Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What Runs on St. Charles

Lately, in an effort to get some sort of normalcy back into my life, I’ve been running again, using the old route, up St. Charles towards Audubon Park across from Tulane and Loyola and then back. The first thing I learned was that along with everything else, Katrina has taken whatever modicum of physical fitness I had been able to achieve. I guess no exercise during 5 weeks of evacuating will do that. However, when not gasping for air, stumbling in pain, and wanting to die, I have been watching the changes on one of New Orleans’ main thoroughfares over the past three months.

(Has it really been that long? I still feel like life is frozen at the beginning of the school year and here it is the end of the non-existent semester. Einstein was more right than he knew.)

When I first went running back in October sometime, the stench was pretty pervasive, even Uptown. The French Quarter stank of the raw sewage we were dumping in the Mississippi, and the flooded places reeked of mold and death, but even Uptown smelled of rot, mostly from the duck-taped refrigerators lining the streets, including St. Charles. Even though I ran on the neutral ground (median to you non-New Orleanian uncouth masses) and the refrigerators squatted and leaned on the curbs, I would still get whacked with the smell as I passed. It was always present, but when I approached a group of dead Sub-Zeroes it would suddenly become overwhelming and I would have to hold my breath until I got by.

Most of the mansions, huge old Southern homes of columns and tall windows, that line St. Charles had plywood over all their windows, and I had to jump over tons of dead branches, downed power lines, and broken poles. The huge oaks didn’t provide the shade they usually did, stripped and broken as they were. The police had taped off several spots, so I had to run off the neutral ground and into the street. No problem, though, because there were very few cars around. Mostly I saw Humvees, camouflaged green at first, then more and more tan ones as people and equipment came back from Iraq. I waved at all of them, and they all waved back.

By Thanksgiving, the smell was mostly gone, as were most of the refrigerators. The majority of the plywood was gone, too, telling the story of who had returned and who had not. I still had to avoid tree limbs and power lines, though I pretty much ran through the taped-off spots, going over or around the fallen and forgotten tape. A lot more cars zipped up and down St. Charles, many with out-of-state plates and not much regard for speed limits or understanding of how to negotiate a 4-way stop intersection (still common here in the city of little electricity and few working stoplights). We had all mostly stopped waving at the National Guard. A FEMA/Red Cross station had opened up in the Jewish Community Center, and I wiggled through the cars and trucks that constantly crowded onto the neutral ground there. The streetcar tracks, unused since Aug. 28, had disappeared under dirt, grass, and overgrowth.

These days my biggest obstacles are the deep divots and mounds of mud left by the heavy trucks driving and parking on the neutral ground, providing runners with a path that couldn’t be better designed to twist an ankle. They’re mostly repair trucks, though plenty a Hummer or SUV driver has decided that staying on roads is a law that doesn’t apply to him in Post-K N.O. The only limbs I have to jump over or run around are the ones cut down by repair crews and I haven’t smelled rot in quite a while. Of course, St. Charles didn’t flood and marks the border of what I think of as the operating corridor of New Orleans these days – the swath of town between St. Charles and the river that is the only part of town really up and running.

The streetcar tracks remain overgrown, so much in some sports that if I didn’t know where they were, I wouldn’t be able find them. Streetcars have started running limited service on the Canal and Riverside lines already, but transit officials say they won’t be rolling past the mansions and under the oaks of Uptown for at least a year. Until then, I’ll keep running along, watching the plywood come down and the trash get hauled off as the city comes back to life, inch by slow, painful inch.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Catch 8/29

Met with the homeowner's insurance adjustor today - a very nice man, whose constant references to my "wife" were too amusing and sweet to correct, and because explanations are, well, tiring and tiresome. As we wandered around the dirty, ravaged, gutted shell of the house, he snapping pictures of a busted window pane, me trying to think of any other damage caused by wind, he asked me where we were staying and I explained I was in an apartment in the Lower Garden while she was in Alexandria, where her patients had been sent.

"Ah," he said. "A weekend marriage. I've had to do that before. It's hard."

Indeed. As Dr. A said to me later, "Maybe we should just get married. It would make things easier."

Which is as good a reason as any, I suppose, except that it really wouldn't because nothing makes anything easier around here.

Anyway, the sympathetic insurance adjustor did his best by us - they'll pay for our roof damage and window, of course, as well as for replacing and painting the ceiling in my kitchen/dining room, and he even went in for the walls there, too, because you can't really replace a ceiling without messing up the walls, not that I have walls anymore. Unfortunately, no loss of use money.

Loss of use money is meant to cover stuff like travel costs, as well as the rent you're paying while your house in uninhabitable. I've spent the last three months trying to get this from someone, anyone, to no avail. Homeowners won't cover it because what rendered the place uninhabitable was not an "insured event" - in other words, the flood, not the hurricane. FEMA won't cover it because we have flood insurance, and flood insurance won't cover it because loss of use is covered by homeowners.

Follow that? Ah, bureaucracy. Kafka would have loved it.

Catch 8/29 - everyone's run into it in one way or another. Homeowners insurance won't cover it because the flood caused it, flood insurance won't cover it because it was caused by the hurricane, and FEMA won't cover it because you have insurance - it's perfect. Feel free to scrounge up the money somehow to take somebody to court.

I have a thought - since the flood was caused by faulty levees, not the hurricane, levees built by the federal government, I think the head of the federal government should just fork it over to me. Screw all that grant/loan/taxes yadda-yadda-yadda - let's simplify this. I'll shut up if Bush and/or Cheney just peels off the lousy two or three thousand it will take to cover my rent while my house is rebuilt. For me, that's a staggering amount of money, but they're both multi-millionaires; they probably have that much lost in the cushions of their couches.

Mind Vs. Muscle

So I’m sanding this floor when my cell rings (no, not my floor – we’re nowhere near that stage with our house yet). No, Gav was paying me to sand someone else’s floor. See, I met this couple in a bar and they loaned me a saws-all to use for gutting my house. They needed a contractor, so I gave them Gavin’s number, then I lost my job and since there’s not much call for teachers in New Orleans these days but plenty for construction workers, that’s how I ended up sanding their floor.

Let me toss in some advice here – if you ever find yourself sanding a floor, use an edger with wheels. The one I used on my place didn’t have wheels, and an edger weighs a good 15 or 20 pounds. Imagine crawling around your walls holding that up for hours while it has a big spinning disk of sandpaper on it that wants to catch and drag off across the floor so you have to hold it up enough that it doesn’t gouge and burn the floor, but not so much that it doesn’t scrape the crap off. And all this time it’s kicking sawdust in your eyes and up your nose. What I’m saying is – get the one with wheels.

Anyway, I’m doing this when the phone rings, not that I hear it because those sanders are loud, too, but I feel it. I don’t answer because starting and stopping the edger is something of a chore, but the next chance I get, I listen to the message and it’s the English chair from Loyola offering me four classes if I want them.

I think for a minute, considering the sander in my hands, the dust in my eyes, the satisfaction of a job well done, and wondered if I really wanted to give it all up for teaching.

OK, no, I didn’t. Not even for a millisecond. The hell with that – I will do my work in my ridiculously well-trained and horribly expensive head, and not just because I’m still paying for the education I crammed into it, but because physical labor is hard. You know that half-hour you spend at the gym every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and sometimes Sunday? Now do it everyday, all day. Yep, it’s the life of the mind for me.

I went by campus yesterday for the first time in a couple of months, and it’s much the same – mostly undamaged, but empty. Giant military vehicles still squat all over our parking lots, and the elementary school kids still run around for recess at the Catholic school on campus, though there are more of them now. Right across the street from their playground is the entrance to the human resources building with the sign on the door reading “All weapons must be cleared in the clearing chamber before entering,” whatever that means, though this time I didn’t have to show my I.D. to a helmeted, heavily-armed and camo-wearing guard to get in. The camo, by the way, is surprisingly effective in New Orleans these days – it fades right into the mud and debris.

Oh, and the other difference was I went there because I had a job, not to make arrangements because I had just lost it. So that “college English teacher” answer under “profession” in my profile is accurate once again, and when people ask me what I do, I no longer say, “Pre or post-K?” That’s about all I can ask for these days.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Nicknames & Slogans

Okay, so everyone knows we call New Orleans the Big Easy, right? ‘Cept, sometimes when we call it the Big Sleazy? Okay, here are some variations I’ve heard lately that I’d like to share:

The Big Stinky

The Big Queasy

And of course the Big Uneasy, ‘cause ain’t nothing easy in this town these days.

And my personal favorite: The Big Squeegee

We’re also called the Crescent City, except the paper called us the Anti-depressant City. Heh-heh. By the way, the cover of Gambit (our alternative weekly, publishing again) this week screamed “Wigging Out!” which is what New Orleanians are doing these days. I enjoyed the anti-depressant thing because when I was describing my alternation between not sleeping and being unable to stay awake, as well as nightmares about hurricanes and waking up in a panic convinced I have to evacuate RIGHT NOW, not to mention the mood swings, depression, and sudden eruptions of fury, Arwen and Holly (both psychiatrists) told me I have classic, textbook Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (it’s not just for war veterans anymore!). So Arwen scored me a shopping bag of Zoloft from a drug rep – sometimes it’s handy to buy a house with a doctor, even if we’re not actually living in it at the moment. It’s sitting in my cabinet right now, because I haven’t had one of Those Nightmares in about a month and I’ve been sleeping pretty well, so clearly the alcohol is working.

When I first came back to New Orleans, I took Darv to pick up his car in this abandoned parking garage. We drive into the garage, past the half-up and twisted gates and into this completely dark and empty garage. We drive up a few stories and, because we’re in a garage, the radio goes all white noise, “ssssssssssss.” We drive past all these clearly abandoned cars, and there are no other people to be seen anywhere. Plus, since the electricity is out, no lights shine. Let me tell you, nothing says post-apocalyptic United States like a dead parking garage. So, there I am, in the dead parking garage, the radio going “ssssssss,” and as Darv gets out to try to start his car, I’m thinking, “If Darv’s car doesn’t start, the zombies are coming.” I was absolutely expecting zombies to come out from behind cars and around corners, all stumbling and decaying and hungry for brains, but fortunately Darv’s car did start, so no zombies.

All of which is to say, I’ve come up with a new tourist slogan for my beleaguered city, something that focuses on the positive, something that will really bring the people and their money back to the city. You ready? Okay, how about:

New Orleans – Still No Zombies!

What do you think? It’s snappy, and works with the whole voodoo thing we got going on. Clearly my talents were being wasted in academia and I really belong in advertising.

Here’s some others I came up with:

New Orleans – Now It All Smells Like Bourbon Street!

Or how about:

New Orleans – Like the Third World, But You Can Drink the Water!

I think I’m on to something here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Death of an American City

A damn fine NY Times editorial can be found here.

And a pretty good one by Senator Landrieu that runs down the money we're talking about here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Three Months Later

Meant to put this up a while ago, but I've been having access problems ...

November 29 marked three months since Katrina hit, August 29. Three months ago, those of us lucky enough not to be here saw pictures of some of the worst devastation to hit this country. Bodies floating in the streets, an old woman in a wheelchair, dead, and covered in a blanket. Three months on, it seems only appropriate to take stock of how far we’ve come.

They estimate that 100,000 New Orleanians, or one-fifth of our pre-Katrina population, have returned. Nobody knows how many more, if any, will come back later. I'm sure you’ve heard stories (I know I've told some) of restaurants and bars and stores reopening, but what isn’t mentioned is that they are all in the 20% of the city that didn’t go under water, and still only maybe half of those are going. We want you to hear how we’re coming back, but truth be told, we’re still on life support. The businesses that do open up find out awfully quickly that with only one-fifth of their customer base and none of them with disposable income, there simply aren’t enough people to buy the “New Orleans, Still Proud to Call it Home” t-shirts, now matter how much we all want to. Most businesses still limp along, but many have reopened after Katrina only to have to close down again a couple of weeks later because they can’t make any money.

Without any tax base for three months, the city is bankrupt. We want to have Mardi Gras as usual next year, because as stupid as it may be, we take pride in throwing you all the world’s biggest free party. But we can’t do it without money to pay cops overtime and garbage collectors to pick up the literally tons of trash left over, and nobody is coming forward to help. We’ll get something scaled down going, which is really too bad, because it is going to be the 150th Mardi Gras celebration, and it should have been a blow-out.

Along with the city, the energy company is also bankrupt. Entergy says it will have the whole city re-lit by New Year’s, but nobody believes them. Even if they could be prepared to turn the lights on in the 80% of the city that flooded, everywhere it flooded has to be re-wired and inspected before getting power back. And even if you can find an electrician able to schedule you in during the next year, it will cost you more than twice as much as it did three months ago.

Of course, with nearly half our housing stock destroyed or currently uninhabitable, prices have soared so people can’t afford to return. Perhaps they could if they could get their hands on the trailers or rental assistance that FEMA has promised, but for most of us, these things remain rumors or urban legends. Whenever we meet someone who has come by one of these mythical things, we surround them and pepper them with questions, trying to figure out what voodoo they worked to be so blessed. We reach out to touch them, hoping whatever magic they possess will somehow rub off on us.

Those of us with houses to rebuild wait on insurance companies that know that every day they delay paying us means more money for them. FEMA comes by and promises us loans to see us through, but then they disappear as well. I have yet to be inspected by my homeowners insurance, which is weird because surely they have less damage to worry about than the flood people. And even if the money does come through, do I have to lift my house or not? Will there be new flood levels or not? Nobody knows. Will I get to rebuild at all, or is my neighborhood going to be demolished? Nobody knows. Or if we do rebuild, will we be the only ones, a lone outpost surrounded by blight, stuck with a house in a neighborhood forgotten and left to rot?

Three months on, I still open the Times-Picayune everyday to find the “Katrina Lives Lost” column, a short biography of someone who died in the storm that runs on the front page of the “Living” section everyday. I’d call that ironic, but true irony requires a certain amount of self-awareness that the editors seem to be lacking. At any rate, there’s a new one everyday. Sometimes there’s a picture, sometimes not. Sometimes I can read them, sometimes not. At this rate, if they plan on doing everyone, they should be done in about three years.

Three months ago, the President said the country would do “whatever it takes” to rebuild the Gulf Coast. $200,000,000,000 was the price tag thrown around at the time, a number conveniently close to the amount we have spent on rebuilding Iraq. As of now, the Gulf Coast has received a $75,000,000 loan.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, though. After all, the administration and Republicans in Congress are reeling from scandal to scandal and hardly have time to deal with us. If one isn’t admitting to taking $2.5 million in bribes, another is worried about being indicted for it. I’m sure it keeps them all busy trying to spin their way out an indictment for campaign fraud and money laundering or an indictment for lying to a grand jury, not to mention dealing with failed Supreme Court nominees, bringing forth specious Iraq war votes, and calling war veterans cowards. And I know the Vice President has his hands full making the case for torture.

Sorry if anyone is upset or offended because I pointed out that all these people are Republicans. It’s just that, well, they are.

All of this is happening while everyday in New Orleans we learn more that tells us Katrina’s devastation was less an act of nature, less God’s punishment on us wicked sinners, less only what we deserved for living below sea-level (doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the “she’s a slut who wore a tight skirt” rape defense?), and much more a man-made disaster. Leaving aside the criminally negligent governmental response, we have also been treated to more tidbits from the news lately. There’s a canal that cuts through New Orleans called the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, or MR-GO, that everyone has said would worsen storm surge damage unless it was closed, and yet the Army Corps of Engineers continued to dredge it deeper. Sure enough, most of the levees that failed and flooded the city were on the inner ends of the MR-GO. The storm surge got channeled up the canal and boom! Also, the Army Corps of Engineers has been telling us that the flood walls had pilings driven 17 feet into the ground, which they claimed was enough but many other engineers disagreed. Now that those pilings are not so much in the ground anymore, turns out they only went 10 feet. Plus, letters have been found from the construction company hired to build the floodwalls to the Corps of Engineers saying the plans were inadequate, and yet the Corps insisted on their designs anyway. Then, back in the 90s when the Corps wanted to revamp parts of the levee system, the levee boards said no. As if that isn’t enough, it turns out the levee boards regularly cut short levee inspections so that they could go eat lunch.

What is it with government officials and eating? First Michael Brown, now the levee boards. Is it really that fucking hard to pack a damn sandwich?

In short, New Orleans wasn’t flooded by Nature, or God, or even simple bad luck. New Orleans was flooded by incompetence and corruption.

About a week ago, our legislators started talking about calling on New Orleanians to march on Washington to demand that Congress wakes up and pays attention and the President fulfills his promise. Why should we even have to consider that? No other major city has ever had to beg for help like this after a disaster.

Three months after there were bodies floating in our streets, how does it feel to be in New Orleans? Like we’ve been forgotten, and left to rot.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Can Opener, Bay Leaves, and a Corkscrew

About a month ago, I decided to take a road trip to Baton Rouge to acquire a can opener. My old can opener, along with many other things, rusted in the flood, and even if I could have turned the gears, I didn’t really think I wanted to eat anything coming even close to touching toxic flood rust. Besides, can openers are cheap and easy to come by. Weeks later, every trip to the grocery store ended the same – no can opener, no bay leaves, no corkscrew. All sold out. I’m not sure why bay leaves were the only thing in the spice aisle that was impossible to come by (they don’t come out of New Orleans, do they?), but after three weeks of only twist-off beer and wine, I’d had enough.

How ironic, by the way, that all those canned food drives wouldn’t have done me any good for lack of a simple, straight-forward, everyone owns at least two or three, can opener. What had cost a couple of bucks was now apparently worth its weight in gold. Not that I lined up for the free food handed out by the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the hippies camping out in the park, passing out lentils to all comers because I can still afford my own food and there’s undoubtedly someone who could use it more.

So I drove the hour to Baton Rouge in quest of a can opener, bay leaves, and a corkscrew. When driving west from New Orleans, shortly after the airport, you will find yourself in the midst of a swamp. Normally, this means you drive down the unending low bridge cutting a lonely straight line through an impenetrable curtain of trees hung with Spanish moss. This time, however, it meant driving through bare sticks as far as could be seen. All the trees had been stripped of foliage and most of their branches by the winds of Katrina until nothing was left but nearly bare trunks with a few broken-off branches vainly trying to stretch out.

The I-10 is also generally a pretty busy stretch of road, since it is the only highway heading west from New Orleans. It still was busy and is also now a stretch of road without speed limits. Obviously, the state troopers have better things to do than hand out speeding tickets, and so, while I tooled along at a completely rational 85, people blew right past me, doing at least 100. The only thing that slowed us down slightly was the incredibly thick fog that engulfed me about halfway through and rendered the water and trees off the highway nearly invisible and trucks in front of my car unspottable save for their rear lights. While searching our way through that, we kept to an average velocity that somewhat resembled the speed limit. If you ever wanted to drive the Autobahn without the trouble of leaving the country, hit the I-10 between N’awlins and Red Stick.

Thanks to a combination of my “Dukes of Hazzard”-like driving skills and pure, miraculous dumb luck, I arrived alive in Baton Rouge in something slightly over 30 minutes. I took the opportunity to see “Serenity” (movie theaters have only just started opening in N.O.) which was really good and since I know you didn’t see it in the theater, rent it. Character-driven, action-packed, funny sci-fi western makes for a good movie – whoda thunk it?

Traffic in Baton Rouge these days is awful, no doubt because the number of New Orleanians now living in Baton Rouge at least equals but probably exceeds the number of New Orleanians living in New Orleans. Despite this, I persevered and eventually found a grocery store. I made my way straight for the utensil aisle, only to be met with empty pegs, lines after lines of them, a whole aisle of empty pegs, their useless labels declaring “blk cn opnr $7.99” or “rd crkscw $5.99.” The spice aisle had no more love for me. I did, however, secure the last available corkscrew in all of Louisiana by venturing to the wine aisle and grabbing the last one hanging there, which, all-in-all, made for a pretty successful 5 or 6 hours in current New Orleans time. Nothing’s easy in the Big Easy these days.
My mom dug up a can opener, and after hearing of my plight, Brooke assembled a box of emergency supplies and FedExed them to me. After said supplies spent two weeks languishing in a warehouse outside of town, I finally tracked them down and spent 3 hours driving around, talking to FedEx on the phone, and waiting in line. My patience was rewarded, though, and I got my excited little hands on the box. Now, I am proud to say that after 59 days back in New Orleans, I have a can opener, bay leaves, and a corkscrew.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bourbon Street

A Saturday morning not too long ago, I was on my way to meet up with Arwen in the Quarter to get some papers signed or talk house stuff or some official blah-blah-blah like that, and I figured I’d wander down Bourbon Street while I was at it. Not that anything ever happens on Bourbon before noon except for drunks stumbling out of bars, wincing at the sunlight, but these days we’ve still got the 2 a.m. curfew, so there wasn’t even that. No, I just wanted to check it out. So I’m wandering past the Cat’s Meow and the Funky Pirate and whatnot and I get hit with the overwhelming stench of stale beer, puke, and piss, and the first thought that popped into my head was, “Well, things are finally back to normal.”

See, the French Quarter has stank of sewage for weeks. You would have thought I had my face buried in roses I was so happy.

Shortly after I got back in town, some friends and I wandered down Bourbon Street at night, just to see how it fared, and basically it’s the same – at least, it’s still a bunch of people wandering up and down, getting drunk, trying to see inside the strip joints before committing to going in; it’s just a lot less crowded than usual. Well, plus there’s National Guard standing around, which is admittedly unusual, but if the cute blond one I gave my number to reads this, call me.

See, John stopped to take some pictures, and these four National Guard people were standing around, carrying very large weapons. As I’m waiting for John to finish the photos, this cute blond National Guardsperson catches my eye and sorta nods and calls out a hello. Imagine us standing about twenty feet away from each other, which is about as close as I wanted to get because did I mention the large weapons? Our conversation went something like this:

She: Hi.

Me: Hello.

She: How you doing?

Me: Okay. Well, as okay as can be expected considering all this.

She: Yeah.

Me: How about you?

She: I’m good.

At this point John finished and walked over.

Me: See ya.

She: See ya.

Me: I’m Dale, by the way.

And then I yelled my phone number at her. Slowly. Twice.

I would have scribbled my number on a napkin and given it to her, but I figured shouting my number was safer than actually approaching within, say, five feet or so.

Have you ever seen three large men in combat helmets laugh their asses off? It’s something to see. Also, I would have thought that a woman carrying a machine gun couldn’t actually blush, but I was wrong. At that point, my friends, also laughing hysterically, pulled me on down the street.

She still hasn’t called, but I remain optimistic.


First off, sorry I've been M.I.A. for awhile. I've been meaning to update for some time, and it just keeps not happening. For instance, posting this has been on my to-do list all day, or all yesterday to be accurate because it's currently 22 minutes into tomorrow, but there was all this tv to watch so it has taken me some time to get to it. For a guy without a job, I'm a terribly busy person. However, in an effort to get some semblance of structure back in my life, I'm making a resolution to post everyday, at least until I get all caught up with the stuff I'm planning on putting here, and if I don't, feel free to send digitally bitch-slap me. Clearly, I just need a little discipline.

Anyway, recently I had to work up a depressingly extensive list of everything that I had lost to the flood for the insurance company, and I was planning on posting it here as well to record it for posterity or something like that. On the other hand, we just passed Thanksgiving, so in the spirit of that holiday and for the sake of naming every new post after a holiday, I've instead decided to post a list of things that either didn't get lost to the flood or I was able to salvage, so here it is folks -

Dale's Official List of Things He's Thankful Didn't Get Lost to the Flood

My motorcycle boots. I know I mentioned them earlier, but you just can't appreciate a good pair of boots enough, especially when you spend a fair amount of time wading through muck, mud, and trash.

The bass, of course. Where else could I get an '80s Def Leppard black Ibanez with custom spray paint and stickers, a buzzy A string, a blown pick-up and a cord jack in desperate need of replacement? Nowhere, man, nowhere.

Four original works of art. I have two paintings by my friend Laura (hi Laura!) that lived with me in the French Quarter. When she left, I begged to keep her paintings she had hung on our wall and she let me! I've had them ever since and they didn't go to the house and are fine, and the same goes for the paintings Drew and Kristin gave me.

All my wine and liquor glasses, especially the brand new martini set from Brooke and the hand-painted wine glasses from Kate. I honestly don't remember if the boxes they were packed in got left behind somehow, or if they were on top of the pile and I grabbed them and moved them back, but for the five weeks of evacuation I assumed they were lost and yet when I got back to my unflooded apartment, there were the still taped-up and perfectly fine boxes. Should I be concerned that among my prized possessions are the glasses I drink booze out of? Perhaps, but that's a worry for another day.

Speaking of booze - my old Soviet Union flask with the symbol of the Russian equivalent of the National Guard on it and a bust of Lenin on the cap. I wouldn't drink out of it, 'cause there ain't no cleaning that I would trust after it floated in toxic flood water for three weeks, but I did clean it off and it makes a good mantel knick-knack.

Boxes of pictures. For some reason when I was moving everything from the apartment closet to the house, I didn't move the boxes of pictures. Why I do not know, but while I did lose some pictures, most of them are perfectly fine.

My computer. Oh, sweet sweet laptop, how I love thee. I just threw it in a bag and brought it with me, so all my writing survived. I know writers who lost more stuff than I want to think about, including one who was always so sure to back everything up, but it doesn't matter how many hard drives and disks and cds you have stuff on if it all ends up under water, and he lost a whole novel. I get nauseous just thinking about that.

Albus, the super kitty. Well, actually he's a full-blown cat by now, but he evacuated with me and only just got back. I didn't bring him with me when I first returned because I didn't know what shape things would be in and it's one thing to return home myself, and another to subject an innocent, unsuspecting cat to who knows what kind of flooded-out, zombie-ridden disaster.

New Orleans. Seriously, I am so thankful I had the opportunity to live in this most glorious city before the flood. So many little unique things about the city survived (though just as many were lost) and I'm thankful for each and every one of them, which will all hopefully get dutifully recorded here as the weeks and months go by. Now I get the chance to rebuild this wonderful, magic place and make it stronger, faster, better, and for that I am truly, deeply thankful.

Okay, so there you go, things I'm thankful for. For the next post, I promise we will return to our regularly scheduled anger and bitterness. Until then, try not to eat too much leftover turkey.

Monday, November 14, 2005


New Orleanians will take any opportunity to dress up in costume and parade around the city - it's just something we do. So, obviously, Halloween is a pretty big deal around here, and when I heard that a couple of parades were planned, I jumped into action. For the first parade, I just grabbed the costume stuff that didn't get ruined and wore that; you know, your standard tux with tails jacket, funky purple pants, and a boa. For the second, I was a little more organized and spelled out FEMA on my chest with white tape and then wrapped myself in red tape - many, many people took pictures of that costume. Along with the usual sexy nuns and witches and whatnot, a lot of Katrina-themed costumes were on hand. Duck-taped refrigerators strolled down Bourbon Street, as well as Mold Man, FEMA checks, and the Ninth Ward Swim Team. One of my favorites was a woman dressed as the water line - a fuzzy black line across her chest, and then dirt and mud and yuck below. My friend Charles wore a tail and ears and drew an SPCA "X" on his chest, and Anne dressed as a sexy Red Cross nurse complete with pill bottles of various anti-depressants attached to her belt (if only the Red Cross were really so helpful). I ran into a lot of friends and couldn't actually ever walk very far without getting stopped by someone I knew and then we would have to have the conversation we all have these days - how'd you do, what did you lose, staying or going? It was good to see so many people and hear everyone's plans for staying.

So both walking parades wound through the Quarter, stopping at a few bars along the way, though one was longer and actually started in the Treme (lakeside of the Quarter) and ended up in the Marigny (downriver from the Quarter). There weren't too many of us at first, but our numbers quickly swelled as we stumbled along. It probably took us about three hours to wander the entire route, and I was quite glad I wasn't wearing, oh, high heels or swim fins. (I was in my trusty motorcycle boots - happy feet!) The Soul Rebels brass band played, which was very cool of them because they're too big to do street parades anymore, but they made an exception for us. Our King was an older gentleman dressed as a skeleton whose name I didn't catch, but he never evacuated, at all. Been in New Orleans the entire time.

I should explain here that, along with Mardi Gras Indians and the Mardi Gras parades, there's another tradition in New Orleans. African-American New Orleanians dress up as skeletons and walk the streets in the wee hours of the morning banging bones and shouting. It's often a family tradition passed down from fathers to sons. Anyway, our King was a leader of this tradition, and it was very cool to have him.

We also had a Queen and a Princess, Katrina & Rita, of course, though since we didn't have floats, they just got pushed around in shopping carts. They were dressed in full bondage gear, armed with whips, and mean. My ass was whipped too many times to count, and that was before we even got to Mimi's where the parade ended. We were there for all of five minutes when a transformer right on the corner exploded in a shower of sparks and the bar lost power, not that it stopped them from continuing to fuel us with booze. Let's see, what else happened? I kept running into this woman named Liz in drink or bathroom lines all night because we clearly had similar priorities, and she gave me some purple and black lipstick to replace what I had left on plastic cups throughout the Quarter because clearly we have similar tastes in make-up, though unfortunately it was immediately lost again when the Princess kissed me a few minutes later. Then I got to brag about being kissed by the Princess for awhile. Our Queen jumped up on a military Humvee and gave an impromptu speech about taking our city back and not letting even the worst natural disaster in our country's history keep us down, and we all cheered and applauded like crazy, and then she grabbed the nearest National Guard guy and made out with him, wrapping her legs around him and dragging him up on the hood of the Humvee and we all cheered and applauded all the more. And then the party really got going.

Man, I love this town.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

[Insert Extremely Foul Language Here]!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I finally got internet access at home again (though Cox has sent me bills for a couple of months, which I have ignored), and I was looking forward to adding a bunch of posts about some good things from the past couple of weeks, like Halloween and Bourbon Street and running down St. Charles for the first time in two months, but then ...

I lost my job.

It was apparently a complete culling of all faculty not tenured or tenure-track. In the English department, it wasn't just me, but also people who had been at Loyola for 30 years. All of us, laid off, let go, fired, shit-canned, choose your euphemism. I suppose I should've seen it coming, but when I went to the meeting called by the Dean a few weeks ago and he assured us that the faculty were the heart of the institution, I made the error of believing him.

So now I join the vast majority of New Orleanians who didn't just lose homes and all their stuff, but their livelihood. I quite honestly don't have any idea what I do from here because it's not like any of the other universities in New Orleans are hiring. Go back to waiting tables? Secretarial work? That made me want to put a bullet through my brain; that's why I quit.

When I came to New Orleans seven years ago, I realized within a month or two that the place I wanted to teach here was Loyola. I did everything people do in order to get the job they want - I worked other schools and other places to get the experience necessary, and I worked as an adjunct at Loyola to get my foot in the door and turned down other job offers in order to keep it there, and I finally got the dream job.

And it's not just that. It's also that - I also saved and did without and kept my credit ridiculously clean so I could buy a house, 'cause that's what we're supposed to do, isn't it? Go to college and get an education and work hard to get the good job and buy a house and welcome to the American Dream, right? I even went into education, which I love doing, and even usually bit my tongue while lawyers and doctors and whatnot waxed eloquent over how noble my profession is when all I really wanted to say was, "Noble-schmoble, just buy me a drink, ya rich jerk." And I finally get there.

For all of a month.

I know, I know, you're thinking I should stop the self-pity. I'm actually not feeling that; it's more a sense of betrayal, though who exactly betrayed me I don't know. The American Dream? Some sort of nebulous societal promise, like hard work equals success? God? (Though having my house swamped because of an "act of God" stings less than having my house swamped because of incompetent levee building and management, and losing my job because of an "act of God" would sting less than losing it because of the actions of extremely well-paid administrators at a Jesuit university, though why I continue to expect Christian institutions to act, oh, Christian, I don't know.)

Okay, sure I'm something of a trouble-maker and I should probably learn to keep my mouth shut every now and again, but I basically played by the rules, and this is what I get. I mean, I want to stay in the city and help it re-build, but damn they're making it hard. It makes me want to sell everything, buy a big van, and go on the road with a stinky punk band. Or go out into the middle of nowhere and live in a tent. Or squat in some abandoned building and steal electricity, water, food, and cable. Or figure out how to hack computers and steal credit information and live off that.

Anyway, so that's why I'm not telling you about Halloween and other cool things today. Maybe tomorrow. After I figure when and where and how to sign up for unemployment.

Fuck me. It'll get funny eventually, right?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Every Little Tit Helps

So this terrible disaster happens to New Orleans and you consider helping but you ask yourself, “What has New Orleans ever done for me?” Certainly a legitimate question. In the broad scope, that question asks, “Why rebuild?” Yes, we’re below sea level – why the hell would you even consider rebuilding a city below sea level stuck between a huge lake and the biggest river in the country, not to mention it’s right off the hurricane-prone Gulf?
Let me offer a couple of answers. Assuming Dennis Hastert’s state of Illinois wishes to continue to enjoy the benefits of gas, he damn well better consider rebuilding New Orleans, because the pipeline that feeds the entire Midwest comes right through here. If you want gas in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, etc. than you have to talk to us. So, Dennis, if you don’t think it’s worth rebuilding us, then perhaps we’ll shut down the pipeline and leave you without gas. Suck exhaust fumes, ya jerk.
Another reason to get New Orleans back to its old self again – food. We’re a port city and tons of the produce from the Midwest goes through, oh, I don’t know, let’s guess, New Orleans? Bingo! It gets shipped down the Mississippi and out from here. Plus, fully one-third of the coffee in the U.S. comes in through New Orleans and we will cut you off from your Colombian super dark French roast double latte if you’re not nice.
If that still isn’t enough, if it isn’t enough that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast gave us jazz and the blues, we have one last thing that we have given you, and that’s women showing their breasts for worthless plastic beads. I know this rather dubious practice has spread from here to many places in the U.S., not to mention other countries (ever been to Cancun?), as I have witnessed it in many places. Why people hand out beads when it isn’t a Mardi Gras parade is beyond me, but whatever. I think every male I’ve told I live in New Orleans at some point or another leans in and asks me, “So, do women really show their tits?” Yes, I tell them, yes, they do. Think of it what you will, but if you’ve ever seen it, if you’ve ever hoped to see it, if you’ve ever displayed yourself for plastic baubles or intend to some day, or if you’ve ever seen pictures on the web, you have New Orleans to thank for that, and now it’s time to give back.
There is a website, Boobs for Bourbon Street – no, seriously, I couldn’t make this up - that is asking people to donate to various charities and in return for doing so, grants access to pictures sent in anonymously of women and men displaying their chests for charity. All you have to donate is 5 or 10 bucks, and the last I saw was that the site had raised over $30,000. A drop in the bucket to be sure, but appreciated nonetheless. Their goal is $100,000. So what has New Orleans given you? Nakedness, my friends, nakedness. While I certainly don’t condone this behavior in any way, I do condone giving to charity, and if it takes boobs to get there, then I’m all for it. In that spirit, Gavin and I went to Bourbon Street the other day, stripped off our shirts, and took a picture beneath an actual Bourbon Street sign. I sent it in to the site, but to see it you will have to give. So go and donate, my friends, be it money, boobs, or better yet both, because every little tit helps.

It Takes a Village to Get a Refrigerator

Yesterday was a day all about refrigerators. First off, my friend Lucia found an apartment, and the landlords had even purchased a new refrigerator for it, though it was sitting in a store and needed to be picked up. Lucia doesn't have power at this point, so the refrigerator is sorta theoretical, but we didn't want to take the chance that someone else might come along and offer the store twice as much money so they could have it. Also, Gavin and Allison had ordered one and it was ready to be picked up as well. They tried to have it delivered, but when they asked when that would happen, they were told, "Uh, December?" Okay, so, no delivery, no problem, just assemble the troops and go to it. We spent all day driving around in this rental truck that Gavin and Allison drove in from Houston picking up refrigerators, which were unbelievably heavy to put on the truck, and unbelievably heavier to get off, since we didn't have the help of the guys at the store at that point. Nonetheless, it was very exciting and all the neighbors would come out to offer help and marvel over the working refrigerator, like we live in the Third World where the whole village would come over and throw a party because some tribal elder managed to get his hands on one.
As if that weren't enough, yesterday I ordered a whole pizza at Slice on St. Charles for myself because I wanted the leftovers. The waitress was boxing it up for me and said, "So, you've got a working refrigerator?" I told her I did and she told me about how her landlord expected her to deal with the old one AND to buy a new one, which is just an unbelievably crappy move on the landlord's part. There wasn't much I could do, so I gave her a seven dollar tip on an $18 bill. Lucia later told me that what the landlord is doing is illegal (and she's a lawyer, so she knows), so if I see that waitress again, I'll tell her to call the bar association.
Here's a fun science project for the kids - unplug the refrigerator and leave it that way for five weeks. No fair emptying it out first; that's cheating. Then, open it up if you dare, and see what's grown on the inside. I recommend wearing a respirator and heavy gloves, and arming yourself with some serious bug spray. Discover wonderful new smells! Next, take samples and try to identify all the different kinds of molds and fungi that now call your refrigerator home. It's fun for the whole family and you'll learn all kinds of interesting stuff! Bonus points if you duck tape it closed and put it out in front of your house for three more weeks and live out of a cooler for that real New Orleans feel.


FEMA sucks. Now, I know I'm not as bad off as some, but it's been what - four weeks? five? - since they promised us rent money and I still haven't gotten it. I'm okay without it for now, since my mortgage is deferred until December and my landlord didn't double my rent or evict me (an all-too common situation around here), but once December comes, I can't afford both the mortgage and rent, so FEEBLE better get their act together. A couple of weeks ago, I tried calling (it took hours to get through) and the woman on the other end of the line didn't know what I was talking about when I asked about the rent assistance, then complained that I kept cutting out and told me to stop moving or call back on a land-line. I explained I was A) sitting quite still on my porch and B) no land-lines were working in New Orleans. She had no explanation for why I wasn't getting the assistance, though I don't really think she ever understood what I meant, and when I kept asking questions, she told me to write a letter to FEMA. I then had to explain to her that there was no mail service in New Orleans. To this, she brilliantly responded, "Oh." Since she had absolutely no answers to any of the questions I asked, I said, "Thank you for being no help whatsoever," and hung up. My friends have had no better luck. One was even told that if she got angry, FEEBLE wouldn't help her at all. But she got his name and his supervisor's name, so I hope the son-of-a-bitch gets fired.
Speaking of FEEBLE sons-of-bitches, if you didn't see in the news the latest on Michael Brown, let me inform you. This FEMA representative, Marty Bahamonde, testified before Congress last week and was the only person from FEMA in New Orleans during the hurricane. I'll let the fact that he was the only FEMA person in New Orleans as the hurricane was approaching, which directly contradicts Brown's claims to have had teams of people here, pass without comment. Anyway, Bahamonde repeatedly sent Brown news of just how bad things were on a Blackberry (apparently the only line of communication that worked). Brown never responded to any of them, though Bahamonde did produce an email he got from Brown's press secretary saying that Brown needed time to dine at a restaurant "of his choice" (I particularly love that part) and that since traffic in Baton Rouge was so bad because of evacuees, it would take longer than usual. Bahamonde sent a response that read "tell him I just ate an MRE and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome with 30,000 of my close friends," so Bahamonde could certainly understand Brown's worries over dinner.
In all seriousness, can't we arrest Brown and charge him with something? Negligent homicide springs to mind. I know it won't stick, but I'd at least like to see him arrested and charged so he would have to defend his actions in court, and in the meantime hopefully he'll get some choice of food in prison before crapping on camera with thousands of his close inmates.

The Stick and the String

So my friends Kate and Dominic moved from Alabama to San Antonio for Dominic's military training, and now they're heading to Nebraska where he's going to be stationed. They started up this blog, The Stick and the String, to keep connected with their friends and 'cause I don't think Kate had a lot to do and was kinda bored. Anyway, I pretty much got the idea for this from them, so go and check out their blog sometime - it has a lot more pictures and stuff, plus they're funny and not nearly as pissed off as I am.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I Got Mail! I Got Mail! YAAAAY!!

Okay, perhaps that doesn't seem terribly exciting to you, but actually coming back to the apartment and finding mail waiting in the mailbox was pretty damn exciting for me. After five weeks of exile, and another week and a half of life in the recovery zone, those bills were one of the sweeter sights of my life. A couple of days ago I went to pick up some mail from the house, and all these people from my area were standing in line, comparing notes. It was actually pretty heartening, seeing all these strangers from Mid-City getting their mail, making plans, seeing each other for the first time in over a month, just coming back. Plus, the cute and very armed postal inspector woman talked to me. By the way, why are all postal inspectors women? Every one I've seen, literally, has been a woman. It's a bit odd. Not that I mind, since this is a heavily, heavily male city these days. Think about it - we're a city of military and construction workers, so if you're single and a woman, New Orleans is the place to be right now.
New signs of life in New Orleans show up everyday - more restaurants open, more businesses get up and running, more people come back. Gavin and Allison have phone, cable, and high-speed internet, so I spend a lot of time at their place these days. It is entirely possible to live an almost normal life here these days, though the grocery stores close at six (and the meat section still kinda smells, underneath the sting of cleansers - yay for vegetarianism!). They just extended the curfew to 2 in the open parts of the city, and I was able to get my car towed this morning. It wouldn't start last night, and today she's off to the mechanic. Now, I have really enjoyed my cars, the Karmann Ghias, the Mustang, the motorcycle, but I'm not exactly a car buff. Still, evacuate for your life in a car, spend five weeks basically living where she can take you, and then the sight of her being towed away can be a little bit heart-breaking, though I'm really, really glad the city is up and running enough so that I could get her towed and fixed. Of course, there's still police problems, money problems, politician problems, but those will wait for another post.
By the way, I'm going to add some photos to the other posts, so check 'em out when you get the chance.

Republicans - Stupid, Mean, or Both?

I consider myself a fairly equal opportunity ranter. While some have accused me of attacking Republicans, I think if you look back at my actual attacks, they’re pretty even. I think by name (and I didn’t go back to check), I have blamed Blanco, Landrieu, Bush, Rice, Brown, Nagin, & Hastert, which makes for a Democrat, another Democrat, a Republican, another Republican, an I-don’t-know-but-presume-Republican, a third Democrat, and an asshole that happens to be a Republican. But now, I have to attack the one party because they have gone beyond the pale.
First off, the Republican leadership in the House pushed through an energy bill which was rightly criticized as a big hand-out to big oil that stripped away environmental regulations and did nothing to lower gas prices at the pump. For me, right now, in particular terms, that means that the environmental regulations that were slowing, not stopping, not even close to stopping, but at least slowing a little bit the wholesale destruction of the wetlands -- which act as a buffer between the coast of Louisiana and New Orleans that slows down and greatly decreases a hurricane’s strength -- are gone. It was the oil companies dredging, stripping, canaling, etc. of these wetlands that made us so particularly vulnerable. There’s a reason that the levees were designed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, and that’s because when we had the wetlands, the storms would weaken before they got to us. Tennessee doesn’t worry about Category 5 hurricanes because there’s a hell of a lot of land in between them and the coast. Land does wonders to suck the strength from a hurricane. There used to be a hell of a lot of land between New Orleans and the coast, too, but now – not so much. So the Republican leadership in their infinite wisdom kept a five-minute vote open fifty minutes until they could, I don’t know, whip and batter or whatever it is they do two Republicans into changing their votes on a bad energy bill that has guaranteed Louisiana will lose more wetlands, all while the government is supposedly preparing to send us millions, if not billions, of dollars to fix those same wetlands. So, let’s get this straight. You’re spending billions to fix the hurricane damage that was worsened by the environmental damage already there while making it easier to cause further environmental damage. Um, what? That ain’t nothing but stupid.
And it’s one thing to screw us over because you’re stupid, it’s another to screw us over because you’re mean, and that’s the only way to look at what the Republican leadership in the Senate did. Let’s see, after a disaster, the federal government loans money to the affected regions with the understanding that they will try their best to pay it back, but if they can’t, the loan will be forgiven. Always has, and moreover, always will. Well, except for this once. Just this once, the Gulf Coast MUST pay it back, no chance of forgiveness. Miami wasn’t required to do that after Hurricane Andrew, New York wasn’t required to do that after 9-11, New Hampshire isn’t going to be required to do that after those floods, just us. Landrieu was right to protest as strenuously as she did, though she could have finessed it better politically, but Vitter just proved himself a lapdog of his party by rolling over and letting his state get screwed. (Side criticism – Vitter - it’s one thing to win, and then it’s another to go on and criticize your fellow Senator after the fact. First off, it’s unhelpful, when a united front is desperately needed in an unprecedented disaster. Also, in football it’s called “taunting” and draws a flag. In elementary school, it’s called being a bad sport and gets you a time-out. So Vitter, grow up already.) And I won’t even mention the apparently non-existent (and Republican) Senators of Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama who apparently think the appropriate response to a spanking from the leadership of their party is to say, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”
Not to mention the Senators that are saying we shouldn’t get any money because Louisiana is too corrupt to handle it. Specifically, I’m talking about Larry Craig (Idaho Republican), Tom Tancredo (Colorado Republican) and Susan Collins (Maine you-get-the-pattern), all of whom have said something along those lines. Now, I’m not going to defend corrupt Louisiana politicians, of which we’ve had more than our fair share, but I am going to point out that fears of corrupt Louisiana politicians absconding with money are just plain stupid. First off, because most of our corrupt politicians are currently in jail. Secondly, because accusing all Louisiana politicians of being corrupt is simply stereotyping, and stereotyping for any reason (racial, gender, whatever) is self-evidently ignorant. And finally, because FEMA has whole squads of auditors that track what happens to the money, except for when they’re handing out no-bid contracts to Halliburton. Oh wait, sorry, that’s corruption on the federal level by Republicans, which is clearly totally different. Speaking of corruption, let me throw out just a handful of names here that you may be familiar with – Delay, Frist, Libby, and Rove. Let’s see, besides being indicted or investigated, what else do they all have in common besides not being from Louisiana? And one last word for Craig in particular, who echoed Hastert when he said we should abandon whole sections of New Orleans. First off, who the hell does he think he is to tell us what to do? And secondly, he singled out the Lower Ninth Ward when saying it, which as you might have heard, is predominantly poor and black. Now why would he single out that neighborhood as opposed to Lakeview, which flooded just as bad but happens to be predominantly middle class and white? Not that I’m saying Larry Craig the Republican Senator from Idaho is a racist jerk, I’m just implying it.Which is all to say, the balance of the criticism has definitely shifted. Nevertheless, if at the next election you think to yourself, “You know what I want to do with my vote? I want to fuck Dale over,” then by all means, vote Republican. But you had better be prepared to defend that vote, and you better have a better reason than because boys kissing makes you feel icky.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Proud to Swim Home

Okay, actually I just drove my car, but I couldn’t resist. For those non-New Orleanians, we’ve got bumper stickers down here that read “New Orleans, Proud to Call it Home.” I’ve seen lots of variations, my favorites being “Proud to Crawl Home” and “Proud to Brew at Home.” Speaking of which, I’m hopeful that my beer brewing equipment will be able to be bleached safe. We shall see.
Drove in with Darv on Saturday. He needed to be picked up because he and Amy got evacuated from Tulane Hospital so they were without a car or their cat. Luckily, their landlord stuck around and kept the cat fed. They were stuck in the hospital for days. At first it was great – a chef was there and cooked them a fabulous meal on Monday night and everyone had wine, but then the water came up and they couldn’t leave. The generator got flooded so they lost power and were stuck in the dark with desperately ill patients and little ability to care for them. It’s best to not even think about the bathrooms. They could see people wading through the water below, and the private security guards broke out the machine guns and kept anyone going by at gunpoint until they passed. They were told they were being evacuated on Thursday and were taken to a parking garage where they waited all day until the helicopters stopped flying. So they had to spend the night on the parking garage under guard. That was the night the refinery blew up around 3 in the morning, which, well, woke them up. They got out Friday, got decontaminated somewhere, and eventually ended up with Darv’s family in North Carolina.
Anyway, I grabbed him and saw Amy for the first time since this all began – it was good to see familiar and much-missed faces, but Darv and I had to keep going. About the time we hit Mississippi we started seeing the devastation. Whole stands of trees, a cluster of twenty or thirty, would be on the ground. We saw giant trees ripped up by the root and others snapped in half. Highway signs were blown off or broken so we had to count exits on the map to figure out where we were. We’d occasionally pass towns where houses were knocked over and walls torn away, and saw a lot of “blue roofs,” the temporary tarping job the Corps of Engineers is doing. When we got about halfway over the Lake Pontchartrain causeway (actually a bay, for the geographically persniketty), New Orleans appeared in the mist. We could see buildings standing, and I said, “Well, she’s still there, so there’s that.” There’s a hotel right where the Causeway hits the Orleans side and half of its windows were blown out. As we drove into New Orleans proper, it just got worse and worse. We saw the ripped up Superdome and all the tall buildings with their windows gone, not to mention the trash, the branches, and the downed power lines everywhere.
It’s anything but a ghost town, though. Their were military and cops everywhere, plus everyone there to clean up and the returning residents. I dropped Darv off at his car in the garage near the hospital. That was very creepy – no lights, nobody there, just all these abandoned cars. I don’t think anything says post-apocalyptic U.S. better than a dead parking garage. Darv went to check on the cat and I went to Molly’s.Yes, Molly’s was open and I met Arwen there. I had a cold beer and chatted with people – the place was packed. Coop’s next door wasn’t open, which was too bad, but I’ve heard it’s since opened up. Two or three other bars on that street were open, and people were everywhere on Bourbon Street. They even had the rainbow balloons up. The whole place stinks of sewage, though. Some places are worse than others, but whiffs of it reach everywhere. On our way out of the Quarter to see the house, I paused to take a picture of the bra hanging on one of the horse-hitches, ‘cause hey, the Quarter lives.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Table One

After the house run, I made my way to my apartment, which was fine. The ceiling leaked a little in one spot and some leaves had been blown in under the door, but that was pretty much it. The lights came on and the water ran, though I couldn’t drink it. The refrigerator was another story. I was very lucky because I had nothing left in it except some leftovers, so it was basically salvageable. Also, it was running, so all the mold died when the refrigerator kicked back in and it didn’t get very far. Nevertheless, I just shut the door and figured I would tackle that later. Most other people aren’t even opening their refrigerators, which I definitely recommend. Don’t open it. Ever. You can tell who has come back when you drive down the streets and see the duck-taped refrigerators on the curb. I cranked the air conditioning and flushed the toilet, not that it needed it but it gave me great joy just because I could. So the apartment is fine and I just moved back in.
After that, I headed off to Gavin and Allison’s, who had come in from Houston and were cooking dinner. So I’m driving down Magazine Street, which is lined with restaurants, shops, and bars, all boarded up, and I see this woman. I think, “Hmm, she’s pretty,” which goes to prove Allison's theory at least one reason why being back home is soooooo good; namely, the poeple in New Orleans are prettier than the ones in Houston. Sorry, Houston, I haven't been and so can't opine one way or the other, but that's what Allison says.
Then realize the woman standing outside the restuarant is Kelly who teaches at Loyola with me. I couldn’t believe it, screamed out the window and pulled over. Turns out, she and her husband live nearby and the restaurant, Table One, was open. The bar Kelly’s husband Colin managed got about nine feet of water, so they walked in and he asked if they needed help. Not surprisingly, they needed a lot, so he’s got a job. We went in, had a drink and caught up. I’ve been back almost every day because you can get a salad, and you have no idea how exciting a salad is when there aren’t any open grocery stores. There are a couple of other places on Magazine open (the Balcony, the Bulldog, the Rendez-Vous, Les Bon Temps Roule), but they just have bar food if they have food at all. And you can get a pancake, eggs, and bacon at Slim Goodies, but they don’t have liquor and believe me, liquor is very important these days. Since I don’t like driving far, partly because there’s still an 8 o’clock curfew, my life in New Orleans these days is pretty much kept to the stretch of Magazine between my apartment and Gavin and Allison’s house, but that stretch is hopping. Anywhere that’s open is constantly packed, so hopefully other businesses will hurry up and get back here.

Operation Bass Save

Operation Bass Save

Okay, so the house. First off, while most of the houses around us had the spray-painted “X” ours did not. They must of looked in, saw we were renovating and nobody lived there and moved on. Thankfully, all the “X”s had a 0 in the body spot. If you don’t know how those work, I’ll pass it along, ‘cause I’m now someone who does know. Generally, and it varies a bit, the idea is the left side of the X carries an abbreviation of who checked the house, the top is the date when the house was checked, the right indicates if the house was entered or not and if there are structural problems, and the bottom is the number of bodies found. Again, a big “0” at the bottom of the “X” on all of the houses on my block.
We could see the water line on the front of the house. There was six or seven feet of flooding and it had peaked about two or three feet up from the floor level. I couldn’t get the key to turn in the front door lock, so I went around the back of the house. From my backyard I could see some houses that had been opened up by falling trees – you can see right into one because its back wall no longer exists. A tree came down in the backyard of the place next to mine, but thankfully (for me) it fell the other way. I got the key turned in the back door, but the water had swelled the door shut. After much kicking, I finally got it open.
So I was in the midst of moving from my apartment to the house, and had boxes and boxes and boxes of books and cds and dvds and kitchen stuff in the house. All on the floor. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to books when they spend a couple of weeks floating in toxic water, I’ll tell you. They turn into sludge that glues itself to the floor and then grow so much mold you can no longer tell what book they used to be. And they stink. Wow, do they stink. Of course, all the boxes and bags the books were packed in totally disintegrated, so the books, the cds, everything, floated about the house and came to rest wherever they were floating when the water finally receded. I put most of the boxes in the front room, and yet there were still books and bottles in the back rooms.We weren’t really equipped to spend any time there, so Arwen and I tromped through the house, quickly taking pictures. Since everything was on the floor, everything seemed ruined. The last thing I had done before leaving locking the house (five weeks and a day before I was able to get back) was to put the bass guitar on the stove which had just been delivered the day before and wasn’t even out of its box. The bass case was covered in mold. I opened it right there and, unbelievable, the bass was fine. Perfect. I grabbed it and we got the fuck out of there.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Evac 6, or Going Home 1

Hey folks,
(Written on 9-18-05)
Okay, I admit it, I’ve been hiding for a week. Brooke brought me up to Jersey for a time, and I’ve been using it to chill. It’s been good. Everyone has been wonderful, and nobody seems to mind if I spend my time talking about this, which has been good. Therapeutic, I guess would be the word. Anyway, it’s been a week with as little stress as possible in this time. The deep breath before the plunge, I guess. So now the plan is, such as it is, to get back as soon as possible. Yes, I know, it’s dangerous, there isn’t any infrastructure or power or 911 service or potable water, yadda yadda yadda, I don’t care, I want to go home. I’ve spent enough time twiddling my thumbs. Eventually I have to go home and start cleaning up and the longer I wait, the worse it will be. So I’m going to head to Virginia over the weekend and load up on supplies – you know, rubber gloves and boots, respirators, that kind of thing – and then work my way back to New Orleans. I actually am pretty sure that my apartment has power – Gavin said Jackson Avenue has power, and I know there was a working traffic light at Prytania and Felicity, which puts my apartment one block east and three blocks west of power. Hell, I can power up with extension cords from there. My zip code isn’t one of the ones called for return by the mayor, but Gav and Allison’s is, and they are planning on returning on Wednesday for a recon mission. I’m FedExing them keys so they can check out my apartment and house, if they can. If all goes well, I should be back in about a week and a half or two weeks, just in time for my birthday, which I plan to spend at Molly’s trying to chat up the new bartender with the hurricane K. tattoo on her back.
(Written on 9-19-05)
See, it’s so impossible to make plans when they keep changing things on you everyday. Or, I should say, the weather. Hurricane Rita has thrown plans in disarray. I don’t know if Gav and Allison are still planning on trying to get back (still lots of “all circuits are busy” phone trouble, you know), but since the mayor is suspending his repopulation plan until Rita no longer threatens us, I don’t know what I’m doing. By the way, I checked the hurricane center’s website yesterday and they were tracking 7 storms – 7! Usually, it’s one or two. All I can say is, I’m so glad we have a president wise enough, smart enough, and brave enough to stand up to those silly 95% of scientists saying global warming is a serious problem and tell everyone that we need more study before we even know if global warming is happening let alone having an affect on the weather. Hurrah!
Anyway, hopefully my plan stays basically in place. Brooke and I went by the Red Cross today (she to volunteer, me to ask about volunteering, but the gov’t. won’t let the Red Cross into New Orleans yet). So instead of letting me volunteer to do whatever in N.O. when I get back, they gave me money, which I intend to use on those afore-mentioned rubber boots, gloves, etc. – whatever it takes to get the muck out of my house and gut it, which, assuming the foundation is still sound, is I’ve been told the only way to stop the mold from taking over. So, I guess the plan remains essentially the same, though possibly delayed.
Meanwhile, Brooke doesn’t have cable so I’ve been getting all my news off the web. Speaking of which, nola.com is putting out the N.O. Times-Pic, and I definitely recommend it as a news source, especially an article titled “Needs and resources out of sync.” I know everyone is a little sick of the bitching, but it’s a good run-down of who was supposedly responsible for what and where things went wrong. Similarly, Salon.com has a pretty extensive timeline of the disaster. Good resources for everyone. For the locals, or those interested, Gav mentioned that MSNBC has some flyover pictures. Very detailed pictures of the flood that you can search by street. Believe it or not, beyond the photos of the devastation, they have a photo centered on my house. On it you can focus on my house to the extent that I can see my back porch and how the water (at the time the picture was taken) covered the floor of the porch but not the railing. So hey, I got that going for me. Seriously though, I’m one of the very, very lucky ones, so I have no personal complaints. Complaints on behalf of those not so lucky – that’s a-whole-‘nother story.
So I’m going to try to send shorter emails more often, and to that end, I’m bringing this one to a close, which has absolutely nothing to do with my desire to watch the Saints whup some N.Y. Giants butt.
Red beans and ricely yours,

Friday, September 09, 2005

Evac 5: Still Moving

Hi everyone,
Sorry it’s been so long since my last email. I had some busy days – first off, driving to Nashville and then on to Virginia, and then slogging through the bureaucracy of everyday life – calling the mortgage company, the insurance company, registering for FEMA, talking to credit card companies. “Putting my life back together,” as we call it, though honestly it seems like so much meaningless nonsense when I consider how many people can’t put their lives back together. Ever. I hate waking up. For a second or two, I don’t remember where I am or why I’m there and then it all comes back. It’s like it happens all over again every day. And then I just have to go on with my day anyway.
Which I do – the good news is Loyola got their website up and running and I found out I still have a job. Classes are cancelled until January, but they intend to reopen then. The campus is relatively unscathed.
Side note – as I write this, U2 just started playing the best song ever on the hurricane relief concert on tv.
So I’ve gotten through the short-term. I’m fed and sheltered, and yeah, it’s surreal that I needed to focus on that for awhile. Now I’m moving on to the middle-term (the long term being rebuilding New Orleans), which is what I’m going to do until January. What I want to do is get somewhere close so I can help. I know this is a longshot, but if anyone knows of an apartment I can rent for three months, maybe starting in October, somewhere nearby (Jackson, Nashville, Memphis, Houston, whatever), please let me know. Anyway, I’m going to be working on that for the next week or so. Gavin and Allison are in Houston or heading there (I haven’t talked to them in a couple of days – connecting isn’t easy). They’ve got an apartment and are going to see what they can do. Speaking of which, how is my cell phone working? I can call out but I don’t really know if calling in works – it’s XXXXX, by the way. Arwen’s in Nashville, and she’s getting in to New Orleans later this month to be a doctor.
Morgan Freeman quoting Faulkner – man will not just endure, but prevail. Very nice. Interesting to write this with the tv on – clearly I need some kind of real-time blog set up or something. “George Bush hates midgets.” Is that funny? I laughed, but I’m not sure. Jack Nicholson singing into a phone – that’s just weird. Hey, there’s the Foo Fighters – thank you, Dave. Ugh – Mariah Carey – where’s the mute?
Of course, what I really want to do is just go home. I found a website with maps and satellite photos and flood information which said my house had 6.3 feet of water – not sure how accurate that is, if it’s peak flooding, or updated information taking the receding into consideration. Here’s the site - http://mapper.cctechnol.com/floodmap.php. That gives hope for my bass guitar – my last gesture at hurricane preparedness was to put the bass on top of the brand-new stove not even out of the box, and then I locked the boarded-up door and left my house. That said, I know my apartment didn’t flood and while I know security was a serious problem, now it seems that’s under control, water is flowing (though undrinkable), and it seems like they could start letting us in sometime soon. Rebuilding is ultimately going to be a matter of all the residents getting back in and tackling their homes one at a time (we certainly don’t want New Orleans to get Wal-Marted and Disneyfied).
That’s something that I haven’t heard on the news, so I’ll mention it – the unbelievable amount of renovation that has been going on in New Orleans over the last seven years or so. The list of friends that have bought houses and renovated them – Gavin and Allison, Jen and Cesar, Janet and Monty, Erica, Gina, Gloria and John, I could keep going - that list is practically as long as my list of friends. The majority of us have done it, and now we have to do it all over again. But that’s what it’s going to take to rebuild New Orleans the way it should be done, with an understanding and love for what makes it special, so let’s get back in as soon as possible.
That said, the list of people that I know that aren’t coming back is also growing, and that makes me sad. Not that I blame them – it makes perfect sense – but I will miss them. Smuteye is a trio now, not a five-piece, but Smuteye still exists, and Darv promises he will keep sending us lyrics from North Carolina.
The strangest things hit me, like when I heard Coolbone’s version of “Keep on Using Me” (is that the right title?) as the background for a commercial and I had to stop what I was doing and just sit for a few minutes. Or today when I wanted to get a haircut. Normally, I’d call Jeni at Aidan Gill, which is this old-fashioned barbershop on Magazine right around the corner from my apartment where they give you Guinness or whisky while you’re waiting and still do hot shaves, which I always meant to do, and Aidan and the other men wear bowties. Plus, he’s Irish and throws a party every St. Patrick’s Day and the parade band makes a point of stopping and saluting him. And now I have no idea what happened to Jeni and her baby boy and so getting a haircut was clearly out of the question.
Meanwhile, Brownie is no longer in charge of the relief effort, which is a relief. They should just fire him, but now he’ll be in charge if Ophelia hits Florida – you have my sympathies, Florida. It’s infuriating to watch all these people (Bush, the Two Stupid Michaels, even Bush the First) saying not to point fingers and then in the next sentence pointing fingers at the state and city government, as if there isn’t plenty of blame to go around. Right, because we have to focus on the now, instead of what somebody did or didn’t do before the hurricane hit, before a disaster was declared and FEMA took charge (also before the hurricane hit, by the way). As if Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama aren’t in a constant struggle to see which is poorest and has the fewest resources. As if Mayor Nagin isn’t the only person, the only person, I’ve seen go on the media and take personal responsibility and admit he should’ve done more. Methinks people don’t want to cast blame because they are to blame.
I guess this is what happens when you put people who don’t believe in government in charge of the government. What was it Norquist said? A federal government so small it could drown in a bathtub. Fairly apt turn of phrase now, isn’t it? Oh, how I long for the days when the worst abuse of power, the thing that brought the government to a screeching halt in scandal, was a blow-job from an intern.
There I go again, ending on a sour note. I’ll try to avoid that next time. When I’m not feeling anger, or depression, or all those other stages of grief, I really do feel hopeful, and determined, and sure that we will get through this, and that maybe, maybe we’ll actually be a better nation and people because of it. But on that last part, probably not.
Anyway, thanks again for all the phone calls, emails, well-wishing and help. My love and appreciation go out to each and every one of you. More later - Dale

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Evac 4: Bricks and Bouquets

Hi everyone,
Finally some good news is coming out of New Orleans, but it's still out-weighed by the bad. At least they're finally getting some people out of there, though again we've lost so many lives just because of the slowness of the help. Our airport is turned into a triage center, and I've heard that they're losing about a dozen patients a day while waiting for evacuation. But you don't need me to relay that, it's on the news. I have to send some thanks to CNN especially and the rest of the media for covering this, though also some criticism as today some anchor (blond & pretty - like that narrows it down - I don't remember the channel) saying something like "Help will arrive in New Orleans as early as tomorrow." AS EARLY? AS EARLY? There's nothing early about that. It's probably just a bad choice of words, but it does indicate some of the spin already going on and I want to make it clear that it's absolute bullshit. I saw some guy from FEMA saying today that nobody anticipated mutiple disasters at once, meaning both a hurricane and a levee breach. Absolute bullshit. We've been saying for years that if a major hurricane hit, the levees would breach. Don't believe it, and don't let them get away with those lies - it simply isn't true. Shortly after Ivan last year, the Times-Pic ran a seroes of articles detailing exactly what would happen, it I have to say it's remarkably similar to what is happening right now. As I was driving my folks out Sunday, I was saying, "Well, this is it - this is the one that leaves the city under 20 feet of water." If I knew it, the government and disaster planners damn well knew it too. So don't let them excuse the inadequacy of the rescue efforts with "we couldn't anticipate this" lies.
That said, I'm immensely relieved that they are finally getting people out of there. And I don't mean to minimize the tragedy in Biloxi and Bay St. Louis and everywhere else hit, it's just that New Orleans is what I know.
On a personal level, we still don't know exactly what we're going to do. Right at the moment, we've discovered that Danny Cupit, who owns this house we've been staying in for a week, has a tree down in his yard and can't get power back until the tree is gone. We've got power here, and he doesn't have power in his own home, so tomorrow we're going to go over and get rid of the tree. At this point, that's as far as plans extend. Gavin and Allison want to figure out a way to stay around here and help, as do I. How exactly, we don't know. Arwen is planning on making it back towards Baton Rouge or somewhere so she can be a doctor again. Today we sat in a gas line for about an hour and Salvation Army folks came by and gave us bottled water. At the moment, we're the people taking bottled water, but we want to become the people handing out bottled water. That said, we're not sure how to make that leap. My first thought is to do what Loyola needs me to do, be it mopping out dorms or what, but they can't get any word out. If anyone knows of a way to contact some of the people in charge at Loyola, please do so and have them contact me or relay a message.
I think I'm headed to Nashville soon, and from there on to Virginia. I don't know if I can make Nashville to Virginia in one go so if anyone is along the way and can put a refugee and his cat up for the night, we'd appreciate it. I'm going by Nashville because Arwen and I have to apply for FEMA help, because we're suddenly the people that do that. But the long term plan, such as it is, is to somehow get back here within striking distance of New Orleans so that first, I can volunteer and help in whatever way possible, and second, be on hand to get in and rebuild as soon as possible. Somewhere down the line I'll need a place to live around here, so if anyone knows of any possibilities, please let me know.
Gavin and I found some satellite photos of New Orleans on-line, and they're amazingly detailed. Here's the good news - Gavin and Allison's place looks okay. There's something we can't quite make out in the back corner of their house (a fallen tree? a trick of the light?) but their street is dry and their roof is there. We can even see Allison's car, which wouldn't start the morning they were evacuating. We also found my apartment - again, it looks okay. Assuming those places haven't been looted, things should be fine. Here's the bad news - my and Arwen's house appears completely flooded (sorry, Arwen). We can't see any sign of cars on the street anywhere near, and I think it's because they're entirely submerged. The house directly across the street from ours has a lower roof than ours and it appears to disappear into the water. All that said, it's just stuff. It can be replaced. There are no official reports of casualties from Louisiana, but the last estimate I heard was ten to fifteen thousand. That's so unimaginably bad, I can only hope it's wrong.
Oh, man. And now Rehnquist has died. It's not the straw that breaks the camel's back - the camel's back is already broken. I guess I feel like a dead horse getting beaten.
I don't really feel like going on with this email, but there are a few things that I promised myself to record, so I'll keep going.
First off, everyone from New Orleans knows Gambit, our weekly alternative newspaper, and knows how they had a weekly bit of "Bouquets and Bricks," where they reported on those who got thrown bouquets and those who got thrown bricks. By the way, Darv recently got a bouquet for helping the UNO newspaper get back up and running. So in an effort to keep that tradition going, here are my bouquets and bricks (probably more bricks than bouquets):
Bouquet: All of you. I have never, never, never seen such an outpouring of support in my life. I can't thank you enough, and I'm afraid I will probably have to call in all those offers of help on behalf of my city and the surrounding region.
Brick: The one-third of the New Orleans Police that basically deserted. New Orleans has always had a problem with corrupt and worthless police officers and now I guess we know who they are.
Bouquet: The two-thirds of New Orleans Police that have stayed through what can only be described as a hell beyond their worst imaginings. I have no idea what it would be like to be beseiged in an police station at night with no lights or water while getting shot at and then to have to go out and try to restore order. Why is it that the police officers and the soldiers on the front lines get paid so little while the politicians protected by those people get paid so much? Shouldn't the person taking the bullet get paid more than the person the bullet is being taken for?
Bouquet: Houston. As much as I hate Texas, you have apparently gone above and beyond in taking in and helping out those displaced by this hurricane.
Brick: Whatever college teams were playing their football game in the stadium next to the Astrodome when the Astrodome had to start refusing anymore refugees. Universities and colleges have been wonderful in their offers to take in students from New Orleans, but perhaps you should also consider cancelling your damn football games so people have shelter for a night.
HUGE BIG FUCKING BRICK: Condelezza Rice, for shoe shopping on Fifth Avenue yesterday. I read a report from a New York newspaper that said she was laughing it up at "Spamalot" Thursday and then spending thousands of dollars on expensive shoes Friday. I count myself unbelievably lucky to be the living owner of a single pair of shoes. (Why didn't I save my cherished motorcycle boots? they're just boots, but they have stomped the terra with me for a dozen years - it's a little thing, but damn I loved those boots.) As far as I am concerned, she should be drummed out of office for gross negligence. Apparently when Bush said "everyone is working around the clock" he wasn't referring to his Cabinet. Rice's next job should involve a paper hat and include saying "would you like fries with that?" That's apparently about the responsibility she can handle (no offense to fast food workers).
Bouquet: Harry Connick, Jr. He got in and organized a benefit. I hope you all saw it. It was nice to know that somebody was attempting to do something.
Brick: President Bush. Harry Connick Jr. beat you into the city. The guy got in a car and drove into the city before you could get off your ass and call in the best resources available to the world and stop by. And you show no embarassment. Your shamelessness in the evidence of your own incompetence knows no bounds.
Brick: Dennis Hastert. Again. When Congress is voting on emergency relief funds for the Gulf Coast, you're in bumfuck Illinois passing out over a million dollars in pork money saying, "Illinois is finally getting their fair share."
Brick (sorry, I've run out of bouquets): Congressional Republicans who got back from their vacations for an emergency session faster for one brain-dead woman than they did for this. No offense to the late Terri Schiavo but you people can get going faster for one white woman on life support than you can for thousands of black folks starving, drowning, and getting raped and shot?
I'll stop there. Tomorrow no doubt I will have some more. In the meantime, everybody has been asking me how to help, so I want to make some suggestions. First off, send donations to the Red Cross. They're way more on the ball than the government is, so start there. Secondly, if you have any spare room in your homes, we have millions, literally millions, of refugees that need housing. It's unlike anything the U.S. has seen before. There are places on-line where you can list your spare bedroom as a place for, well, people like me. MoveOn.org is a place to start.
Next, raise taxes. I know nobody likes their taxes upped, and it probably seems like a stupid thing for me to say considering I've been criticizing the government for the last ten minutes, but it's got to be done. The money to save the Gulf Coast has to come from somewhere, and it would be the grossest kind of irresponsibility to lay that cost on our children or grandchildren. If you want a war in Iraq and you want to save the millions of Americans affected by this hurricane, than you're going to have to pay for it. Tell your representatives and Senators you're willing to sacrifice for the greater good. I know Bush doesn't understand sacrifice and wants to continue to run his private little war while shovelling money at himself and his friends, but it can't go on.
Another way you can help - stay angry. Find some way to take all the anger, disappointment, frustration, and disgust you've been feeling and sending to me in emails and keep it. Write it down in a notebook, save it on a computer, videotape an hour of CNN, whatever, and then when the next election comes around re-read it, re-watch it, re-live it and then get up and vote. In the large scale, that's the only thing that will make a difference.
Finally, five months from now when despite everything we've rebuilt my beloved New Orleans and Mardi Gras rolls around, when the reports are rolling out about "New Orleans Parties On," come on down and have a good time.
Take care everybody -

Friday, September 02, 2005

Evac 3: Walking the Earth

Hello again,
Thank you everyone for all your messages – I’ll try to get back to everyone individually as I can. We lost our internet connection for awhile, but then we got the phone back. Again, the land line here is XXXXXXX, though getting through is not easy. Keep trying if you can because getting calls is really great. More and more word is coming in from people we know about how they’re okay, though at the same time we’re getting stories that are much, much worse. Arwen worked at Charity Hospital and knows people that are there. Yesterday she got a text message saying something like “They know we have food and drugs and they have guns.” They apparently locked themselves in, and we heard the National Guard finally arrived there sometime this afternoon, but right after that we saw on CNN that they were still waiting for evacuation, so we just don’t know. Gregory, a friend who was renovating Arwen’s side of the house while Gav and I were working on mine, had to crawl out his roof and wade through two miles of water to get his grandmother, but now they’re in the Astrodome. We’ve heard from many, many people, but others are still not accounted for. There’s a woman staying across the street with her two daughters; her husband is an EMT for New Orleans and we hoped that with Arwen’s hospital connections we could give her some news, but we couldn’t. She hasn’t heard from him since Monday.
Meanwhile, here a grocery store is open and surprisingly calm, so we have food. Plus beer and liquor. Unfortunately, there is no gas available, so we can’t get out. I have enough gas to get maybe a hundred miles but I don’t know if that’s far enough to get to more gas. I’m sure some will arrive soon, but meanwhile we’re stuck. Arwen and Cayne stayed here last night, along with Arwen’s dog and Cayne’s cat, and now they’re trying to make it to Nashville. We siphoned some gas out of an ATV like something out of “The Road Warrior” and got them on their way. We can’t believe how we’ve suddenly become those people you see on tv fleeing a disaster with nothing but a bag of clothes. It’s turning us into Buddhists – no attachments, living just day to day. Gavin found a large aerial photo of New Orleans online and we were able to find my house on it by comparing the photo to a map. It looks like I still have a roof, though clearly all the streets around me are flooded. There was a little white dot in front of my place that we think might be the taxi cab that’s always parked right in front of my house for some reason.
We don’t know what we’re going to do. When we arrived here, we wanted to stay a short time and then get back to the city, but that’s not possible. Obviously, we’ll have to move on as soon as we can and figure out where we’re going. Allison and I haven’t heard anything from our universities; they can’t get any messages out and we don’t know if we have jobs anymore. I hate it that that worries me given the scope of the devastation, but it does. To paraphrase Sam Jackson in “Pulp Fiction,” I guess we’re just going to walk the earth. Wander around, itinerant migrant college professors going from town to town, asking if they need teachers and getting in adventures, like Caine in “Kung Fu.” But with cats.
The offers of places to stay and money and everything keep pouring in and I can’t thank all of you enough for them. We’re actually in pretty good shape here and believe me, I’ll let you know if I need to take you up on those offers. In the meantime, there are so many people in much, much more desperate situations than me, so do what you can for them, too. I’ve heard MoveOn.org is organizing some sort of spare bedroom list so people can offer hurricane refugees a place to stay for awhile, so if you can you could check that out (and why is it MoveOn.org is apparently more on the ball than the government?).
There’s nothing I want to do more than get back to my city and rebuild it, single-handedly and brick-by-brick if necessary, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to. The people theoretically in charge aren’t taking control. Not to harp on this, but where’s the help? They keep saying it’s on the way, but where is it? Where are the swarms of helicopters? Why can’t we manage to air-drop in food and water? Why is the ship that’s supposed to be the command center only leaving Baltimore today? Why are the troops arriving tomorrow (hopefully) instead of last Tuesday? I just saw Mary Landrieu on cnn thanking and congratulating Bush and the rest of the government for their wonderful job, and I just wanted to scream – what wonderful job? There are bodies floating in the streets, there are more people dying by the minute. Not to single her out, but the politicians need to stop kissing each other’s asses and get something done. She said she didn’t want to cast blame, but I will. I blame her. I blame Bush. Especially him, actually, but there’s plenty to go around. I blame the mayor, the governor, senators, representatives, I blame the whole damn government. We knew this was coming. We’ve been saying for years that if the big hurricane hit it would be worse than we could possibly imagine, and nobody did anything. Bush cut the meager millions for fixing Louisiana’s coast and levees while spending 200 billion on Iraq, and Congress let him. But it’s not about what could have been done before, it’s about what should be done now, and so far, that’s virtually nothing. Why? Because the people suffering are poor and mostly black? The FEMA director, whose name I don’t know but when I find out I will burn it into my brain so I can hunt the bastard down, said on tv he wouldn’t judge those who chose not to evacuate, as if those dying and starving in New Orleans and elsewhere deserve what they get. He clearly has no concept of who he is supposed to be saving. New Orleans is full of the desperately, desperately poor, and they didn’t have a way to get out. Choice had nothing to do with it. Not every American owns a gas-guzzling, terrorist-supporting, wildly expensive S.U. fucking V. There was no plan for getting the poor out of New Orleans. Evacuation plans amounted to “get in your car and leave,” and now those who couldn’t are apparently left to die. Nobody can prevent a hurricane, but for everyone that has died since Monday night and for everyone who will die from here on out, that responsibility, that blame lies squarely on the people in charge.
I’m disgusted by the behavior of the looters, but I’m more disgusted by the behavior of the government. We pay them a shitload of money (what? ten times what I get paid? more?) to handle things like this, and they have completely and utterly failed. They sit in their mansions on the hills and say they understand, but their paychecks keep coming while all the waitstaff and bartenders and temp workers and shrimp-boaters, they’re fucked. They’ve been fucked by nature, and now they’re getting fucked again by the very people who are supposed to take care of them. Turns out the politicians have been looting the people for far longer than the last few days.
On a completely different note and tirade, if I hear one asshole like Pat Robertson say anything along the lines of this is God’s punishment on the wicked sinners of New Orleans, then it’s also God’s will that I beat the fucking shit out of him.
I have never lived in a place that had so little and yet offered so much as New Orleans. There are so many things that really are unique to the city that I have only known for a brief time and love dearly and now it seems those things are gone and nobody in charge seems to care. I’m beyond mad, I’m devastated, I’m heart-broken, I have lost all faith, I’m sad beyond words.
Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone for all your offers of help. I will get back in and rebuild my city. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting to be “shocked and awed” by the scope of the rescue effort.