Monday, September 26, 2005

September 6, 2005

Volunteering as Red Cross Case Worker:
Dawanda and son of Uptown New Orleans: $910
Anna Polk and husband of St. Bernard, who were rescued from their roof and who smelled of mold: $910
Dawn Carter, husband, and son of Gentilly Forest: $1280
Dawin of Kenner: $665

Elaine Sheldon, trainer: teary and strong, like a tough and tender mother.

What an exhausting day. I will recount it later.

September 7, 2005

“Memo Shows FEMA Chief Delayed Asking for Help With Katrina”

Red Cross said on The O’ Reilly Factor last night that they were not allowed inside the city because of a “local decision.”

Forced evacuations now expected to be carried out… beginning sometime today. A question, though, is how many people will come under this category.

“More pumps are arriving day by day from various places across this country and also from countries like Germany and Holland.”

“Are people going to be forced to go to other states or forced to live on a cruise-ship? People are anxious to get settled.” --Houston. “People say that they are getting the runaround, that no one is talking to them.”

“You can’t do that! They need to let us really know what is going on. We can’t be running around like chickens without heads.”

“Dome-City” has its own zip code.

Katrina will probably wind up costing the economy about 400,000 jobs. Could pick up as an unprecedented rebuilding begins, estimated at 200 billion dollars. Much of this depends on how hard Katrina hit the energy infrastructure. All of this as Wall Street watches the weather—Tropical Storm Ophelia off of Florida.

September 14, 2005

Not surprising, given my track record, that I am not writing again until now. So much has happened, of course, so much that I will forget. Me and my lack of discipline.

Most memorable, actually, has been the good time we had with Bill and AC and Sally and Chuck. Sally had us over for dinner and AC and I talked about my Bread Loaf experience and we worried together about the future of New Orleans. We smoked too many cigarettes, drank too much wine, stayed out too late dancing at the Northpoint Tavern, where a blues band called The Vipers was playing. The band was really good, but folks here don’t know how to act! Girls flipped their hair and yelled over the music to each other. Men cast their eyes about, looking, looking for ladies. Only two people danced, and they were, appropriately enough, blitzed. The star of the show was one dancing lady who might as well have had a pole. I did my pseudo backup-dancer dance, and thought about trying to sing with the band. A Michael Ray look-alike played his trumpet, and maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but he even sounded like Michael Ray. It was not home, but it felt closer to it than anything so far here in Atlanta. It was so, so, good.

What I’m most worried about now is that we are losing our musicians. Really, imagine you are a New Orleans musician, always struggling to get by. You’ve evacuated, or you were trapped, in either case, you left your instruments behind. Gigs got cancelled. Your band is scattered across the country in the spare bedrooms or friends or basements of parents. You consider the future: you could return to New Orleans, though which bars would remain open, you don’t know, and those that do—will they pay? Will you be made a fucking martyr, asked to play as if you are again a street musician? And anyway, who else will return? Your bass player has decided to make a go of New York. Your guitar player has decided to relocate because he has kids and the future of raising kids in New Orleans—already an iffy prospect—is now even more bleak.

Or: you could move on like the bas player, the guitar player. You could ride the wave of the new New Orleans Diaspora, traveling to cities where you are now a novelty, and where people are as eager to fill your tip jar as your relatives and friends have been to push money-filled envelopes your way. You would be a big fish in an even bigger pond, but for the first time, perhaps ever, people would really fucking dig your music. You could spread the love! You could share New Orleans with the people of San Diego or Portland or Little Rock or Albuquerque. You could play your part elsewhere, and one day, one day, maybe return for a reunion of sorts. What would you do?

Other musicians who will be missed: the marching bands. Arthur Hardy is swearing that Mardi Gras will roll this year, and I think he’s right, but with what bands? And where will the children be? The high school marching bands? What about St. Augustine, with their golden helmets? Is their bandroom under water? Will they return?

September 14, 2005

Working as a case worker wit the Red Cross, the most noteworthy thing is the number of people I talked to who DO NOT plan to return. Not only were the poor the ones who were left behind, but they are also the ones who seem to be leaving New Orleans. I know that to some people this must seem like a great gift. The crime—vanished! But the culture will vanish, too. And I know, I know, that another one will emerge, but I envision a bunch of the Bywater-type weirdoes on their vintage bicycles, riding in Mardi Gras parades whilst beating—unmusically—on the lids of pots and pans. It is culture, but it is not the culture that was born of poverty.

I do not mean to suggest that we should want the poor in New Orleans to return simply so we can latch onto their second-lines, their jazz funerals, their neutral-ground Barbeques. I think, in fact, that what we have on our hands here is an enormous opportunity to alleviate poverty. It’s just: say you have very little, and then Katrina takes what little you have from you. Say you were at the Superdome, or the Convention Center. Say you witnessed the dog-eat-dog shit that went down in New Orleans in the days immediately following Katrina. Say you went without water, without food. Say you saw Geraldo Rivera reporting, and STILL saw now help? Say you were separated from your pets and sent to a shelter? And say that then you started to think about it: what will you do now? What is there to go back to? You know that your house is gone. You didn’t own it. You know that white folks will be swooping in with their ambitions to rebuild. You know they will want the most for their money. You know that now the upper-class folks across the country—the same ones, perhaps, who are helping you out now—will be the first to want to go into that rebuilt city, to renovate the life out of it. You know from experience that you are NOT given a fuck about back there, that you were not given a fuck about in New Orleans. Why go back?

Now, lest you think I am Barbara Bush here (Barbara who made some comment about the situation of the people in the Houston Astrodome being somehow BETTER for them,) let me just say that I don’t think this post-Katrina outpouring of generosity makes shit any better, at all. If you’ve lost everything, you’ve lost everything, and a fucking prize is not going to change the nature of that loss.

It’s just, I think it is crucial that we hear from the people hardest hit by Katrina. They absolutely should have a say in the way their city is rebuilt. And how will we hear from them? These people who no one has listened to, why should they expect to be heard now? I want to find them, to compile their stories, to hear their hopes for a new New Orleans—whether or not it is one they plan to return to—because they need to have a say in its rebuilding.

Mayor Ray Nagin has said that he will make SURE that the people who the storm replaced will be the ones to rebuild it—but how? And he, a former Republican, a former Cox Cable executive—how can we rely upon him to look out for our city? After all, it was he who was responsible for us in the first place, and look what happened.

Am I just an idealist, or is it supremely fucked-up that Halliburton was among the first to get a contract in New Orleans?

I am worried, too, about the fact that Congress has repealed he Davis-something-or-other act that requires employees to be paid properly in jobs of construction, etc. The Repugnants are saying that this is a great idea because it rids the process of all the red tape that might keep progress from moving quickly forward, but we know how willing they are to sacrifice the people for progress.

I just am so SCARED about what happens next! This whole event has made me feel so powerless, and I feel even WORSE knowing that the people who made New Orleans so wonderful to live in might be the exact same people who is leaves in its proverbial dust.

Other excitement that occurred between last week and this:
Whilst having margaritas at Los Loros (my favorite restaurant to go for some festive respite,) we met a woman name Kristine who works for CNN. She, like everyone who learns we are form New Orleans, wanted to do something for us, so she gave us her card and suggested that the camera crew might film pictures of our house that we could see… We ended up getting a call from the producers of the Anderson Cooper show, instead. They were hyped on filing us returning to New Orleans, and we had hopes that they would help us get in (you can’t get in without a press pass or rescuer credentials, etc.,) and then just as we got excited, they moved on to another idea. Oh—we were meant to be on tonight! I must go see what he’s got, instead.

It’s hard to hear these stories of heroism. I wanted to be there to help! I want to be a hero of this storm. Instead, I am a reluctant—and very lucky—victim. I want to have rescued people, to have rescued pets. And yesterday, on the pet forum, I noticed that someone said, “Where are the people of this city? Why are we taking care of their animals? Why aren’t they coming to help?” Is this a good question? Should we be there? Or should we be waiting, as we’ve been told. I don’t know, but I don know that I feel fucking helpless.

Blanco is making a lot of promises. “We’re not simply going to rebuild the same infrastructure.” We’re not simply going to rebuild the homes and the schools, she says. Instead, she invites all New Orleanians and the nation to join in an effort to create one of the best public school systems EVER!!! (Polite applause.)

See: even when it is a wonderful things—even when it will be “ a better New Orleans”—it will never be the same. I said to Simon yesterday that I have not felt like going back in time very often, but now I want to, soooo badly.

“Dear God, please bless the citizens of Louisiana, and bring all of our sons and daughters home.”


September 15, 2005

After watching Mayor Ray Nagin on “Larry King Live” last night talking about getting the city back up and running soon—perhaps sooner than anyone expected (“We’re gonna shock some people,” he said,) Simon and I decided to go to the Red Cross Headquarters for verification of our training so we can get into the city. Uptown, the CBD, and the French Quarter will be allowed back in as early as next week, and I heard from one of the clients at the Lithonia Megacenter today that the Convention Center will be used as a grocery store and lumber yard. I saw on that there is now sewer service in the Marigny and Bywater, so we are eager to get back before there is a big traffic jam or rush. We know that I will be uncomfortable—and actually we think we’ll be staying in Baton Rouge with Brandi’s parents—but we just want to be back so badly!!!

The Lithonia Megacenter was indeed “mega.” The building is just off of Panola Industrial Boulevard, in the either defunct or temporary empty headquarters of Lithonia Lighting, 20 miles east of the city of Atlanta. We weren’t prepared, in fact, for its mega-ness, especially after the Monroe Headquarters had been cleared out. Somehow it seemed like the demand had simply tapered off, but that is far from the case.

In fact, when we were at Headquarters today, Kathy of the volunteer orientation room warned us to expect frayed nerves. They’d already called the cops today, she said. People just didn’t seem to understand—or be willing to deal with—the fact that their checks wouldn’t be available for another day.

The parking lot was full, and there we were, one Louisiana license plate among many. The parking lot looked like it had been the sit of a parade—an Icehouse bottle in one space, a diaper in another. Port-a-potties were set up next to the entrance, and groups of girls were flirting with guys, smoking cigarettes, a bit of normalcy.

The interior of Lithonia Lighting is as big as my entire high school. Exposed steel beams line the ceiling, and giant fluorescent light fixtures add to the industrial-feel. Police barricades and yellow caution tape marked off areas for computers, for discount clothing racks, for the cafeteria tables arranged set up for the various services available (school registration, housing vouchers, food stamps, health care referrals, MARTA assistance, a bank line for Red Cross vouchers,) for the many waiting areas filled with folding chairs intended to make long lines more comfortable. And, in fact, the lines were organized, too—one took a yellow ticket with a number which was then called out on a PA system, that screeched occasionally, annoying, but mere background noise at this point. The building buzzed.

We went to work. Again the system had changed. The manila 901 folders were a thing of the past, just like the debit cards had disappeared a week ago. A week ago we checked Ids much less fervently, erring on the side of sympathy when clients said they’d lost everything.. Now, ID was check thoroughly. (Last week, we found out that a single family had been awarded over $5,000—much of which was returned, but… and then there was the story of Ms. Hogg, and Atlanta resident who posed as an evacuee, and, along with her eight-year old son, even moved in with a 22-year old Georgia State graduate, who ended up calling the cops.) The system was now both more and less thorough. No longer to we record narratives. No longer do we ask if clients need medical assistance. We simply check and double-check Ids and issue checks.

But for me, it is different, and today was a wonderful day of connecting. The Red Cross Headquarters first of all discovered that we are from New Orleans, and their PR department came downstairs, eager to use our story for their image. Then, they sent us on to do casework, rather than the humdrum filing and copying that now takes place at Monroe. And in the casework, I met Sidney and Wendell-both men in their sixties who looked far older than that, and both men from New Orleans who wanted to return. Wendall of Soniat Street even teared up when I asked him his plans. “I’ll go home,” he said. “I’ll go home.” I told him how happy it made me feel to hear that he planned to return, and nearly cried, myself.

Later I saw a former student of mine—a young black real estate agent who nearly failed my class, but who I pulled through, with great additional effort on my behalf. He plans to return, too, and I can see how the upper-class in him has affected his perspective on the rebuilding of New Orleans. “It will never be the same New Orleans,” he told me. “It will be better.” He talked about the ninth ward, about how the laws of imminent domain will displace people, unfortunately, but that may not be an altogether bad thing.

I am torn on this issue. There was an editorial in the AJC today about the danger of gentrification in the rebuilding of New Orleans, and here I am—a genrificationee—worrying about what more white people like me will do to our beloved culture. Oh… I just am so WORRIED about the city’s future.

After we did casework, I walked past a young woman, her arms covered in cursive tattoos of boyfriends past, and she asked me if I could give her gas money and a ride. She and her son were sitting on an island of her luggage—a massive amount of it, her whole life packed away. So Simon and I cleared out the cab of the truck, and Andrea, her brother AJ, and her son Vondrice rode with us to downtown Atlanta. They’d been in Baton Rouge with family and had made the difficult decision to relocate—to start over. Vondrice said hardly a word. He sucked on a grape lollipop while we talked about Andrea’s and AJ’s home in Plaquemines Parish. They’d lived in a trailer given to Andrea by her father, and the trailer was now flooded, gone. AJ wanted to return—sooner to check on the damage, and later to be a fisherman again. I think AJ must be no more than 24, Andrea, 26. Vondrice is six, and what he said when I asked him, “So what do you think of all this?” indicated both the resilience and vulnerability of a child: “It’s nothing.” He kept talking about “diving right in” and a swimming pool and an aquarium. “Where’d the swimming pool,?” I asked him. “The aquarium? In New Orleans? In Baton Rouge?” Vondrice said: “In my backyard.” “Aw, that’s nothing,” I said. I won him over.

To be a child living through this! To say that it’s nothing, when of course it must feel like everything!

We dropped them off at the Days Inn on Spring Street and Andrea tried to give me a twenty. We both got teary when I told her she must be crazy, trying to give me money. “We went through this, too,” I said. We hugged. We hugged again. I gave her my number, and while they checked in, Vondrice and I tried to stare each other down. The excitement was now apparent—a swimming pool in a hotel! Two weeks, the Red Cross will pay for, and then… and then? I worry about them. Maybe they will call.

WARNING: I took notes during Bush’s speech, many of which need editing (as most of this blog does…)

Bush gives his “Presidential Address on Hurricane Katrina Recovery” from in front of the St. Louis Cathedral. September 15th, 2005. (I don’t know why I bothered with my crappy effort at typing this--

In Chalmette, when a man tried to break into a home, he was invited in to stay. (Aw, yes, even amongst the poor, there’s sweetness. If only all poor people were like that!)”A powerful American determination to clear the ruins, and build better than before.” “Our whole nation cares about you” (no, hey don’t.) This pledge:
“Throughout the area hit buy the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes…” (Don’t use your language of Iraq on us!) “There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and New Orleans will rise again.”

1. To meet the immediate needs of those who left their home and all of their possessions behind. Dept of HS registering evacuees. More than 500,000 have gotten emergency help. “That’s 1-877-569-3317.” “we will pay fro your travel to get back to your loved ones” (except Andrea said she had to pay $100/each for them to get to Atlanta to a new life. I have asked for more than 60 bullion.

2. To help citizens pf Gulf Coast overcome this. Get people out of the shelters by the middle of October. I will work with Congress to ensure that the states are reimbursed. Housing is urgently needed for rescue workers and the workers who will rebuild the area. The temporary housing will be as close to the construction area as possible to they can rebuild in a “sensible, well-planned way.” “Our goal is to get the work done quickly.” “There will be many important decisions an many details to resolve.

The federal government will be fully engaged in the mission, but local government will be in control of the planning and rebuilding…

3.) When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm. “There is also some, deep, persistent poverty that has roost in racial discrimination…” “More families should own, not rent those houses.” “Americans want he Gulf Coast not just to cope, but to overcome.”

“We’ll build HIGHER and better” (Make the pie higher!)

I Propose:

The Gulf Opportunity Zone. Immediate incentive for businesses. It is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty.”
Worker Recovery Accounts of up to $5,000 for job training, education, and child care.

Urban Homesteading Act: Provide building sites to low income people free of charge, based on a lottery. They in turn will agree to build… (Habitat.)

“Protecting a city that sits lower than the water around it is not easy…” City and state will have a large part in the work that ensues (levees.)

“The Armies of Compassion” give our reconstruction effort “its humanity.”

USA—an information clearinghouse so that families can find work within the regions.

“In this great national enterprise, important work can be doe by everybody.”

“The danger to our citizens reaches much farther than a fault line or a floodplain.”

Immediate review of emergency plans in every major city.

Massive flood, major supply and security, and an evacuation of more than 1,000,000 people.

“The systems was not well-coordinated… it requires greater federal authority… When the federal government fails… I am responsible for the problem, and its solution.”

“Better prepared for any challenge of nature or act of evil men…”

“Every time, the people from this land have come back to build anew. Americans have never left our destiny to the whims of nature…”

“Yet we will live to see the Second Line.”


Tim Russert’s comment: one speech alone will not solve his political problems. “It’s a tall order—he began tonight.” “New Orleans is an American city that has a real soul…” but many are afraid that we may not be able to capture that…

The first American City of the 21st century to be rebuilt… and we can take place in that.

September 17, 2005

Another loss from the storm: Anthony, who has announced that he will not return. What will New Orleans be without my Anthony? He has enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago and wants to get a masters degree in broadcasting…

A near-disaster: our relationship. How do people stay in love through storms, real and metaphorical? Simon almost left this morning. We have not been loving to each other, and this is mostly my fault. I said something last night, too, that was terrible: “You remind me of all that I am not.” It was terrible and it was true, and it is my problem to deal with, not his. I only hope I can grow the fuck up so I don’t destroy this relationship…

September 20, 2005

The work at the Red Cross has shifted from immediate relief to filing and catching up with fraud. It is uncomfortable, disconcerting work, catching a family who has received aid twice, perhaps three times, using different spellings of names, different centers, or different family members. I have also been answering calls from clients who have had problems with their Red Cross Client Assistance Cards. I take down their information and listen to them talk about how difficult it has been.

Interestingly, when I did case work, people did not seem to offer their stories as readily—they tiredly went through their information with me and waited for the check. Over the phone, though, I feel like a customer service representative who’s getting a good dose of someone’s mind. One woman living in Metairie tells me how blooming ridiculous it is that she cannot use her card, and I can hear a TV in the background. She is back in Metairie, back in her home, and I am mad that she is so eager to gripe. So I tell her that I, too, am a Katrina-victim and she shuts up quick. Another woman who I tell my own story finds it inspiring and even gets her husband to come to the phone to say hello to me. She and her husband had a home in the Lower Ninth ward. They have a sheet rock business, and in spite of the fact that she has lost her home, she considers herself lucky. “It’s so great, what you’re doing,” she says, and for a moment it really feels that way.

Next a call comes in from a young man whose baby is allergic to the particular brand of formula the Salvation Army is giving out. I tell him to wait four hours before trying his CAC card again, and he tells me that his baby can’t wait four hours to eat.

While I answer calls, I am preparing client folders for filing, and I have a moment to look at the notes of other caseworkers. In on of the other training sessions, the Red Cross must have given them specific instructions for the narrative (we were told to ask open-ended questions, and then later to forego the narrative, altogether, in the interest of time.) In the space that reads, “Provide a brief description of what happened to the family affected by the disaster.” File after file reads, in large, diagonal script, “KATRINA.” In the space that reads, “What are the family’s plans, both long and short term,” the case workers have written, “DAY-BY-DAY.”

September 24, 2005

Today hurricane Rita hit (I just wrote Katrina and had to erase that… so used to saying that now: Hurricane Katrina, over and over.) The eye passed over Lake Charles, Louisiana, and New Orleans was flooded again.

We have been here for a month. And it all STILL seems surreal and like a weird, extended vacation.

Tom and Brandi are here. Tom came for a job interview in Athens, GA, and we went to Susan and Dick Clark’s cabin in Blue Ridge, GA for two nights of rest. Before that trip, I had difficulty sleeping. I mean, I couldn’t GET to sleep, and once I was asleep, I woke up over and over again. At the cabin, we all slept and slept and slept and now all I want to DO is sleep.

I have had several hurricane dreams. Most recently I dreamt about black New Orleans boys dragging dying animals along the neutral ground. Teasing them, trying to make them play. The dogs didn’t protest. In another dream, an obese woman was airlifted and then dropped into sewage water so she could swim laps for exercise. I was going to a concert to watch some band or another, and was buying flashy nipple-lights for festivity from a store where there were armed guards trying to prevent looting. There was water everywhere and I rode in a boat.

September 25, 2005

Simon proposed to me. I said yes. We will wait for New Orleans…

Thursday, September 08, 2005

September 6, 2005

“Oprah in New Orleans” (ET):
“This makes me so mad! This should not have happened!”

September 6, 2005

Simon and I were trained as Red Cross case workers today. We process the paperwork of evacuees and award them "Client Assistance Cards" which work as tax-free pre-paid credit cards to help people get on their feet. I was nervous about admitting that we are from New Orleans because I though we might not be able to work (on the sign-up sheet, you check a box answering whether or not you "received damage" from the disaster. I puquestiontion mark. Of course we DID, but ours is so little, relatively speaking.) It seems, though, that they will take who they can get. The demand is CRAZY, and there is little to no proof that people are who they say they are. At any rate, today I saw, and processed Client Assistance Cards for:
Dawanda and son of Uptown New Orleans: $910
Anna Polk and husband of St. Bernard, who were rescued from their roof and who smelled of mold: $910
Dawn Carter, husband, and son of Gentilly Forest: $1280
Dawin of Kenner: $665

The woman who taught us traininginig course was Elaine Sheldon. She was clearly tirtearyarym, but strong, like a tough and tender mother. I will write more about this later, I hope.

What an exhausting day.

September 7, 2005

“Memo Shows FEMA Chief Delayed Asking for Help With Katrina”

Red Cross said on The O’ Reilly Factor last night that they were not allowed inside the city because of a “local decision.”

Forced evacuations now expected to be carried outÂ… beginning sometime today. A question, though, is how many people will come under this category.

“More pumps are arriving day by day from various places across this country and also from countries like Germany and Holland.”

“Are people going to be forced to go to other states or forced to live on a cruise-ship? People are anxious to get settled.” --Houston. “People say that they are getting the runaround, that no one is talking to them.”

“You can’t do that! They need to let us really know what is going on. We can’t be running around like chickens without heads.”

“Dome-City” has its own zip code.

Katrina will probably wind up costing the economy about 400,000 jobs.unprecedentedp as an unprecendented rebuilding begins, estimated at 200 billion dollars. Much of this depends on how hard Katrina hit the energy infrastructure. All of this as Wall Street watches the weather—Tropical Storm Ophelia off of Florida.

September 7th:

Day two of Red Cross volunteer work.

When we arrived, a young and new volunteer came to me asking for help with a woman who needed medical attention and the appropriate forms for her children. Strangely enough, I knew just what to do, and so I spent 15 minutes with a 23-year-old mother of two. She rattled off a list of ailments, finally declaring, "I've got lots wrong with me!" She wanted depression medication, ADHD meds for her son, asthma inhalers, and therapy for her youngest son, who had cerebral palsy. She looked wild-eyed and tired, and I simply jotted down notes:
"Suffers from depression" and "Needs asthma medication" and "Requires treatment for cerebral palsy." But I knew that the nurses at the Red Cross were overwhelmed, and that she would likely not get the help she wanted. Her older son (the one with ADHD and "a slight speech impairment," which I left off his form,) kept saying, "excuse me, Miss, excuse me," and then, "We need strawberry milk."

Among the people whose forms I processed were two cousins who'd been to three different shelters in two states. They were thuggish dudes from the 8th Ward, covered in tattoos and scarred. Mike had a gold canines and two teardrops tattooed on his face. His arm was wrapped in shiny scars that could have been dog bits or knife wounds, who knows. He called to me, "Sarah--can you help us?" and then corrected himself: "I mean, MISS Sarah." I said that as shouldrleansknown, they shold have knoen better than to call me simply, Sarah, and I asked them to wait. When I was done with Miss Mary (more on her later,) I called over to Mike, who wore a hat that said, "Ready to Die."

"Okay, Mr. Ready-to-Die," I said. "Let's go." They got a kick out of that. Ready to Die is a record label, I guess. Anyways, Mike's cousin,Kadeem, showed me his gunshot wounds from being in New Orleans post-Katrina. He'd been shot Orleansback by the New Orleans SWAT team, who he seemed to forgive for being "stressed out and trigger happy." His wounds were stitched up in puckered cresents, and I asked if he needed additional medical attention, but he said all he wanted was a job and a place to live. In fact, after I'd told them I was from New Orleans, Mike asked how they could volunteer, too. He said so many people had helped them and they wanted to do something too, more than sitting around in a hotel room, waiting. Kadeem was medicated and tired and wanted to go. I didn't ask him to tell me what happened. In fact, I began to feel angry at some of the other volunteers, who seemed to be more interested in collecting stories than in helping. One man, in particular, was recounting some of the "crazy tales" he'd heard. "I could write a book," he said, and I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself. An elderly woman was still having her work processed and this asshole reminded me of fucking Anderson Cooper--all of New Orleans, his pathetic charity case.

Where was it yesterday that I heard someone say that pity is a form of fear?

My favorite moment of the day was shared with Mary Adams, a 78-year-old widow who kept saying to me, "I didn't even want to come down here! My daughter made me! I'm independent! I'm weird! I just want to live alone!" She owned a home on N. Rocheblave, and had left behind her dog, Lucky (there was a long story attatched to Lucky.) I mentioned ways of her finding out about Lucky--perhaps the SPCA, but it seemed she didn't want to think about him. She said a neighbor might be looking after him, but she couldn't be sure because he was "crazy enough to stay" and her other neighbor was tied to an oxygen tube for her emphysema.

Mary writes poetry. ("I'm weird! I just want to live alone!") She writes limericks, too, and she told me this one:

There was an old lady, said WHY
can't I look in my ear with my eye?

If I put my mind to it,
I'm sure I can do it!

You never can tell 'till you try.

Oh, she made me smile. I hope I hear from her again. Mary is New Orleans. Fiercely independent. Weird. A bit arthritic, but don't mind that!

SIGH! Back to the Red Cross...

Monday, September 05, 2005

September 4, 2005

ItÂ’s like the Wild West here. Good guys and bad guys, they all have guns. The AP reported that the police shot 8 people crossing a bridge with guns. Then: the Army Corps of Engineers say that the police shot contractors walking across a bridge.

The President and the Governor sat down and I said, “You two have to get isynchnc. If you people don’t get synchync, people are going to die.” They both shook their heads and said, “Yeah.” I said, “Great.” The President looked at me; I think he was a little surprised. He said, I offered two options… I was ready to move today. The governor said she needed 24 hours. *(Don’t know what this is about.) “The bottom line is, help did not come.”

Dept. Bobby Font, President of Jeff Parish, breaking down on TV after losing his mother, who drowned: “Nobody’s coming to get us, nobody’s coming to get us.”

September 5, 2005

Today things seem to be about “moving on,” about rebuilding or relocating. According to Jackie, though, and the message boards at, there are still people needing rescue. We are eager to return, and happy to hear that our house is dry (though we suspect it will be looted by the time we are allowed back in.)

It is also a day about deaths, and they have switched from “search and rescue” to “recovery” efforts. Bloated bodies floating in the street. People dead in their homes. Just as we were told, and just as it was all once “prophesied,” but still shocking. One AP photo showed a makeshift tomb constructed in the middle of a sidewalk near Jackson Street, uptown. “Here lies Vera, May God Help Us.”

The animals are dying, too. More than 1/3 of the aquariums fish have died because there is no power to pump oxygen into the tanks, and two endangered California sea otters are struggling to live. The people who have remained in the city talk animals haunting sounds of animas crying at night—animals starving int the homes their owners left them in. One man, who refuses to leave because he will not leave his animals, says that today he will break into homes and feed pets, and the SPCA has been breaking into homes to rescue animals. A skeletal staff of ten at the Audubon Zoo is struggling to care for the 1400 animals there. The numbers of animals that we’ll lose! I am so happy to have my (unhappy) kitties. I know that Jackie’s heart must have been positively breaking—she who could not turn away a stray. I wonder what happened to her dearies.

The PR campaigns have begun, and the politicians sound like a broken record: “Now is not the time for the blame game.” Well, when one sees the numbers of corpses floating in the murky water, and when one sees that they are the corpses of the poor and the black, of COURSE they don’t want the “blame game” to begin. They’d rather the race and class discussion not happen at all.

CNN: “Oprah’s even here today!”

CNN: Some people who have heard they are on their way to new lives in Utah have refused to get on the plane.

I would have made it through today without crying had the supermarket not been so utterly confusing. Had a good cry looking for cayenne pepper for the chili I made this evening.

Pentagon was trying to cover its ass. The President blamed Governor Blanco blamed FEMA blamed the hurricane itself. WE KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN, and I will not fucking hear these excuses. If those who remained in New Orleans were affluent or white, they absolutely would have gotten help faster. But then again had they been affluent, they wouldnÂ’t have been left behind in the first place.

Response from Pentagon dude to question of, “How do you account for how long it took for help to arrive?”: “That’s an interesting question… and it will be one of the lessons learned. But you know, ‘delay’ is a relative term. There are various ways of getting through hurricane-ravaged areas, and we will of course explore them.”

NBC Dateline: “There will still be problems with differences… Two issues we almost never discuss honestly, unless we can’t avoid them: race and class.”

I wonder who will want to return to New Orleans. I wonder if the poor who are now being cared for in shelters, etc., will want to return to their lives in New Orleans, or if it will be the pet project of the more affluent. How will we maintain the cityÂ’s character when it has lost so many of the people who made it what it was?

Mayor thinks up to 10,000 could be dead.

Yet another reason the storm has been so devastating for the poor: it hit on the 29th. “The first of the month in America is a very important day. By the 29th, you don’t have any money, you’re out.”—woman on Dateline.

Detective from he NOPD, speaking on NBC:
“People thought they had to buy tickets for the helicopters. That stuff kind of hits you.”

In the “Stories of Hope” department: Rev. Jesse Jackson (who’s getting to sound like a broken record himself, however true the song) told of a story of the students being evacuated by bus from Xavier University. When they happened upon a bridge, the people there formed a human chain in order to prevent the buses from leaving them behind, so the Rev. got off and they prayed together and la-la-la, it was all good.

What to expect in Week Two of a disaster of this scale: disease and violence—Dr. Steven Garner of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Center speaking on Fox (“America’s Challenge: New Orleans”)

I really, really, really want to go home. What has been particularly difficult for me is that I wasn’t in New Orleans to evacuate, so I feel almost like I will be going home at any moment, like I am still on summer break. And it’s strange because I can deal with the “big stuff,” since I have no choice, really, but it’s things like the post office, the grocery store, that I can’t handle. Also, I do not want to be around people who don’t understand. I want very badly to be with the people of New Orleans—to hear their stories, however horrific, and to listen to their plans, or lack thereof, for the future. I just want to be near those who get New Orleans, and why the thought of losing that city hurts me worse than any heartbreak, ever.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

September 4, 2005

“This Was Our Home”

In all of this trying to stay off the internet that I’ve been doing, I missed out on a story about my dear Jackie. Quite harrowing: News, Local & Regional Story
Published: Saturday, September 3, 2005
Local family seeks help for stranded relative

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Some help for the flooded South is on the way from Mahoning Valley agencies.
AUSTINTOWN — Stranded with friends in her New Orleans home, surrounded by floodwaters, frightened of looters, running low on food and water, and pregnant, Jackie Mang, formerly of Austintown, said she and others need help but aren't getting it.
Mang called her mother, Liz Nelson of Austintown, on Sunday from an office building in downtown New Orleans, where she and her boyfriend, Brian Marchese, took refuge from Hurricane Katrina.
The next time Mang's family heard from her was Tuesday, when she called on a cell phone they had found. She, Marchese and six others were in her home, where they had gone from the office building before the flooding.
"How they got there, I don't know," said Beth McCartney of Girard, Mang's sister.
Mang called her mother on the cell phone again Thursday and said they hadn't seen anybody for four days.
Mang and her friends are apparently safe from the flooding, but the water that surrounds her home and probably protects them from looters also has them trapped.
"They don't have a boat or any other way to escape," McCartney said.
In siege mode
Most recently, shortly after noon Friday, Mang called her mother briefly to let her family know she is still all right.
However, her mother said Marchese told her they are heavily armed to protect themselves. Marchese, who described conditions as being like a those of a Third World country or a war zone, said the military is needed on every corner.
Nelson said her daughter seems to be somewhat irrational, worrying about things such as her lost identification, and has a thyroid condition for which she has no medicine.
"I think she's in shock. She was crying and afraid and could hear shots fired and see fires. She is talking like she doesn't understand the extent of what has happened to New Orleans," Nelson said.
Nelson said her daughter is OK for the moment, but they have only about a week's worth of food and water left.
There are eight of them hunkered down together in the house, taking turns standing guard, staying together and sharing what they have, Nelson said.
Lack of response
"I am very frustrated that we can't get help to Jackie and others in New Orleans. We respond quickly to disasters in foreign countries. How could we let it go almost a week without getting food and water to those people? We have people dying," she said.
Nelson said she just wants to get her daughter home and safe.
"Then we'll put the pieces back together and go from there," she said.
Ironically, Mang is usually home this week for the Canfield Fair. But because she had signed up to start classes at the University of New Orleans, about which she was very excited, she could not follow her usual routine.
"As a mother, you feel helpless. I want to get on a plane and go down there and get a boat and get her. I can't understand why they don't get them out of there," Nelson said.
A frustrated McCartney said she has called every authority in Louisiana that she can think of, including the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and even CNN, but has been unable to get help for her sister and her friends.
McCartney said that she finally got through to the Louisiana State Police and gave them her sister's address but that she is unaware of any rescue attempt.
"I was at the point Thursday, I could hardly talk I was so frustrated. It makes you wonder why they weren't ready. A big city like that should be prepared," McCartney said.
Mang, 31, a 1991 graduate of Austintown Fitch High School, has lived in New Orleans six years.
I spent the day trying to track down news of Jackie on and Craigs list and finally found out that she is “okay.”
AND NOW—this email—I just got it minutes ago, from my dear Jackie:

Just a note to say Im alive.
i am extremely tramatized.
The anarchy,storm,flood water and the smell of rot in the city can not be put into words.
I am healthy except my stomach is sick and my feet are slightly infected from contaminated water.
My house is perfectly intact and all the trees fell away from it.
The French Quarter from Canal to Burgundy up to Poland Avenue is an island.
It is starting to smell like bodies and birds are starting to flock.
We didn't get water in our neighborhood until yesterday.
Ive become a pro at looting for food and all the neighbors get together.
I am now outside Baton Rouge.
We had to siphon gas to leave and it was stressfull with all the down trees and lines,military and gangs.
People in our neighborhood are walking on the streets with shotguns,axes,bats.
Houses are getting robbed and buildings are getting blown up.
People are hotwiring city buses and running them into houses
People are getting shot over gasoline and water.
I don't know who's alive and who's dead.
People from the neighborhood are taking canoes over St.Claude and France area to pull people out of water.
There are dead Children on Canal Street
Dog Packs are forming
I am mentally having some problems.
People are getting raped
New Orleans is the most scariest place on the planet
The cops are looting and drinking beer riding on the back of cars with rifles
Its under a police state
They are shooting people and taking away our weapons
We had a gun,ax,hooks,a staff,cleaver and a few knives.
I will be able to repond but please dont expect too much from me right now.
Im really over alot of this.
Masako-Couldn't even get past Claiborne to check your house. Water too deep.
Sarah-Your house is still intact-no damage Water receded,your car is there but someone put a screwdriver in the gas tank to get gas.
Robin-Couldn't get to your house because of water and violence.
Tark and David-Houses are fine as far as I can see
Steve Garafano-House looks ok but the brick fence is all over the road.One window may be broken.
People are robbing houses so this is only storm damage.
I do have photograps to download and will later but Im really fucked up right now.
Im having a hard time in society.
I hope we can all return.
i may have more stories later when I can.
The government are idiot. They left us to die.
Sarah we had to use your house for resources-thank you.
Friends that gave me keys to their houses-thank you.
You helped us survive.
Noone ever take anything for granted.
I am grateful for a flushing toilet
We had to use buckets and go to neighborhood pools to gather water.
I am grateful for ice
And for life.
there are still children there!
There are Old people
People with their limbs rotting
people lying on the street on mattresses.
Yes this is the bywater.
This was our home.
Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans:

August 31, 2005

I have been watching television for the past three days straight—I believe one would call it being “glued to the TV”—“clinging to hopes” that my home might be spared the flooding that has “claimed” New Orleans. I have a newscaster’s vocabulary. My parents’ home in Atlanta is my “Hurricane Headquarters,” and I’ve heard it might remain that way for “12 to 16 weeks.” This according to CNN tickertape; I have yet to hear from the mayor, himself, except via or, where in forums we swap desperate questions about neighborhoods none of us can see, and where a woman offered everything in her home in exchange for the rescue of her cat. My own three cats are asleep with my boyfriend in the bedroom of my parents’ basement where I grew up. I have them, and I have a crate containing my diaries and some of my photos. What I want, though, is everything—all of it, back.

And it is difficult to believe that we won’t have it all back. We strain our eyes to see street signs in the footage of New Orleans, and we recognize familiar landmarks—the Naval Base, Andrew Jackson’s statue at the Square, the hotels in the CBD, the Mother-in-Law Lounge, some of them underwater, some of them not. It appears that our own house may be spared the flooding, but then what? We will have our things: our Sleep-Number bed, our two computers, our stereo, TV, CDs, kitchen equipment, framed paintings, etc., etc. We will have these things to load into our car and to add to my childhood bedroom, our new home.

Other things we see on TV, things we are told by the news, things we read in the paper:

· A story of a woman who lost her elderly mother. She tried to convince her mother to climb to the attic with her, but her mother decided to stay because her Steinway grand piano had already gone under.
· A three-year old child, “exhausted, hot, sick,” “desperate” with his parents on the I-10 overpass, waiting to be told where to go.
· A four hundred pound woman—one of the “difficult rescues” carried from a rooftop to a helicopter.
· People waving from balconies, their “injured” heads “wrapped in towels” that those of us who live in New Orleans know are really doo-rags.
· People looting the stores on Canal Street. “The people here are desperate,” says CNN producer Susan the Giant Bitch, “desperate to get out.” These are the obedient old people, and the nice whiteys, you can hear in her voice. “And then,” she says, “there are the people who are looting the stores for a pair of new shoes.” She, who has likely never known poverty, known desperation, who will make it safely out of here with mo problem. She and others offer their judgment.
· The looting of the Wal-Mart, where law enforcement officers were given “unwritten permission” to take what they needed, including a DVD of Queen Latifah’s “Beauty Shop.”
· People pushing carts, orange construction bins, a baby in a cooler, through the flooded streets of New Orleans, trash bags slung over shoulders, making their way toward the Superdome.
· Buses lining up to take people away from the Superdome, with its “ungodly heat,” its overflowing toilets, its second-level suicide of a man previously engaged in an otherwise ordinary game of dominoes.
· Comparisons to 9/11, to the Asian tsunami, to the dust bowl, to “hell on earth.”

Things we don’t see, aren’t told, don’t read in the paper:
· Where to go.
· Our house.
· How many are dead.
· What will happen next.
· When the breaks in the levee and floodwalls will be plugged.
· What will happen to our jobs.
· What has happened to the animals.
· What has happened to Jackie, who is pregnant and stayed behind, who weathered the storm on the tenth floor of a hotel that I hope is not the one they keep showing photos of, the backdrop of a wind-battered American flag a la 9/11.
· When things are likely to get better.

We wait and see and wait and hear and wait and read and it is the most maddening and frustrating thing ever and I am too wired to cry and too—um, uh, stunned? to act appropriately devastated when all the people who I haven’t heard from in years call to find out how I am, how we are. How are we?

I haven’t cried since this happened, I mean since it actually happened. In the Chicago O’Hare airport, I cried with aplomb! to the CNN broadcast that prophesized New Orleans’ doom. There was a man sitting a safe two seats over, his feet propped up on the chair in front of him, half reading a paper, half-glancing at the broadcast, and I wanted to tell him that I was from New Orleans, that that was why I was crying; to ask if he had been to New Orleans, and had he loved it as much as I do? As much as she deserves to be loved? What is it about airports that makes us so intensely private, and yet so publicly weepy? Travel has always made me nostalgic. And so I cried for New Orleans, either accepting or in denial of her already being gone.

When the plane took off, we were in that ordinary zoom, about to do the lurchy-takeoff bit, when all of a sudden the plane slowed and turned dramatically. The captain told us that it had been “a small warning light”—you know, the ones that are nothing like the big warning lights—which in his captain’s croon seemed both small, yes, nothing at all, and like the elephant in the room, too. Later we were told that planes are sometimes like laptops: they just need to be re-booted and everything’s fine.

But I was ready to go on that plane, and I said my goodbyes as we ascended, romanticized backyard swimming pools and rock quarries and interstates and cried a little more. I was coming to terms with the unknown, I guess.

And so now I know a bit more, and I am that much less weepy, that much less sentimental. It feels counterintuitive, given the TV footage, that I would become more calm rather than less so as I watch the conditions deteriorate, the Mississippi “reclaim” Tangipahoa Parish, the desperate people of New Orleans misbehave and behave and know nothing and know everything. All day they are rescued and all day they are surely dying in hot attics and all night they will be riding away from New Orleans and toward the Houston Astro Dome and all day I tell my friends who call that I can’t believe it either, that it’s terrible, that I don’t know about my home or what will happen next and I’m just glad to be alive, and even that feels hollow.

September 1, 2005

This morning the news was even more disconcerting, though I will remember today mostly for my Post Office cry.

First, Fox reported that shots had been fired at helicopters at the Superdome and that the evacuation had been halted. Then, men who’d arrived at the dry spot of I-10 outside New Orleans cowered in their boats, claiming FEMA had told them not to go in to the city because it was “too dangerous.” It all reeked of misinformation and the kind of urban myth that panic encourages. Matt and Amanda called from Matt’s brother’s in Houston and Amanda said there’d been rapes and that she was afraid that since her house was on dry ground it would be looted. It seemed no one could confirm or deny any of this.

On CNN, a spokesman for the National Guard said that “apparently” there’d been “reports” of shots fired near the Superdome, but that it was a Chinook helicopter, and if one were familiar with a Chinook, one might realize how loud and large they are, and therefore how difficult to know where shots came from, etc. Later there was a report of guardsmen who’d been hit, and there were all sorts of reports of violence, and looters and snipers. Ah-ha! Jesse Jackson is in the background and he just said to Larry King that he thinks that all of this has been exaggerated. That’s my man. He just said that the $6/gallon gas in Atlanta could be called looting, itself. And ah, yes, now he’s blaming it on the greenhouse gases. And still he has his faith. Oh, to be a Reverend.

At any rate, I wrote a letter to the editor in response to a letter in the AJC:
“Warnings Ignored”
“In the past few days, we have seen dramatic footage of rooftop rescues, heard incredible stories of survival and seen disgraceful footage of looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have seen or heard none of this? If only those people had heeded the warnings and followed the mandatory evacuation orders.”
--David H. Lash, Atlanta.

My response:
Sarah D__New Orleans
(Currently c/o Gary and Eleanor D__
Decatur, GA)

To the Editor:

It is easy for readers like David E. Lash (“Warnings Ignored,” 9/1) to condemn “those people” in New Orleans who did not evacuate the city in time—easy from the perspective of privilege. But had Lash been one of “those people”—had he been among the 30% of New Orleanians living below the poverty level, among the 40% who are elderly or children, the 30% without means of transportation—had he actually known what it was like to be a resident of New Orleans faced with evacuating their home, knowing that they could be leaving it behind forever, perhaps he would suspend his judgment.

I consider myself lucky to be a resident of New Orleans who was able to make it out safely. I can now only hope that Americans like Lash will lend help rather than place blame so that I will be able to share that city with “those people”—my fellow New Orleanians—again.

Sarah D__
New Orleans, LA

I hear phrases like “those people” and “these people” and “the people here,” etc., and within the current context, these words seem to reveal something very ugly about us and our capacity for empathy. Those people, these people—it is as if the people of New Orleans, those caught in this horrific refugee crisis (who knew there could be a refugee crisis in the US?) are not people, but things. Yesterday my dad said how funny it was to happen upon the TV, then muted, as an image of a fat woman lugging her belongings through the floodwaters to the high and dry ground of I-10 was coupled with the running ticker tape that announced some scientific discovery of another life form. The media is so irresponsible, too, with their contextualizing of words and images. A family loading up a car with their belongings in order to evacuate is couple with a sidebar that reads, “Looting out of control in downtown New Orleans.”

Another funny and completely off contextual coupling:
CNN broadcast video of a truckload of angry New Orleanians yelling “Fuck Ray, fuck Ray” (Ray Nagin is our mayor) and one had the impression that the newscaster didn’t even realize what was being said, so thick was the New Orleans black dialect. Shortly thereafter, during the FEMA briefing, CNN posted a sidebar that read: “Linguists will be available for those who do not speak English.” One had the impression that the outsiders are the ones who need to have New Orleans dialect translated. At any rate, I was proud of my New Orleanians at that moment.
And, oh, bless Harry Connick, Jr, too, who said on MSNBC that no, he would not comment on the looting because he had not known the poverty that many in New Orleans had, had not lost his house and all of his belongings, and could not say that had he been through the same thing, grown up the same way, he, too, would not have wanted to have himself a plasma TV, too…

The Post-Office incident was this:
I went to the Post Office to fill out a temporary change of address form, and when the teller asked me how long I wanted them to forward my mail, I didn’t know. She suggested six months, until April, and I think she could see how that affected me, so she suggested January instead, which seemed okay—much more doable, only she entered January 31st instead of 1st, and I’d really wanted the 1st because it seemed much more hopeful that way—like a new year in a new New Orleans.

So I cried and my mom cried and we stood in the parking lot and cried and I wished I had a bumper sticker declaring New Orleans my home, I wished I had a T-shirt, because then I wouldn’t have to explain.

Yes, the mood of the day has been a bad one. The realization of its being really, really awful has begun to sink in. It did seem, indeed, like there was no real help in New Orleans, what with the images of people yelling “fuck Ray” and that of a dead grandmother in a wheelchair next to a corpse wrapped in a white sheet: only the beginning of those, I think. And with the rhetoric spat by FEMA, but the office of Homeland Security, by all of that talk meant to comfort that sounds just EMPTY when coupled with what we are watching.

And then there is this: I am afraid that because our house seems to be on high ground, dry ground, it will be looted, which didn’t matter before, losing all of the stuff to the flood, but which now I can’t bear to lose because I don’t want it to be true, any of this talk of the chaos in New Orleans. I just want it all to be like the words of so many concerned friends: “It will be okay.” Yeah, uh, okay.

Something else:
A woman in the makeshift hospital at Louis Armstrong National Airport wandering around, dazed, a Polaroid picture of her four-day-old baby in her hands—this baby who’d been taken from her and transferred and who she’d now lost. Even she couldn’t cry. I hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to cry over the cry-able things, and how easy it would be to
cry over a post office form.

September 2, 2005

“The reason that Hurricane Katrina’s destruction resonates with us so deeply is that New Orleans has always been America’s only monument to human frailty. Washington celebrates power. New York celebrates wealth. Chicago celebrates commerce. Only in New Orleans was the very basic nature of the human condition not only acknowledged, but elevated.”

“Only in this city could heroic—if strange—authors thrive. Only in this city could everyday people—residents who moved to the French Quarter for their own very personal reasons and everyday tourists from Milwaukee—come to lose their inhibitions without fear.”
“…And that is what most of us who’ve ever been there—ever lived those sweltering August days or just visited those rainy March nights—came away with. It is why the story of the city’s destruction is much more than poignant; it is, indeed, tragic. For perfectly good and entirely neutral reasons, nature dealt a terrible blow to the city, just as nature—and man—have before. And some other New Orleans will eventually rise from this catastrophe, just as it has from the fires and the plagues and the floods that have gone before.”

“But it will not be the same New Orleans, at least not to us. The sea has taken with it more than life: it has taken our belief that the gods, for some reason, smile on our frailties.”—Richard Parker.

And with that tiny word, “was,”—“Only in New Orleans was the very basic nature of the human condition not only acknowledged, but elevated”—I see how all that nostalgia I felt for New Orleans before the fact (oh, how some of the stories I’ve written about New Orleans seem to resonate now) was, in fact, earned. Was, was, was.

Simon and I stayed up late last night talking about a number of things that come with this new “was”: the way we don’t know how to grieve this properly (I was upset with Simon for spending all of yesterday writing down every single thing he heard on TV;) the way we don’t know how to be gracious house guests to my parents (I was upset at my dad for griping when I’d asked him to take down a series of topographical maps he has posted in the basement where we are living—maps I doubt he’s looked at in ages;) how we want to make the basement comfortable for the time being (because it could be months, we agreed, crying a little;) how we don’t know what we will do if we can’t go back to New Orleans any time soon, how we want to be back there now (because we feel so HELPLESS watching our city go down on TV;) how today we will go down to the Red Cross and offer our services as teachers, how we want to help the refugees (including ourselves;) write about this experience.

People who’ve called to worry after us (with apologies for perhaps forgetting some and with extra apologies for perhaps not knowing, exactly, what to say when you’ve called.)
Beverly Burns
Susan Clark
Nick McGinty
Paul and Aliya
Aunt Lynn
Peggy Barlett
Susan Rawlston
Maggie Lawson
Chuck and Sally
Paula Bokros
A couple of my mother’s students
Ann Keohane
Aunt Liza
Elliott Shaffner
Jim Hudson
Eloise Hally
Matt Suazo (who’s in Houston)

What a birthday, huh? I hope that Paw-Paw and Susan help you celebrate however you feel able. I would think it must be hard, what with all of the not knowing about the future… Jesus, this SUCKS!!!

But you, my girl, are one special lady, and you have worked your butt of this year, and you deserve nothing but love, love, love, today. So turn off the TV and eat some cake! If we were there, we’d come bearing gifts: wine and a carrot-zucchini cake and pasta primavera and Cranium and laughter.

We love and adore you, and we know how much you, like us, love and adore New Orleans. For your birthday, I would most like to give you (and us) our city back. What I can more realistically give you is our promise to help you—and the city—rebuild.

Here’s to many more birthdays—to be celebrated in New Orleans!

I was wondering aloud today: Do you think we will view our lives from now on as Pre-Katrina and Post-Katrina? I knew the answer, I did. We will. It will have its own anagram: Pre-K or Post-K (are they called anagrams? I can’t remember, and lordy the English teacher in me is no one right now.)

Vacuuming helped. I was vacuuming my old bedroom, trying to make it livable in an adult sense, and my dear kitties were afraid and I wanted to say, “Dear Kitties, why is it that you are always afraid of the vacuum when you know it only makes things cleaner?” And I thought simply for that short while: move furniture, vacuum cat litter, move objects, vacuum, vacuum, think.

It was better than unpacking. My bag was filled with books from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where I was before this, and that Me seemed like a universe away. There I was, comparing myself to these published writers with their important books, feeling like a nobody turd, like, “What do I have to say about life and living?” I attended lectures where the authors offered helpful suggestions along the line of suffering for one’s work, and I envisioned myself in my new-adult future, back at work at UNO, waking early in the morning to sit down at my desk and write devotedly about Whatever. I hadn’t realized how much I would suffer between then and now, and how tiny my suffering would seem compared to that of the New Orleans that is left behind.

The news of the day is that HELP FINALLY ARRIVED. FIVE FUCKING DAYS LATER, help arrived. The Fucking President even came for a little tour. On the radio—even on good old cynical NPR, people were talking about HOPE! And Governor Kathleen Blanco spoke on the tarmac of the airport about the rebuilding of the levees, which she would call “Project Hope.”

The other news of the day is not news at all, it is analysis of the obvious: the people left behind in New Orleans are the poor. They are black. They are elderly and children. They are the kind of people that get left behind all of the time, and here they are on our TV screen, unavoidable. Rep. Elijah Cummings of the Black National Caucus appeared on TV to offer this analysis: “The difference between those who have lived and those who have died in their tragedy will be poverty, age, and skin color.” And he couldn’t be more right. It gives new meaning to “White Flight”—that the whites of the city were able to leave because they were, not coincidentally, also the ones who could afford to.

After Cummings, Jesse Jackson, Jr., spoke. He said he was “appalled” that the media had “shifted the conversation” from the devastation of the lives of the victims of Katrina to “what people do” when overcome by such devastation, such desperation. Then, CNN cut him off to go to some Army Corps of Engineers dude who was talking about the obvious. But all afternoon and evening, the unavoidable subject continued to come up: Why are all of those black people on our TV screens? I am glad, frankly, that this dialogue will occur, though I suspect it will make me sick, sick, sick, to hear the short-sighted comments of the usual suspects: those who lack empathy, who tell homeless people to “get a job.” Get a fucking imagination.

Wow. I’m getting angry! This is a triumph!!!

September 3, 2005

I never thought that I’d see Geraldo Riviera in New Orleans—never. Typical Geraldo:
“Some of the most desperate, poorest people on earth were here… It was like Dante’s inferno… Dead bodies, a man shot for trying to rape a 13-year-old girl…” And of course he’s trying his darndest to get sound-bytes from anyone who will pass.

And I know it’s bad. It looks awful. But can we get some reality, folks? The words that fly around… all of the inflation.

“It is sludge and sewage, it is horrifying… the Convention Center now an eerie and garbage-strewn wasteland, but it is a lot better than the jungle it was last night.”

“Geraldo, thank you… your reporting has been really top notch, and you know it struck me as I was watching some of the evacuations earlier and I saw little black children helping elderly white people and I just thought about how this whole, uh, tragedy, has brought people together, you know, who might not ordinarily come into contact with each other. Your thoughts on that.”

“Oh… yeah. You know, you make me so emotional. You just can’t imagine it. Regardless of race or color or creed or religion, the human stories that have yet to emerge will touch your heart, and they will break your heart, there’s no doubt about it.”

Ah, yes: the Fox response to the race-conversation. Last night, Wynton Marsalis mentioned on 20/20 how he is sure that had the people left behind been wealthy and white, the situation would have been different. I believe him. I absolutely do. And what happens in—what happens to New Orleans from now on will speak to our capacity to acknowledge the complicated intersections of race and class in that city. I worry less about the infrastructure of the historic buildings, in fact, than I do the people and the culture. What scares me is that bourgeois people will swoop in with their money and their blueprints and they will build buildings identical in aesthetic to those that stood there before (with the exception of all-new everything) and they will not be affordable for the people who lived there before to return to. Who knows if we will be able to return, even? What if it becomes some fucking amusement park? Soulless like Atlanta, where I am stuck now.

Some guy from the Dept of Environmental ?? in St. Bernard Parish: “The City of New Orleans is going to be devastated. But I want to talk about the suburbs. Everyone seems to not focus on the suburbs. And these are predominantly white areas, areas where people are dying. And people are throwing the race card trying to save the people in New Orleans, but the people in St. Tammany and St. Bernard Parish are dying.”

I have no comment.

I have a job still! Good Lord, I am lucky. The University of New Orleans is apparently still 2/3 dry, and the web site says, “We are not sunk!!” (Exclamation marks and all.) My dad says that someone there is getting paid to sound optimistic, and maybe so, but I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a full-time job at UNO. I am now on paid “special leave,” and it appears that will be the case at least until the end of the year.

Simon, though, has lost his job. I can’t tell how he feels about it. Not great, I imagine, but we both feel so lucky, all things considered. This means that we can work on our teaching/tutoring plan.

The plan: To teach a “visiting class” at schools that have taken in Katrina students or at the shelters, themselves.

Objective: To encourage and facilitate journal keeping for the children (and perhaps adults) affected by Katrina. While these journals would be for the kids, themselves, we would certainly like to encourage them to share their stories, particularly their hopes for rebuilding.

It is soooo important that the people who were left behind have a say in the way New Orleans is rebuilt. And we hope that in getting people to think about it and write about it, the plans for rebuilding, themselves, may, in fact. Be impacted.

Fats Domino is okay.
Irma Thomas is still missing.

I hadn’t even THOUGHT about the musicians and the artists! Oh, God, what will they do? It would be wonderful if people across the US could give them JOBS… and in that way the “spirit if New Orleans” would be shared… people might begin to understand that it is not just the charming buildings and romantic trees that makes New Orleans—it is the music and the dancing. Maybe THAT’s what I should work on! Maybe I should be getting the bands GIGS! Hmmm…

Wow. I’m HOPEFUL! That is a REAL mother-fucking triumph!

Still no word from Jackie.

Finally spoke to Anthony, who was in a four-hour long line for gas in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He’d evacuated to Hattiesburg to a house he shared with “12 people, 2 dogs, and a ferret.” No water. No electricity. “Girl, I flushed a toilet for the first time just a day ago. Anthony is headed to his mom’s house in Chicago.

“This is a defining moment in our nation’s history.” –Wynton Marsalis on 20/20.

I hope that my children will look back on this time and be proud of me, be proud of us. (P.S. No, I don’t have any kids, but allow me to indulge in sentimentality—Fox News has done it to me.)

The NOAA has a website with photos of the city, but I can’t find our house. I know it must be there, but I can’t find it, and it made me feel sick, trying to look.

What also made me feel sick: Tom and Brandi have already moved on. They are looking for jobs in other cities and have said that they hope their house is totaled for the sake of ease. I know it’s reasonable, and that this is what we have to do, really, but I can’t help but feel like they are abandoning New Orleans. I guess all people don’t love it like I do. I love it so intensely, I’d go back no matter what the circumstance.

I know they do love it. I know they want to go back. It’s just they are married and want a family and have different ideas of home than I do. I had always thought I’d be one of those people who’d be at home anywhere. In fact, I saw myself kind of bopping around the world, making my home everywhere.

But then I moved to New Orleans. I remember telling myself, “Okay, sixth months: in six months I will be a singer and a writer, and if not, I’ll move.” I remember evacuating for Hurricane Georges in 1998, in fact, and deciding that if the city was wiped out then, I would move to New York. I was half-disappointed when it wasn’t because at the time I didn’t know myself, hadn’t yet fallen deeply in love with New Orleans.

And then I did: I fell in love. And six years, rather than six months later, I was singing and writing, and I knew that home was not these things, even, though knowing that I could do what I set out to do helped, but that it was the PLACE and the PEOPLE that made New Orleans my home. I can take me and my cats and my love, Simon, anywhere, but nowhere will be New Orleans, and I miss it like a missing limb.

I think it is VITAL that people who lived in, and loved the city (Pre-K) go back so we can have a voice in its rebuilding.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What’s hard: Talking about New Orleans with people who don’t love it like you do. They are appropriately sad, but you have the sense that they will miss it like they miss the memory of one great fucking vacation.

Speaking of vacations:
Waveland is devastated. (Waveland, sight of many a camping trip at Buccaneer State Park and home of the Sno-Ball Depot that gave me the idea for my own Sno-Ball/waffle fries/hand-dipped corn dog stand, Miss Dee’s Sno-Ball Depot.)

The last chopper has evacuated the 700-plus people who’d been stranded on the I-10 overpass (5:50 Central Time.)

My Saks Fifth Avenue is burning! Oh, how fucking silly that sounds.

Last night I was saying to Paul and Aaliya and their roommate, Daniel, how the TV has been getting to me. When I watch it, it’s almost as if I am watching any TV show on any channel. But then when I start to talk about it, it devastates me. I can’t believe the words that come out of my mouth. Strangely, it becomes both more real and more surreal as I put it to words. I simply can’t believe it’s actually happening, and yet, that I am able to articulate it proves that I can. Oy.

A fifteen-year old boy drove a stolen school bus with 70 people on it to the Houston Astrodome! Yes!

7:40 on CNBC

Oh, the biggest of tears: Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis playing “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” on a fundraiser on CNBC. Oh, oh, oh…

“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans when that’s where you left your heart?”



Kanye West in tears: “ I hate the way they portray us on TV. When they show black people they say they are looting. When they show white people, they say they are looking for home.” “They’ve given them permission to go down there and shoot us.”

This is great. Mike Meyers is reading a script and Kanye West is simply going the fuck off. Hell yes.

CNN (Larry King):

Nothing like watching Celine Dion blubber like a baby. Her reaction is indicative of what I think a number of people are likely feeling about the "reaction" to New Orleans: WHY ARE THERE STILL PEOPLE NEEDING RESCUE?

September 4, 2005

This morning on CBS, an interesting piece on the perception of the US reaction to Katrina... people abroad cannot understand WHY this is happening in the US. They are thinking ill of our capitalism, too, as it is evident from the poor and the black left behind in New Orleans that ours is a system that does not care about the poor. And they are right. I can only hope that this shines a light on how fucked up our nation is and how little we care for those most in need.


There are still people in New Orleans who do not want to leave, and the rescuers cannot understand why. Well, fucking DUH! This is HOME, people! However ravaged it may be, who knows what will come of it and where "home" will be next?!

Oh, the ANIMALS. It devastates me to see animals on porches, in windows... desperate and starving.