In the immediate aftermath of the storm – by which I mean October, five or six weeks later – while phones were still sketchy and nobody had internet access, people started communicating by refrigerator. As the broken, stinking, duck-taped refrigerators appeared on streets all over town, people began writing on them. Despite the near-constant attention we were getting in the news those days, people still didn’t feel their voices were being heard, and so turned to graffiti on dead refrigerators to speak.
Some typical examples:
FEMA Director inside
Mail to George W. Bush c/o White House C.O.D.
Michael Brown – Free Buffet
Decent levees: $20 million, Hurricane damage: $200 Billion, Refrigerator full of maggots: priceless
I looted after Katrina and all I got was this lousy refrigerator
New Orleanians trying to be heard by the only means available.
Similarly, right after the flood “Nagin for President” shirts popped up at a store on Magazine close to my apartment. Lately, they’ve changed to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate City” and “No Mo’ Nagin.” Again, New Orleanians expressing ourselves perhaps because we felt our authentic voices weren’t being heard through the static of media coverage.
After Nagin made his admittedly stupid comments, a friend of mine sent a one-line email to the affect that he was worried New Orleans didn’t have the leadership it needed. In and of itself, that’s fairly innocuous, though I think only New Orleanians have the right to complain about and insult our elected officials. We earned it.
But the thing is, that was apparently the whole impression my friend had of Mayor Nagin, because that’s what got reported about him outside of New Orleans. Stupid as the comments were, they certainly aren’t the sum total of what C. Ray has done (and not done) as Mayor both before and after the deluge.
What does this have to with anything? Well, you might have heard that it’s Mardi Gras season around here, and if you haven’t – what the hell’s wrong with you? It’s Carnival, people, get on it. There has been a little controversy over whether we should have Mardi Gras or not, as if it’s something that even could be called off if we wanted, but nevertheless, it’s on. Since this is the first Mardi Gras after that other little event that put New Orleans in the national spotlight for a moment, we have more reporters than ever descending on us to send out missives to all of you about it.
I can imagine those reports now: pictures of drunken frat boys screaming for bared breasts on Bourbon juxtaposed with shots of annihilated Ninth Ward homes, accompanied by some no doubt well-meaning reporter shaking his head over our irresponsibility and hedonism in the face of disaster. In fact, according to the Times-Pic, it’s already started.
Let me tell you something – those drunken frat boys and the “Girls Gone Wild” hopefuls paired with them? Tourists. Locals don’t bother with that crap. Every time people come and visit for Mardi Gras, they inevitably ask about going to Bourbon Street, and I always tell them it will be stupid and annoying, and they always insist, so we go, and you know what? It’s stupid and annoying and packed with tourists.
Today I went to some parades. I met my neighbor up at the parade route who had a few friends with her, including one who just had a baby. The baby mostly hung out in her stroller sleeping, though she would occasionally laugh at the floats. We all yelled our heads off to get stuffed animals for her, and got plenty, and none of us had to bare any breasts to do so. We waved at neighbors as kids ran around everywhere, grabbing any beads that nobody managed to catch. Of my friends, I was the only one drinking anything, but that whisky from my flask was strictly for medicinal purposes – it was damn cold today. We also cheered mightily for the marching bands, particularly the MAX band, a combination of students from St. Mary’s, St. Augustine’s, and Xavier Prep because the schools individually don’t have enough returned students to march alone. Their parents and friends walked along next to them, no doubt many of them coming in from Baton Rouge or Houston or wherever they evacuated to just to support their kids, and one carrying a tray of hot chocolate, much appreciated by the cop standing guard on our corner.
You might think I’m laying it on a bit thick, but I’m not exaggerating even a bit. Just as the “Chocolate City” comments aren’t the sum total of Nagin, the frats boys and wild girls aren’t the sum total of Mardi Gras. New Orleans is way more complex, way more intriguing, and way more soulful than those snapshots. Just try and keep that in mind when you see the simplistic report from a journalist who hasn’t bothered to take the time to get it.
You could even print this out and magnet it to your refrigerator.