Riff Raff: An Oral Biography of Real Estate in New Orleans

The following is an oral biography which compiles a wide variety of witness testimonies of Real Estate in New Orleans.

Lou Ellen Sanders, Realtor

The number one question I get asked would have to be, “Is this a good neighborhood?” Down here we have a term we like to call a Chance Amalgamation, which in layman’s terms describes a city or town that does not follow the usual boundary code that most cities in the United States adhere to. A Chance Amalgamation is like taking every other skyscraper in Manhattan and scattering them across the rural coast of Arizona. The first sign of a Chance Amalgamation is the lack of neighborhoods. Try telling a first time homeowner, “Well, the thing is, there’s really no such thing as a good neighborhood around here,” and see if they don’t catch the next plane back to Suburbia. They don’t teach you about Chance Amalgamations when you’re in realty school. Nope. It’s all location, location, location.

The first time I showed a house in New Orleans it was a Double Gallery on St. Charles. It was classic southern gothic architecture with symmetrical Doric columns supported by charming wrought iron impediments. It had a hipped roof with laced ornaments dangling from the overhang. It was like one of those paintings you would see propped up on the guardrails around Jackson Square. If the house were any other color besides white, it’d look like a haunted house.

It was a young couple, the Pearlsteins, who saw an ad on the Internet about the house and decided to drive down from Chattanooga with their newborn and golden retriever. They wouldn’t even get out of the car until I walked up and tapped on the window. Even then they were hesitant. I may have been a bit nervous considering it was my first showing. I offered small talk by commenting on their dog, which seemed to be trying to choke itself to death on the leash.

“Friendly,” I offered.

“Perhaps too friendly,” the man said, cautiously following me through the gate, his pale skin causing such a bright reflection that he had to cup his hand over his eyeglasses to see where he was going. He had on one of those neon yellow spandex shirts that professional athletes wear in the Olympics, except his was three sizes too large and it was tucked into his khakis. Just to show you what a real stiff this guy was, as soon as he got out of the car he covered the whole baby in sunscreen.

“Can’t be too careful,” he told me.

I began the tour by pointing out the unique arrangement of orchids in the sidewalk garden but before I could even mention that the tulips under the archway were a rare breed of Easter egg yellow, I was interrupted by what sounded like a hundred tin spoons being thrown against a glass window. To this day, I’m still not sure what that sound was or where it came from but it definitely got everyone’s attention. Nothing worse than a domestic violence case happening right across the street.

Leslie Pearlstein

Everything was fine and dandy until the neighbors started a civil war in their front yard. It was awful. Never trust what you see on the Internet. We sure learned that the hard way. You should have seen these people, a whole family of felony charges waiting to happen. I thought the father and the old man were going to kill each other. The old man was waving a shovel in the father’s face screaming, “Don’t you touch him!” And, oh boy, that just triggered the father. I’m pretty sure I heard one of the little girls shout, “Rip his wiener off Pa” Yes, I’m almost certain she told the father to rip the old man’s wiener off. Anyways, the house really was very charming, despite the fact that it was built in the middle of a ghetto.

Grandpa Otis

I told Chet, if he lay one hand on dat boy, I’d do it. I’d drop em right there front of Marguax and the youngins, but he knocked dat shovel right out my hand before I got the chance to swing it. After dat it was all mano-a-mano.

James Pearlstein

Never mind the fighting, all I remember was that boy, his eyes staring at me across the street like two black holes. That smirk on his face, those beady little eyes, how the arch in his nose began in the middle of his forehead—looking back on it now, it’s terrifying. The mother was just sitting there, knitting on the front porch swing like nothing was going on. She didn’t even look up from her lap. I couldn’t help but imagine my own child being raised in such an aggressive atmosphere. You see it on TV all the time, but being there, watching it with your own eyes, well, it affects you.

Kelsey Harlan

Mother wasn’t always this way. It used to be different. Back then there would be times when she would speak words, if we were lucky, whole sentences even. Sure, she would wake up and pack our lunch and pretend to care whether we got to school on time or not, but we still had to eat stale crackers and moldy cheese five days a week. Daddy wasn’t any help either. When the school bus stopped at our house, everyone looked the other way. The Christmas lights had melted to the patio, the cardboard reindeer were missing limbs, some decapitated. The whole yard was covered in broken bottles full of cigarette butts. When Halloween rolled around, not one person knocked on the door.

Lou Ellen Sanders, Realtor

None of them had on real clothes. What little they were wearing wouldn’t even function as suitable washrags. The little redheaded girl was wearing a mildewed poncho covered in grease stains. The other girl, the older one, she had on this hideous nightgown that was stained black from the knees down from dragging it around in the muck. The father and the old man were both wrestling around in nothing but rolled up blue jeans. The boy looked by far the most pathetic, you could tell he had been wearing that shirt for a few years because it only covered half his stomach. And, of course, it was sleeveless.

Grandpa Otis

Ain’t no use in tryin to stop a man with dat much booze in em. Only thing you can do is ware em out.

Lou Ellen Sanders, Realtor

Just imagine what I was dealing with here. The woman, Ms. Pearlstein, was petrified. Not to mention the man, he acted as if he’d gone his whole life blinded to violence. We watched the ruckus through the window inside the house. You couldn’t tell who was winning or who was losing. I mean one was heavily intoxicated and the other was just old. Either way, it had to be the worst fight I have ever seen. And I went to an all white prep school, too. Thank God that little boy had the guts to step in and do something about it. That’s how bad it was, that a child had to break up two grown men. It’s not like the mother was going to do anything and you might as well forget about the cops.

Grandpa Otis

One good smack cross the noggin did it for em, landed face down in the yard, knocked ass out. Ain’t easy to strike a grown man down with a rake, especially when you’re only four feet tall.

Lou Ellen Sanders, Realtor

We used to joke that the house was cursed. It got passed along from one agent to another, but there was never any luck. One girl, she quit after the first open house, moved back with her parents in Florida that same week. It wasn’t just that one house, either. At night, packs of diseased dogs would dig their way in and rummage through the homes. The street would flood with sewage. You couldn’t pay the city enough money to do their job. For Sale signs sprouted up left and right. The whole neighborhood turned into a black hole in the housing market. If you haven’t already figured it out, the second sign of a Chance Amalgamation is the lack of neighbors.

Rhett Harlan

I spent days just staring across the street at that big empty house. The whole “grass is always greener” thing, sure, I guess you could say that bout summed it up. Hell, I grew up in the shadow of that house. I found hope in the hallow of its rooms. Couldn’t help but try to imagine how it would be different if we would’ve had a place like that, how much happier we might’ve been, and the thought of someone else moving in, seeing those uppity goody two shoes sniffing out my dream house, what was I supposed to do? We don’t have no guard dog. Anytime I saw that fancy car pull down the street, I knew I had to rile something up. Saw it round the corner right as my daddy was getting home from the bar and there wasn’t much to it. All I had to do was let out a couple of wimpy squeals and yell “Stop” a few times and the rest is history.

  • Michelle

    Hot Dog This is terrific John!!