Saturday, December 23, 2006

Dragging Out an Old Post in Time for Christmas. . .

. . .with a few additions.

First, French Quarter Computers (Mike Anderson) is going out of business. He sent me an email. Not only is he losing his business, but he also needs a place to live. I will be writing an entire post on this man in the next week as he is remarkable. To quote him, "I didn't even get flooded and lost everything. I'm ruined." If you're looking for a last minute computer geek gift, please drop your money into his hands. If you have a place you know of for rent, drop him a line as well. He probably only has til Jan 1 to move. Below is the email he sent:

This is a pre-public notice. I won't put this information up publicly until tomorrow [Friday 12/22] afternoon, to give you an opportunity for first-dibs.

I have been borrowing for medicines and am having difficulty paying back. I am losing my housing in a matter of days and must raise cash to get a place to live for myself and my natural family of three cats, Sylvester, Chrissy and Lil Joe - I am willing to live on the streets, but I cannot allow that to happen to them.

I must sell all of the shop's equipment... Small Sony TV's [3], VCR's [4], Spirit of Saint Lois Boom Box with Tape Player, 8 Track Tape Player, Canon ImageClass D760 Copy Machine, Black GE Apartment-sized Refrigerator, Brother Intellifax 775 Fax Machine, Shuttle XPC SK41G Liquid Cooled Computers [5], Computer carts [5], Flat Panel Monitors [7], Bubble Gum Machines [2], Keyboards [many - new in boxes], Mice [many - new in boxes - wireless, optical, ball], Cables, Adapters, Extensions, Combo Digital Card Reader/USB Hubs, Canned Air, Desk Chairs, Stools, Panasonic Video/Audio Digital Effects Generator WJ-AVE3, Sentry Electronic Safe, Sharp XE-A292 Electronic Cash Register, Other Stereo Equipment and cables, Surplus and New, and much, much more - everything must go!
Great, inexpensive Christmas gifts!

Please call me at the shop at 525-4660.

Thank you, and Merry Christmas,
- mike anderson

Meanwhile, I am horribly off schedule publishing the Katrina Refrigerator posts. I had so hoped to do them in real time, and had managed to do that until my computer took a huge dump. I am a few behind over there and will have those up this week as well (that, btw, is thanks in toto to Mike Anderson's generosity.) Below is what I wrote December 18, 2005 in my series of emails to friends and family. Weird how much of it is still relevant. People are still without homes, FEMA is still an issue, the St. Charles streetcar line is running, albeit limited. There was singing in Jackson Square again this year, and we still won't let this city die. Read it all the way to the bottom, and follow the instructions. We're all still waving our kleenex's, but they're in need of a boost. Help us out, will ya?

Subject: It's the week before Christmas, and all through the house. . . .
Date: 12/18/2005 4:27:29 PM Central Standard Time

. . . . is the second trip to storage salvage. Really. Behind me as I write are dolls, lots and lots of dolls. All sitting in front of the electric heater, where they've been for days to dry out. I turn them like chickens on a spit. There's another tupperware full on the porch, still wet, but there's only so much room for salvage so I do it a little at a time.

Meg had a large doll collection, which was added to each Christmas for many years til she decided she'd rather have a stereo at 12, a car at 15. You know the way that goes. We had carefully packed them all up and brought them with us, figuring some day she'd probably want them. When we pulled them out of the sludge that is our storage, the porcelain was mostly okay, but the bodies and the clothes were soaking wet and starting to mold. I've discovered that salvaging this stuff is a three pronged operation. First you get it out of the storage unit, yes it's still in the dark out there, then you get it home and try to dry it out, then you try to clean it up. Some of what you think you can save you can't, some of what you think is just gone, you can. It's pretty schizophrenic. Once this batch of dolls is dry, I'll bring the other batch in and do the same thing. It poured yesterday. Some of the stuff on the porch got wet. Oh well, it's already wet. What else can happen to it?

Snapshots------OOOOOOOHH now there's a bad word for us this week.

Lemme back up a bit. We got into storage again on Wednesday. Apparently it won't be such a problem now as there's going to allegedly be someone there all the time. THAT is a big help. Of course it was still wet, of course it had no power, but we got smart and got little hangie lanterns. The coal miner idea is cemented in our heads now. It looks like a mine in there. So we open the door, get some carts, hang up the lanterns and move some more book sludge. The floor is very slippery and our unit is in the dead center of this maze like building. After a couple of trips in and out with the cart, I literally slipped/tripped and saved myself from falling completely in the dark by placing my face squarely onto the corrugated metal of the corner of the units that I didn't see. Hey, at my age the eyes don't adjust as fast as they did. Don't panic! Quit gasping! I'm okay. I had a fat lip and a couple bruises and a bad headache for a couple days. It was to be expected that one of us would fall. We had to sign waivers prior to going in saying that no matter what happened UHaul wasn't liable so they're off the hook and next time I wear better treaded shoes.

The books don't get any easier to toss out. Each box harder than the last. Then came the box of games, Monopoly, Scrabble, all the games everyone has and soggy Monopoly money flew around us as we tossed the pulpy scraps into the dumpster which is about 10 feet tall. It was a windy day and it drizzled a little, which made tossing things over one's head a redundant effort in a lot of cases. "Hey, honey, here's the FEMA money!" The great golden 500 dollar Monopoly bills going up towards the mouth of the dumpster and then back down on top of us, kinda like a really perverse jewel thief movie where the thieves put all the "take" on the bed and toss it in the air. We are a sick couple. We'll take our humor where we can get it.

Back into the mine we go and now I must issue a retraction of my last email. TUPPERWARE DOES NOT SAVE PHOTOS. We look down and find a gigantic green tupperware. Lid firmly attached, looked pretty okay, sitting on the floor. This was a coup in and of itself as getting to the floor level in this thing is done in little increments by taking all the sludge from the top, then the middle, then finally you clear an area and see floor. Neither of us had any idea what was in it. David opened the lid and the worst odor came out. We picked it up and it was incredibly heavy. We wheel it out, open it up and it's full of black water, then I realize what else is in it. Photos. Tons and tons of family photos. Baby pictures of me. Baby pictures of David. Baby pictures of Megan. The Christmas card I made of her when she was four in her leather jacket and hat eating a candy cane. I had several extra. No more. School pictures from every year of her school. Mine too. My mama had given my sisters and myself our "kid pictures" and they were gone in the black water. I felt like I had let her down, I hadn't protected them. Bullshit, I know, but it's one of those flickering thoughts which must be multiplied 100,000 times all over New Orleans every day. It was horrible. And there are more photos in that storage unit. I haven't gotten to them yet. We're still only about 2/3 of the way through. We figure it will be one more, maybe two more trips to the mine before we have dealt with all of it.

Snapshots, gone. Snapshots of the day, some of which made it through stage one of salvage. Bizarre things. Meaningless things that have become meaningful:

A temporary driver's license with my Guerrero St. San Francisco apartment address on it. Some old shoot schedule from Video Caroline. The complete Videowest staff list and contact numbers, which I typed on an ancient Xerox word processor years ago. A contact sheet of photos of a video shoot with Greg Kihn, the only picture still intact was one of Juanita, smiling up at me. I'm going to dry it out and send it to her. A sketch Joe Dea made 23 years ago of Meg with bunny ears. A postcard of the Jefferson Starship shoot. Meg wants that. Some sketches made for paintings that I had to throw away. Found the "heart" sketch from the Janis Joplin painting which did survive in my house. If it makes it through the drying process I'm giving that to Stuart and Lon, our dear friends here. A faded picture of me in a baton twirling recital when I was about 6 I'd say. I remember my Mama sewing every stinking green sequin on the yellow fabric and how proud I was of my boots. Pictures of two cats, now gone, the only pictures of pets that remain. Our beloved Dakota's photo was a mush. I had to ask David what had been in the frame. A photo of David's nephew and his dad fishing. We could only see their feet before we tossed it. Some touristy postcards and old newspaper articles from the Dalton Gang Hideout in Kansas. If any of that lives, I'm going to divvy it up between Meg and my nieces who were along for that trip. A Blue Angels tshirt that Meg got when she went to see them with David at age 6. I'll save that for her.

Talk about your life flashing before your eyes. It was all there in storage. I tossed out 30 years of my work. Any writing I'd done was gone, the paintings went into the dumpster, most of the sketches are pulp, and any photography I'd done was now matted blank space. Funny though, one painting that I was always unsatisfied with went into the dumpster but the sketch survived and it was better than the painting had ever been and having spent so much time in water on top of a water color that was in there, it's now a kinda cool piece of art itself. I'll try to keep that. It's a weird kind of numbness that overtakes you when you're sorting through the crap that we all save that reminds us that we were here, we created, we experienced. I actually am nuts enough that I took some photos of some of the stuff before it went over the top of the blue dumpster, especially some of Meg's stuff, so she knows what she had. And I need to tell Angie that I saved most of Meg's Barbie's, and the clothes that Angie had given her for them. At least I think I did. We'll see how stage two goes.

Now, put that kleenex away. This is one of those things that comes with living through Katrina. We'll sort through the rest after Christmas. What else can happen to it at this point? And we'll see Christmas. We'll be walking around dolls and boxes of other stuff that most people would call junk, but we'll be walking around.

David has a friend at work whose neighbor was so distraught that he took his own life this week. Those numbers keep climbing. He had been estranged from his wife prior to the storm, then his house went under water, and he lost his job. He hadn't gotten his FEMA money either (we're hearing that only 13% of people have, and I also heard a story which I've yet to be able to confirm that a large percentage of people were listed as "ineligible" because they had bad credit ratings. I don't get the relationship there. I'll let you know as soon as I can confirm that story.) He had started gutting his house, was getting on with rebuilding. Contractors were coming in. His house was in Mid-City and was reasonably stable. Unfortunately, the whole thing took it's toll on him and the contractors found him upstairs in the house, dead.

City Park did the Celebration in the Oaks this year, much to our surprise. I heard some people griping about that. How can one do a celebration of any kind, they asked. Tonight the traditional carolling on Jackson Square will happen. People with candles and song sheets singing in the Christmas lights and the shadow of the Cathedral. I hear several restaurants will manage to do reveillon dinners, the dinners traditionally served after Midnight Mass. Of course they must.

We are months past the storm, and still there is so much to be dealt with personally and in terms of planning what the future of the City will be. I was in Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop one evening and heard some guys standing at the bar discussing all this. One said, "Okay, it's time to STOP CRYING. We can go on crying forever, or we can get to work and get something done." No doubt we'll cry some more, it's unavoidable, but this guy made a good point.

One thing that will help is for people to celebrate. This is a city that five months ago would hold up traffic for any kind of parade. "Mayor Nagin's dog had a litter!" "GREAT! Let's have a parade!" "It's Wanda's birthday!" "Get a permit, we MUST do a second line!" "No parade today?" "Nope." "Why not?" "No reason." "WAIT, it's St. Theralian's feast day." "Who the hell is St. Theralian?" "No idea but let's have a parade!"

New Orleans won't be that way again for a long time, but celebration is needed. Hell, I saw an actual streetcar coming down Canal the other day! PARADE! There was no parade, but there should have been. Every little step has to be applauded, celebrated, and built on. There's so much depression and despair in this little corner of the world that every bit of joy has to be noted. Christmas lights up on houses, singing, reveillons, these things must be there however sparse. It will help so many get through the ongoing salvage and rebuilding process. And we'll all have to help those who have a real let down once the holidays have passed, because many will still not have a home, or will be going through one more room in their house throwing out everything in it and gutting the walls. David and I will still have to wade through the muck of storage and go through the trunks, the things we're dreading most. It has to be done and we'll do it along with everyone else in New Orleans.

What we need the rest of you to do is not to forget us. Don't let the current quick fix levee solution become a permanent, neglectful patch so that this happens again. The storm would have been a bad one, but it was the failure of the levees that caused this wholesale destruction. I got a great email from a friend in Montana. Showed the system London uses to keep water out, then showed the Netherlands system, then showed the New Orleans system. Appalling. (I'll forward it to you if you want it.) Write the Army Corps of Engineers and tell them that we can do better. Write your representatives and tell them thank you for the 3 billion, but we're going to need so much more than that, then those of you who are versed in "finance speak" can tell them how it wouldn't be a lump sum but would be spread out over the life of the project and it will cost so much less than rebuilding New Orleans a second time. Tell them the insurance industry lobbyists will thank them in the end and contribute more to their campaigns. (Hey, whatever works!) Tell them that if we can afford to run an outrageous deficit to rebuild Iraq, which we spent over 300 billion on last year, that we should be able to make this city safe for it's citizens. Oh, and tell them that you know people here, and that they're tenacious and willing to throw them a parade if they just make it seem like they give a shit.

Tell them that a phoenix rose from the ashes, and that there are a bunch of us here waiting to see what kind of glorious City rises from the sludge. Tell them we won't let them bury any more of us in it.

Now, after you've done that, take that damn kleenex in your hand. That's it. Good. Hold that hand up in the air. GREAT. Put on a brass band CD. Got it? Okay. Now, stand up, wave it in the air. Move your hips around to the music. Get a few of your friends to join you. Now take it to the streets. People will look at ya funny, but they'll get over it. Now you've created a second line. Have fun with it! Pour another eggnog if you want! Keep going, don't wimp out.

Now imagine how wonderful it will be to do that in a renewed New Orleans, knowing that you're in a City that wouldn't let itself die.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Computer is on the Fritz. . .

. . .so posting will be light. I'm behind on my Katrina Refrigerator posts as well, but will get those up to speed in a couple days.

But for those who saw Left Behind, the documentary about NOLA schools, here's a CNN piece on how many of these kids are raising themselves here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Slow Burn, for Now

I went to see "Left Behind" the night it debuted. Devastating and left me with mixed feelings, but will write a piece on that later. It's a definite must-see.

Earlier this week a friend sent me a piece he'd culled from an email newsletter he subscribes to. It came from an organization called the Center for American Action Fund ( I'd never heard of them, but what he sent to me infuriated me, and not at him and not at the Center for American Action either.

Under the Radar

KATRINA -- NEW ORLEANS LEVEE WORK SLOWS AS COMMERCIAL INSURER PULLS OUT OF CITY: The Army Corps of Engineers for months "frantically" prepared for hurricane season, "patching broken levees and building floodgates." "That repair work is essentially complete and the corps has moved on to the task of strengthening flood protection in New Orleans beyond its pre-Hurricane Katrina level, hoping to entice residents back," the New York Times reports. "But lately the bulldozers have been idle, and the trucks motionless." "To save money, the corps will skip interim steps on some projects and go straight for the higher, 100-year level of protection." The move "will leave the city at risk until 2010 at least." The corps "has also scaled back plans to armor the levees against being scoured away when water flows over the top." Meanwhile, "Louisiana's largest commercial insurance provider" has announced it has plans to "cancel all its commercial property policies in the New Orleans area next year, sparking fears that other insurers will follow and slow the region's economic recovery." "This is sending a shock wave through the business community," said one economic development official. "We cannot exist as a business community without insurance." Another commentator says the announcement could be "disastrous to the recovery of New Orleans."

Naturally, I knew of the insurance pullout and had been following the news stories and the blog posts. But for some reason this particular piece struck the very last nerve I had. I think it was gems like "to save money" and "scaled back" and "scoured away" that really got me.

I had remembered hearing somewhere years ago that the California legislature had passed a law after the Earthquake in 1989 forcing insurers to keep homeowners' policies up and running in the state or lose the lucrative automobile/boat/etc. market. I searched for a couple of hours in vain and then came across a blog by a California attorney with the unlikely name of George Wallace here. He had some really interesting posts about insurance issues in California so I wrote him asking if he knew what the law I thought I remembered was. He very kindly and graciously responded with this:

"I don’t recall specifically, but as best I remember California never reached the point of threatening to cut off insurers entirely if they pulled out of the homeowners’ market. In fact, the long term result of the San Francisco/Loma Prieta earthquake and of the Northridge earthquake was to shift nearly all earthquake coverage to a separate entity, the California Earthquake Authority. Not having to answer directly for most earthquake losses, the private insurance industry has happily pushed along writing homeowners coverage.

I know some states have tried the approach you mention – it seems to me that New Jersey and/or Massachusetts, for instance, clamped down when insurers tried to pull out of the private auto insurance market, and I know there have been regulatory pressures on insurers who have tried to pull out of Florida in recent years (after that state’s string of hurricane losses). There is a lot of debate over whether this sort of approach actually works in creating a marketplace in which consumers can get the insurance they need at prices they are willing to pay.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying that I can’t point you to any specific law of the kind you are asking about. The idea you are talking about, though, is one that other states have tried. Since I don’t practice in those other states, I regret that I can’t give you anything more specific."

There, again, were interesting terms: "California Earthquake Authority," "clamped down," "insurance they need at prices they are willing to pay." What about a Gulf Coast Hurricane Authority? Is it possible? What about an Insurance Commissioner who was willing to "clamp down?" Fascinating ideas. But what really struck me was the "insurance they need" part.

The articles saying that 30% of our current residents are considering leaving in the next year are discouraging, but I don't know anyone I talk to regularly who would fall into that category. Most of the people I know are gutting and rebuilding their pre-Katrina homes or are trying to purchase new ones. And there's the rub. How can you close on a home loan without insurance? The short answer is: You can't. No insurance, no mortgage. No mortgage, no home. No home. . . . . .well it's anyone's guess where it goes from there, unless you're so incredibly rich that it barely matters to you. But that's not the case for most.

I am absolutely no fan of insurance companies, or corporate entities that value bottom lines, CEO salaries and stockholders over regular people including their employees. Mark Folse, at Wet Bank Guide wrote the ultimate piece on insurance companies as criminal monopolies a couple months ago (can't find the link--look through his archives and you'll find some brilliant pieces). I can't do better than that.

Altogether now, with gusto: IT'S THE LEVEES, PEOPLE.

I find myself in the curious position of saying that until or unless the Federal government holds the Army Corps of Engineers accountable and shows the political will to rebuild the levees (please re-visit this post at Ashley's if you're unclear on what I'm talking about), the insurance companies can make a fairly reasonable, if immoral, argument against issuing policies in any of the Gulf States.

So where does that leave us? That is exactly the problem. We don't know.

Sinn Fein, Ashley Morris' battle cry, is a rallying point for more than just the occupants of this house. His Rebuilding piece is a masterwork. Are we, indeed, in this on our own?

Many have talked about shutting down the port. Let all y'all up there in Minnesota (home of Travellers Insurance) have no toilet paper, wrapping paper (Oh Scrooge, ya don't mean it!), no oil, no natural gas, no NOTHING that comes through this port. Until these levees are rebuilt, you can all freeze and use newspaper to wipe your butts. Sounds cold, no pun intended, and you're right. You live in the United States. This stuff is taken for granted--pay your bill, get your heat. Uh uh. Pay your bill, build some levees for the rest of us who allegedly live in the United States with you, and THEN we'll open the port so you can get warm. Hope your axe is sharpened for all that wood you'll be cutting. (Ours down here are kept mostly for hacking through roofs.)

A friend of mine has also coined the term "economic secession." Let's all pay our Federal taxes. Do it early, but withhold them. I know, I know. An idea from some fantasy world (um, remember where we live?) We tell the Feds that we are willing to pay our income taxes provided that every stinking penny of it goes to build the levees, nothing but nothing else. All that money must go into a separate account, not Federal coffers. We'll pay for the damn things out of our own pockets willingly. Tell Blanco not to back down on this, to support us and we'll re-elect her (or not--hey, it's politics---no WAIT--it's LEVEES!)

These ideas sound seditious, eh? Hey you, up in Dubuque, not liking this? Think we're all a bunch of wild eyed radicals? WRONG, although we could be, soon. As Ashley said, in post-WW2 Europe people rebuilt their city themselves, in some cases brick by brick. Okay, is that what it will take? Tell us and we'll do it. Quit dicking around. We'll get the voter registration rolls and put everyone to work in shifts. Most of us would willingly tote wheelbarrows and trowels if it meant that we'd be safe, a term used often and with great effect in the "War on Terror."

The dictionary defines seditious as:


adj 1: arousing to action or rebellion [syn: incendiary, incitive, inflammatory, instigative, rabble-rousing]

2: in opposition to a civil authority or government [syn: insurgent, subversive]

Is that really what it's going to take? We've already found out that FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers are not here to help us as Americans. (BTW, see da po' blog's post on FEMA's tale of woe. It's a beaut'. We should never have expected them to help, that's not their job. What on earth were we thinking?) If we're on our own, then tell us and we'll behave accordingly. We'll do what we have to do to rebuild this little blip on George Bush's radar.

We have our own terror here, and our terror isn't some religious zealot with a dirty bomb. The terrorists in our neck of the bayou are the ACoE, the insurance companies, and the inanimate levees that may or may not hold. These terrorists are keeping people from rebuilding with any semblance of confidence in their "safety"---a word that's been bandied about in the last six years more disingenuously than Anna Nicole Smith's wedding vows.

People who live with terror every day will eventually take action. Do we have to become insurgents in our own country in order to get this done?

The other night at the documentary premiere, there were two women of about my vintage who said, after seeing the film, "This time it was water. Next time it will be fire."

I truly hope they're wrong.

Friday, December 01, 2006

And While I'm At It. . .

I went down to Walgreen's on Decatur today and came back with a $48 faboo hat for $9.99, and a lust in my heart for a gorgeous coat that was originally $350 marked at $175. Okay, so it's cold here today, no not Midwest cold, but cold. Oh, I didn't tell you where I found these cool bargains? At The Bag Lady store at 827 Decatur. Great bags, scarves, hats, gloves, coats, sweaters, clothing. Tons of cool stocking stuffer wallets. (Psst, everything is basically from Macy's but here off-market.) I was told that for the holidays (starting NOW) if you buy $35 worth of merchandise, you get a $10 item free. Oh yeah, and they have a "locals only" card that gives you 10% off. They do have a website, but it's not really shop-able, although there are tons of ways to contact them. Worth the visit.

CAUTION: SHAMELESS PLUG AHEAD--Since my husband drives a carriage down there, I would be in big trouble if I didn't recommend (and I really do highly recommend it) that you take yourselves or your visitors for a French Quarter carriage tour. These guys are out there all the time and they don't own the rig or the mule, they live on a small percentage of the fare and TIPS. Yup, that's right, TIPS. There are a lot of good guys out there, but in my opinion the best tours can be had if you ask for David, Marlon, Dennis, Diane or Mickey. And no, they don't all work for the same company!

And in the interest of fun, big fun, and charity and making a political statement, head for the Snowflake site. This site allows you to make a virtual paper snowflake, just like you did when you were a kid only using a mouse instead of scissors. For every snowflake that is created, they somehow get more money for Salvation Army (hey, different from the mall Santa's with bells and buckets, huh?) THIS IS FREE and my six year old grandson absolutely loved it.

Your snowflake will float down and if it's clicked on, your message will appear. My message (snowflake #3039628) is "We want levees for Christmas." I figure I'll make a few more with the same message and maybe if enough of us do it, people will see them. The flakes are printable and searchable.

I'll avoid the obvious "I'm a flake, you're a flake" jokes, but hey, a few flakey New Orleanians putting a message out there AND having fun might not be bad, eh?