Sunday, March 12, 2006

Are You Going To Try Sobriety Again Today? (Part VI)

"Are you going to try sobriety again today? " was the question asked of one of the perpetually stoned members of our host party. Part of me wonders how much of it is an act - or an exaggerated personality for the benefit of the 'Catholic University Students.' Or how much is a result of one too many train jumps gone awry?

Today was a much better day and I'm not sure why. Perhaps because our house was next to our barracks? Perhaps because I felt pretty good ripping shit down and tossing it away? I also think some of the original sting of seeing the devastation has worn off and our senses of humor have returned. They were sorely missed and needed.

I still can't help but think I wouldn't rebuild if I were in this situation but I don't have as much attachment to things. Easily said considering my house has been standing since 1836.

Our house today was in worse shape, structurally, or so it seemed. Half of the roof and attic are missing. About 1/8 of the brickwork is missing. It did afford us nice breezes throughout the day - as callous as that may sound.

While going through the closets in the bedroom, I was haphazardly tossing clothes onto the debris pile out front. I started to think that I was going through the most intimate part of anyone's home. What would I do if people were going through my personal belongings in my bedroom? Is there something there I wouldn't want to see tossed to the curb? Or something I wouldn't want anyone to find? I mentioned this to my group of students while we were taking a break. No one elaborated likely because they didn't want to think about what a professor might have in her bedroom. Not that I would have shared....

On the top shelf of the closet was a box full of the little wedding favor bubble things people blow at weddings instead of throwing rice. I wondered if there was an upcoming wedding interrupted by the storm. We blew some of the bubbles then thought they might be toxic so we stopped. But it did offer a bit of a reprieve.

Relaxing at lunch I let fly that I read tarot cards and brought a deck with me - my voodoo inspired, trance deck - quite fitting for New Orleans. Several girls want readings after dinner. it should provide much entertainment.

New Orleans Tours drive through the 9th Ward and St. Bernards Parish. A sort of macabre hurricane devastation tour. I tried to process that one. Paying money to tour the devastation. It seemed so fucked up and as a communication scholar, there isn't a better way to phrase that. I have looked at houses but I have also gutted them. I have taken the time to talk to those affected both at the worksites and in the distribution center on site. The shelter of your bus is nice. I hope you bastards enjoy the view through your "aquarium." Get out and sweat and cry. I don't know why that bothered me so much. Tourist money is coming back into the city but at what cost?

I did pay to get here. But I don't think of myself as a tourist. And in defense of the tours, perhaps a portion of it goes to relief efforts. I don't know. I found it disturbing. Although I would like to talk to the sightseers and perhaps after cooling down I can empathize. Each of us can process as only we know how. I need to jump into it. Some may need shelter. Some may need the newspaper. It's all about perspective.

Some memorable signs I saw or heard about:
  • FEMA (Fix Everything My Ass)
  • George Bush, Where are you sleeping tonight?
  • Thanks for the Levees
  • Goodbye Mom and Dad
  • For Sale
  • Polluted by Murphy Oil

Some require some explanation. There were many houses that had signs or had paint sprayed directly on the houses that expressed condolences for lost loved ones. Goodbye mom and dad I could only surmise meant mom and dad didn't make it. And that sign was painted on the grave nature appointed for them.

Murphy Oil is a huge refinery in St. Bernards Parish - or close enough that it may as well be in the Parish. Rumor has it that Murphy Oil had been illegally dumping or storing oil for years and, in truth, with the levee breach, one of the large oil containers leaked oil all over the Parish. In fact, one of the Hippie volunteers told me that when cleanup first started they could run a finger along the car or along the house and get a layer of oil off. Murphy, of course, denies anything illegal and states that the tank overflowed.

A story that doesn't surprise me. It does surprise me that it didn't occur to me. Several residents mentioned having to climb on their roofs to weather the storm. No surprise, it was on the news. What wasn't mentioned was that the fauna of the area needed someplace to roost as well. Residents found themselves fighting off snakes and alligators. With what, I can only imagine. Imagine sitting on your roof waiting to be rescued while you fight off a gator? Or try to wrestle a snake? The idea seems unfathomable. I don't know how to put myself in that situation.

Also, many of those who were piloting boats were residents. Many residents had boats and most kept their keys in the boats. When the boats floated by, residents would swim to them, start them up, and rescue people off roofs. In fact, in once instance, residents returned and spray painted (the only way to leave a message for your neighbor) on the garage door an apology for taking the boat, but left their phone number to call to get it back.

Neighborly, compassionate, understanding, and friendly in spite of such hardship. Why wouldn't you want communities like this?

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