Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Vacation...

Simon and I are off to the North Georgia Mountains for ten days, and so my already spotty-blogging will now screech to a halt for a while. Sorry, Mom!

I would like to amend an earlier post, while also responding to Anonymous, who hoped that I finished Josh Clark's book, Heart Like Water.

I've just got a few pages to go, now, and I am happy to report that in fact Clark does show remorse, does feel guilt for his early post-K days of celebration and blissful ignorance. (I don't know why I'd be happy for that fact--who wants to wish the crappy feeling of guilt on someone?)

Anyway, I am now quite a fan of the book, actually, which I don't think I am supposed to admit in my writerly circles. I had an interesting conversation with one of my fellow MFA-graduates about Clark's career, which seems to have generated a good deal of envy among my cohorts. My friend said, "If anyone has a problem with Clark's book, they need to come off the sour grapes." When I'd asked what he meant, he said he thought our friends were just jealous of Clark's success. "I don't see none of y'all publishing no books!" (Not exactly true, but okay.)

I get the idea that jealousy can feed unwarranted criticism.

And since my own writing "career" took a nosedive straight the f-- down after the storm (unless you call sloppy-blogging real "writing," which I guess you probably don't, and I guess I probably shouldn't, though sometimes I actually do), maybe it was a bit of envy that had me criticizing Clark. Maybe. Okay.

But then my friend changed his tune when I told him that I didn't think it was envy, exactly, that fed most of the criticism of Clark's post-K writing. The beef has been his authenticity. Does someone like Clark--someone who moved here from elsewhere, who lives in the Pontalba apartments (read: well-to-do), and who hobnobs with the literary creme de la creme in New Orleans (his book jacket boasts a blurb by Pulitzer prize-winning Richard Ford, for Chrissakes)--does he have the "right" to speak for New Orleans?

What I now really like about Clark is that he doesn't seem to be bothered by what is arguably a really dumb question. Of course he has the right!

My friend rattled off reasons why those who need to tell The Real Stories of this post-K New Orleans are not the Josh Clark's of the city. The real storytellers understand poverty. The real storytellers have actual black neighbors and real live black friends. The real storytellers, I think my friend was saying, don't romanticize that sh*t because that sh*t ain't romantic.

But I don't think my friend is right.

And as I've continued reading Clark's book, I've seen his mood of drunken revelry sink into a stunned depression as he realizes all that he's been missing whilst living it up in the Compound. His sinking is well-paced. It's not some ta-da epiphany--the kind of redemption we so love in our American stories. It takes place over the course of many chapters--as he bemoans the fact that we evacuees will be coming back now, trying to act like we know, as he sees what happened in Gulf Coast Mississippi, and as he records the reactions of Ninth Ward residents in town to "look and leave."

What I think makes Clark's story actually wholly authentic is that he doesn't have a revelation. He doesn't join some volunteer crew, doesn't start gutting gutting houses, doesn't even keep the Quarter clean as he'd done earlier. Instead, he watches it, records its, and then, when it gets too uncomfortable (as it does when he enters the Ninth Ward to record some citizens Looking and Leaving,) he stifles a yawn. He turns away. He heads back to the Quarter and tries to capture some of that good feeling he'd once had.

Admitting to that sh*t--that wanting to turn away--ain't romantic, but it is authentic.

So I think Josh Clark has written a memoir that is actually The Transplant Story. He romanticizes the storm, revels in it, wakes up (hung over), begins to really see it--but only once it can no longer be ignored--and he writes, "From here on, finding beauty will be a complex thing."

More than anything else, I think this storm has put a hurt on the ability of us transplants to romanticize the very unromantic. The Sliver by the River, the Isle of Denial, isn't big, and it's impossible, now, to pay attention--to just be awake--without being reminded of what you have (stuff and privilege) and what you don't have (a single f-ing clue about what it's like not to be okay). And then the okayness becomes a problem, itself.

Here's a paragraph from Clark's book that I really like--that captures the conflicted grief he felt and that I think nicely suits the NOLA-transplant psyche, post-K. (Then I'm going to go eat some fish tacos at El Gato Negro, pack my bags, and head north, so this blog will sleep for a while. Bye.)

"I'd keep looking for the little details, hooks that the newspaper people seize upon, pretend they illustrate the whole: the tricycle, the Cabbage Patch Kid, the illustrated Bible, the photo of a newborn baby. They're there. But their essences is lost in the dinge. And then I'd cough to pretend I wasn't yawning, and wonder what to eat next--that breakfast burrito Ride made me that's still in the car or should I have one of those Honey Nut Cheerio cereal bars or should I go and get some Salvation Army food? And then I would realize I'm not even hungry. And I'll even have my routine back soon and then I won't have lost a single thing."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"It's absolutely vital that the community is part of the crime fighting effort," Riley said. "But more important is that it trusts the police..."

Many of you have emailed me about my last post. Thanks for your concern and support.

I did, in fact, try to follow up on the case, but ran into a problem: the rude buttholes who staff the Fifth District police station.

The poor relations between the NOPD and the public are by now notorious, but by all published and broadcasted accounts, the NOPD has been working at repairing their "public image." As you'll read in the letter I penned after trying to communicate with the Fifth District, though, (and as you can read in this post by Dangerblond [a blogger whose writing I really enjoy]), this ain't workin'.

Funny (or not so funny) thing: when I emailed this letter to the address published on the City of New Orleans Website--the address provided after I followed links to the "Citizen Complaint Procedure" page--it was returned to me as a failed message.

Of course, the irony of that would be lost on them, completely.

Me, it makes sick.

I did, however, come across this very detailed and user-friendly crime map. So far, the stats go up to 7/9--the day before our report. I'll keep checking back to see what becomes of the call we made, statistically-speaking.

Anyway, it looks like I shall have to rely on the mail of the snail to get my complaint heard. Given the dead-end I've already come upon, I don't have any confidence that my letter will make it into human hands.

(Another not-so-funny thing: the paragraph that precedes the dead-end email address on the City website reads, "In order for the NOPD to effectively function in ridding the city of crime and disorder, it is essential that the public has confidence in the integrity of its law enforcement effort. To maintain this confidence, the Department of Police provides a means to investigate and adjudicate complaints made against its members by the community which it serves. Grievances will be thoroughly and impartially handled." Ha, ha, f-ing HA!!)

I may just have to hand-deliver the thing. Even so, I can just see the officers laughing at my expectations. She thinks we're going to communicate with her?! She thinks we should CALL?! Over some trespassing! PSHAW! Gawd, it makes me sick to think of, but I don't think my assumption is off. At. All.

Here's my letter:

To the Commander of the NOPD Public Integrity Division:

On the night of July 10th, at around midnight, my husband I awoke to an intruder in our backyard (in the 2800 block of N. Rampart Street). I called 911, and much to my surprise, had a nearly-immediate response. Evidently the intruder had been pulled over for a traffic violation on St. Claude, and so the police were already in the area but had lost track of him. It was the military police who pursued the intruder, and the military who communicated with us. The two military officers were kind and helpful. I wish I could say the same for the NOPD.

After the suspect was apprehended (from the yard of our neighbors across the street,) the military police left. The NOPD was about to pull away when my husband approached the car to ask about what had happened. He explained that we were the ones who'd placed the call to 911. The officers seemed surprised--as though they'd not known who we were--and exited the car to search our property (they found a watch but no contraband). It seemed odd that they had not planned to interact with us at all. The only interaction we had with the NOPD after this harrowing experience, and after our call (a call which resulted in an arrest), came per our initiation.

But I am not writing to complain about that interaction.

I am writing because both my husband and I placed calls to the Fifth District Station--and both of us were treated rudely. I don't think a detailed account of the call is necessary. The bottom line is that we both had two incident report numbers related to the arrest made after our call, and we were calling to follow up on them. We were told that the suspect had been arrested for trespassing.

No one we spoke to knew the name of the arresting officer. No one had any additional advice for how to find out more about the case, other than to (and I quote), "Go to the Municipal Court and find out yourself." We spoke to a male and a female that night--both of whom interrupted us repeatedly, and both of whom acted as though we were somehow stupid to think that calling for more information would result in any real information being attained.

Evidently, their attitudes toward us reflect a reality--one that we weren't privy to: there is, indeed, no point in calling to follow up on a case, as no one at the Fifth District (unless they, themselves, are the arresting officer) will have a shred of information to share. If this is the case, I nonetheless think it is vital that the officers at the phones communicate in a respectful manner.

When I lived in Atlanta many years ago, our house was burglarized. The DeKalb County Police called us some weeks later when the suspect was apprehended. We were given the suspect's name and a case number. We found that call deeply reassuring--as well as surprising. Imagine that: a police force who demonstrated a real understanding of the importance of clear communication with residents impacted by crime.

I understand that the NOPD is stretched thin these days. I attend neighborhood meetings regularly and have met captains from the Fifth District. I do not doubt that those who are doing their best are, in fact, doing their best.

But to simply require officers (or perhaps station administrators) to treat citizens with respect and dignity should not be considered the "best" work of the police force's "finest."

Treating citizens with respect--which will indeed sometimes require patience and understanding that is hard to come by in this post-Katrina New Orleans (as a teacher I know this very, very well)--should be a pre-requisite; it is something that even the most inexperienced officers should be able to call part of their expertise. If this is not the case, then I find it no wonder that the distrust of the public for the NOPD is so astronomically high.

It's a no-brainer that clear and helpful communication with citizens (especially with victims) would result in a greater sense of trust from the citizenry of New Orleans. I think the officers on night-duty at the Fifth District could stand to be reminded of this very obvious and plain truth. While they may not have had any more information to offer, there was no reason to be dismissive and rude to crime-victims--especially when the cooperation of those victims led to an arrest.

I believe strongly that if there were more citizens out there--citizens like my husband and myself--who were proactive about crime, there would be less of it in our neighborhoods. However, after the treatment we received, it is easy for me to understand how distrust of the NOPD could so quickly take root, and how that distrust could lead to a lack of cooperation of the part of even the most proactive of citizens.

I fully support the call of the New Orleans Crime Commission, which "encourage[s] all community members to get involved with the Community Policing program to end violent crime in New Orleans, and reconnect with the NOPD officers in their neighborhoods.” We made that call. We made that connection. I do not think it should be too much to expect that when we do connect with officers in our neighborhoods, that effort will be rewarded--if not with the information we request, than at the very least with a modicum of respect. If we are met with such discouragement--if our calls are not heard but are instead and dismissed by those hired to serve us--then how can we be expected to trust the NOPD? For how long can the citizens endure abuse at the hands of their "protectors"? (As those of the frontline of cases involving domestic abuse, the demoralizing effects of even minor but persistent mental abuse should be abundantly clear to all of those who serve the NOPD.)

I am strong enough--and I care deeply enough about my community--to remain proactive, in spite of this negative experience. But it does seem to me that with some very minimal guidelines and training in communicating in a civil manner toward citizens (esp. victims), the NOPD could do a lot to reaffirm its role as a supporter of the community. A good start would be to remind the officers on duty at the Fifth District that those who call deserve to be treated with the same respect that they would like to be afforded.

If I can be of any assistance, please let me know. I am a writing tutor and English teacher and I am happy to provide free tutoring to officers who need help with what we call "audience-awareness," or an understanding of the importance of communicating with the reader/listener. If there are officers with literacy or writing issues, I am again happy to provide free tutoring or teaching in writing and communicating, as well.

With my sincerest thanks for the good work you do, I am yours,


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A lot of experience, but very little learning...

Before we finally went to bed last night--for the second time--I said to Simon, "I don't think I'll blog about this one." And all day I've been thinking about not blogging about the events of last night.

My mom is my most consistent reader, after all. She reads my blog weekly, as regularly as I write, and each post inspires an email whose naked concern for my well-being is only very thinly veiled. "You're in my thoughts, Dear Heart," she writes, and by "thoughts" I know she means "prayers." But she has spared me the God-talk ever since the holy-wars of my adolescence.

The prayer I hear her reciting goes, Please, God, keep my daughter safe.

Because she knows that this prayer is a heartfelt one no matter my location--and because she knows I love New Orleans fiercely, defensively, even--she doesn't pray, Please, God, keep my daughter safe in New Orleans. She's no fool; to utter "daughter" and "safe" and "New Orleans" might jinx things. Better to offer general prayers with maximum coverage.

In spite of my frequent reassurances, though, my mother worries about my safety in a sense tied closely to my setting. She's heard a thing or two about crime in New Orleans. She reads the papers, after all. She reads this blog.

So: better not to write about last night, I thought (and thought, and thought).

The trouble with this is twofold (why do I feel the need to rationalize?):

For starters, the purpose of this blog is to inform my (three) readers of what it's like to live in New Orleans, post-K. In that sense, an experience-any experience--becomes part of the larger "what" that it's like.

Secondly, it itches. After the events of last night, I feel like I NEED to get it out. I want to throw up this story, flush it, clean myself up, and go on with my getting drunk on this city, renewed.

But it's not just that I don't want my mom to worry about me that I hesitate to write about last night's events. It's also that I am painfully aware of how writing can alter meaning. If I write it, it becomes something. (In her book Trauma and Recovery, which I've been re-reading for the purposes of an academic paper on teaching writing, post-Katrina, Judith Herman Miller writes that "In the process of reconstruction, the trauma story does undergo a transformation, but only in the sense of becoming more present and more real." Perhaps it would be better, then, for me to adopt the stance of my husband's British homeland: chin up! carry on!)

Also, it becomes something not just in the telling, but something else in the hearing, the reading. (Again, Herman: "Testimony has both a private dimension, which is confessional and spiritual, and a public aspect, which is political and judicial.") In telling last night's story, in airing it publicly, it also becomes a "political" story of The Crime Problem in New Orleans. It becomes What It's Like to Live in New Orleans, post-Katrina. It becomes A Story instead of just my story, since public psychology and political positioning makes any New Orleans story resonate so, so differently after the storm. (God, these stories! The f-ing weight of them!)

I want to make this perfectly clear: I am not sharing this experience in order to illustrate some larger point about New Orleans. I am not going to tell you about last night because I want you to see how our city has descended into crime, or fear (See How Even the Privileged White are Now Touched by the Dark Hand of Desperation!). I am sharing this because it happened. I am sharing this because I have a big fat writerly mouth. I am sharing this because... okay?


Now that you've made it past all that build-up, a spoiler (or for Mom, some comfort): In this story, no one gets hurt.

Last night, Simon and I were just turning in--turning to our respective nightstands to put away our books and turn out our lights--when we heard a loud noise just outside our window.

Because we live next to a house that has been under renovation for ages upon ages, and because the drunken contractor/nephew-of-the-owner now squats there at night (blaring adult soft rock on his ghetto blaster, tossing empty cans of Budweiser from the upstairs windows into the alley below), we've become used to the occasional woozy-clamorous whatnot. So we looked at each other briefly. I said, "It's probably some drunk dude next door." We decided to settle.

Almost immediately, though, we heard another noise--like wood breaking, and then the tumbling of something, this time very clearly on our on our side of the fence. We looked at each other again. I can't remember this part--what we did--I just remember thinking something along the lines of That's not good. "Someone's in the yard," I said. And immediately: "Call the police."

Simon was still listening, so I leapt up and called 9-1-1. The operator answered right away (oh miracle of miracles!).

"There's an intruder in our back yard," I said.

"What's the address?"

I gave her the address.

"Do you have a description?"


"Is he still there?"

"I don't know."

Simon was at the window, lifting the shade. I said "Please get away from the window, Simon. Come in here, please."

Then I heard something knock against the radiator. "He's under the house," I said.

Simon and I were in the front of the house together now.

"Someone will be there shortly," the dispatcher said.

I didn't want to hang up. I didn't believe her, and I didn't want us to be there alone, for something to happen without her knowing.

I hung up.

For the next few moments we didn't hear anything. I told myself maybe it was just a big dog. I'd had run-ins with big, thuggish, NOLA-dogs before, after all. A pack of dogs ate one of my cats one night. Or maybe it was a ballsy feral cat. Feral cats often got into scraps with our own in the crawlspace underfoot, their tossing bodies banging against the radiator.

Much to our relief, the cops were there right away. I don't think I exaggerate when I say they arrived in less than a minute. Later we both talked about what we'd expected: we expected it would take forever. We expected them to knock, tiredly, to blase-ly take a report, to do nothing. The one time before that I'd called the cops from my house, it had gone something like that. That time they didn't even take a report (I'd thought someone had tried to break in--there were bang marks on the gate's lock, and my key was a struggle to fit in). The cops even suggested that perhaps I should move. What was I doing living alone--and in this city, no less?

But this time it was the military police who arrived, and they came military style--banging and announcing their presence, like something from Cops, for real.

There were two military police-members at the door--a skinny, scrawny kid barely out of puberty, and a black woman with a plain ponytail under her camouflaged hat. She was yelling toward the street that they were here, and that "he" was here. We saw several more guardsmen approach. It was clear by then that they knew something we didn't, and that in fact they'd been looking for this guy. It was, in fact, a guy, not a dog. And he was, in fact, here.

We unlocked the front and back gates--both of which open onto our kitchen--and the two, plus a couple more, went back. We heard them say, "Oh yeah, he's here." Simon was doing his usual bit of trying to be involved. I asked him to stay with me. We locked ourselves in the bathroom.

A lot of this is a little fuzzy to me now--who said what and exactly when, I can't get quite right. I guess it's true what they say about the unreliability of the memory of victims.

At any rate, I remember being in the bathroom and shaking. We heard a banging under the bathroom. He was just underneath us. I gripped my phone. I was looking for someplace to be where we couldn't get shot. We couldn't leave because the doors were open and we might confront them there. I thought about climbing in the iron claw-foot bathtub; surely it was bullet-proof. We heard a guardsman say, "I think he's under the house." "He's under the bathroom," we yelled. "We can hear him." We were both pushing against the door.

Simon said, "I'm locking the doors. I don't care if they get him or not, I don't want him coming in the house." He went out and locked the gates and returned to the bathroom. Hugged me.

Then, we heard scrambling again under the bathroom--this time more of it. "He's out, he's out!" they yelled. We opened the bathroom door, and the pimply tugged at the bars on the rear door. "Why'd you lock it?! Why'd you lock the door?!"

Simon unlocked it and I unlocked the front, and then they were all gone and we were standing there, all What happened? We locked the doors again and Simon went to the front of the house to look out the shutters' slats. "He's across the street," he said. He'd gone into our neighbors' backyard. The guardsmen were banging at their door to come in. Finally, Joe opened the door at about the same time as they got him. The guardsmen were saying, "What were you running for? Why'd you run?" They were holding his elbows. He was handcuffed. He was a black male, young-ish I think. I couldn't see.

In a few moments, we were outside. The two guards-members who'd chased him cam over to "thank" us. "Thanks for calling us, " they said, which I thought was odd. "No problem," I said. "We were just trying not to die." There was a little laughter.

"That's what we're here for. We're here to help," the woman said. Simon thanked her. They left.

We realized when they left that we had no idea what had just happened. A State Trooper car had pulled up, and appeared to be just a quickly preparing to leave. Simon ran out and told them we'd been the ones to call. They seemed surprised to learn that. They asked if they could search the yard for "drugs or a gun or anything he may have tried to get rid of." In the side alley, we found his watch, but there was nothing else. the cops asked us to take a look in the daylight. One took our numbers. When we asked what the guy had done, he said, "We don't know yet." Evidently they'd stopped him on St. Claude for some traffic-related-something, and he ran.

When we went back to bed, Simon asked if I'd been thinking of Helen Hill.


"Me, too."

There didn't seem to be a lot to say, so we lay in bed, awake for a long while. I read some academic article on Ethics in the Writing Classroom. Simon read Zadie Smith's White Teeth. Three-ish, we both tried to sleep.

Today I've been tired as all get out. While eating breakfast, I watched the Federal DA present a boatload of terribly grim information on the state of the local judicial system to the New Orleans City Council. I wrote down grim and grimmer numbers that he'd armed himself with: of 801 arrests between January of '06 and '07, less than 10 percent received indictments in the local courts. Of those 801 arrests 109 were referred to the Feds--all on federal firearms charges. Among those 109, there've been 275 collective previous arrests, 116 previous drug arrests, 93 previous violent crime arrests, 11 murder charges, and 55 previous firearms charges. What this says: our local judicial system is utterly broken.

More evidence of the broken-ness of our local judicial system: DA Eddie Jordan dropped charges against those charged with two of the most high-profile murders of the past year, claiming cold cases. In the case of Dinerral Shavers, the problem is a cultural one of witnesses refusing to come forward--partly because of inherent suspicion of the police, and part because of fear of retribution. In the Central City case, Eddie Jordan was simply wrong (the police easily found the witness just hours after the DA's announcement--further evidence of the rift between the DA's office and the police). Now, many residents are calling for Jordan's head.

As far as we go...

I told Simon that what happened last night made me feel exposed. I said I'd like to be logical now, to tell myself that yes, this could have happened anywhere. I reassured him that I won't allow this expereince to send us packing. And it won't.

But really, how much can one take? When you've experienced the trauma of the loss of your city, when you're experiencing the trauma of an ongoing failed recovery, and when even your sense personal safety has been socked in the gut, how much more can you take? How hard should we fight? What do we learn from this? For f*&#%^'s sake, what is there to learn?

Simon and I have agreed to keep fighting for now. We've decided to follow the case of our backyard intruder, to see where it leads and what it can tell us about crime and the judicial system in our city. In short, we'll try to find out what there is, in fact, to learn. I can only hope that the lesson will reasure us--that it will reaffirm our commitment to living in New Orleans.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Yesterday I set my alarm so we could get up and watch the Men's Final at Wimbledon. Federer managed to pull of a win over Nadal, and I was happy for that. Federer is a lovely winner. He cries. Like a baby. So in spite of his whoring himself out to Nike (this year he wore not only a corny off-white blazer, but also matching trousers), I still cheered his win. I really wanted him to match Borg's record of five Wimbledons in a row. Plus, Nadal is a young tiger and has plenty of game left in him. Also, Nadal hates tomatoes. That's right--I'm anti-Nadal because he's anti-tomato. I learned this from reading his blog. Truthfully, I love a blogger, so tomato-hatin' or no, I say Go Nadal.

Yesterday afternoon I went with my friend J__ to eat Vietnamese food on the Westbank. J__ is taking a new anti-depressant, and I could tell she was having a hard time adjusting to it. J__ had a very harrowing experience after staying in New Orleans after the storm, and ever since then she has struggled with depression. Her roommate is no help; she also suffers from depression. J__ described it as living with someone who is "Always trying to out-sad me." I could empathize. We talked about how hard it is to process Katrina-grief when you didn't technically "lose" anything.

We are both glad to have our things, but in some ways, those who lost things have had a way to focus and channel their grief. You mourn your favorite recliner, your wedding albums, your 45-collection, and then (I imagine) you take some comfort in knowing that here you are, still intact, still okay, even without those things.

For us, there's the survivor's guilt, which is obvious and an unpopular subject. (Get over yourself, right?)

Then there's the very burdensome, amoebic grief.

It's like when someone dies, you lose them, you remember them, and then time (and time and time) lessens that grief.

But what about when it's survivor's guilt? And a whole city? Had we lost everything, no one would have faulted us for picking up and moving on, but to do so when we didn't "lose" anything would be like abandonment. How ungrateful would we be? How lucky and ungrateful.

I've been reading a book that's brought a lot of these feelings to the surface for me. Heart Like Water, by Joshua Clark, is a memoir of his experience staying in the French Quarter during and after the storm. The first 150 pages went quickly, in spite of the overwrought writing, seen here in the book's first lines:

"... and America returns whispering this time.

A tic, air-conditioning, falling, soft, a tock, the ceiling fan beginning to turn stirring it in, a closet light suddenly spilling an absurd yellow line past its open door, across this bed, my eyes, pulling the plug on some dream."

One of the many jacket-blurbs praises Clark's style as "written in surrealistic bursts of purple and crimson and goth black, as vivid as the storm itself and as uncompromising as the survivors of New Orleans" (Curtis Wilkie). Below that, Clark's author's photo shows him young and blond. He looks like Marty Stauffer, the former host of the PBS program Nature. I imagine that Clark would like to BE a bit like Marty, too: an observer, a lover of the world. Non-threatening. A wholly trustworthy, wise character.

He's no Marty Stuaffer, though, and to call him a "survivor" is a bit of an overstatement. He chose to stay. What the blurber calls "surrealistic" I call affected. I mean, dude's a survivor like I'm a survivor. Well--so he survived something different--but he chose to stay, and his reousces and privilege made it more like freaky camp than the hell you've all heard about. (Incidentally, the book's subtitle: "Life in the Disaster Zone" illustrates the publisher's awareness of What Readers Want... The French Quarter--"the disaster zone"? Puh-lease.)

I have been trying to articulate my "problem" with this book to Simon. I read the first 150 pages yesterday. It's absorbing, and I know very well many of the locations he writes about. I shopped at Robert's grocer store. I've been a regular at Molly's on Decatur Street. I sang in the band he mentions on page 5. Like Clark, I survived the storm without any real tangible loss.

And I struggle with that.

What bothers me about his book, I think, is that he's shameless. Even as he criticizes a father of six for not-evacuating with his children, he tromps around the Quarter in swimtrunks and Aqua Socks, recording whoever will have it on a Radio Shack tape recorder. When he hears of neighborhoods underwater, he goes--not to help so much as to document the loss. He chronicles evening fetes by the pool in "The Compound," where he and a bevy of friends passed the time with bottles of wine looted from Roberts, but without any acknowledgment or concern for those on the other side of the Industrial Canal. He has no guilt. None.

It's not that I believe that one could be shameless about staying and even enjoying it--it's that by god I'd think you should acknowledge your comparative privilege. Not to do so is, well, rude. Rude isn't the right word. It's something., though, and it's something bad.

And yet...

I feel like those of us who have lost so much and yet so little do feel that our stories have been devalued. I was just telling some friends of our not getting covered by This Old House, and I said, "I guess no one wants to see a gentrification story. I know I wouldn't." No one with an appropriate sense of shame wants to hear about reveling in the Quarter while Katrina was happening.

And yet...

There's something really unsettling about the de-valuing of politically-unpopular survival stories. We are supposed to be suffering more. We are supposed to be having a harder time. And if not, well we are at the very least supposed to be feeling Really F-ing Bad about it.

Clark doesn't. And I envy him that. How nice it must be to write your story with no guilt, no sense of shame, no disclaimers. I can't do it. (A fact you can see in nearly every shame-laden post on this guilty-as-hell blog.)

But I realized as I was reading that Clark has done something that I have not been able to do: he has told his story. Appropriate sense of shame or no, dude got it down.

I haven't been able to. My guilt paralyzes me. I know my own post-K story is not nearly devastating enough, nor is it interesting to those wanting to hear about exploding buildings, rooftop rescues, or Quarter clean-up.

I've been reading over the early posts on this blog, and I realize that when I first began posting, I felt my story might be interesting. We were all interesting back then--we Katrina survivors.

And to see how the value of my story has changed as my positioning in the survivor's "diaspora" has changed makes me a little sad. It says something about what we value. It says we value tragedy and loss and redemption, but not We're doing fine, thank you--and certainly not guilt and shame.

I feel as if listening to my story is like reading the sappy blog of a young volunteer. He gives up his summer break to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. He has a Katrina awakening and hands over his loaded Ipod to a pathetic teenaged returnee. He is proud of himself and urges his readers to give, to volunteer, too.

I want him to shut up because it's mildly embarrassing, his thinking that he's been somehow transformed.

I want him to shut up because these personal stories of redemption give the rest of the world the idea that one, or two, or even a church group of do-gooders can fix this place.

I want him to shut up because I've not been transformed, and so I don't want to hear his story of hope.

So the truth is, I've been majorly disappointed--not redeemed. The truth is, I am simply working at liking survival enough to to actually survive.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Last night I called my mommy, who was eating pizza at a Pizza Hut in Lavonia, Georgia. Mom and Dad were on their way back from a family-baby visit in Columbia, SC. I think if Simon and I hold out much longer on procreatin', my mother may just forgo subtle hints and start a-beggin' for some grand babies. I'm all about it... in a way. I'm going to have one helluva time giving up wine for nine months. (Do I really HAVE to?)

I was calling Mom because, well, have felt like I Want My Mommy a lot these past two weeks. My online job continues to kick my butt. I did get a paycheck this week--one that announced my hourly pay to be $16-something. That is a) too high of an estimate given the amount of time the job requires, and b) still not enough for my efforts, even if it were the correct figure. All of my research and personal goals for summer have been put on hold. In the meantime, Simon has been putting up with my complaints and saving my life by washing all of the dishes. Yes, all of them. He is a good man. A great man.

I'd worked at trying to get ahead earlier this week so I could have all of the Fourth off, but I did end up having to put in a few hours on Wednesday morning.

It rained all day on the Fourth. First with summer downpours that made the power flicker, and then later in England-style spit. I made a huge batch of The Best Potato Salad Ever (I am perfectly willing to share my mother's recipe, BTW) and a creole tomato salad for the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association BBQ. Packed a cooler, some folding chairs, and a grill, and headed down to Vaughn's for a pre-BBQ drink with Jackie. Some bratty boys (who should by now be men, but who are stuck in a perpetual NOLAdolescence) were setting off mounds of those seemingly-pointless firecrackers that boys love so much--the ones that do nothing but explode eardrums. I was too sober to find it funny, so I left for Holy Cross.

The HCNA BBQ was uplifting, as ever. Common Ground provided the BBQ (which was late, so that all the sides were gone by the time the chicken was ready), the bayou-researching gang from Wisconsin provided the crab-boil, and we neighbors (look at me with my "we," already) provided the rest. Among the other attendees was a friend and colleague of mine who called it "the most racially integrated event I've been to in New Orleans" (one of the reasons we love Holy Cross), a boatload of kids (yay!), and a number of delegates from Indonesia and Thailand. I spoke to one man from Aceh province--as in the Aceh province nearly wiped away by the 2004 tsunami--whose translator explained his dismay. The delegates from Thailand and Indonesia had spent the past several days touring the city, and they were "appalled" by the US government's neglect of the city. Evidently they spoke with residents who had been forced out of the St. Bernard Housing Projects, and the delegates were so appalled that they decided to pen a letter to the Times-Pic. I've been keeping my eye out for that. I'll also post more about the group here from SE Asia once I've researched their project.

One of my favorite moments: I walked to the church to go to the restroom, and a family out dancing on their porch asked me to join them. They were doing a Tootsie-roll-ish line dance, and they all got a kick out of my catching on--especially on the get-down turn. Later, the little girls who I'd danced with ran up to me at the BBQ and latched onto my legs.

Me: "Y'all must've gotten a kick out've teasing me, huh?"

Daysha: "No. We like you! My dad says you're all right."

Later, when the food was gone and the fireworks began, we all gathered on the levee. One of the older men from the neighborhood association gave us the history on the event: "Before the storm, wasn't nothin' like this many people down here." I asked him why that was--why did he think there were so many people down here now?

"I don't know... It's exciting, I guess."

I couldn't tell if he thought it was a good or a bad thing that so many people were down in the Lower Nine for the Fourth. The group was very integrated--but most of us whiteys were with volunteer groups, and I think those of us who intend to stay... well, we all wonder how long their excitement will last.

I've been picking up on more of this sort of ambivalence about post-K interest in the 'hood. Simon said that one long-time resident told him, "Let's don't tell too many people about this, all right?"

But it's clear that what we do need are more residents, and with the Holy Cross school leaving, it appears it will be a long road to recovery.

Still, we are, in fact, excited as hell. Whoo-HOOOOO!!!! Holy Cross! We're NUMBER ONE!!!