reason people shop at Piggly Wiggly, but two butchers are still MIA, and if you've got a problem with the 65-year-old store owner tying on an apron and cleaning a grinder, son, maybe you need to sit down and think some about your values.

"Everything in this operation comes through me," Fasullo said. "It's all my responsibility. I find myself getting tired faster than I was a week ago. We haven't been to church in three weeks. That's not like us."

This was in the back of the meat department, 20 minutes before closing. In the aisles out front, the evening rush was on: Hundreds of customers were grazing down sun-bright Produce or Frozen Foods or shifting weight in checkout lines that reached back to the dairy wall, carts piled mountainously. Average sale per customer, Fasullo said, has quadrupled.

There was very little meat left in the case, and absolutely no frozen crinkle-cut fries. The richness of it all—beef and pork, ice cream, eggs, Sno-Balls, potato chips and cookies piled in shopping carts—was overwhelming.

"Basically," said Fasullo, "everything perishable in this city spoiled. It all needs to be bought again."

The city is full of non-news these days. News conferences are held to announce that progress on various fronts continues. There is still no garbage pickup, and you still can't drink the water. Soldiers with guns continue to patrol the streets, and residents continue to return to survey damage to their homes.

You can hear music again on the radio, though the concern of one local Chevrolet dealership is such that a hurricane victims-only $750 cash-back special on new models interrupts the music every two minutes.

You can no longer drive 40 mph through a four-way intersection in an empty city, or ride a boat downtown.

"It makes me feel good to get things clean," said Jamie Lindler, 48, dropping off trash bags at a makeshift dump on Tchopitoulas Street the other day. "I want it nice and neat, everything back to where it should be."

Over on State Street, Henry Schorr fired up the lawnmower, because it was Friday morning and Friday is mowing day.

"When you get finished," he said, "You look back, and you say, `Boy, that looks good.'"

Next door, Raymond Hoffmann started in with his chain saw. This particular chore began almost one month earlier, after the great oak he planted as a sapling 30 years ago ripped up its roots and came toppling down, forcing him to invest in a huge, shiny new cutting tool.

"I should never have planted it," Hoffmann said. "Myrtle. That's what I wanted."

Checking on his progress became a neighborhood pastime. Every day he was at it, starting at 7:30 a.m. and continuing well into the afternoon. "We're getting there, little by little," he'd say. The trunk was dwindling but was so massive it seemed the chore might never end; some wondered if he wanted it to.

This was the last day, though, Hoffmann said Friday, Sept. 30. "I planted it, it grew; it fell on my house, and now I'm gonna take it down."

Sure enough, late that morning, there was a dull heavy WHUMPH. That afternoon Hoffmann was back out, raking away the leaves.

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(Spangler reports for The Miami Herald.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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