Daniella's Misadventures
Friday, September 30, 2005
Bathing in Vodka

It's done. We own a house.

It was so, so bad. Six and half hours. SIX AND A HALF HOURS. I signed roughly 500 pages. Twice.

There were screaming conference calls with the sellers where they accused their lawyer of absconding with the their money. They were at another closing, so were waiting for the proceeds of our sale to close on their purchase.

There were semi-screaming conference calls with the morgage servicing center when the paperwork that they sent over didn't match up. There was one point where our attorney calculated the additional closing costs and they were $6,800 above what had been estimated to us. I looked at John (he later said all the color drained out of my face) and then said in a shaking voice, "but we don't have that much."

There were more conference calls with the mortgage service center closer wherein it turned out that she had put most of the charges in the wrong column. Our column. I went to the bathroom at our attorney's office and vomitted.

There were more calls where the amortization schedule didn't match up. I work in finance and can calculate present value. I whipped out my handy financial calculator and tried to explain to the moron closer that if we signed off on her amort schedule, I would be paying off nearly $55,000 above my mortgage principal amount. She put us on hold after arguing with me for a while and, after five minutes, came back to explain that the amort table included PMI, which is NOT what the table said (I wrote it in and initialed it!). Meanwhile, the sellers are calling every three minutes and yelling at our attorney to release the money.

There's more and more and more. But it's over now. We have the keys, we already went over to the house and began peeling off all their country knick-knack crap. I am a homeowner.

I've decided that rather than drinking tonight to ease this blinding headache, I'm going to fill the bathtub with vodka and soak in it. That ought to help, right?

The contractors start at 7 AM tomorrow morning. We have exactly one week to finish everything, pack and get moved. The clock begins ticking... now.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Stress to the Nth Degree

So, we arrive for our walk through, which for the unitiated, is when you (duh!) walk through the empty house and make sure that everything that was stipulated to being fixed is fixed and everything that is supposed to work, works.. there is a giant moving truck parked in front of the house and one lone mover loading up a few things. We peer up the driveway to see that the garage is full of junk.

I don't like the look of this, I say to John.

Just then, the skies open up and rain is literally soaking us, so we decide to go in.

I walk up the front steps and enter the house, calling "hello?"

Oh my freaking god.

There is stuff everywhere. The sellers are frantically packing while a two smallish men are loading boxes. We tell them that we are here for the walk through and they tell us that they were told we'd be there an hour later. There is no goddamn way that these people are going to be out of this house in an hour, I think to myself, but I smile patiently and start looking around. There are a huge amount of dirty dishes in the sink and there is just stuff everywhere.

My agent arrives and immediately tells them that there is no way that we can do a walk through until the house is empty and broom clean. The seller tells him that they absolutely must have the funds by 5 PM for their closing on the house that they are buying tomorrow. We agree to come back at 3:30 PM and do a walk through then.

I'm freaking out, but quietly.

Our agent takes us to lunch and makes a call to the seller's agent to stress to her that she better go over to the house and tell her clients what's what. I freak out, somewhat quietly.

We decide to kill some time by driving around the neighborhood. Then we kill more time by going to the paint store and picking up some samples.

Then I check in with my lawyer to get the final closing amount. We have budgeted $9,300 and if we go above that, it eats into our remodeling budget.

He tells me that he hasn't received the closing materials from the bank and that we may not be able to close today. I freak out, a bit less quietly.

We stop to have some tazo zen tea at a local coffee shop and I call the bank. She tells me that at this point, while all the paperwork is approved, there is no way that the funds can be wired today and we simply are not going to close until tomorrow.

I am no longer quiet. I am having a full-blown freak out.

We go to the house and the sellers appear to have hired some day laborers who have loaded most of their crap out of the house. They are madly cleaning and vacuuming the house. We do a very thorough walk through that takes about an hour. They seem ok with the fact that we are closing in the morning.

We leave, drop our agent off at his car, touch base with our attorney and the mortgage broker at the bank. We decide that it's probably a good idea to go to the liquor store.

Tune in tomorrow to find out if we actually get to buy a house.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
'Twas the Night before Mortgage...

Our heroine was stirring, more like a caged rat than a mouse...
She paced and she paced and her anxiety o'erflowed..

aw, shit. I never was any good at poetry.

I'm still at the office, waiting for my lawyer to fax the latest iteration of the contract of sale to the mortgage underwriter and have her bless this goddamn document and say that yes, in fact, we CAN close tomorrow.

Which she better as hell do as we have contractors arriving Friday morning to start pulling down the butt-ugly wallpaper that covers every wall like some sort of heinous floral mold.

There are so many complications that I can't even begin to start explaining them as I am likely to start screaming, crying, pulling out my hair or some combination thereof.

We are closing on a house tomorrow and I'm positive we were on crack when we decided we could afford it. I am very close to hyperventilating.

What have I gotten myself into? I am not even certain how much money I have to come up with tomorrow or if we have enough. You would think that your entire life savings, plus money you borrowed from your parents, plus your stock options, plus selling yourself on the corner in Newark would be enough money, but you'd think wrong.

Just kidding about selling myself on the corner in Newark. But, hell, it may come to that because we were on crack when we decided that we could afford this mortgage. Oh my god oh my god oh my god.
Monday, September 26, 2005
By the light of day, the truth comes out

Reports of violence in New Orleans were greatly exaggerated by the media... I've been saying it all along. The reason you heard about widespread looting and violence was because the media thought it made for a good, dramatic story. In reality, people were surprisingly well behaved and pulled together during a dreadful situation and with only the most rudimentary means of survival.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice. State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been killed inside.

At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just four bodies were recovered, despite reports of corpses piled inside the building. Only one of the dead appeared to have been slain, said health and law enforcement officials.

Read the article that I linked to above and then tell me what you think.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
My dear friend, Anxiety

The house closing has been pushed back so many times, it had stopped feeling real.

But it is. The closing is scheduled, the vacation time is approved, the lawyers are at the ready, the forms are signed and the cashier's check is soon to follow. The homeowners insurance is paid for, the utilities are set to be turned on, the contractors are prepared to swoop in on Friday morning at 9 AM. And I'm frantically attempting to figure out how to build a closet since the contractor's estimate was $1,200, and, well, we're all tapped out.

So this morning I awoke at 6 AM in a cold sweat. I rolled over to find John doing pretty much the same thing. We'd both had nightmares.

"I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours..."

I dreamt that I got my bonus and it was so small that it was a joke. In my dream, we had been three months behind on the mortgage and because my bonus was only $200 (in real life, I'm expecting somewhere around 15% of my base salary), we were going to lose the house. I tried to see my boss to find out what was going on, but she only directed me to some HR guy that kept talking about the "global economy" and Argentina.

John dreamt that when we took possession of the house (for those that are playing along at home, it's this Thursday), we found all kinds of things wrong with it that we had not noticed before. Like the fact that the shower was in the middle of the living room and that there was no roof. John kept asking himself how we could have missed that during the inspection because now we were stuck with the house.

I guess you don't have to read tea leaves to figure out what's going on in our psyches.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Missing you

When I went away to college in 1990, I was so homesick that it hurt. My roommates at George Washington University, thrilled to be out from the yoke of bland suburban oppression were incredulous. They were facing a whole new reality--away from their homogenized suburbs, where everyone knew everyone else and nothing exciting ever happened. We were in DC--a big city. It was all new and fresh to them. For me, I missed home. I missed the sounds, smells and rhythms of New Orleans. I missed the way everyone chatted with one another. I missed the laissez-faire attitudes and the crazy characters strolling the streets. I missed the spanish moss hanging overhead and the smell of the magnolia trees and night blooming jasmine. I missed the old fat black ladies that gave you good natured unsolicited advice as if you were their own grandchild. I just missed home.

Other college freshman gained the Freshman 15, partied hearty and pledged sororities and fraternities. I pined for my hometown and snuck home for Mardi Gras, TUL fest and Jazz Fest. I told my professors that there had been a death in the family.

When I moved back to New Orleans after only three years, walking away from a full merit scholarship with stipend, a lot of people, especially my parents, were floored and angry. But I had missed home and been miserable for a long time. Coming back to New Orleans was everything I had longed for and I didn't care who I disappointed.

When John asked me to marry him and move with him to New Jersey in 2003, my love for him won out over the absolute horror of having to leave New Orleans. If you want to read some sad and lonely homesick prose, I suggest you scroll through my archives from August 2003 to roughly August 2004.

It doesn't matter that my career is going amazingly well and my marriage is wonderful and loving--I still long for home, for my Nouvelle Orleans. The city takes up residence inside of you and you can't ever let it go. Every bad word that is said about her, is said about me. Every time she is hurt, I am hurt. If I could go back and rebuild with my own hands, I will.

I watch the destruction of Rita, three and half weeks after the destruction of Katrina... and well, I feel like it's me that's being battered.

I miss you, New Orleans. We'll be back. Once in love with you, always in love with you.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
President Bush Sells Louisiana Back to the French

BATON ROUGE, LA. - The White House announced today that President Bush has successfully sold the state of Louisiana back
to the French at more than double its original selling price of $11,250,000.

"This is a bold step forward for America," said Bush. "And America will be stronger and better as a result. I stand here today in unity with French Prime Minister Jack Sharaq, who was so kind to accept my offer of Louisiana in exchange for 25 million dollars cash."

The state, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild.

"Jack understands full well that this one's a 'fixer upper,'" said Bush. "He and the French people are quite prepared to pump out all that water, and make Louisiana a decent place to live again. And they've got a lot of work to do. But Jack's assured me, if it's not right, they're going to fix it."

The move has been met with incredulity from the beleaguered residents of Louisiana.

"Shuba-pie!" said New Orleans resident Willis Babineaux. "Frafer-perly yum kom drabby sham!"

However, President Bush's decision has been widely lauded by Republicans.

"This is an unexpected but brilliant move by the President," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. "Instead of spending billions and billions, and billions of dollars rebuilding the state of Louisiana, we've just made 25 million dollars in pure profit."

"This is indeed a smart move," commented Fox News analyst Brit Hume. "Not only have we stopped the flooding in our own budget, we've made money on the deal. Plus, when the god-awful French are done fixing it up, we can easily invade and take it back again."

The money gained from 'T'he Louisiana Refund' is expected to be immediately pumped into the rebuilding of Iraq.

from here.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Feeding the Troll

If you look in yesterday's comments, I have my very own troll. It's been a while, but hey, I'm game for a little fun. Anyway, the delightfully monikered "Bick Dick Daddy' (email address: Mike268@yahoo.com, IP address: followed me from the New Orleans Metblogs where his comments spewing moronic accusations of blowing up the levees by the mayor of New Orleans (yeah, that's plausible!) and his typing of "the hole [sic] thing stinks" prompted me to reply that the "hole" that stunk was his piehole.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to reply to his little diatribe, so here, reprinted for your amusement, is my email to him:

"Mike"-- I think you are not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, so I'll make this brief... You have no idea how to engage in any meaningful discourse, not to mention your obvious lack of anything resembling an intellect. I should have expected as much from someone whose screen name is "Bick Dick Daddy".

So, guess what, Mike? Leave the political discussions to those who have the brain power to have them and go crawl back into whatever hole you climbed out of.

Without Regard,

If I end up dead in a ditch somewhere, ya'll promise to track this Mike character down, OK?
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
From Bad to Worse

This is from an unattributed email that I received... If this is true, it scares the living shit out of me. (oh and yes, my parents are actually in the process of evacuating from their hotel in fucking Houston. Unbelievable... just when you think it can't be worse, it IS).

Overkill in New Orleans
By Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo, Alternet.
Posted September12, 2005.

Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world. What are they doing prowling the streets of NOLA?

Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for its work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served in Iraq on the personal security details of the former head of the U.S. occupation, L. Paul Bremer and the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.

"This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States)," a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. "We're much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq."

Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world and they are accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences. Their presence on the streets of New Orleans should be a cause for serious concern for the remaining residents of the city and raises alarming questions about why the government would allow men trained to kill with impunity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to operate here. Some of the men now patrolling the streets of New Orleans returned from Iraq as recently as two weeks ago.

What is most disturbing is the claim of several Blackwater mercenaries we spoke with that they are here under contract from the federal government and the state of Louisiana. Blackwater is one of the leading private security firms servicing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It has several U.S. government contracts and has provided security for many senior U.S. diplomats, foreign dignitaries and corporations. The company rose to international prominence after four of its men were killed in Fallujah and two of their charred bodies were hung from a bridge in March 2004. Those killings sparked the massive U.S. retaliation against the civilian population of Fallujah that resulted in scores of deaths and tens of thousands of refugees.

Who Sent In the Mercs?

As the threat of forced evictions now looms in New Orleans and the city confiscates even legally registered weapons from civilians, the private mercenaries of Blackwater patrol the streets openly wielding M-16s and other assault weapons. This despite Police Commissioner Eddie Compass' claim that, "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons."

Officially, Blackwater says its forces are in New Orleans to "join the Hurricane relief effort." A statement on the company's website, dated Sept. 1, advertises airlift services, security services and crowd control. The company, according to news reports, has since begun taking private contracts to guard hotels, businesses and other properties. But what has not been publicly acknowledged is the claim, made to us by two Blackwater mercenaries, that they are actually engaged in general law enforcement activities including "securing neighborhoods" and "confronting criminals."

That raises a key question: under what authority are Blackwater's men operating? A spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department, Russ Knocke, told the Washington Post he knows of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security. "We believe we've got the right mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal government to meet the demands of public safety," he said.

But in an hour-long conversation with several Blackwater mercenaries, we heard a different story. The men we spoke with said they are indeed on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and the Louisiana governor's office and that some of them are sleeping in camps organized by Homeland Security in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. They told us they not only had authority to make arrests but also to use lethal force.

Where the Real Action Is

We encountered the Blackwater forces as we walked through the streets of the largely deserted French Quarter. We were talking with two New York City police officers when an unmarked car without license plates sped up next to us and stopped. Inside were three men, dressed in khaki uniforms, flak jackets and wielding automatic weapons. "Y'all know where the Blackwater guys are?" they asked. One of the police officers responded, "There are a bunch of them around here," and pointed down the road.

"Blackwater?" we asked. "The guys who are in Iraq?"

"Yeah," said the officer. "They're all over the place."

A short while later, as we continued down Bourbon Street, we ran into the men from the car. They wore Blackwater ID badges on their arms. "When they told me New Orleans, I said, 'What country is that in?'" one of the Blackwater men said. He was wearing his company ID around his neck in a carrying case with the phrase "Operation Iraqi Freedom" printed on it. After bragging about how he drives around Iraq in a "State Department issued level 5, explosion-proof BMW," he said he was "just trying to get back to Kirkuk [in the North of Iraq] where the real action is."

Later we overheard him on his cell phone complaining that Blackwater was only paying $350 a day plus per diem. That is much less than the men make serving in more dangerous conditions in Iraq.

Two men we spoke with said they plan on returning to Iraq in October. But, as one mercenary said, they've been told they could be in New Orleans for up to six months. "This is a trend," he told us. "You're going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations."

If Blackwater's reputation and record in Iraq are any indication of the kind of services the company offers, the people of New Orleans have much to fear.

Jeremy Scahill, a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, and Daniela Crespo are in New Orleans.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
When you have no choice in the matter, life HAS to go on

Some days, I want to curl in a ball and pretend none of it happened. Some days I rail and yell at the idiots who don't understand. Some days, though, I have to swallow it and live my life. I think we all do. It has happened. It is real.

It has shown the best in some people. It has shown the goodness and greatness of many. It has shown the worst in so many more. It has exposed the ugly secret that lies at the heart of American society. Of class divisions and poverty. Of otherness. Of hatred.

But for me, it has put my life on hold in some horrific holding pattern. I wait and I wait and I wait for it to be over. Only it's not over. It may not be over for a long time, if ever. The city that fills my memories, that stirs my imagination, the city of my childhood and my young adulthood and my life, that city is gone. Poof. Gone. There will certainly be a city there, but will it be my city? With her charms, her eccentricities, that curious "uptown smell" that somehow permeates everything when you walk around near Uptown Square, the smell of ozone as the streetcars rumble past in the Lower Garden District, the smell of red beans and rice cooking on Mondays and Tee Eva's pralines when you walk by and the cool deliciousness of a nectar snowball from Hansen's?

I close on my house in six days. I have made that step in making this place my home, but it will never really feel that way for me. I wonder now if my home truly no longer exists. If I have no home. As I wade through mortgage papers and contractor estimates and all the other minutiae that absorbs me as we head into the final leg of this journey to home ownership, I aghast at how unreal it all feels to me. How removed from it I am.

Yesterday, John and I celebrated eleven months of being married. I sometimes think that these last few years of happiness, of relative prosperity, are happening to someone else. I think that any moment I will be just another evacuee from New Orleans. It feels like I am deep inside a cloud. People go on with their lives, and I am, but inside I feel like I am just waiting and I don't know for what.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
A little levity

From the ironic ad placement department:

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Movin' On or What?

I could go on with the stories of my New Orleans forever. I could live in this self preserving cloak of nostalgia. I could run from my nightmares, my feelings. I could do all those things.

Only I can't.

I am one of those lucky ones. You know, the ones who, in my case moved away two years ago, or, in my parents case, have relatively minor damage and insurance, or whatever. Yeah, that all helps when I wake up in the night, every night for the last two weeks, and weep for my childhood. Weep for my own, very personal, history. I weep for our collective loss, as a family, as a community, as a country.

Memorial Medical Center, aka Baptist Hospital, where they found 44 dead bodies yesterday, is six blocks from my childhood home. My parents sold it a few years after I went off to college, more than ten years ago now, but it's still my home. I went to that emergency room for cuts, stiches, accidents and various other childhood trauma at least three to four times a year. My best friends were born in that hospital. I know you sit there and think, "so what?", but think about it. Think about your own childhood. The places that made an indelible impression on you. The places and stories that make you who you are. Yeah, you're probably getting it now.

I see these images on TV, and it's not just some place. It's MY place. And it hurts. It hurts so much that I just want to hold my breath till I can't feel the tightness in my chest anymore.

I worry. About my parents. They say they're alright. And maybe they are. But I can hear that note in their voices. That little hint of pain. I hate it. I see my friends. Trying to figure out what they are going to do--with their homes, their jobs, their children. I feel useless and helpless and lost.

I hear the debates, the recrimination. I am angry and indignant.

But most of all I am so, so tired. And sad. And I can't dream of anything but water and death and pain.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
A Great Essay on Rebuilding New Orleans

This blog has a great point by point rebuttal of the arguments against rebuilding New Orleans here. I'm not going to reprint it in its entirety, but I found this paragraph pretty darn amusing:

What nobody seems to remember in the midst of all this is that New Orleans' history is essentially marked by one tragedy after another. In 300 years New Orleans has been burned to the ground twice, hit by hurricanes countless times, flooded frequently, captured by the Spanish, the French, the Americans, the Union Army, had horrible outbreaks of yellow fever, and was personified by Dennis Quaid in "The Big Easy." Tragedy is simply a part of our history, and it's plain to see that our culture reflects it.

Tune in later, I'll have the write up from my parents who went back yesterday to check out their house and our uptown neighborhood.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Stories of New Orleans that was, part 3

In most parts of the country, you have seasons--Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer. Well, New Orleans eschews that level of normalcy. If we delineated our seasons by weather, we'd have Summer, October, Yucky and March. Summer lasts through every month between March and October and Yucky is that period between the end of October and the beginning of March. Summer is hot, humid and lazy. Yucky is... well, just yucky -- rainy and not so nice. We got bored with Yucky a long time ago, so that's when we have Carnival (note, Mardi Gras is a day, the whole period between Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday is Carnival.. remember that, there'll be a quiz later).

Anyway, getting back to seasons in New Orleans.. since traditional nomenclature really doesn't work in our city (c'mon... who else says they're "making groceries"?), we invented a whole 'nother way to call our seasons. We have four just like the rest of the country, but ours are Shrimp, Oysters, Crawfish and Crab. Yup, don't believe me? Go here.

Shrimp is good year round, but I like to have BBQ Shrimp in the Fall at Pascal's Manale (no, it's not Pascal Manale's, it's Pascal's Manale -- why, I have no earthly clue, but that's its name). New Orleans BBQ shrimp has absolutely nothing in common with what most people consider barbecue'd food. No, it's giant, head-on, peel and eat shrimp cooked in spices and enough butter that your arteries clog from just thinking about it. Man, is it heaven in a dish, the best part, after eating all the shrimp, is sopping up the sauce with crusty Liedenheimer's po-boy bread.

Once the weather gets chilly, (that means sweaters, not coats) the lusty bivalve is king. I like them juicy and raw on a half shell either with vinegary mignonette sauce or with my own cocktail sauce (if you're really nice, I could be convinced into emailing you my special secret recipe!). Or I could go out to Drago's and have them charbroiled--in the shell, drizzled with garlic butter and real shaved parmesan cheese until they bubble and burn the roof of your mouth. I personally don't know a single person who could wait until they cooled to put one in their mouth. Late in the season, my good friend Sean, who is a long beleaguered New Orleans public shool teacher, has his annual oyster party at his house Uptown. He serves them every which way and it's all good. Once, a long time ago, I won an oyster eating contest at Cooter Brown's bar in the Riverbend. I ate 6 dozen oysters... I weighed about a hundred pounds back then and I could feel them sloshing around in my belly. It felt good then and thinking about it feels good now. I sure hope the oyster beds aren't destroyed, I can't wait to eat some next time I'm home. Who knows how long that'll be?

Spring heralds in festival season--Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, Tomato Festival, Shrimp & Petroleum Festival (if you don't believe such a thing exists, I suggest you google immediately), Chili Festival, and so on a so forth, But more than that, it ushers in the grandaddy of New Orleans seafood --the lowly crawfish (if you say "crawdad" or "crayfish" I may have to have you killed!). As soon as the first glimmers of spring weather appear, that uniquely New Orleans social event known as the Crawfish Boil starts popping up on everyone's calendars--outlook, palm pilot or just plain paper. You have not lived a fulfilled life if you have never attended a crawfish boil--and I don't mean the fake ones put on at conventions or at restaurants that cater to tourists. I mean a real crawfish boil in someone's backyard with the steaming critters and the potatos, corn, garlic cloves and carrots that are cooked with them spread out on yesterday's newspapers and everyone circled around in a silent hush of eating and appreciation. Yeah, it's like that. I've been to more crawfish boils than I can remember, but a particularly good one was at my friend, and semi-famous author, Joseph Boyden's old house on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. His house on stilts was actually on the other side of the levee and is most likely not there in the wake of Katrina (in anticipation of which, he sold it years ago). Anyway, we all gathered, about twenty of us, around the propane tank and watched the 40 pounds of crawfish boil. As the afternoon light turned into that pink, dusky glow, he dumped the huge pot out on newspapers spread out in the bed of a pickup truck and we all ate, laughing, telling stories and watching that sun set. That's what it's all about.

Summer brings hot weather, but most of all it brings you crabs. The best place for crabs is at Middendorf's, just west of the city in Pass Manchac. They have them in all ways, fried, boiled, steamed... whatever you want. I remain partial to the smoked softshells at Clancy's Uptown. That just happened to be what I was eating when John asked me to marry him, so I may be biased a bit. Many years ago, a bunch of my girlfriends and I decided to go crabbing. Now, mind you, we are quintessential city girls--we may know how to eat them, but we know next to nothing about how to catch them--so we headed out to Manchac with sunblock, beer, country music (it's a necessary component, we had decided, though none among us particularly liked country music) and a whole lot of attitude. After renting ten traps, baiting them with raw chicken legs from the A&P, we laid on the dock, drank our beer, got sunburned despite our best efforts and caught... one teeny, tiny crab. We nicknamed him Charlie, threw him back and went to Middendorf's for dinner.

If you've ever wanted to visit New Orleans but never quite got around to it, I suggest that you make 2006 your year. The city needs the tourist dollars and this may be a good time to see the last of the city's eccentricities before they get wiped away in the name of progress. Let me know if you go, I'll tell you stuff you would never get in a guide book or hell, just head down there and ask a local what to do. Just do it soon--the city needs you.
We interrupt stories of New Orleans to bring you stories of horror

This should never, ever been allowed to happen. It is an outrage by any standards.

From here.

note: Bradshaw and Slonsky are paramedics frorm California that were attending the EMS conference in New Orleans. Larry Bradsahw is the chief shop steward, Paramedic Chapter, SEIU Local 790; and Lorrie Beth Slonsky is steward, Paramedic Chapter, SEIU Local 790.[California]

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen's store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City. Outside Walgreen's windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen's gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen's in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with "hero" images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the "victims" of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New

Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of

New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the "imminent" arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

We walked to the police command center at Harrah's on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City. The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, "I swear to you that the buses are there."

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O'Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot. Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let's hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts. Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. "Taking care of us" had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, "Get off the fucking freeway". A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of "victims" they saw "mob" or "riot". We felt safety in numbers. Our "we must stay together" was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be "medically screened" to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist.

There was more suffering than need be.

Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Stories of the New Orleans that was, part 2

Every city in every state has neighborhoods. And every city in every state has bars in those neighborhoods (lest of course you live in a soulless suburb, or even worse a gated community, in which case I feel sorry for you and you really should venture out to see the world that isn't homegenized and pasteurized and watered down--really).

New Orleans, however, has Neighborhoods. People are defined by their neighborhoods in a way that perhaps doesn't exist elsewhere in America. Well, maybe in New York City, but it's different. If you tell me what neighborhood you grew up in, I can tell you a hell of a lot about you even if I don't know you from a hole in the ground. For example, I grew up in Broadmoor, but lived in most of my twenties in the LGD (Lower Garden District). My New Orleans readers could probably tell a lot about me from that sentence.

New Orleans also has Neighborhood Bars. Yup, with capitals. Ain't no city that has bars like these. Not even my second love, NYC, can even come close to matching the weirdness and the incredible joy of a New Orleans Neighborhood Bar.

Here's a tour for you of the city, crazy Neighborhood Bar by crazy Neighborhood Bar. A highly personal tour, if you will.

Let's start at the parish line shall we?

Just over the border into Jefferson Parish, you'll find the Rivershack. This century old building (geez, I wonder if it's still standing?) bills itself as the home of the tacky ashtray and the "bar leg" stools. Each stool at the bar is made to resemble some type of New Orleans denizen--whether a shrimp boat worker or biker or a high heeled hottie. The outside of the bar is covered in old time ads. They were found when the building was remodeled in the 80's after the owner removed siding--they're still up there. At least they were before the storm. The Rivershack has biker night on Wednesdays, country music on Fridays, zydeco sometimes and what makes it extra New Orleans? Its best menu item--the New York style reuben, but with real Louisiana hot sauce.

Moving into the university area, you have two great places - the Maple Leaf and Snake & Jake's Christmas Club Lounge. The Leaf is always hot, crowded, sweaty and crazy. You haven't lived until you've shaken your booty underneath the tin roof to Rebirth Brass Band's regular Tuesday gig, which sometimes goes until dawn. Or sat quietly and listened to their Sunday afternoon poetry readings while slamming back a big ol' bloody mary. Snake's is another story all together. This place never gets hopping until 2 am and if you don't know a local resident, you'll never find the bar, housed inside a non-descript uptown cottage in a quiet, residential area with no sign. Inside, you'll find no windows, the best damn blues and alternative jukebox in the whole goddamn world, and christmas ornaments and twinkly lights up all year round. And some of the best microbrews ever made. The cool thing about Snakes is that time stands still inside that place. Too many times at Snake's, you've finally decided it's time to head for the hills, only to emerge blinking stupidly into broad daylight. No one ever knows what time it is at Snake's. Damn, I hope that place is still there.

Moving further towards downtown, there's Tips. Tourists flock to Tipitina's to say they've been there or to have their picture taken next to the statue of Professor Longhair that graces Tip's front entryway... here's a secret--and I don't feel so bad for telling ya'll because I'm sure Tip's will be remodeled in the wake of the storm--no one who lives in New Orleans would be caught dead standing any length of time near the statue. Everyone knows that the staff bathrooms, located upstairs directly overhead, always leak. Yup, that shit that dripped on your head actually may be shit! That's all right, though... Tip's is still so much fun even if we get a good laugh at the tourists' expense occasionally.

Of course you haven't lived until you've spent an evening at the Turning Point Lounge. Just on the edge of the 'hood, it actually was a turning point because venturing beyond it would certainly get you mugged. You had to be buzzed into the Turning Point, but don't let that make you think it was some snooty joint. No way, they loved us "crazy white kids" at the Turning Point and we loved them right back. Those people, especially owner Smitty, are some of the warmest and nicest people I've ever had the good fortune to know. The jukebox, filled with classic R&B and soul, was free, the owner's wife would cook us food and we could dance all night and drink $1 miller high life ponies. One night, after about ten of us had been there hanging out for hours and probably had run up a hefty tab, we all realized that no one had any money. My girlfriend J, who had had a few too many, wrote Smitty a blank check to cover the tab. The next morning, we woke up in panic as to the fact that he could very easily clean out her account. The check that cleared was for how much? $16. Yeah, see THAT happening anywhere but New Orleans!

Down in the lower French Quarter you have the Abby. A dark, dank bar that used to cater to longshoremen is now a punk scene that lasts all night. What kind of music do they play? Well, Saturday nights you have a three man traditional jazz trio and Monday is hip hop night. The teeny, tiny place is packed to the gills with the tattooed set swaying to "Saint James Infirmary", and yeah, they know all the words. Sometimes a tourist wanders in, looking lost and somewhat frightened... within a half hour, they're dancing too. I told you New Orleans is the friendliest city on earth.

Moving into the Ninth Ward, you have Vaughn's Lounge. Vaughn's is so way off the beaten path, it's rarely even heard of by tourists. Try getting in to this somewhat dicey neighborhood on Thursdays, when Kermit Ruffins plays the late set and cooks barbecue for the audience at set break, and you'll know what it means to be truly alive.

There's so much more, I could keep typing till my fingers come off. I'm smiling as I type, trying to share a little bit of her eccentric essence with you. Please let the city that is rebuilt (and it WILL be rebuilt regardless of what idiots like Dennis Hastert say) retain her insouciant charm, her faded glamour--like an overage showgirl, lipstick slightly smeared, hair a bit worse for the wear, but undeniably beautiful.

Be well, ya'll.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Stories of the New Orleans that was

There's nothing I can do right now. I have to go on with my life; we all do. So instead of obsessing and crying and feeling dead; I want to spend some time sharing my New Orleans with you. And you know what? It's going to be unedited and uncensored and "un-prettied" up and vibrant and different and cool. Like my beautiful city. I invite you to share your own stories. Because New Orleans needs someone to remind people of how beautiful and different she is.

You know how a few posts ago I mentioned that one of the CNN producers is my friend's husband's cousin and that I went to sunday school with her younger brother? I know it's convoluted and all that, but that's just how it is in New Orleans. Everyone is somehow connected to everyone else. When you meet someone for the first time in New Orleans, you ask them where they went to high school, grade school and what neighborhood they grew up in. Then you know just about everything about that person. And you probably dated their brother or their cousin or their mama's sister's ex-husband. Or something. I know everyone in New Orleans. At least a little bit. How many other towns with over a million people have connections that close?

New Orleanians are the friendliest people on earth. They say "hi, how are you?" when they pass you on the sidewalk. Then, they wait for you to respond. When I moved up here to New Jersey two years ago I fell into a deep despair when I would say that to strangers and they thought I was crazy and gave me strange looks. I don't think I ever got a response back, either. It's funny, after two years in my neighborhood in Montclair, almost my whole block says, "I'm doin' well, how are you?" back to me now. I guess they got tired of seeing me waiting and looking dejected. I feel like I brought a little of my New Orleans hospitality to this cold, hyperfast part of the world.

People in New Orleans just look at things differently. I have the same friends as I did in high school. And in grade school. Sure, some have moved on, but we stay in touch. I've made new friends over the years, but my New Orleans friends are never far from my thoughts or my life. People in New Orleans mate for life--with their friends, with their city, with that certain something about it all that gets in your blood. Once a New Orleanian, always a New Orleanian.

Only in New Orleans would you see 300 people of all ages, races and socio-economic statuses jammed into Joe's Cozy Corner Bar (probably underwater now) in the Faubourg Treme (the city's first free, african-american suburb) on a muggy, hot August Sunday at 2 PM to listen to a trumpet battle between Irvin Mayfield and Kermit Ruffins. There was no air conditioning and it wasn't a holiday weekend, but that little bar was jumpin'. If you don't know who any of those people are or any of those names I just used, I suggest you open a new window and get to googling. You may learn something.

Only in New Orleans would I have lived in a really, really scary neighborhood (Antonine street at Magazine, since gentrified) for a couple of years in my early 20's and the neighborhood drunk bum would hang out on my doorstep and make sure no one broke into my house or my car. Because he liked the way I swayed when I walked. He never once asked me for money, and I watched him chase a couple of robbers away from my car monthly.

Only in New Orleans can you do your laundry at Checkpoint Charlie's bar while drinking an Abita Amber and playing pool with the members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. At 7 AM.

Yeah, I've done all those things and so many more. I'll tell you more stories about the New Orleans that was later on. Pass it on, OK? It's not all death and destruction. We will rebuild. But help spread the word about how amazing and unique she really is. I'm counting on you. The city is counting on you.
Go Aaron Broussard!

Aaron Broussard tells CBS' "The Early Show" these residents had the spirit to endure the forces of Mother Nature, but now their biggest obstacle may be "human nature."

In his words, "Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area." He's demanding a congressional probe into what happened there -- headed by the right person.

As he put it, "Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot."

Meantime, Broussard is calling for any kind of help. Even a week after Katrina hit, he says locals still "need everything."

from here.
As usual, my husband can say it better than I can

It's quite devastating to watch a city I once called home disintegrate in slow motion. Long term for the city, things don't look good. Many of our friends are considering taking any insurance payments and relocating to other areas. This will leave the city smaller, poorer, and less educated than it used to be.
Monday, September 05, 2005
Struggling to pretend I'm living a normal life

Last night I closed my eyes and dreamt of water. Water, water, everywhere. Rising up to my knees, my hips, my chest, my neck. I knew it was rising, but for some reason I didn't move. It kept coming. To my chin, to my nose. I was sputtering and choking and trying to scream for help. Only no sound came out. Bodies floated by me. Grotesques. Eyes rolled back in their heads. Lips stretched across their mouths in a horrible grin.

I woke up in a puddle of sweat. It happened twice during the course of the night.

Today dawned in glorious sunshine. Gorgeous late summer day. We tried to go about our normal life. I swore I wouldn't watch more than a little cnn. I swore I would only check the local websites briefly. We went to sears and bought a dishwasher for the new house. We went to the apple store and upgraded our OS because I need it for school. The weather was beautiful. I felt so guilty. I felt so wrong.

Something is dead and rotten and gnawing inside of me.

I don't know if I'll ever feel right again. I don't know if any of us will feel normal again. I don't know if I'll ever close my eyes and not dream of the water rising and the dead among the living. I just don't know anything anymore.
A History Lesson

For those of you who have never lived in New Orleans, here is a great essay that captures some of the history and feeling of this once vibrant city. I don't agree with everything that he says, but his account of what is happening in the refugee centers is particularly harrowing.

Go, now. Read.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
How much changes in two weeks

Two weeks ago today, I was planing my trip home for Labor Day weekend. I haven't been home to see my family and my friends since my wedding last October. I was deciding which restaurants we would go to, excitedly planning a reprise of our girl's weekend in the Mississippi country which we had done last year as a quasi-bachelorette party for me. There would be ten of us, at my best friend's parent's country house on thirty acres of land in rural Picayune, no husbands, no kids, just a bunch of us, swimming, eating and telling stories for two days. I couldn't wait. I was planning to take my grandparents to brunch and have a bunch of time to spend with my parents. I was going to kiss my godson and listen to his tales of his first week in kindergarten. I couldn't wait.

One week ago today, I sat glued to the weather channel, waiting to see where the storm would go.

Last Monday, I waited and watched and finally, Monday evening, breathed a sigh of relief that the city, though battered and parts flooded, seemed to be ok.

Last Tuesday, I woke up to news of the levee breach and knew that the city was most definitely NOT going to be ok.

Last Wednesday, the phones went down and we no longer could reach my grandparents. I went from hell to something far, far worse.

CNN producer, Carey Bodenheimer, who is my friend's husband's cousin and who I went to Sunday school with, is on TV right now saying that she feels like she's been kicked in the stomach. I have to agree. No one who has any love for the city of New Orleans can't help but feel pain, but for us who call the city home, it's a irreparable sense of loss, of something that can never be repaired. I feel so sick, so lost, so small and so helpless.

I feel like a part of me died when that levee broke and New Orleans descended into chaos, into anarchy. I just feel dead deep inside.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Relief - good news

After a harrowing three days without contact, we have found my grandparents.

They are at an army base in Arkansas. Details are slim, but we were able to talk with them very briefly and know that they are OK.

The last three days have been the absolute worst in my life. I am just so relieved to know that they are safe and that we will be reunited with them shortly. I appreciate all your calls and emails of support through this horrendous ordeal.

There are many, many people who are in much more serious circumstances than my family.

I urge you all to give as generously as possible in the wake of this, the largest natural disaster in this country's history. Some of my evacuated friends are organizing a relief effort geared toward helping the children displaced by this tragedy. I will have more details in the coming days.

Thank you all for your friendship and support.
Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns

More bullshit from the so-called hurricane relief response. From here:

Forest Service offers planes to help fight fires

The Forest Service has offered fixed plane aircraft used to fight forest fires to help extinguish blazes in New Orleans, according to two congressional sources. But the sources said the planes, which can pour large amounts of water on fires, remained grounded in Missouri Friday because the Department of Homeland Security hasnít authorized their use.

The department is overseeing federal hurricane relief and rescue operations.

"Weíve been asking them to request that the planes be used, but nothing has happened,Ē said one of the two congressional sources, both of whom asked to remain anonymous. The planes were offered by the Forest Service because of news reports that firefighters in New Orleans lacked adequate water pressure to fight a number of fires in the city.

There was no immediate comment from the Forest Service, which is part of the Agriculture Department, or the Department of Homeland Security.

I feel like I can see the idiots in Homeland Security sitting there chanting, "the roof, the roof, the roof is on fire... we don't need no water let the motherfucker burn!"

BTW, still nothing on my grandparents. I'm pacing.
Biblical Plagues

Somedays make you glad to be an atheist. As plagues of biblical proportions are visited on New Orleans--winds, floods, pestilence, death, fires--the recriminations and the photo ops begin. The city burns, the smug politicians debate the response, the looting, the class and race issues, the... I don't care.

Here's the bottom line: the city is irreplacably changed. Destroyed. Battered. So many people are not going back. Almost everyone I spoke to said that they would go back to settle the insurance claims and then move on. Those that do not have that option, the poor, the uneducated, will remain to a city that will never be the same. Will the tourists ever come back? A city that already has 40% of its people below the poverty line will see that number move much, much higher.

It's seems as though the reality will be much, much harsher than anyone could have ever imagined. My beautiful, unique and vibrant city is lost.

As for me, while I watch in horror, I cannot muster the necessary outrage. I am too scared about where my grandparents are and how they are. We had a lead last night that they may have been bussed to San Antonio, but so far we have not been able to locate them. I am too swept up in my own personal tragedy to have time to think about the plight of the others.

And my family is one of the lucky ones.

I am so weary.
Friday, September 02, 2005
Holding our breath

My father is incensed. He says that the United States did a better job in Mogadishu than it is doing for its own citizens. He calls FEMA, they direct him to the Red Cross, he calls the Red Cross, they direct him to the State Police, he calls the State Police, they direct him to FEMA. He's been shuffled 17 times and no one has any answers. There is zero coordination of the relief effort. People are bussed to Houston only to be re-directed to Dallas and then god knows where. My father, who fled Soviet oppression, says in a bitter voice that the red army could at least have done better than this chaos and madness. It's a complete breakdown.

My mother says ruefully that she just wants to know that they are safe and then she can kill herself.

I just cry and post messages to bulletin boards and call complete strangers who are also looking for lost loved ones from the same facility. There is no news. I hold my head and try to keep from screaming. Sometimes I can't stop myself.

Meanwhile, the city burns and people slowly die like dogs in the street.

But the politicians are all in the right places, getting face time with the camera, saying things that are completely moronic (thanks Dennis Hastert, you smug, self-satisified prick) or just inadequate.

There doesn't seem to be any room for hope.
Thursday, September 01, 2005

We have lost all contact with my grandparents. We do not know where they are, if they have been evacuated or if they are facing a FIFTH day without electricity, running water and toilets. They are elderly and sick and I am sinking into a black hole. I have posted messages on every goddamn bulletin board and blog and whatnot. No one knows anything. If they took them to the Superdome or the fucking Convention Center... oh, I just can't even finish that sentence. I don't know what else to do. Please let them be safe. Please let them be OK. Just please. It's been 13 hours since we have been in touch with them. The phones are completely dead. We don't know anything.

And then... we get this fucking asshole. Saying this. I hope he rots. I have never wanted to kill someone before, but I actually wish him a painful death. Maybe they should evacuate him to the fucking Superdome. I can't even coherently respond to his ignorant, no-nothing statement. I just want him to fucking die. Maybe next time there's a fucking ice storm in Illinois, we don't fucking help them. You stupid bastard. Let's just kick people when they're down? You fucktard. Die.

I donít recognize the face that looks back at me from the mirror. I feel swallowed. Obliterated. Lost and helpless.

The situation for my grandparents is desperate. Four days without electricity, running water and toilets that flush in 95+ degree heat. They are in their late 80ís. My grandmother has high blood pressure. How much longer before their canned food and bottled water runs out? The building management told them yesterday to get ready. That the National Guard is coming to evacuate them and the other hundred or so elderly residents of their building to Baton Rouge. So far, they have not come.

There are reports that my parentsí neighborhood, which appears to have remained relatively dry (only a foot or so of water in the streets), is being looted by armed gangs that are going door to door. My auntís apartment is near the levee breach and is likely a total loss. Renterís insurance, which she doesnít have anyway, does not cover flood damage. My best friendís house and her three rental properties are all in the Ninth Ward. She has insurance, but how long before she gets any settlement and how long before she can see any rental income again? That is a huge part of her familyís monthly income. Where will she and her three small children live? What does the future hold? For any of them. Is there even a future? We are the lucky ones. There are many much, much worse off.

How will the city rebuild? How will we even survive? Is New Orleans lost?

These questions and so many more race through my mindóI feel like I am completely submerged. Every time I close my eyes, I think that itís a bad, bad dream. But when I open them, it doesnít disappear. I donít wake up.