October 26, 2005
J. just came in briefly and I told her I want to go into NOLA for my last run tomorrow. “Send me someplace good”, I told her. This way I’ll avoid being stuck on some pointless 2nd run on a Bravo ERV and risk possibly returning at an ungodly hour.
Earlier there was a birthday celebration for R., who came down with me. He was in tears. It was very sweet.
I’ve been trying to remember some of the things I’ve been seeing over the past few days. In Mid-City, angry graffiti on the side of a house:
“Screw you, Nagin. We made our own plan.”
“Katrina got PMS.”
The broken bodies of rotted and collapsed buildings have become billboards for the anger and pain of the people of NOLA and the towns surrounding it. Sprawled over 4 corners (of an intersection) and down half the city blocks beyond, piles of ruined stuffed animals 6 or 7 feet high, the ruins of a warehouse that held a man's entire livelihood. Delicate little houses with wrought ironwork and still-vibrant paint jobs, broken, rotting, and abandoned for miles. The fluorescent red or orange "X" painted on house after house, a sign left by those who entered searching for bodies or the still-living in need of rescue. At the top is the date of inspection--most are dated around 9/15 or later, some as late as early October. On the left, the initials of the inspecting group.
At the bottom, the number of dead found; usually that was a "0", meaning none. To see a number other than the struck through zero there always gave me a chill. The letters in the right side of the cross still remain a mystery. Sometimes they seemed to indicate a direction, as in "NE". Other times they made no sense at all. And often I'd see "TFW" written (inside a circle). I still don't know what it is. The SPCA would sometimes weigh in, as well. Their messages were easy to decipher: "K-9 moved to corner"; "1 dog alive"; "2 cats under house"; and sometimes "no dogs" or "1 dead cat".
Between these signs and messages, and the words written by the ones who had to leave in anger and bitterness, even the parts of NOLA that are still and lifeless vibrate with a thousand voices, reaching out to communicate with anyone who comes after. "Help! Help! Help!" reads the house on the street in the lower Ninth Ward. Places where not a living thing moves can make the tears come, when you read the stories that have been left there. Holes in roofs torn by the desperate, trapped inside their houses while trying to escape rising waters, still gape to remind us of their terror.
To imagine living here, constantly facing the massive deconstruction on every corner, in every yard, with your entire environment looking like one big landfill;
to live growing numb to the ugliness; to expect mud, cracked earth, endless dust, to always be hacking and coughing, living with low-level respiratory ailments; to wait without hope for salvation from the insurance company, the city, the federal government, to live with price gouging. To live in tents.
At home it has rained endlessly, and been cold. Here, the sun has shone everyday, and the earth is parched. Hurricane Wilma's hellacious winds sent water into the Ninth Ward again Tuesday, and what small progress made there was halted.
I wish I could say I'll miss NOLA, or Louisiana, but I won't. It's too flat for my soul, and I miss the seasons. Fall doesn't exist here, at least in a way that makes sense to a Yankee. The few Halloween decorations I've noticed look as out of place as a Christmas tree in the middle of a bandstand on a summer night. But most of all, I won't miss the constant low-level misery, the endless fighting back against despair that is the lot of every person here. I've come to love the strength, humor, and compassion of the local people. But I don't have enough of any of those qualities to bear their miseries.
Today my ERV got to come back early (3:30) because the kitchen ran out of food, so I had a very pleasant and relaxing day. J., next to me, went up with me to a local store and took money out of our Red Cross cards, then I came back, took a hot shower, enjoyed cake and ice cream and 2 more chicken sandwiches for dinner, and sat down to write in this journal.
Time for bed.