Sunday, May 28, 2006

Katrina Brain, Sudden Death and a Dark Ride

Memorial Day weekend, and tomorrow, the ninth month anniversary of Katrina. Strange day. Very Katrina Brain day.

Out with friends last weekend, one of them said: "Do you have Katrina brain? I do. I'm forgetting things all the time, forgetting words, names, where I put things down." I said that yes, that had been happening to me as well. We went on to talk about some of the other Katrina brain issues. I just tried to light my cigarette with my chapstick. Didn't phase me, that kind of thing happens a lot around here. People are gaining weight, losing weight, and not on purpose. Most of us forgive the flakiness of others because we're a little flaky ourselves. It's Katrina Brain. It's a disjointed kind of thing. They need to put xanax and prozac in the water system.

The other day I walked out of my house, fairly normal place: power's on, phone works, AC will really crank up if necessary. I got somewhere on Gov Nicholls around Dauphine and the dog stopped to sniff something intently. My brain didn't register that this something no doubt smelled intriguing to a dog. It was three refrigerators on the sidewalk with the telltale Katrina brown color on the outer walls of them. I hadn't noticed them, they were part of the landscape for so long that they didn't seem strange. But these were strange. It's nine months later and there they were. Hadn't seen one in a while but the brain didn't process this as an anomaly. Probably had just been removed from an apartment or condo building. Maybe not enough work crews. At this point, they are actually something that should stand out since all the others were hauled away, but here they were with my dog straining at the leash to sniff them. ::::::JOLT:::::::

Time can be strange here. Katrina Brain seems to warp time a little. A lot of us still struggle with what day or date it is. The friend who coined the K Brain term was asking if we find ourselves drinking a little more. Most of us said that although we're not drinking every day, we might have three instead of two when we do go out. Everyone at the table (6 of us) nodded in agreement and the pharmacy companies must love New Orleanians. So many of them are medicated these days, then of course there are the ones who aren't.

There is a forum on the state of Mental Health in New Orleans on Wednesday evening. I'm going to go. I think it's something we're going to have to deal with in short order.

A friend of mine who had a really frightening experience with Katrina just lost his business partner and best friend of 20 years to a probable heart attack this week. Life (and death) go on here, storm or no storm, but the impact of a sudden death like this on someone who made it through the storm and the aftermath is emotionally catastrophic. His friend will be greatly missed, of that there is no doubt. He was a very sweet man and a fixture in his shop in the Quarter. But his partner is in complete shock. Of course it happens, death happens, every day, everywhere, but in this environment, when one finally finds a level of normalcy and is still trying to heal the trauma of the storm, this is a blow that while not easy to deal with under any circumstances, might be debilitating for some. I think my friend will be okay, but I could see that his "we're almost back to normal from the storm" security had been ripped out from under him, weighed down by his grief. ::::::::JOLT:::::::


On to anger. In yesterday's paper, this article (you might have to scroll up from the bottom of the page they take you to to find it). Another body found on in a house on Banks Street. They found another on the Wednesday before that. :::::::::JOLT:::::::I emailed the article to myself and decided to write about it. Write about the anger I felt on so many levels. I knew I'd spew about the neglect, the disrespect, the outrageousness of a body still being in a house at this point, but Ashley's post beat me to it and did it better than I could have. Stay on their asses is right. The death count gets higher body by body and some woman in Metairie is writing letters to the editor complaining that the Aquarium's reopening was celebrated on the front page of the paper with a picture of a jellyfish, co-opting space that she thought should have been used to enshrine the American Idol winner and she's sick of hearing about Katrina and the losses and the rebuilding. (A telling statement in her letter was "More people voted for the American Idol winner than voted for President." Frightening but true, and what was more frightening was she didn't see how frightening that statement was.) I don't care if she's sick of hearing about it or not. I'm betting the families of these victims still being found are sick of worrying about what might have happened to their loved one. After all it's been nine months.

From anger to fear. I talked to a friend the other day about the evacuation plans. He had spent several days in the Convention Center. His eyes were clouded with fear just thinking about it. He was literally trembling as he lit a cigarette and said "I'm evacuating if they tell me there's gonna be a big rainstorm!" He laughed a little at his own joke, but his eyes had the look of a man who'd just been held up at gunpoint. He's not the only one. The city is filled with people who are living with an underlying fear. Fear that the Feds won't take responsibility and fix these levees that they built to begin with. Fear that the houses they're rebuilding will be gone again if the levees aren't rebuilt. Fear that no one cares and fear of talking about any of it because people are "sick of hearing about it." After all, it's been nine months.

Nine months. In Utero. New Orleans has spent nine months gestating, growing, evolving from the disastrous one night stand Katrina had when she met the warmth and pressure of the Gulf. In Harry Anderson's show, (which you should see if you get the chance), he does a piece from a movie about carnivals and carnies (wish I could remember the name of the movie--Katrina Brain strikes again.) One line stuck with me, I scribbled it on a napkin in the dark of the club.

"The moment your mama spits you out, it's a dark ride."

It's been a dark ride for nine months and New Orleans is getting antsy to be born, re-born actually. Antsy like a baby past its due date. Those of us here are seeing glimpses of light as one more business re-opens, one more family moves home, one more house is re-built, one more school opens its doors. But we'll carry the grief, the anger and the fear of the last nine months with us for a long time. Maybe forever. We are a different and probably more tenacious people than we were before Katrina's tryst.

Nine months. Tomorrow mama spits us out. I hope it's not a dark ride all the way. I hope the ride ends with a guy helping us out of the little carnival ride boat onto a platform in the sun.

Two days from now is the official start of the 2006 hurricane season. Let's hope Katrina doesn't have any wayward sisters, easily swayed by the Gulf's sweet talking about taking her on a splendid trip to New Orleans. We've gone from Katrina to a new hurricane season. We're now full term, baby.

Take a big first breath, and let out a healthy scream. We'll clean up the blood and the water. We need to kick a lot and hard as they try to calm us. Make sure they know we're here. And don't let them put us in a crib with sides built by the Corps of Engineers.

EDIT: The name of the movie is Nightmare Alley with Tyrone Power, 1947


TravelingMermaid said...

A superb piece of writing! The analogy is brilliant! (It took about 30 seconds for me to think of "brilliant" - K-brain, for sure.)

Dangle 24-7 said...

I could almost write an entire blog about how perfect you have captured our new human condition.
great job.

slate said...

Thank you so much. I am humbled. It seemed appropriate at the time and just tumbled out.

And as we all know, Katrina WAS a mother---.

Thanks again, guys.