Do Not Go Gentilly Into That Good Night

Or What are We, Job?

It feels strange to wish that the tornado had ripped through my husband’s childhood house. But as tornadoes tore through Uptown, Westwego and Gentilly this week, they somehow skipped over my mother-in-law's abandoned home. They also missed us by a block in the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Apartment, but we’re handing it back to a musician this week and best of luck to him.

That leaves an 80-year-old 23 days to either somehow expedite the charity waiting list she has been on for a year and a half, or find the means to pay for gutting the home her late husband built. After 30 days if neither happens, the city will own it. Her home now is worthless and the property underneath it may top out at $40,000. The contents are still in it – with no new residence and $20,000 in insurance offered to start over, where could she have stored her moldy heirlooms?

Her wedding veil. Jeff’s childhood Mardi Gras costumes. I have never met anyone who turned family mementos into a shrine to the level that Miss Gloria does. With this year passing like a bad dream, she is still not ready to deal with the loss of them. And we don’t live here anymore.

Here’s the thing about the New Orleans recovery czar’s exploratory bicycle ride through Gentilly Ridge. It’s a ridge. The homes there were occupied mainly by little old ladies and it’s not likely to flood again. Notices have been pasted on doors, not mailed to former residents. I’m guessing there’s still no inter-governmental list sharing. Whatever the case, of the columns of residents listed in the paper for a hearing on Wednesday four showed up.

A policeman, a woman who made the trip back from Houston, a very quiet couple, my brother-in-law and us. The woman who came back from Houston gave her cane a good swing before heading into the private meeting, and the policeman was carrying his gun. We joked around to relieve the tension, but after hours of waiting they all came out looking numb.

It’s impossible to emphasize enough the level at which New Orleans residents have become Gandhi-like in their ability to not punch someone in the eye when he really has it coming. We told the committee tht Gloria has waited for 18 months for volunteers to gut her home. They said:

“Well I guess that didn’t work out for you, did it?”

Then the moderator pulled out a photo of the home Jeff's father built and said that it’s so modest, "how hard could it be to get rid of?"

Jeff did an admirable job of sitting on his hands and my snappy comments generally occur to me two days later. The tape recorder was turned off for off the record comments that could easily have been on the record. I don’t think this record will be consulted in the coming years.

As far as wishing for a tornado to implode what’s left Gloria’s home and push us to the front of the gutting waiting list, as of this week State Farm will no longer write new insurance policies in Mississippi because that state had the affront to instute criminal prosecution. I hope that insurance companies still consider tornadoes wind. Presumably the laws of physics still apply - Mardi Gras has been known to turn all that on its head.

In this whole nightmare, the thing the most chilling is my brother-in-law’s calm. He has now absorbed that there is nothing you can do about being treated like this on every level. I watched the local news, it probably didn’t get picked up by national affiliates, as a woman wept on camera explaining that a tornado tore through her FEMA hotel room and she does not live in the trailer in front of her ruined home because she still can’t get the keys.

She wondered aloud why she deserves this. It reminded me that packing up and moving across town to a hotel because tornados knocked out our power, cranking the AC and putting our frozen food on it like we learned to do after 8/29 is a minor inconvenience.

To the woman on the news who now has neither hotel room nor trailer keys I am confident that in New Orleans, Job would still be waiting for keys to his trailer.


It's Disney Meets Fellini Week

Walt meet Frederico. Frederico, meet Walt. New Orleans is Disney meets Fellini this week.

Freaky Friday

Today the upscale suburb of Covington told parents they would let students make up work later if their kids stayed home out of concern for an impending campus brawl. Tonight is Covington’s big carnival parade, and quoted in the Times-Picayune, Lt. Jack West called it “one of the biggest conspiracies to get out of school that I’ve ever seen.” Kids were asking their parents to rescue them from school because shots were fired and the building was locked down, West said. Ten officers were posted, just in case.

Working at the Car Wash

Yesterday a teenager was accused of stealing a $70,000 BMW at a New Orleans car wash, and wrapping it around a tree after an extended police chase. It was his first day on the job.

Very Poor Parenting

Last night 17-year-old Clarence Johnson allegedly killed another teen who had just beaten him in a fistfight. Police say Clarence's mother sent him back out to avenge himself with a gun. The victim had just returned to New Orleans after a long evacuation in Dallas.

This morning, the Times-Picayune cover was a photo of the alleged killer holding a fist full of cash in one hand and a gun in the other. The portrait had been mounted on the wall of his mother’s home. His teen victim arrived in town from Dallas by bus yesterday, and was murder victim number 21 by last night. Clarence's mother is jailed on second degree murder charges.

Very Good Parenting

It’s hard to move from that story to one of the kids who are alright, but my friend Jonah is a comic with Muscular Dystrophy. He called inviting us to his standup comedy (his words) routine tonight. Each week Jonah wheels himself from his gutted home through the streets of New Orleans to the local comedy club. They just gave him his first Friday night show. His parents stand behind his spirit and his promise. I can get behind parenting like that.

The Disney Ending

More than 20 years ago, young John Thompson was imprisoned for killing a local executive. In 2003, weeks before John was to die by lethal injection at Angola, he was acquitted thanks to a prosecutor’s deathbed confession of hidden evidence. Here’s where it gets pretty Disney - as of this week the city owes John $14 million and Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are allegedly in talks to play his pro-bono attorneys in a Disney movie.

BuzzFeed.com has run this blog under “Caring About New Orleans Again." And later under "Not Caring About New Orleans Again." I prefer the Disney version.


What Could U Be?

Out of an uptown New Orleans gutter today I pulled a crumpled faded note that read:

"Note to self, continue enriching u _ _ _ _ _ _." Need alternative energy source with today's Chevron Oil's maleic anhydride leak. Sure hope residents stay indoors. Murphy Oil paying $330 million for its Katrina leak"

What could U be? And who could have written the note?

With the Congressional Homeland Security Committee Susan Collins (R), Ted Stevens (R), George Voinovich (R), Norm Coleman (R), Tom Coburn (R), John Sununu (R), Pete Domenici (R), John Warner (R), Barak Obama (D), Chairman Joe Lieberman (?) and Mary Landreau (D) invited to Louisiana for 8/29 hearings, it could have been anyone.

Actually only the last three showed so that narrows it down substantially.

Could it be from Mary? Landreau has been quoted in Roll Call saying "“I often think we would have been better off if the terrorists had blown up our levees. Maybe we’d have gotten more attention.”

I uncrumpled the note further and it read, "seriously, look into e _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ uranium. Could offset bankrupt New Orleans branch of Entergy company. Strangely, it looks like they tripled their national energy profits this quarter."

Could it be Barak? Obama has mentioned that "We may be in danger of actually forgetting New Orleans." Nothing would bring it back to national attention faster than e _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ r a n i u m.

Or maybe Lieberman, who's in charge of the Katrina branch of the Homeland Security Committee? Taking the road more traveled, he has said he will not hold hearings on the Administration's actions and play a game of "gocha." No word on whether he plans to incorporate games of Chutes and Ladders or Hungry Hungry Hippoes into later 8/29 investigations.

Four hundred children were turned away from New Orleans school admission this semester. Not enough room for them. Bill Cosby on a recent visit said that “There’s a great disrespect for children, not just African-American children, but children throughout these United States,” according to the Times-Picayune.

Insightful but not incendiary.

There was a violent outburst on the West Bank today. Not the Gaza Strip, New Orleans. Cars started pulling over to fire shots into the melee and a bystander was killed leaving a convenience store. An 18-year old was booked with second-degree murder.

A 13-year old boy just killed himself playing Russian Roulette.

And a 17-year-old ran out of St. Charles Parish Hospital and drowned in a retention pond before anyone could save him. The Sheriff's office did not have information on why the boy was in the hospital.

We're losing our children so quickly. Dinerral Shavers, Jr., 7, could be lost in a different way without help. A budding drummer, his musician father was killed in crossfire meant for someone else last month.

Whoever is enriching u _ _ _ _ _ _, I'm sorry someone more important did not find your note. We need intervention, and what you are claiming to do has been known to send hundreds of thousands of young people and billions of dollars in aid into a land in crisis.

Despite being left out of the State of the Union address and the Road Home grants, the state of the Gulf Coast is still in crisis.


The Saints Sixth Straight Superbowl

My fellow displaced Saints fans without tickets to Sunday’s game are gathering at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn, Illinois. That makes it old home week. Twenty years ago I was features editor at the Berwyn / Cicero LIFE Newspaper.

Cicero is where Al Capone retired. Little old ladies willing to talk say he kept a nice garden and minded his own business. The glamour part of the job was asking Vlasta Sneeburger, America’s polka queen, about her appearances on the Late Show. Berwyn is the home of one of the biggest elderly populations in the country, so when there were no other stories available I would hang out at the senior center for gossip. One couple reunited after a high school falling out. “Couple Scratches 65-year Itch” was our headline.

The senior experience is coming in handy - my dad went into a nursing home this week. I’ve been feeding him dinner because his new thing is getting his hand almost to his mouth then changing his mind about the whole endeavor. Between our Native American heritage and Dalton Gang ancestors, it’s like trying to feed combined Cowboys and Indians with Alzheimer’s. He tried to snatch someone else’s dinner tonight because his took too long to get to the table. Almost got it, too.

They play country music on a continuous loop in the cafeteria. But thanks to the hurricane, at least I get to be there to listen to country music and spoon mashed potatoes into my angry father who sometimes tries to steer the spoon back toward me. And I'm there to write "Dr." on his glasses before his name to help him remember.

Leon Redbone played Fitzgerald’s Wednesday and says the Mayan calendar gives us six years to exist as a planet. That’s not too long to have to feed someone. And at least those six years will include the Saints winning on Sunday. I was probably one of the only people in Chicago to fall asleep when the Bears won the Superbowl. I was at a Superbowl party so no, not a big sports fan, but the Saints are going to win.

For New Orleans, for our last six years as a planet, for my last 17 months as a nomad, for my husband whose ‘67 Galaxie 500 had the original Saints sticker on it and is now imploded (the car, not Jeff), the Saints are going to win.

Bill Fitzgerald is generously giving NOLAChain Chicago and New Orleans Musician Relief Fund friends the Side Bar to watch the game. I’m lobbying for the main bar, as nobody puts Baby in the corner. Sports fans rarely get Dirty Dancing references, so nobody puts Saints Fans in the corner. Bill has legitimate concerns about our cheering as the Bears lose and getting the crowd worked up, but that will ensure that I’m awake for the whole game.

Fitzgerald’s is where I started doing Poetry Slams and singing acapella songs in the 80s. In the 90’s my husband met me singing acapella at Carrolton Station in New Orleans. Last Jazz Fest we met Bill Fitzgerald at Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge. Some of my best friends are bars, and they eventually tie everything back together.

The Road Home Program has spent $19 million on employee travel but does not have the budget to itemize. They have now distributed 200 grants to New Orleaneans. If Leon Redbone’s Mayan calendar is right, maybe that won’t seem so horrifying in 2013.

It gives Louisiana time to win 6 more Superbowls and get out at least 66 more Road Home Grants. These days, the road is the same coming back.