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.