Later: little kids and older boys are throwing a football in a grass courtyard. Skittery New Orleans hip-hop records blast from a balcony. Little kids ask to have their pictures taken. Josh Aguillard, age 8, points his middle fingers inward, his thumb cocked like a pistol's hammer. It stands for his neighborhood, he says, the Fourth Ward: count the fingers, one, two three four.
His friend Kardale Clark, 10, remembers moving to Oakland for a while after Katrina-indeed, the Iberville was temporarily emptied by Katrina. Today, Clark is happy to be back in the Iberville projects. All of his friends are here.
"It's more fun," he said.
Voices from the projects
Iberville housing projects, Fourth Ward
Kim McCoy, 43, is sitting on a stoop in the Iberville, the tough public housing projects just beyond the French Quarter. She says she is "just visiting," but in truth she's been here since just after the flood.
McCoy grew up in this project, but she worked her way out. She earned a high-school diploma and a two-year degree in physical therapy from the University of New Orleans. By the early 1990s, she had bought her own place, a two-story cream-colored place near the race track.
The house was messed up bad. Her job dried up. Now she was unemployed, living on food stamps, and back in the place she calls the 'Ville, with its three-story brick townhouses defining labyrinthine courtyards, with its hard young men in white T-shirts, with its kids doubled up on the handlebars of dirt bikes, with murders and drug dealing, but also with its camaraderie and extended-family vibe.
"Where your mama?" a passing young woman asks McCoy.
"I don't know. Where is my mama?" she answers back.
The walking woman, in a Subway sandwich staffer's t-shirt, holds a Subway bag aloft. "Tell her I brought her a salad, you hear?"
McCoy has short hair, dyed yellow, and golden-colored flip-flops. She was wearing a T-shirt memorializing her cousin, Larry "Lil' Larry" Alexander, who was killed by gunmen a year ago by gunmen while he was driving to the store. (she says it was a case of mistaken identity, and that the killer was never caught. "But we say God got the killer," she says.)
The concrete stoop was in front of a friend's apartment. Just after 5:30 p.m., the friend's son, who looked to be about 10 years old, was setting a McDonald's cup on fire with a plastic lighter. He ran inside the house and let it burn. McCoy smoked an off-brand cigarette and paid it no mind.
"I haven't worked since Katrina," she says. "I go to church Monday through Sunday to ask God to lift me through this, to lift me out of this hell hole right here... It be full up, full full full. Nothin' but killers. I don't know where all the parents at. Just children. ... I need my own house."