Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The good news—the Really Wonderful News—is that it appears we will not, in fact, have to deal with this Ernesto character. I am relieved.

So it is a little strange, today, how sad I feel. Yesterday I went grocery shopping with my girl Jackie, who wanted to go to Dorignac’s to buy Toad Hollow’s “Katrina Wine” for a collector’s item. On the drive to Metairie—that operating but awful suburb I’ve had to visit for life’s necessities so many times, post Katrina—Jackie and I talked about One Year things. She has to work today and is mad about it. She wants to spend the day finding closure, but no one at her work seems to care. Her boss is a native New Yorker who has evidently been complaining a lot lately about the city. “He hates New Orleans, he hates blacks, he hates everything,” she said. “I can’t take all the hate.”

Jackie was here for five days after the storm. I pointed out to her that although today may be the technical anniversary, it really all began over the weekend, and Sunday was pivotal for us all.

It was on Sunday, last year, that I last spoke to Jackie. She called me from an office in the CBD where she planned to ride out the storm. She was worried, but hopeful, and she was as prepared as I suppose she could be. She had enough water and food for three days, flashlights and plenty of batteries, and a boyfriend to keep her company. When I hung up, I remember feeling confident that she would be fine. I even felt a little jealous. I was in Vermont at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference when I heard about the storm and I didn’t make it back to New Orleans before my flight was cancelled and I scheduled a new one to Atlanta. I wanted to be there, for some reason, and there Jackie was—as she’d always been (during Georges, during Lily and Iris, during Ivan). When storms came knocking, I always run (yes—a good thing, I know). Somehow, Jackie’s staying this time struck me as fiercely loyal, if a bit shortsighted, and I admired her tenacity and her devotion to the city. I envied her for her adventures. While she had many a picture of hurricane parties-past, I had memories of long drives with unhappy cats and nights watching The Weather Channel at my parents’ house. Mine were unromantic stories.

As it turned out, Jackie had yet another adventure, but not one to be envied. After the storm passed at the flooding became evident, after I saw all of the Those Images (the dead woman in the wheelchair, the looting on Canal Street, the fires from water, the water, the water), I realized that my car keys were in a drawer in my house and that I hadn’t told Jackie. She had a way to get out, but by then all lines of communication were down, and so…

Later (on September 4th) she sent me this email, which I posted on my blog last year. It deserves to be republished:

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.

Today, Jackie sent this email:

At this time last year I was in an office building downtown freaking out. At this exact time the wind howled,busted windows,rain came in through the ceiling and all I could think is that I would probably die. As I sit here emailing all my friends, I am feeling blessed to be here. Please take a moment today to reflect on all those who passed away or were washed away by the flood waters. Life is so short and fragile-tragedy doesn't care how old you are or what you look like. I am so happy to be alive. Truly,I can't believe it!
OK-I'm being sappy.
I'm just happy.
hey,that rhymed.
see ya,

I replied:

I love you, Miss Jackie.


So today it has been a year and I am doing the This Time Last Year thing, without wanting to. I woke up feeling appropriately sick. (My mom would probably say it’s psychosomatic. I think it has more to do with the cooties one gets from being around dozens of students. And, okay, maybe my immune system isn’t kicking and stress might have the smallest bit to do with it. But a cold is a cold and I am feeling more annoyed than anything.) I plan to stay in and try to recover. I wish I had to work, actually. I could go for the distraction. Maybe I will decide to emerge for some event…

And there are, indeed, plenty of events planned today. Jackie wanted to go to a march in the Lower Ninth Ward. Some friends are gathering on Bayou St. John this evening. Folks are ringing bells (yes, Commemorative Katrina Bells one could purchase from WWL TV to ring at the time of the levees breaks—I tried to get one, more for laughs than for ringing… I mean a BELL, come ON…but they were sold out). Wreaths are being laid. The President is at church on television. On MTV, a special about young people dealing with the storm (appropriately, in reality TV style) just aired. NPR this morning was all commemoration, all the time (yesterday I did, in fact, hear a wonderful “This I Believe” essay about “attachment to place.”) UNO is holding a ceremony that will surely end with a finger-sandwich reception. Anderson Cooper is said to be hanging out at Vaughn’s this evening. On WWNO, James Arey is playing classical music his listeners asked to hear today. On American Routes on Sunday, Nick Spitzer interviewed Elvis Costello, Aaron Neville, Allan Toussaint, etc. On The Today show this morning, Brian Williams was standing in front of Jackson Square. The newspaper and Nola.com are Katrina-covered. In short, today is All Katrina, All of the Time, and all of this is designed to commemorate. All of this is meant, as Jackie put it, to “bring closure,” which is something she says she desperately wants.

In the meantime, I am thinking about A Year Ago At This Time. I am remembering devouring the news Back Then. I am remembering being dumbfounded. I am remembering not crying for a long time, having a kind of Can’t Believe It talk with Simon in my parents’ basement—one in which we lay next to each other and stared at the ceiling and tried to do the whole, “At least we have each other” thing. I am remembering that I didn’t find that as comforting as I wanted to. I am remembering that we grieved differently, which led to our almost breaking up, which led to our re-committing to each other, which led to Simon’s proposal, which led to our getting married in New Orleans in May. I am remembering volunteering for the Red Cross and how hard and wonderful that was. I am remembering being on the local news as a cliché. I am remembering coming home to our house intact, and being grateful and sad, still. I am remembering how hard it has been to lose a city and in some ways, how hard it is to still have your home—how unfocused and difficult our grief can be. I am remembering the night we returned, finding our tiny new cat, Ray, who survived this storm. I am remembering the refrigerators and the smells and the smells… I am remembering going into Tom and Brandi’s house. And the smells. I am remembering all of these things, and I am wanting closure, too. But I want closure when closure really exists. And it doesn’t. This is still happening.

Brandi sent an email today that I think perfectly sums up the frustration of living here (or trying to)—that captures the bureaucracy, the crap:

I went to bookclub yesterday and I was carpooling with a friend, Jennifer, who lives a few blocks over from our rental home. Jennifer also lives just one block away from our ruined Katrina home on Arts. Just as we were about to leave, Jen's husband asks about the dumpster in our front yard on Arts.

Me: What Dumpster?

Him: The giant purple dumpster parked on your front lawn.

Me (stupidly): There is no dumpster.

Him: I think I know a dumpster when I see one.

Me: Are you sure it's my house?

Him: Yep. You should probably check that out.

So, needless to say, I did. I went by the Arts house on my lunch break today and sure enough there is a huge purple stinky dumpster taking up most of my front lawn. Now, for those of you that haven't been around me lately, I am not my usual 'no worries' self. The anniversary of Katrina is effecting me more than I would like to admit, so at the sight of an ugly dumpster in front of my now-ugly-once-pretty house I almost starting crying. But wait, it gets better! I called the number on the side of the dumpster and this was my conversation -

Me: Hi, I'm calling from 4970 Arts. One of your dumpsters is in my front yard and I was just wondering why?

Her: Did you say 4970 Arts?

Me: Yes.

(sounds of typing)

Her: Oh, that house is scheduled to be demolished.

Me: WHAT!!!!!

Her: It's scheduled to be demolished.

Me: That's impossible. I own this house. I never gave anyone permission to demolish my house.

Her: Well, it's scheduled to be demolished.

Me: WELL, it shouldn't be!

Her: It's entirely possible that they've scheduled the wrong house to be demolished.

Me: Speechless. Jaw has hit the ground at this point and I'm having trouble breathing.

Her: Ma'am? Are you there?

Me: Yes. I'm still here. Listen to me, under NO circumstances is this house to be demolished without my express permission. In fact, it isn't to be demolished without notarized permission from me.

Her: I understand. Would you like me to call you back with the name and number of the contractor who scheduled the demolition?

Me: You bet your ass I would!

I realize at some point I will find this story funny, provided my house isn't demolished without my permission. Feel free to chuckle or cry - that's how we've been getting by in this crazy situation.

So, if you're wondering how things are in New Orleans and you believe some of the softball bullsh*t that Bush & Co. have been throwing out there, just think of this story. I live in a city where "it's entirely possible that they've scheduled the wrong house to be demolished."

Love to all,

Yes, we live in a city where it is entirely possible that one’s house is mistakenly scheduled to be demolished. We live in a house where the once-feared is now happening—Jack-O-Lantern neighborhoods (where only a few homes are lived in) are scattered throughout the flooded areas. Housing is still in desperately short supply (and rents have doubled and then tripled so that only contractors—not residents—can afford a home). Traffic lights remain broken. The power goes out sporadically. Billboards advertise contracting companies, phone companies, cable companies—all of them “dedicated to rebuilding a better New Orleans.” Driving is like playing Frogger, but with construction debris. The news—oh, the news: The Times-Picayune published a piece on the State of New Orleans One Year Later, and it showed figures of our “recovery” and spotty rebuilding. The New York Times has published a Week of Katrina to commemorate the one-year marker. On Nola.com, posters in the forums have begun a petition to recall the mayor.

Dude, when I think about it, it’s just plain nutty, living here. Nutty nutty nutty.

So we drink a little too much. We sleep a little too much. We complain and we don’t. We talk about it and we don’t. We remember and we don’t (or try not to). We do, and we don’t. It is one year later, and Katrina still very much IS. That’s the only way to describe it.

After all of that bitching and moaning, I would like to thank the family, friends, and loved ones who have showed concern and support throughout this. I hope your concern and support will stay with us as the storm continues to…

Mom and Dad: Thank you for opening your home to us of six weeks, and for helping to make it feel more like ours. At one point we thought we’d have to stay, and your love and unintrusive support made that feel like not such a bad thing.

Paul and Aalia (especially Aalia): Thank you for your emails and for staying interested in our recovery.

Tom and Brandi: Thank you for your companionship, even as you, too, are going through it

Tony Dalgo: Thank you for checking in on us even as you have your own house to rebuild.

Mary and Jerry Trice: Thank you for not raising our rent. We could not be here if you had done what so many of the landlords here have chosen to do.

Terrence: Thank you for your poem, for your love, and for staying in touch with us from Houston.

Chuck and Sally: Thank you for having us over for dinner in Atlanta—for listening and for giving us much-needed distraction.

Anderson Cooper: Thank you for interviewing dudes in fluorescent pink wigs, and for having a last name that rhymes with “pooper.”

Ivor Van Heerden: Thank you for rocking my world.

Bob Breck: You, too.

Nolafugees.com and Cookie: Thank you for laughter.

UNO: Thank you for reopening, and thanks, Dr. Schock, for getting me even a small raise.

Kim McDonald and Kris Lackey: Thank you for hanging in there, and for being such wonderful colleagues and friends.

Tim Green: Thank you for coming back to New Orleans to make your music.

Kufaru: Thank you for coming home—I hope your new one (wherever it is) is as music and love-filled for you as New Orleans was.

To the across-the-pond H__- family, the extended D__- family, and the K__- family: Thank you for thinking of us.

To the Clarks: Thank you for the use of your cabin (which gave us a much-needed escape when Rita was headed for us) and for having your annual Christmas Eve party.

To Susan, Beverly, Sherry, Peggy, and Mickey: Thank you for being surrogate moms and rockin’ women and for being a shoulder for my own mom, who has needed the support, sometimes, as much as I have.

Danielle: Thank you for reminding me to be less dark.

Anthony: Thank you for loving me still, even from Chicago.

Simon: Thank you for putting up with my crazy and for marrying me, anyway.

Jackie: Thank you for coming home.

I am probably forgetting some thank you’s, and I’m sorry for that. Whatever. Thank you.

I will try to continue to keep this blog going, and I will try—Danielle—to not be so dark about what I post here. I hope you will all keep reading, as the only thing that keeps me writing is knowing that one or two of you might be interested.

Friday, August 25, 2006

We've made it into the cone .

My mother called today and said she'd been reading somewhere about the importance of green space to one's mental health. She hoped we could come up to Atlanta and to the north Georgia mountains again soon, she said. "We may be there next week," I told her. And with this Ernesto being who he is, we just may.

In other news, the UNO English Department faculty meeting was today--an event full of introductions, figures, and finger sandwiches. The enrollment numbers sound encouraging so far--12,000 students are enrolled as of today. That's down from 17,000, Pre-K, and our budget is based on a projection of 14,000, but we were told that the English Department is structured for just 12,000, so none of us should fear losing our jobs. Other numbers were less encouraging. New freshmen are down by 50%. Out-of-state student enrollment is at just 60% of Pre-K numbers. What one could say is that these numbers are good, all things considered. And so this is what we say. But this all depends on one crucial thing: that we avoid a storm this summer.

In fact, I remember back when our mantra was "January." Back then, we all felt like there would be some sort of Real Renewal we might see with the New Year--or maybe we just felt like, "If we can make it until then in the midst of this crap, then we can make it, period." I don't know. But our new mantra is "If there's no hurricane this year." If, if, if. If is hard to live with. And what is perhaps harder to live with is knowing that If really means When.

Over the past week, the Corps of Engineers has been running tests of the new pumps and locks. Imaginary Hurricane Butch is the menace they have been fighting, and with each of the runs-through, the pumps have failed. I don't know what this means for us, and what it means for our Ifs and our Whens. Simon and I feel reassured that our home will be okay, standing (or sinking) on relative high ground as it is. But I remember pictures Jackie sent me of the days immediately after the storm--the days when water stood on our street, too. When we returned, we found objects from the back yard had been deposited in the front yard. I can only imagine where the items from Tom and Brandi's Gentilly back yard may have ended up.

And so we watch this Ernesto, who has now been named. We are In The Cone, now, and it is a terrible place to be. I feel weepy from it. Scared. Tired. Worried. It really isn't a way to live, I guess. What is this f-ing love that keeps me here? How strong can it be? Stronger than Ernesto, I hope, I hope.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

And wasn’t I just getting that call? The one where Simon told me about Katrina? Where he asked me, “Are you watching this?” and there I was in sunny Vermont, not watching, and with no idea? The call that sent me to the computer lab to print out the graphic of the approaching storm and the doomsday report? The one that, while my writerly friends headed out to swimming holes and happy hours, had me weepy on the line with some Delta lady, changing my cancelled New Orleans flight to one headed to my new (old) home for seven weeks: Atlanta? Wasn’t that just yesterday?

And now it has been nearly a year?

And now there is this tropical mass, Ernesto (TD 5), that has not yet been named? And there he is, next to Bermuda--far, but far too close--brewing? And here we have just been warned, on the ten o’clock news—(the same newscast that reported our embarassing mayor’s comparing New Orleans’ lack of progress to that of the yet-unbuilt Twin Towers replacement)—that by Tuesday—the official one-year marker of the still-ongoing event that we are being asked, somehow, to commemorate—we may have to watch this Ernesto, we may have to leave? Ha.

And so now we are watching—again--and I find myself saying out loud: "I cannot deal." And my husband, who was not my husband last year, is saying to me, “Well, I guess we have to be prepared…”

And I say, “For what?”

And he says, “For the possibility that we might have to evacuate.”

And I say, “We are prepared. We have cat carriers and cars and a place to go.”

And he says, “No, I mean emotionally prepared.”

And I say, “I can’t do that.”

And it is true. I can’t.

I could, somehow, then. But now, I just can't. It's true.

Friday, August 18, 2006

After 10 refreshing days away from the city, Simon and I are back in New Orleans. It’s not that I didn’t realize the “emotional toll” that living in this scenery takes on you—it’s just that I didn’t realize how good it would feel to be away and to forget it for a few days. My commitment to New Orleans is strong primarily because I just love, love, love it. But I really don’t know how long I can tolerate the wreckage.

It’s been nearly a year now and I have been doing a lot of “a year ago today” stuff. A year ago today I was at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. I was hoping to be inspired and to come back home to New Orleans a Real Writer (read: with better self-discipline and a renewed drive). Now, my writing feels like aimless and directionless crap. Perhaps it’s the blog-medium. I think it encourages mindless drivel.

Anyway, the mountains. Waterfalls and mushroom hunting and wildflower identifying and tent-sleeping and katydid chirping and creek walking and mine-hiking and Coleman cooking and picture taking and rock hopping and river wading and twisty-road driving and fudge eating (and eating and eating). We stayed at the Standing Indian Campground in the Nantahala Basin for three days. Saw Laurel Falls and Mooney Falls and Buck Creek and Pickens Nose. Then we were the guests of Aalia’s friend, Kurt, who lives in a stunning straw bale home he built near Scaly Mountain, NC. Earthen floors and pickle-jar windows. Views. Bullfrogs. We strolled the bourgeois town of Highlands, bought fudge, looked at things we couldn’t have, and then did lots of laying around the house. Kurt was a wonderful and fun host and he went with us on a day-long hike at the Horse Pasture River, where the Gorges State Park Dog, Marvin, adopted us for our adventure. It was just plain wonderful.

Now I am prepping for another semester. I have a crappy schedule that I can’t complain about. I mean that I am not allowed to complain because when I have in the past I have been reminded that I am at the bottom of the pecking order and therefore must simply “deal.” Ah, the things one will do when one is young, talented (but only minimally credentialed), unpublished, enthusiastic, and yet somehow game to be trodden upon. I have no choice. Oh—and thanks for the crap pay, State of Louisiana, that barely allows me to get by. Something else to consider as we ponder our future here…

So here we are again. We wake to the sounds of construction (today I heard some American—GASP—roofers working on the warehouse behind us say “yeah, it’s like f-ing a nasty whore”), we deal with power outages (today’s was three hours long), we cuddle with cats. We remember where we were one year ago today… and one week ago today. Vermont. The mountains. Le sigh.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hurricane season has lost its charm. And yeah, so I did, at one time, find it charming. So? Before Katrina, hurricane season lent a kind of romantic impermanence to life in this city. We knew we could one day be wiped off the map, but it made the up-until-then that much more like living. It was like an amped-up knowledge of mortality, is all, and it made me want to love and live more and harder. Back then, when hurricane season came around, I would chart the storms on a Fox 8 map that I attached with a magnet to our fridge, I would think about what I would take with me—what I’d want with me if it was all I’d have left in the world—and I'd wait for the "games" to begin.

Back then.

This year, Tropical Storm Chris, with his harmless name (how harmless “Katrina” once sounded!) and his not-yet-worthy-of-concern far-away-ness, already has me wary. Simon and I are scheduled to leave town for ten days, and we’d already planned to leave an “Evac-Pack” for the cat-sitters, but now we don’t know what we’ll do. We are supposed to leave on Sunday, when by-then Hurricane Chris will just be entering the Gulf, threatening everyone: Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. We likely won’t know whether New Orleans will be threatened until Tuesday at the earliest, and by then we will be camping high in the Smoky Mountains, away from cell phone towers and TV. So right now, the cats are coming with us. All four of them. We’ll take two cars, which sucks. We’ll take the cats and two cars and us and the following:

Photos and photo albums (including wedding stuff)
CD copies of all contents of both of our desktop computers
An envelope containing our birth certificates, passports, tax documents, copies of bills, etc.
My laptop
My dad’s guitar
My thesis and journals
Cat stuff (litters, treats, food, toys)
People stuff (a week’s worth of clothes, camping gear, etc.)
Whatever else we think of as we are packing these things that we can’t imagine parting with.

We’ll ask Tony to board the windows, and we’ll move any papers and/or electronics to higher ground in the house (I don’t think this works, though. I think everything floats and topples.) We’ll ask someone else to bring in the mail and to secure the trash cans and lawn furniture in the Shack (actually, we’ll do this before we leave). Then, we’ll be camping in North Carolina, wondering about home. I hate it. Another bleak entry in this very inconsistent post-K blog o’ mine.

Oh, the good news: Simon got a job! Let’s hope we both have one to return to.