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Five Years August 21, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Three years August and the storms are being named like epic ships, a doom upon our shore, and I think of the levees still leaking and of the flood-walls patched with paper mache, our Potemkin defenses are not ready and we are not ready and the Big One is out there, invisible, a mighty wind, waiting for us. Someone empties a pistol into the night and I think of Jessica and Chanel and Helen and Dinerral as I watch the MPs in their Humvees roll by like armored ghosts. I think of the streets running into blocks running into miles of houses houses houses houses houses empty eyed with plywood doors and ragged lawns. And I think I’ll have another drink and light another cigarette and then another drink and then–I stop thinking. That is when this song comes into my head. It is a compulsion, like bitting ones nails until they smart and bleed, this thought that what we blog may not be our Genesis but an Apocalypse, the history of the end. And yet we stay because to live here is to walk through wrack and ruin counting the flowers in the weeds and discover you are not alone, everywhere there are people smiling, people with crumpled souls and rough stomachs, suffering what you are suffering, worse than you are suffering, suffering beyond your imagining and all for the sake of this place, because they see this city as you do, because they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape. A terrible beauty spills out of their eyes like tears and bathes the city in light.

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Recovery, Courage, Leadership and Nausea August 14, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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As fond as we are of the Odd, there are moments when it seems Toulouse Street has slipped into the Twlight Zone, and hot in a happy way. It is like the fellow who wakes up after the apocalypse free to read every book in the NYC Library, only to drop and break his classes.

Receiving a link to this in an email was one of those moments.

The Award of Distinction for Recovery, Courage and Leadership to C. Ray Nagin? W. T. F.

I think we need to find out 1) who is behind this bizarre event and 2) let them know we’re taking this circulated email to be an invitation. I hope they have a big room, because we are all coming looking for some explanation of this insanity.

This event should no more take place than the ill advised 8-29 party the Mayor once proposed for 2006. What sort of people are sponsoring this? No one outside of the mayor’s own staff or family could possibly take this seriously.

Update: Read this, in particular the part about the hit-and-run victim. At what point do we declare we live in a failed state and either begin to organize militias for our own protection, or request the protection of the international community?

A hit and run driver, who left a Bywater resident and business owner bleeding in the street with protruding broken bones, telling the victim, “I never hit you”, can only be ticketed for a misdemeanor, and then only if witnesses come along for the arrest to identify him to his face. The Ticketed driver would not be arrested, nor the witness protected.

The police asked a witness, a single women who lives near by, to accompany them to the front porch, where almost a dozen young men were gathered, and stand there pointing out the one who drove the vehicle so cold bloodedly over her friend, while his friends watched her make the identification. The cops said they would issue a traffic citation upon her identification, but make no arrest.

She must pass this house on an almost daily basis.

Another, happier Update: At least now I am laughing: How long can the Excellence in Recovery Host Committee hold a bong hit before laughing hysterically? Thanks, Schroeder.

NOLA Bloggers find missing cranes on city skyline August 11, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Cranes, you bastard. You promised us cranes. Well, we’re ready to deliver where Ed “Bicycle Pants” Blakely cannot. We got your cranes on the skyline.

Graphic by Greg Peters.

Here’s your rolling reminder about Rising Tide 3: John Barry, author of the definitive work on the 1927 Mississippi River flood; Lee Zurik together with the bloggers who broke the NOAH story; the inside dope on the massive uncontrolled experiment on involuntary child subjects called our post-Flood educational system, eats from the restaurateur/bloggers from J’Anita’s. Aren’t you registered yet? Social 8/22 in the evening at Buffa’s. Conference 8/23 a the Zeitgeist Cultural Center. Volunteer work 8/24.

Rising Tide III August 7, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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The Rising Tide organizers have been busy as hell while I was lazing in Destin and Miami. The schedule is finalized and it’s time to start banging pans together to build so momentum for this year’s conference.

If you are not familiar with this event, the NOLA Bloggers are organizing their third annual conference on the recovery of New Orleans. This year’s featured speaker is John Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America and commissioner for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East.

Last year’s feature speaker, author and blogger David Zirin, told me at lunch in all of his travels for work and book promotion, he has never seen as organized and integrated a blogging community as he found in New Orleans. The success of the last two Rising Tide conferences reflect that clearly. The organizing group has put together a fantastic array of speakers. So far, the only thing missing is you.

So why haven’t you registered yet? You can get more details and sign up at www.risingtidenola.net or on the Rising Tide Blog.

Where Shall We Put The Pyramid? June 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“If there’s anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now”
– Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed President of the Galaxy, in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Could the financially strapped City of New Orleans really afford this? It looks like the work of an administration led by someone with plans for future office, or could it simply be that Mayor C. Ray Nagin’ ego is so monumental that we have to waste money on a slick brochure like this even as real recovery projects languish?

Perhaps it’s Dr. of Recoverology Edward “Bicycle Pants” Blakey, Executive Director — Office of Recovery and Development Administration who thought we needed this helpful reminder of how damn good they are at protecting us from collapsing cranes.

And it’s Our Recovery in Process, the cover helpfully explains to us, lest there be any confusion. Of course that could mean the Mayor and Blakey’s recovery, now couldn’t it. Perhaps we are all supposed to just bask in the sunny glow from the pate of our own Amenhotep. It certainly has nothing to do with me, those donations made in my children’s and nephew’s name to the mayor’s reelection or that contract for crane disaster recovery services. I swear.

Oh, wait, on the back it explains that we are ONE New Orleans. That must be what that Our Recovery stuff is about. Never mind. Under the ONE New Orleans logo (like that fluer de lis in the big O) is says “Rethink * Renew * Revive”. Very punchy. It is so inspiring that I”m going to add my own “re” word to it. Recycle. As in this particular waste of highly glossy paper. Come to think of it, it’s probably too glossy to recycle, so perhaps it will just have to be one more contribution to rebuilding the wetlands in Gentilly, one truck load of crap at a time.

Oh, and there’s a helpful map on the back should you find yourself feeling lost on the rocky road to recovery, oh! There’s no mention of the citizen-led recovery meetings that took up so much of 2006. It seems the only things that happened that year were Nagin’s establishment of the Office of Recovery Management and the upgrade of the city’s bond rating from junk. Not a very busy year for recovery, I guess. I think most of the activist-bloggers like Bart, Micheal and Karen spent most of that year basking in the sun of Jamaica smoking ganja. Or was that the mayor? I don’t know. Perhaps if I got on some medication I could recover my short-term memory and the will to give a fuck. In 2008 they were much busier. This past February the city established a pool of 50 approved architecture and engineering firms and released 61 projects from PDU (whatever or wherever that is). And now, months later in June 2008, they began Public Outreach on Recovery, producing this lovely brochure so we could actually identify these projects since you might not notice while driving buy them.

I still like mine better.

And Because It Is My Heart May 29, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter-bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

— Stephen Crane

It is not the date itself, the largely symbolic start of hurricane season; the idea that the winds have changed after June 1, that somewhere between North Africa and the convergence zone in the North Atlantic something ominous begins to turn. It is the compulsion of the media at this cusp to flood us with stories like this one from National Public Radio, the tale of a a hardworking family (he in security at a local casino, she a waitress as Waffle House) living with five children in two motel rooms. In less than a week, on June 5, they will find themselves homeless, more than 1,000 days after Katrina struck the richest nation in America.

Steve and Lindsay Huckabee and their five children lost their home when the storm itself swept across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and reduced it to its natural state, a flat expanse of scrub-tree sand looking out on the Mississippi sound. They were driven out of their FEMA-supplied trailer by the formaldehyde which made their children sick. On June 5, FEMA will stop paying for their two motel rooms. There are no places for them to rent suitable for their family. Rents have doubled. They don’t know when they might get a Katrina Cottage, 300 square feet of formaldehyde-free manufactured home to put on their vacant lot.

“It’s not just the people who are on welfare and getting food stamps … it touches every class of person,” she says. “It’s not that easy. It’s not limited to just the super poor people who can’t find a place to live. It’s everybody, pretty much.”

Developers are rebuilding high-dollar homes and condos, but Huckabee says average Mississippi residents can’t afford to live in them.

Glad to see that Mississippi is doing a so much better job than poor, benighted and corrupt Louisiana. The link back to Wet Bank Guide is from September, 2006. So long ago and so little changed. And then we have to reconcile this sort of Pravda/Isvestia happy talk nonsense from USA Today with stories like this by the Washington Post. The only sure truth is that we are lied to.

If you wonder why I would write something as bitter as my post from last Memorial Day, why I consider the United States of America a failed state with which I feel no bond other than the chains they have laid around our necks like those placed around the ghost Marley, consider the season: it is time to be reminded again and again by the professional doom criers how we have been failed and forgotten, treated like some inconvenient third-world ally whose usefulness is passed. The central government have their oil and the port open. They don’t need us.

I am so dumb-struck this morning after hearing that story, sitting in my car with a bitter cigarette in the parking lot waiting for the piece to end with some glimmer of hope, of a happy ending, that I have a hard time finding words that are not sour in my mouth. So instead I go back a year and a half to a Wet Bank Guide post called “How Long, Lord?”, a question that bears repeating.

For how many will it be the last bitter insult in a long train since Federal levees failed us and our city was flooded? I have to wonder if here in the New South, people still take counsel from Psalms, or are we become just another part of a society that taps its foot impatiently to wait for a hamburger or a cup of coffee at the fast food restaurant. Are we ready for this marathon? I recall from my trip down from North Dakota that as close as Jackson, Mississippi the big and little box national retailers gleam clean in the morning sun along a ribbon of interstate highway, calling to people living in small trailers in ruined neighborhoods. How much longer will they resist that call from other cities?

How long, Lord, how long? “. . . Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves . . .” the Psalmist laments in number 80. Unlike the children of Israel, release for the [returnees to the hurricane coast] is as close as the nearest tank of gas and entrance to the interstate. A conversation with a friend a few weeks back, a couple that came home early and rebuilt and who threw themselves into the endless parade of rebuilding meetings, turned to him talking wistfully of what life would be like in Memphis, and I wonder, how long?

Much comes down to what we can accomplish on our own. The question I have asked here again and again, is this: are we still the nation that weathered the great depression, or who turned back the seemingly invincible Japanese advance into the Pacific? Are we the country that, flush with those victories, erected a home for every soldier and the highways that tied them together, the nation that sent men to the moon.

Those who held the reins of power when Katrina wiped the Gulf Coast clean and the Federal levees failed measure greatness by prowess of arms. They were amply rewarded for their failure in Iraq with a serious thrubbing at the polls this past Fall. I think a greater test is whether this nation can rebuild New Orleans and the hurricane coast. As the blogger Ashley likes to remind us all, they rebuilt Hiroshima. For that matter, they also rebuilt post-war Europe, a fact I am reminded of when I think of the European foundation established to repay that largess which is helping to rebuild the gymnasium at my son’s school.

One thousand days and counting: why do we stay, and why do more come home each day? They come and stay because it is home, and because in the civics class, film-strip America we were all raised to believe in the government does not tell you where to live. We will do it alone if we must, Sinn Fein. It may at times be bitter-bitter, but in the end it is our heart.

P.S. Thank you, Tim, our eternal optimist and resident engineer who knows a thing or two about poldars and dikes and such.

Queen of Denial? February 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Carnival, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, home, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Hollywood Reporter columnist Ray Richmond came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, wandered Bourbon Street and its immediate environs like a good tourist–noting the drunken hordes, the breast obsession, and the beads, all of the touchstones of a Tourist at Mardi Gras. His blog notes that he did venture out of the Quarter and into The Ruins, fand found “a watterlogged [sic] ghost town pockmarked with wide swaths of untouched damage. Meanwhile, those who dared stick it out — or more likely, had no choice — are forced to live in flimsy FEMA trailer housing where their homes once stood.”

His reaction to this odd (to him) juxtaposition was to wonder at the boosterism of the city fathers in promoting Carnival, and the commitment of the costumed locals to have their day even in the middle of Year Three of the postdeluvian era.

The local and national media don’t really talk about this stuff anymore, as Hurricane Katrina is yesterday’s crisis. It’s also far better for tourism and for the city’s tenuous self-esteem to promote the fact that New Orleans’ self-gratifying, anything-goes character is back in full. “New Orleans Hotels at 90% Capacity — and Counting!” exulted one headline. The only hurricane you seem to hear about anymore is the one that’s served in a glass (dark rum, pineapple juice, splash of grenadine). It’s all something of a facade, of course, but that’s spin marketing for ya. There’s simply not as much to be gained from peddling the slogan, New Orleans: Merely a Shell of What We Once Were.

“….We can all sleep better knowing that New Orleans is once again safe for the rowdy and the inebriated, the naked and the perverse. For a city that’s still struggling to crawl out from under the lingering devastation of Hell and high water, it now finds itself drowning in denial, which rapidly has become the most powerful of opiates for these huddled, thinned-out masses.”

Ray, we are not merely a shell of what we once were, even if half of the city’s buildings are. Carnival is not denial; for us it is life. The picture of the man dressed as a soiled baby president is part of (or a dedicated hanger on to) the Krewe of Saint Anne, one of the groups dedicated to elaborate costuming in Mardi Gras. The people who worked half the year on fantastic costumes in spite of the state of our city are no different than my wife soldiering through celebrating Christmas while her mother died. To suggest Mardi Gras is inappropriate would be tantamount to suggesting that commerce in New York be suspended for a few years because of 9-11. If that were to happen, what would be left of the city? Would what remains even be New York? The same is true for New Orleans: to cease to be ourselves would be to surrender, and we have not, will not give up.

For people like the Krewe of St. Anne and all of those you saw following them, Mardi Gras is not a denial but instead a celebration of who we are, of why we live here. It was an affirmation that we do live here, that we will live here, come hell or high water or both, in the way we have for close to three centuries. We not only had Mardi Gras this year, we had it last year, and we had it in 2006 — six months after the Federal Flood, when half of the city had no running water or telephones. We costumed and paraded and partied.

We’re glad the tourists are back, even the vomiting hordes of Spring Break in Hell types. We need their business. We need your business, and that of your readers. Tourism remains a top industry. We want you to come for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and we want you to take time out from those celebrations to see the rest of the city, the real city that stands in hollow, gray ruin not a mile from the Fairgrounds where Jazz Fest plays. We want America to know the one thing your story missed. We stand in ruin because we have been left to our own devices to rebuild. The money is all gone down the rat hole, parceled out to pay for fabulous no-bid contracts to Haliburton and their ilk for debris clean up and other tasks that followed the storm and flood. The money meant to help rebuild is tied up in Byzantine federal red tape. Little has actually reached the people who live here. And still they come home, maxing out their credit cards and cashing out their retirement and one-by-one rebuilding their houses and lives. We are doing it on our own because we just. Sinn Fein, baby.

They come home because they have tried life elsewhere in America when they had no choice but to leave, and they chose to come home. The come back because there is no place for a Krewe of St. Anne’s in Houston or Dallas or Atlanta or Memphis. They come home not for Bourbon Street but for the joie de vivre of the entire city, for the way of life which Bourbon Street caricatures for the tourists. The come because we have built a culture here over 300 years which is different than what the rest of America has, a life visitors don’t understand but are drawn to, which they come and sample with envy. A person may still be waiting — two-and-a-half years later — for a final insurance settlement or a check from the Road Home program, living in a camper trailer beside a home they are trying to rebuild themselves after a long day’s work elsewhere. They may be tired and beaten down, but they will have Carnival.

This is not denial. This is who we are. This is why you came, why the hordes on Bourbon Street came. This is why the floats rolled and the marching crews walked. They city may lay still half in ruin, but New Orleans is back because New Orleans is a people and a way of life. We have risked everything and spent every penny we have to be here because we will not let that way of life vanish from the earth, cannot imagine spending a life elsewhere, a life different from this.

See you at Jazz Fest.