Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas in New Orleans

This was originally sent out as an email in December 2005. It was then posted with all the others at the Katrina Refrigerator blog. It seems appropriate to re-post it now.

Lately there have been a lot of articles in the Times Picayune about police shootings post-Katrina. Most of them have not been investigated nor were they reported at the time. Here is a report from a person in the Convention Center (also on the Crescent City Connection bridge) who sat in my kitchen telling me about his nephew being shot. I never got to follow up on this story as once Louis went back to Utah and then finally returned to New Orleans the second time, we saw him rarely. We moved, he eventually moved. I haven't been able to track him down to get the entirety of his story. I do know that for the couple of weeks after his second return to New Orleans that he was not the same man. His son, the one for whom he'd been working so hard, died of a heart attack at the age of 30. No drugs found in his tox screen. It was determined that a combination of stress and probable congenital problems were the cause. Louis sunk into himself after burying that boy. As far as I know, no one has looked into the alleged Convention Center shooting, although in the years since I've heard several similar stories.

This is a tough Christmas for some. Economy a mess, money tight, jobs lost. Meanwhile the television continues to blare messages of failure if you don't buy the Missus a Lexus or a giant diamond, or the Mister a big screen TV. Re-reading this post makes me remember that Christmas--decorating friends' trees with the contents of MRE's and Mardi Gras beads, being glad we had power when so much of the city still had none, being grateful that we were still here, by the river, optimistic that we'd make it through anything after having made it through that fall.

So, if you're having a rough time this year, for whatever reason, read this. It was the people, the people with no wrapping paper or bows, that mattered. They still do.

Well there have been lots of articles about Christmas in New Orleans. Some of them about families who came back to spend their holidays together as they always had, others about the evacuees who couldn't get back home.

We have our own little New Orleans Christmas story to tell.

When we first started writing these emails, we sent one out about the people who were missing. These were people we actually knew, not the people of the statistics. As they've turned up, we've let you all know. On Christmas Eve some of those on our personal "missing" list showed up on our doorstep. Gifts.

We were standing outside, the weather was warm for this time of year. Zack and Melissa's folks were here, and they're always a joy. So we stood out there talking, laughing, having a couple drinks. David was due home shortly but was still at work. I had come back in the house for something and the doorbell rang. When I opened it there was a man with a wonderful smile on his face, dressed in a bright Christmas red sweatshirt, black pants, and red hush puppies. It was Louis Towns, our neighbor. All he needed was a bow on his head and he would have been the best gift of Christmas. Before he could get the "Hello Miss Marie" out of his mouth we were hugging each other. Then the phone rang and it was my husband. I told him there was someone here who wanted to talk to him. I handed the phone to Louis and he said, "Hey, Mr. Dave!" David was thrilled and hurried home.

I still don't have the whole story of Louis' odyssey, but I'll give you what I do know. First a little bit about Louis. Louis is one of the most decent and one of the hardest working men I've ever known. A black man, born and raised in Louisiana, very intelligent, not very well educated. He's married, has a son who wants to be an engineer, and he had two grandsons. He may have former wives, other kids, other grandchildren, but we've never discussed any of that. Pre-Katrina David and I met him on the Ferry as it seemed we were usually coming and going at about the same time, all on bicycles. He lives a few doors down on our block and of course we'd seen him, but it was on the Ferry that we made friends. Many nights we'd be coming home from work the same time as he did and we'd talk about lots of things. He worked in a warehouse in Metairie, which is by bicycle a very long way from Algiers Point. Louis is in his early 50's and he rode his bicycle to and from his job in a warehouse every day. If we didn't see him on the Ferry we knew that his boss, who thought he hung the moon, must have picked him and his bicycle up over near the bridge, but usually if the boss did that it was at 4:30AM. Louis, grateful for the ride, would go to work early then ride his bike home. Our relationship was casual. He'd come to our porch to talk, we'd stop at his porch to talk, but we always talked on the Ferry.

About three weeks before the storm, Louis had somehow dropped either a pallet full of stuff or a large 5-600 lb drum on his foot. I can't remember which, I only remember him telling me the story and it was a totally freak accident. His foot had been literally smashed and the doctors had put multiple pins in it just to keep the bones together. One of the pins was sticking out of his big toe. Just looking at it made you cringe because you could imagine, or thought you could, how painful this injury was. David and I had talked back then about how difficult it would be after this accident for Louis to do his daily Algiers to Metairie ride. Louis said he'd find a way to get to work because he was trying to help his son become an engineer, besides, he had said, he'd been saving up some money to buy some old beater car. About a week before the storm, Louis moved up to a friend's house in Metairie, or near there, because it was closer to the doctors who were treating him and walking to and from mass transit wasn't really an option for him at the time. Then came Katrina. We didn't see him again. When his family returned to the flat up the street, we'd ask every time we saw them if they'd heard anything from Louis. They had no idea where he was. They were worried too. We all knew that he had been in a part of the city that had flooded. At least once a week David or I would wonder if Louis had made it. It was one of those vague little aches that we didn't know how to fix, someone once there suddenly gone. We didn't know his last name---he was simply Louis and we were David and Marie, a name that I am not sure how he ascribed to me but he's always called me that and I've never corrected him. We weren't really close with his family so felt like we'd be intruding if we asked for last names and we figured they'd already checked all the various lists.

On Christmas Eve when he showed up on the doorstep we found out what had happened to him. Unfortunately, it's not a particularly unique story. He's just one of many. He had been in Utah. I should have figured that out by looking at the Utah Utes red sweatshirt, but hadn't noticed anything but his smile. How he got to Utah is a story that I hope to get in toto one day. He says he's written some of it down and has warned me that his spelling is no good. I don't care. I got the "short" version the other night and want to hear the complete version. (He said he'd been interviewed several times by the Utah newspapers. I wonder what they made of his story.)

When the storm hit he was lakeside in the City, either in Metairie or nearby. That is the area that the 17th St Canal breached and flooded. His foot still full of pins and in a cast, he walked through waist deep polluted water until someone rescued him and took him to the Convention Center. There he spent five days. Another couple of friends were also in the Convention Center and have told me about the level and degree of filth, including two inches of urine on the floor. He was there with his 19 year old nephew and some other friends or family. His nephew went to get bottled water for some of the elderly people near them at the Center, and somehow he wound up in the chaos of evacuees and police and was shot and killed. Louis stood in my kitchen at one point and sobbed saying, "I watched my nephew die and all he was doing was going to get some water for the old people." He looks utterly bewildered when he says this. There is some anger in him, but his anguish over not being able to help his nephew outweighs the anger. At least for now. At this point his feet and legs were in terrible shape from walking through the water in combination with the injury he had sustained prior to the storm. He left the Convention Center on foot and joined the people on the Crescent City connection. He was one of the people the Gretna police turned back. Remember, he lives over here. He was told that if he could get someone on the phone to come and get him, that he could come through. He didn't have anyone's phone number and no cell phone, so that option was gone for him. He walked back to the other side of the river and through some intervention, not sure whose intervention, he wound up on a Jet Blue to Utah.

When he got to Utah, they put him straight in to a hospital, where he was told that his feet and legs were so horribly infected that they might have to amputate them. Evidently his feet and lower legs were triple the size they normally are. They pumped him full of antibiotics and painkillers, and remarkably, saved his legs. I told him he was actually lucky not to have been allowed to cross the bridge because at that point I'm not sure that there would have been a hospital in the area who could have taken care of him. There was still no power in most places. He spent weeks in the hospital and was so sick and so out of it that he said he didn't realize how much time had passed and he didn't know where the rest of his family was either. Finally he was released, evidently has been set up in some kind of living arrangement, still has medical issues that need to be dealt with so he could only stay here for a couple of days before heading back to Utah. He also found out once he got in touch with his family here that one of his grandsons had died. So his return here was bittersweet, but he was so grateful to be home. He says he'll return home permanently at the end of March, but for now he'll be in Utah not liking the snow but grateful for all the help he's had. He believes absolutely that he was saved for a reason. His emotional pain will take much longer to heal.

As we were talking with Louis and the neighbor/family next door, we see two short people walking toward us. It was two of our "angel urchins" and they had also been lost. Kendrick and Trevonne are brothers. Their mother works offshore on a oil rig, they live with an aunt a few blocks from here, but last we'd heard they were going to move to St. Bernard parish. Gratefully they didn't, but we hadn't seen them since about a week before the storm and we'd worried about them and their cousin Terrence. Kendrick is 12, his brother Trevonne is about 14, Terrence is about 14 too. We were delighted to see them. I grabbed Kendrick and gave him a big hug and we told them how much we'd worried about them. Melissa said she saw Kendrick's bottom lip quiver when I grabbed him. I didn't see it, I was so grateful to see these boys that I had tears in my own eyes and wouldn't have noticed if Kendrick did too. Trevonne stood down at the bottom of the steps til I asked him if he was too big to give me a hug on Christmas Eve. He grinned and came up and hugged me. They told us they had been in Napoleonville, "the country" as they call it, and were glad to be home. Terrence is in another little town "in the country" and probably won't be coming home. Kendrick and Trevonne will start back to school sometime in January.

So we got to chalk four people off of our personal "missing" list. It was a lovely Christmas!

Others won't be so lucky. You've all seen the death toll numbers, which I'm still not really convinced of. (Does that number include people like Louis's nephew?) But no one's talking about the "missing" numbers. As of last week, according to I believe it was an Associated Press story, these are the statistics so far:

-80% of New Orleans was under water
-284,000 homes were destroyed
-81,000 business were destroyed

Horrible stats, but the following statistics are rarely mentioned:
-6644 people are still listed as MISSING, and this number includes 1000 children

Where are they? Is someone doing anything to find them? With over 1000+ confirmed dead, what about the 6600 missing people?

Seems to me this needs to be looked into, not just reported and dismissed. We are lucky. Most of our missing people are turning up. I cannot imagine not knowing where my daughter and grandson were for all these months. Wondering if they were under a building somewhere dead and still not found, or had been sent three states away but not put on any list. Them being so untrackable would be torture. This is the reality for many people in this region.

I am so grateful that our Christmas gifts this year were on two feet walking up our steps and giving us peace of mind as far as their well being was concerned. We couldn't have asked for more.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Day at LSU Clinic

I was just shy of my tenth birthday. I was standing in the basement, washing doll clothes in the giant laundry sink, rinsing and hanging them on a little clothesline. Off in my childish fantasy land of domesticity (that fantasy SOOO didn't last!), I wrung out each tiny dress. I was pulled out of that fantasy by my mother's scream of "Oh NO." I remember running upstairs to find out what had upset her so. "The President has been shot." I sat with her and the black and white tv flickered the images that are burned into our collective brain. The car, the onlookers sobbing, Jackie climbing over the trunk, the funeral, little John-John's salute, Jackie's veil, the long tailed jackets of his brothers.

I was just about out of eighth grade on June 6, 1968. Robert Kennedy had been shot. By then I knew this was a big, big deal, and I'd already hung my hat on what he was saying. It made sense to me in a way that the grownups around me didn't seem to get. But hell, I was in eighth grade. Maybe they were right and I was wacko. What did I know? I knew for sure that after watching the Vietnam War play out on the nightly news, yes, still in black and white, that the war didn't make sense and that what RFK was saying did, at least to my eighth grade mind. I also knew that it was horrific that such a thing had happened to this family, so soon, so familiarly, so fast. Boom. He was gone.

Now the youngest boy of that generation of Kennedy's is gone too. Yes, he was "SENATOR." Yes, he was "PARTY GUY." Yes, he was the one walking both coffins to the grave, holding the enormous family together, a role he that he had not signed up for and didn't expect, having been the youngest of all the kids. But somehow he was always "Teddy." Not like a Teddy Bear, although he bore a certain resemblance in his later years, but just "Teddy." One writer, forgive my not remembering who, said he was the only one of the boys who actually knew the end was coming. That struck me as profound.

He, who came from a family which could afford the best of healthcare, no matter how dire the circumstances, always, always thought about the little guy and his lack of access to that same healthcare. Now we have townhall meetings and the constant use of the word "socialist/socialized" and people getting laid off in droves, losing their healthcare benefits in the process. People who knew him are saying the one thing he wanted to finish was a quality healthcare bill.

Today I saw amazing things that put it in stark, sharp focus.

Ironically the old Lord and Taylor department store on Poydras, a store full of things, has been turned into an outpatient clinic, full of people. And I really mean FULL of people. My husband broke his arm last week and needed a followup--more xrays and probably a real cast as opposed to the heavy plaster and padding thing he's been lugging around. He had been given a piece of paper saying he had an 8AM appointment, a term I learned is loosely used in this situation. So off we go arriving at 7:30AM. We didn't leave there until nearly 3PM. What I saw in the interim was astonishing, desperate, inspiring and terrifying.

Upon arrival (don't get me started on the parking--which was a constant concern all day) he was sorta checked in. We are told to sit in the chairs to the right of the desk. Various staff members, apparently from different departments of the clinic, come out with hands full of papers shouting numbers and an occasional name--F47, F48, F49, Camille Shaw. People come out of the chairs and are told to follow these people. They do. Mostly. We are told he doesn't have a number yet, that they will call his name. Okay. We wait. We sit. I look. I realize the system of number calling and escorting people to their proper destinations makes sense. It cuts down on endless "Where is. . . .name the department. . ." questions and keeps people moving.

An elderly man, using a walker with a basket filled with his medications and a water bottle puts his walker aside to push the wheelchair that his wife currently occupies. She is wearing a terry cloth dress of sorts, her right leg stuck out at 90 degrees from her body, covered by a towel. He gets her checked in, pushes her out of the line of traffic, leaving his walker over near the check in desk. She says her leg was shattered in a fall last year. It was so shattered that they could only deal with a few of the bone fragments at a time. She currently has about 12 "pins", which are actually rather large diameter rods sticking out of her leg five inches tall, placed there to help the next few fragments mend to the first. No angst, no feeling sorry for herself, it just is.

People are coming and going. All manner of walking-with-crutches wounded and unable-to-walk rollers in old style wheelchairs. (I see a sign saying there is a shuttle from the parking lot next to the Superdome to the clinic for those who are totally immobilized, except on Thursday when there is a Saints game.) So many are by themselves and are walking on casts not meant for walking on. I finally broke them down into the "hardwares" and the "castes"<---yup, I meant that spelling--and their spouses, helpmates, significant others, children, whoever was there to help them if they were lucky enough to have someone like that.

One kid, no older than 23 had what looked like a cookie sheet on steroids, bent like a rain gutter attached to his heavily fiberglassed foot with rods of remarkable geometry coming out of his lower leg, into the upper foot, coming out the back. He's swinging along on his crutches, his pants cut off roughly to accomodate the cast. He was by himself.

In front of us sat a couple. He was wearing a cast, much like my husband's. She sat next to him. Both waited. I hear the man say, "That's it. I need a job with real health insurance so I can see a REAL doctor." She listens, not saying anything. Clearly this man is angry. Angry at his circumstance, angry at being there, angry that these "other" people have, in his opinion, more screws and more teeth loose than he does. He is unlike them. He doesn't belong here.

The check in desk has a line around it. It's the fifth line of its length I've seen. I started counting. They had processed about 500 people, placing them in their appropriate clinics by 11AM. These were the people lucky enough to have an "F" number. Everyone with a "G" number, or folks like us waiting to hear an actual name, had to wait. There were no arguments, no voices raised by either patients or staff. We were lucky enough, lucky being a relative term, to be in a position to see the Price is Right on the monitor above us. A monument to American acquisition in the midst of people who no doubt were dreaming of that $25,000 cash out if only they knew how much that washer/dryer combo cost to the nearest dollar. Whoa, check that! A diamond and sapphire bracelet. Wonder what it's worth? Wonder if it would fit around my cast? No problem, I'd just wear it on the other wrist, or maybe sell it on eBay and pay my rent, or part of it.

The man in front of us says in a voice heavy with judgment, "These people are the dregs," referring to the other patiently waiting patients. One woman had had the temerity to show up in her pajamas, nevermind she was clearly in pain, clearly couldn't put her foot down, clearly couldn't have showered and dressed to suit him in her condition. THAT man was obviously special, superior. These "dregs" were unsuited for civilized society, and besides a great many of them were what he termed, and no doubt some doctors termed, "obese." Outrageous. Truly. It never dawned on this man that the woman in the pajamas, in pain, might have been a brilliant woman, a Rhodes Scholar perhaps, who had unfortunately majored in Anthropology and was now a laid off professor with no health insurance, a house about to be foreclosed on thanks to that ARM they talked her into, and with University cutbacks, no employment prospects in sight. And ya know, maybe she wasn't. Maybe she was a welfare queen, or a trailer trash girl, assaulted at 11, three kids by 18, used to a vicodin and malt liquor cocktail used to ignore all that. Maybe she was. But some of those not "REAL" doctors were gonna take care of her. She was near tears as she sat in those chairs.

We are summoned. We go answer the questions asked and are given a "G" number. We are told to go back to the chairs someone will call us. G15. Please call G15. A woman comes out, she calls G12, G13, G14. (Perhaps we're playing Bingo, I wonder.) Those folks follow along on their crutches, with their hardware sticking willy nilly out of various limbs, with their casts, dirty from walking on them when they should be keeping them up, in wheelchairs, casts perched precariously on the ill fitting leg rests. Another man comes out calling G34, G57, G58, Melissa Washington? No rhyme or reason in the numbers, but maybe we have Bingo. Nope, no G15.

The man in front of us, also still waiting, makes another derogatory comment about the other patients. The woman with him says, "Well unless you're a neurosurgeon, or in some other enormously high paying----" "OH," he says, eyes glinting with a gotcha spark, "You're saying that shitty care is what we deserve if we're not in the right class?? That's classist. That's elitist. I can't believe you sai---" "It might be classist, but that's the reality of the healthcare system. It's not an indictment of the people here, it's an indictment of the sytem," she responds. He doesn't like that answer. "I've noticed a racial component as well," she says, trying to engage him. "Oh yeah? What?" says he, not knowing that I'm listening. "The black folks here seem not at all upset by the wait." "Well, I guess they're used to being treated like shit," he responds.

A little girl in pigtails wearing a perfect Sunday-go-to-meeting sailor dress, much like I wore when I was little, with perfect tiny Mary Janes is holding her mother's hand. Her mother has walked the length and breadth of these halls to keep the little one from being bored. The baby dances holding on to her mother's arm, smiling widely, not seeing color or class or gender--okay maybe gender vaguely, she's barely two. She doesn't care that the guy on Price is Right is trying to act as though he's enthusiastic about a dining set and lawn furniture when the OTHER guy got the showcase with the dune buggies. The lawn furniture guy wins. He proposes to his fiance on Price is Right. Hell, why not. It's not stuff he WANTS but it's STUFF. How cool is that? She says yes, hugs all around, no tears from the folks in the chairs, balancing their casts, their hardware, their anxiety, their circumstances, their aloneness on very precarious edges.

Elderly woman, clearly in pain with a cast on her left leg, in the old timey wheel chair being pushed by her son or grandson, it's hard to gauge the generational gap there. She's trying everything to alleviate the pain, folding the cast over her other leg, putting it on the leg rest that's just a smidge too short, letting it hang down. The son is wearing a tshirt reading, "I only wear this tshirt when I'm a grouch." So much for bucking up Mom! She waits with the rest of us. At first he pushes the wheel chair dutifully, later in the day I see him pulling her around like bricks in a Radio Flyer. So much for compassion. She was, at that point, merely a duty. One he resented. But he didn't say so, he just dragged her around, sullen but blessedly silent.

People with canes helping people with crutches. The escalators of the once fancy department store still run in the distance. The woodwork and trim is still there amidst the cubicle dividers of grey fabric, the signs in large letters pointing the way to the pharmacy, the rest room. Just follow the little arrows on the floor, red for THAT way, green for THIS way. Keep the traffic flowing just like the cars on Poydras Street outside. "Lady, there's a chair over here. You can't sit on the floor."

My husband goes and asks about G15, the ever present deli counter number slip held tightly to the ream of other papers in his hand. Within seconds the wonderous number is called and off we go to XRay and another set of chairs. Jeopardy is on. Best category, Oscar winners. I have it cold. Still no arguing. Still no raised voices. We've all been there for five hours waiting to answer this Final Jeopardy question. We are conservative in our wagers.

An older black man stands near the back wall on a three legged cane. He's struggling. I point out a chair, upset that the younger folks haven't gotten up to offer him a seat. He smiles and says, "Thank you ma'am, but I'm just waiting on someone," and ambles off slowly. A couple of young Turks, in spanking new Timberlands, go past. One wearing only one as the other leg is in a cast up to his thigh. Both wear dreadlocks, obviously brothers, the younger two legged one spurring the other on, "Hey, dog, maybe you should use that THIRD leg you always talking about." The Timberlands still have the tags on. I'm wondering if that's intentional. A white man, plaid shirt, blue baseball cap, cast on left lower arm, explains to a friend that he's cut off his fingers with a table saw. They reattached them, but one didn't take. Now he fears the other one is failing. Later I see him in the chairs, him with a cast on his left arm, patting a guy on the back to encourage him, the other guy's cast is on his right. Fingerless guy was a contractor.

I went out for a cig. The steps outside were another scene from this opera. One guy teeters on his crutches coming down the steps. I tell him to be careful. He says, "You shoulda told me that a WEEK ago before I screwed up this knee that I'd already screwed up and it was healing!" He laughed. He had fallen off a ladder. A white guy, about 40, with paint covered shorts and white paint on his fingernails, wearing a cast on the left arm, bums a cig then starts complaining. They lost his paperwork, these people are assholes, it's outrageous he's spending his entire day here, his eyes are pinned from the Vicodin the "assholes" gave him. I listen to him complain for a bit then say, "You need the help, these people are helping. How can you fault them for doing what you need done?" "Well it should be faster. All this waiting around."

I lost my patience at that point. He was acting like an entitled jackass. Hell, he's a working man, he's white, he believes in justice and duty and has worked hard all his life, why aren't they jumping to just for him? I opened my mouth, never a good thing I've learned. Out comes, "What? You were planning on doing a lot of painting today were ya?" He looked at the ground and the rest of the smokers snickered a little. Welcome to the world, little man. THIS is the current reality. Sorry, truly, about the cast on your arm. Sorry you're worried about the rent. So is everyone else here.

Of all the people I spoke with, patients I mean, all but one were working people with no insurance. The one who was not a working person was a woman in her early 60's who clearly HAD worked for a long time in an office somewhere. None of these people were what some would and did call the "dregs."

Not one patient got nasty, no matter how impatient they were, no matter how frustrated. I was amazed. Many of the staffers helped without eye rolling when asked, all of them worked hard to make sure everyone got where they needed to be. I was and am still amazed by that. No slackers that I saw in the staff. No unfortunate incidents in the chairs. Everyone just trying to get through, trying to get along through the red and green arrows, everyone seeming to understand that their arms, their legs and the system was broken and needed to be fixed.

As I waited for them to put the new cast on the husband's arm, an excruciatingly skinny woman wearing a wig came up to me outside. "Excuse me, ma'am, can you tell me where the Charity pharmacy is?" "Yes, ma'am, in through security and a sharp left." "Thank you." Ten minutes later, she returned. I asked if she had found it. She said yes, thank you. She was clearly a chemo patient, clearly getting toward the end of her fight. She turned and walked her tiny self across the lanes of Poydras and LaSalle, away from what was a department store for them that had, now a haven for them that ain't got. She was alone.

I kept wondering why we have a department store as a clinic when Charity Hospital is sitting there just waiting to be updated, rehab-ed and used? I kept wondering why the "dregs" were somehow thrown into a weird caste system of healthcare? I kept wondering how healthcare workers keep going without completely losing it in frustration. I kept wondering how all these people in pain, physical and psychic, managed to not take it out on the staff or each other. I kept wondering what would happen to the man with no fingers, the old grandmother with the cast, the boy with the rods bigger than my currently well attached fingers (hey really, ya never know when THAT could change). I kept wondering how we'd pay the rent. I kept wondering about the skinny little lady, casting a shadow of strength and courage on Poydras Street. I kept wondering how anyone in their right mind could have an issue with a public option in healthcare. I also finally understood that those opposed were having issues with accepting they ARE the little man, not some master of industry, commerce or trust fund.

I kept wondering if Teddy was looking down saying, "Yeah, THIS is what I was talking about."

Friday, July 17, 2009

God, Guns, Guts and American Pickup Trucks

I know, I know. I haven't posted much lately, but this was pointed out to me earlier today and I just can't get over it. I'm really curious whether this guy has decided that he believes in the Second Amendment more than the Fifth Commandment. It's the strangest juxtapositioning of beliefs I've heard in a long time.

He's right, there is a lot of evil in the world, and I think he needs to look in a mirror.

Oh yeah, and Jesus would have carried a sword except he was so powerful.

Monday, March 23, 2009

L Follows M



I've been thinking about this for days now, quietly, alone in my house, occasionally finding myself weeping for what would seem to be no reason. Crazy, menopausal bitch. Probably too much or too little estrogen.

Then it hit me.

After Katrina, I wrote emails to friends and family about the state of things here at that time. Using a shared generator for one hour a day as long as the gas held up and using a dialup connection to AOL via a New Mexico number. Those emails got forwarded and forwarded until the email list was completely outrageous with people asking to be added, sending wonderful encouraging letters, telling me to keep sending them. I did this in a vacuum. First the vacuum of no power (the phone line worked), then the vacuum of National Guard roadblocks. Polimom, in Texas, became my liason to others in this area. I knew nothing of blogs.

Finally in March of 2006 I sent out the last email, transferring my communication to the blog format, in great part thanks to Poli's urging. I had no idea what I was doing. So I just started writing whatever came to mind. I also had no idea that there were other New Orleans bloggers, at least not then. I started a second blog, and reposted the emails under the Katrina Refrigerator blog banner (although lately some others have shown up and remain unposted.)

Little by little other New Orleans bloggers found me, sent comments, communicated in email, but they were all just screen names then. I was invited to the first Rising Tide conference. Feeling entirely out of my depth, I ante-ed up the fee and went. I took a steno pad and pen, sat on the floor, surrounded by a sea of laptops and people spouting tech terms. I was a fish out of water, but intrigued.

As I walked in the door, a man who struck me as a human Tasmanian Devil approached me. He introduced himself to me as Loki. He talked rapid fire, told me he'd read what I was writing, told me about himself. We found out we had similar backgrounds in music production. He did six things at once, talking all the while, making me laugh and laughing with me. I told him I wasn't sure I belonged at that conference. His response: "Oh bullshit. You signed up, you paid, you're here. You're kinda stuck with us now." I was stunned and laughing. "I'll catch ya later and buy you a drink or two," he said and kinda shoved me into the sea of laptop room. He whispered, "And we GOTTA talk about the music stuff! We'll share stories!"

There was now a breach in my little vacuum. And it was cool.

I met several other local bloggers that day, tentatively smoking a cigarette outside, finding out which screenname went with each human face, trying not to be too obvious as I stared at their name tags putting the screenname/face and their writing together in my head. Lots of them knew me already from what I'd written. They were so welcoming.

The panels continued, the boats outside the yacht club were still sunk in the water, and there was a threat of another hurricane. There was a beautiful young woman who seemed to have something to do with the organization of all this. She looked very serious, her dark hair to her shoulders, her eyes on her laptop, her fingers flying on the keyboard and she was wearing a really cool skirt. She certainly wasn't a stodgy geeky woman, that was for sure.

I had brought a flask of rum, not realizing there was a fully stocked bar for afterwards. Once the conference officially ended, she looked tired, frazzled. She came over to where all the soft drinks were, and started pouring a coke. I asked her if she would like to add some rum to it. "Oh thank GOD," she said, and we mixed a couple of whoppers. She said her name was Maitri, but I'd figured that out already.

Now some years have passed. These two people, the first two I met, have become friends, colleagues, partners in crime. We've grieved together, partied together, annoyed each other, and sent stupid jokes to each other. We've kept track of each other during subsequent evacuations. I've learned so much from them both.

And I cannot forget their respective spouses. The wonderful patient D, always driving often intoxicated women around looking jaunty in his hat and dimples, laughing at us but never judging. Maitri chose well. Alexis, a beautiful sensitive woman, who along with Maitri, encouraged me to get over my shyness and read OUT LOUD to actual PEOPLE. Loki also chose well.

The loss of the four of them to the Yankees, although for good reasons, will leave a void in our little group. Maitri's counting of days and Loki's tirades will evolve. Their generousity with their time, their cheerleading, will be a loss to the motley group that is the New Orleans blogger community.

But for me, the loss will be greatly and deeply personal. These four people have become friends, took me out of the vacuum. I will miss hearing their laughter for a block before I open the door to the bar, making me smile because I'll find them inside ready to tell me my lipstick needs to be redder or "I totally NEED that Star Wars Christmas Special!"

Maitri and D will leave first, followed by Loki and Alexis. I wish them the best, will await their visits home, and be forever grateful to them for being the first two people to show me that I wasn't alone in my anger, my grief and my frustration during that time. Their gift of themselves was one of the best gifts I've ever received.

Now I'm putting on my tshirt that reads, "Be a New Orleanian Wherever You Are" knowing that they will be, I'm throwing the kleenex away (I'll just get a new one if I need it, and I probably will), and I will await the photostreams that will no doubt show all four of them in bizarre get-ups being stared at by Hoosiers who've never experienced anything like these four people.

I hope those Yankees appreciate what they're gaining.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Absinthe and Cran Please



In response to a fellow blogger, I am posting this here. It started as an email but the comebacks were just too good not to post. Below is the original followed by the comebacks:

Last night my husband and I were going to go to a play. The play was postponed until April 1. So having a night free, actually with each other, we decided to go to Vaughan's. First we went to the Joint for some faboo BBQ, then on to Vaughan's. It was decidedly empty but a couple hours passed and the "let's get seriously dressed up in spike heels" young crowd started to arrive passing in and among the rest of us schlumps. A group of three young women, either tourists or college students, we're still arguing over that, push their way up to the bar with one standing right next to me. She's getting drink orders from her two friends and hollering them to the bartender. "I need an Abita, a screwdriver and an absinthe and cran please."

I spun around like Linda Blair's head, watching as the bartender, clearly as astonished as me repeated it incredulously. Yup, that was the drink order. I kept thinking of Folse. We would have had to get the paddles out if he'd heard it. I thought they were gonna need them for me. I'm still laughing at that combination.

BTW, while we were there (Kermit never showed but of course his band rocked, and we heard one girl tell her friend the name of the band was the BBQ Sauce), Steve Zahn stood next to me at the bar. He was having a great time, ordered some Buds, I asked if he had tried any of our locally beloved beer. His response was, laughing, "I like shitty beer!" We asked if he was working, he said yes on Treme. We got to talking about life here after K and he said there was a lot about that in the show. We told him we were excited to see how Treme turned out and told him we thought the writing would probably be top notch. His response was, "It's the best script I've ever seen." He really gave it high marks and said he is loving working on it. We were delighted to hear it and it was clear that he's loving being here and loving the show. Bodes well I think! The way he spoke about it was interesting. I think he is not only enjoying his work as an actor, but from what he was saying, I got a feeling that he felt he was doing something important, worthwhile, something that mattered to him. It was great to hear that. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Response #1: "Absinthe and cran? She must be shot on the Esplanade neutral ground."
Response #2: "I think the stocks will be sufficient."
Response #3 (by a local writer for whom we all have high regard, known as KA by those on our list): "Oh, great. And the Hipsterpolitan was born."
Response #4: "Girls like that give girls a bad name."

And as we're big on giving credit where credit is due, Response #5: "Perfect, let the record show it was KA who named it! Hipsterpolitan, brilliant!"

Perfect name for a perfectly horrible combination. I've gotten private emails about this, asking how old the girl was (probably about 22), was she a tourist (as I said, we're still arguing about that, although that wouldn't make it any better), and from a long time friend and devoted absinthe drinker, WHY DIDN'T YOU STOP HER?

Well, because she had to drink it and I thought that was punishment enough.

EDIT: As of last night a new name has emerged for this abomination, the Crabsinthe. Just keeping you up to date!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

LePetit Theatre-Social Media and Activism

We've all heard talk about the social media revolution. We've probably all noodled around looking for our favorite video to post, or found an article that outraged us and quickly hit the Facebook post button on the bottom. We've wasted time yacking about nothing, posted weird photos, commented on someone's status. No doubt about it, some social media can be a time suck.

I saw something in the last two days, however, that really showed me how fast social media can make a real difference.

Each morning I check Twitter, just to see what my miscreant friends are up to. Day before yesterday, The Gambit tweet was about a breaking story regarding the firing of the Le Petit staff. I quickly checked the Times Picayune, nothing there.

Within in hour on Facebook, a note was written on a friend's page. He outlined what had happened, to whom, why and who would be taking it over. He also layed out some of the ideas that had been floated for the use of the LePetit Theatre building over the years: everything from a new shop to a parking lot. The comments were rolling on that note. People remembering working at the theatre, getting their start there. Others noting the theatre's remarkable historical value.

The original note writer monitored the comments and continued the lively conversation, explaining that the Solomon Group, who has taken over the running of the theatre, isn't the bad guy. In fact they're doing it pro bono (he had put in parentheses "that means FREE"). The conversation continued through the night Tuesday night and into yesterday with many of us offering to volunteer in order to keep the theatre open.

By yesterday afternoon, this group, Volunteers for LePetit Theatre, had been formed by the Solomon Group. As of this morning there were 104 members.

Remember, all this happened in less than 48 hours.

While I don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of the finances or all the reasons the incumbent employees were let go, I was nevertheless amazed at the speed with which social media helped get the word out that a local and national treasure could be in real trouble. That speed, that rallying of the troops to save the theatre, was amazing to watch in real time.

For anyone who thinks saving the theatre is frivolous when there are so many really huge problems in this city, I would just point out that they too can rally troops quickly and efficiently the same way. How powerful is that?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Slumdog Reality

I've never been lucky enough to visit India. I haven't seen the movie either.

This has been bugging me for days. First I read this article at CNN. It bothered me a lot. Then I saw this picture:



A couple of days passed, and I saw this picture of Azharuddin Ismail the Thursday after the Oscars:




It was accompanied by this article. about his father having just hit him for refusing to talk to reporters. (The same article was published in several other places, both online and in print.) To his father's credit, he apologized. I mean he's not used to this kind of scrutiny either. But the whole thing upset me a lot. He's just a kid. He'd been under a lot of pressure. I was furious at his father for hitting him. I was furious with the reporters for hounding him. He's a little boy, not much older than my grandson. He was tired, he was overwhelmed. It pissed me off. And the sensationalism of the reporting pissed me off. The incredible judgmentalist tone of the piece written, no doubt by someone sitting comfy in a chair in a warm house. Someone not in that reality.

I could only compare his reality with mine, as it's the one I know. It still bothered me. I knew the producers had made sure that these kids' education would be covered and that they were trying to do right by them. Views on parenting might be different there than mine are.

Then I started thinking about all the OTHER kids in those slums and found a reasoned comment on the CNN article. Donations can be sent to Pratham.org to help all the other little ones who were not at the Oscars, who were not in the movie, who are used to living under plastic sheeting.

All that was followed by how many kids a block, four blocks, 20 blocks from my house are in the same situation: living in poverty, getting the back of a hand, maybe going hungry.

The whole thing broke my heart. I can't get Azaruddin's little tear streaked face out of my head. I'm going to keep him there to remind me of all the others in Thailand, in Africa, in India, and yes even here in America, who are hungry and overwhelmed.

It's not just an Indian problem. I compare these impoverished kids reality with an AIG executive's reality and it pisses me off.

Sometimes the whole world seems cockeyed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Slate's Uptown Adventure

This post will be sans links as it's just a children's story, a cautionary tale, a narrative with a happy ending, suitable bedtime reading. It's also dedicated to those readers who will be belly laughing outside my hearing, behind their screens. I love them all---I think.

An announcement came to Slate's inbox: Book signing for Mark Folse's new book, Carry Me Home, at the Maple Leaf Bookstore. Proud of her friend, she ris-vipped, put it on her calendar and there it sat until the day before it was to take place. Slate then, being a good old geek, enters "Maple Leaf Books" in the Google map section of her computer screen and miraculously little icons appear showing the locations of not only Maple Leaf Books, but Octavia and three others. She confidently clicks on the correct icon and voila, a map appears in short order.

"Cool," she thinks. "I can take my bike! It's just down Rampart to Canal, then a right and I'll be there. No problem."

Something strikes her as strange. The location mapped before her would put her directly behind St. Louis Cemetery #2, three blocks from the Iberville Projects.

"Hmmm," she thinks. "Perhaps that isn't right. After all I've been in and around that area a lot and never saw a bookstore there."

Pondering for a moment, she decides to call the above mentioned Mr. Folse who, upon hearing the directions, laughs out loud then says the directions are wrong. He kindly points the seriously downtown impaired woman in the right direction, giving her a street address for the book signing and some suggestions as to how best to get there. No, the bike won't do it. It's gonna have to be the car. It's not that she's NEVER been uptown, but most of the times she's ventured there it was recon after Katrina or some medical lab to find out how many places her husband's bones were broken in. And she doesn't want to take the freeway as the only way she's ever found her way around cities was by using surface streets, once a street was seen she knew where she was when she saw it again.

She'd been to the zoo, the lake, the yacht club. She'd occasionally been to friends' homes but it had almost always been with another friend driving who knew the way. Not a problem. Slate was anything but faint of heart.

Confidently walking out her door, Slate got into her car and headed for Claiborne. There was some activity there blocking her way, maybe an accident, she never did find out, so she cut back down to the go through the Quarter to St. Charles since the map showed that she could surely get there via that broad and beautiful avenue.

Slate, however, had completely forgotten that it was a Mardi Gras parade day. After fighting her way down Dauphine, past all the people in line at Port of Call, she heads down (up?) toward Canal. The tourists are out in force, obviously believing mistakenly that the PT Cruiser is a spaceship made of some sort of malleable plasma to which their bodies will be impervious. It takes her 30 minutes to traverse the short blocks of the Quarter, make the left to Royal, a right on Royal and . . . .

"Oh my god, it's a parade day!" she says to herself noting police barricades already up at the Canal/St. Charles/Royal intersection. Bravely crossing Canal onto St. Charles, she curses WWOZ for betraying her in her time of need by playing a lot of Spanish music that she's not crazy about rather than something that will keep her trucking along into the foreign territory that is Uptown.

All the way up St. Charles people are already camped out for the parade that won't start for a couple more hours. Tents, ladders by the dozen, lawn chairs, coolers full of beer are all she sees on both sides of the street and along the neutral ground. Trucks stop with no warning in front of her, dropping off more furnishings for their outside parlors. Cars in front of her do the same, hailing an old friend off the neutral ground in order to carry on an extended conversation regarding logistics as she waits impatiently but curiously behind them.

Every corner has a vendor of wonderful food, port-o-lets painted as faces with big 3-D noses attached to their doors sit in the bed of a truck as the truck's owner contemplates how many dollars he'll make in the next two weeks. Stacks of bleachers line the stately avenue waiting to be filled up with shouting people, arms in the air. It's already nearly impassable, no parking signs deterring parking but not the never-ending stop and drops.

"Hey, so THAT is Fat Harry's," she remarks to herself seeing the green awning that she's never noticed before. She knows she's been out this far before but never paid attention much. Now she was on a deadline and it was a Mardi Gras weekend. The Spanish music kept up, words that sounded like Spanish, as they certainly weren't English words her mother had taught her poured out of her mouth.

"Cherokee. Turn right then left. I did it!" Slate says, patting herself on the back for finding a parking place just steps from her destination.

Upon her arrival, her friends from the blogosphere hear her tale of woe, and laugh or look amazed that she's never been here before. She has a wonderful time, eats King Cake, enjoys her Uptown friends, ogles books, gets directions to go home.

One of her friends, a Doctor so she can absolutely be trusted, tells her to go to Carrollton then to Broad to Esplanade. Slate has to ask which way Carrollton is.

"Just go straight and make a right. It's the big street," they tell her. She waited but they didn't tell her to look both ways before she crossed. That was kind of them.

Slate dutifully climbs into her car, goes to Carrollton, makes the right as she was told. Then she notices the Bed and Breakfast she stayed at on her first visit to New Orleans more than 15 years ago. She parks her car, gets out and takes a few photos. The house is now a private home, looks wonderful, she guesses the crazy woman who owned it must have passed on.

Back into the car, full of confidence and pride, she goes forth, homeward bound.

"Claiborne! Oh hell, I know where I am now," she says, grinning widely as she makes a right.

Driving down Claiborne she notices how wide it is, not like the part near her home. She's been told that at one time, all of Claiborne was a tree lined boulevard. Here she can believe it. At the Louisiana Street intersection, she notes a demographic difference, almost like a weird invisible line. The color and number of people at the bus stops change. She sees other cross streets she knows and thinks how wonderful it is that she might now have an alternate way of getting to her doctor, and some other places she has to go now and then. She's exhilarated, channelling Marco Polo, discovering spaghetti!

She knows where she is! Could actually point in the right direction if asked where her house is! Her chest swells with pride. Then there it is. Right in front of her. A dreadful, yellow, inescapable DEAD END sign.

"But I can SEE the Superdome," she wails. "Who knew Claiborne ENDED." (Evidently the Doctor she should have trusted did, thus telling her to take Broad.)

Forced to take a right, she finds herself confronted by Magnolia Street or an unnamed left turning rampy kinda thing. She is still confident so chooses the ramp.

"OMG, I'm getting on the Bridge! I don't live on the Westbank anymore and my toll tag is out of money!" Hysterical laughter overtakes the Spanish music on OZ. She contemplates taking the Ferry home but realizes that will take her to the end of Canal, not a good idea.

She turns around, digging in her purse for a buck, cursing at the drivers who didn't SEE the gigantic TOLL TAG ONLY signs and suddenly need to move over, finds herself convulsing in laughter at her situation, and pays the lady at the booth.

Breezing along the freeway, she goes to the Claiborne Ave sign that she knows well. Finally she is in home territory: hideous overpass on the left, cemeteries on the right. She realizes suddenly what a horrid disservice to the city that overpass was. It completely cut the city in half. Her Uptown friends knew that. She just saw how awful it was. St. Louis, St. Peter, Dumaine, familiar, unlike Maple, Spruce, Oak. Turning right on Esplanade, she tools home, finding her way easily through the maze of the Marigny.

Upon arrival Slate called a friend. She told him of her adventure. They laughed that she was the only one who could conceivably go from the Maple Street to the Marigny via the Westbank. They discussed maybe taking a trip to Gentilly one day, but he'd drive so they didn't go via Mandeville.

Moral of the story: Either take a cab or listen to the Doctor.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Buffa's Crime Meeting w/Riley et al 1.31.09

Here's what I typed up as fast as I could. Some is surely missing and/or paraphrased. I'll upload the photos as soon as possible. Today is busy for me so it might not be til tomorrow.

Some officer's names are not recorded here, the names went by too fast. I do know that Major E.C. Hosli, Major Bernadine Kelly and Chief Kirk Bouyelas were in attendance as well as the French Quarter Quality of Life Officer whose name is (I think) included in my notes. Supt. Warren Riley also attended, as did Councilmen Fielkow and Carter.

The one line comments at the bottom of these notes were statements made by the attendees as the meeting broke up.

The Lower Quarter folks sent out a great email with phone numbers, other contact information, and more names. Please check that email for those numbers.

Also check the NOLACrimeAlerts.com website to sign up for txt msg based crime alerts. Detailed sign up instructions can be found there.

Below are the notes, such as they are. Typos have not been edited, sorry about that:
____________________________________________________
January 31, 2009

Buffa's Crime Meeting 2
Lower Quarter Citizens

12:05 PM Fielkow arrives
News teams coming in

Roger Jones Local Cop/Quality of Life Officer Vieux Carre
Three NOPD: Hosli

Camille Burgin welcomes the NOPD
“We welcome you. We have had no burglaries or armed robberies in two weeks. We like the foot patrols.”

Google Group:
KW explains listserv and asks for participation, talks about bicycle safety escort program.

Four black faces, two are police.

Camille:
“Quarter is the economic engine that drives this city, we're the shopowners, the bartenders. We're the ones who welcome the tourists and we're also the ones walking home at 2AM after a 14 hour shift. We drive the city. We have to work together. I think we can do that and make it work. We have seen a great improvement.

Streetlights: We've sent a letter to Mr. James Carter. Robinson Industries is the subcontractor. By Feb 24 all Quarter streetlights should be working. If you see one out send info to Fielkow, Carter and Robinson Industries.

If you have lights at your house, TURN THEM ON.

If you have an elderly neighbor, and they can't change their lights, help them.

Aud: I have a ladder.

CB: We're a small town, we have to know each other.

Aud: If you see a shop whose lights are out let them know.

We need neighbors to shop in our neighborhood to keep the Quarter going,.
CB:
We have to help each other to stay open.

Block Monitors: Like hall monitors, we're seeking volunteers (KW speaking) to do citizen patrols on a monthly basis, as well as people to just keep track of their block. I will put together info and send it out as an email blast.

Julie: We originally wanted a big group organized but found that difficult so instead we decided to do it block by block, like crimewatch. Open shutters, watch for lights out. Whatever anyone can do on their own. We're trying to decide if we want weekly meetings, social. Chasing people off the stoops, but sitting on stoops, knowing who's out of town.

Aud: The cops can't stop someone who just looks suspicious but we can call and report someone that looks suspicious. Each local little area. At our house keep our windows open, people know we're there.

HOSLI:
Think back to our neighborhood, where every little old lady knew what was going on. That's the kind of talent you guys have. This is your neighborhood. We can come and police it, but you know who lives here. That's the difference. We will do everything we can on our part, but as the gentleman said you guys watch too.

What I say to you is don't call if there's nothing there or our patrol cars will be out there for nothing. If the hair crawls up your back, don't walk into it, CALL. If you have a problem w/the 911 system, you've got to let us know. Send me an email. Get the operator number and put it in the email. You guys will say, I called and no one came. I'll send that info to the research div and they'll look into it. You gotta help me. To make it right, I gotta know where to start.

Task force units work from 8-4 at night. They work a little differently.

Aud: We tend to get complacent, lights again and how often do we want to meet.

HOSLI:
If you have camera systems, we've asked before to get that information. If I had that info going into it, it helps me out.

Aud: Internet cameras? 10 bucks a piece.

HOSLI:
If the cameras can send info to computers, it doesn't take a lot to make it work and it will help.

Aud: Years ago cops knew the business owners, the bar owners, a more personal relationship. It seems that if I recognize you, and I know your name, I know you and you know me, and I can say I need help. . . . .

Without getting arrested (someone else said)

HOSLI:
We find ourselves going from call to call.

Aud: I can't remember the last time I've seen an officer on foot.

HOSLI:
They walk an hour on foot every shift. It's been for about the last year.
We have designated Bourbon, Chartres, Royal, Decatur, French Market walking beats, with patrol car designated to that assigned area. What's happening now is we're not allowing those cars to come out of their area unless it's an emergency.

Aud: We want to know who the officers are, and be their BFF's. We don't know who they are. But was on the corner of Dauphine, never saw one walking. Saw two cars, but not walking.,

HOSLI:
That officer is required to get out of the car for one hour and walk around and get to know you. There's lots of information there if we say hello.

Aud: We see the police patrols, I've seen your guys and we appreciate that. As long as we're seeing your presence we feel better about opening up our doors and windows.

HOSLI:
There are two things going on, leave lights on. The bad guys will go to another block. Sometimes my officers are out there with their hoodies on blending in, trying to see who's buying drugs, etc. Right now they're working nights. Task force 8PM to 4AM.

Aud: How many actual cops, actual bodies are floating around.

HOSLI: We got new officers, six are still in training. One car min, CBD, Ramp Corridor, Triangle, per shift. We also have paddy wagon. We found we were making arrests every 20 min. We found that that takes officers off the street, so now the prisoner wagon comes to them, they do their paperwork and the wagon takes the guy to lockup. By doing that the officer can stay in that area.
Aud: Some people don't like all the lights, but people will turn around if they see those lights on the patrol cars.

HOSLI:
I think something's happening that might not be happening. The patrol car cannot leave the area without contacting the supervisor.

Aud: Shopkeeper, my entire family is all on one corner all day, I want them to know who the local officer is, so they know you.

RILEY:
People are having problems with officers walking and not saying hello. We have a partnership with Harrah's Casino now. We're putting together a program to train our policemen in customer service. Harrah's (Hiegland?) knows how to deal with everything, our officers need that training. Some of our officers have trouble with customer relations. We hope that that program will address the problems of officers walking the beat and not relating to the people in the neighborhood.

Aud: Do the officers in the 8th Dist—is there a high turnover? Seems like I just get to meet them and they're gone.

HOSLI:
Yeah sometimes. We lose them to other agencies.

Aud: Night of Wendy's murder, the suspects were sitting on our neighbor's stoop. If your officers had seen them could they have asked them move them on or do we have to call and complain before you can act.

Aud: You can ask them to leave it's your property. I walk down the street every night, I”ve never had a patrol car asking me “how ya doing tonight.”

HOSLI:
WE have more officers coming on board, and the scooters work. They operate on Jackson Square, Dauphine, other areas. I like it because they're closer to the street, they're out of their cars, they hear more, they see more. Unfortunately we had one crash this week so he'll be out for a while.

Aud: If you see someone just sitting there, say “hi, how you guys doing” and it just let's them know that someone's watching them, but you don't have to profile to do that.

HOSLI: My task force guys, have been told if you see them sitting on a step, ask them who they are and do they belong there. If it's where I need to be, I won't mind being asked what I”m doing there.

Quality of Life Officer:
Basically I deal w/nuisance complaints, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, broken windows. If you have issues like that I'm the person to call.

HOSLI: Saw them putting up a light on St. Louis and Royal. New pole new light.

Aud: new lights make a difference.

KW: We have a couple more questions, then the officers will address us.

Aud: Do we have a curfew. (Yes)
Do we have truant officers? (Yes)

HOSLI:
We do deal with truants.

Aud: My husb comes in before dawn and go out at that time. It should be brought up to Nagin that I see more SDT than I see NOPD. I see an officer a week, maybe. I'm on Decatur St.

Aud: What's the deal w/city cameras. My house is surrounded. (Black man) St. Claude and St. Bernard, heavy drugs. I put up cameras. I can't call you cuz they're gonna hurt ME.

OFFICER: I'm not sure if those cameras are working but I”ll call that district and find out. What's the name of that club?

Aud: Sidney's Saloon.

CB:
We want to thank NOPD for our added patrols, we are grateful. We want you to know that we're not against each other. We want to work together.

RILEY:
We added 16-17 officers to the Quarter, we continue to add to the Quarter, but we want it to be the safest tourist area in the country. Because any incident in the Quarter goes national and international. I get emails asking me “should I come to New Orleans.” I hate getting those. We strategically put a plan in place, increased visibility on Bourbon, Decatur, Royal. We have cars on Canal and in the Warehouse dist. Not only on St. Ann but walking patrols Bourbon to Rampart. We have two cars St. Ann to Esplanade. Another patrol car from Esplanade to Elysian Fields.

There were some officers who were not doing their jobs. Those two supervisors are no longer part of the 8th district. Two new lieutenants have been brought in. We also know where every car is patrolling. From our end, if we put something in place, we expect it to be carried out. If it's not being carried out, and some weren't, we removed them. Every 40 min an arrest in the Quarter. Paddy wagon helps so the officer no longer leave the Quarter, only the paddy wagon team. So those people who get arrested have to sit a while in the back of a paddy wagon, it's not a good experience. That is working very well for us.

There are other officers who are in plain clothes. Some of those undercover teams are still working in the Quarter. We have increased significantly the number of officers in the Quarter. We have several new officers training now, you'll get some more officers in April. Some National Guard have joined us. They've been working here in NOLA for at least a year. You'll probably bounce to 145, we might get 150. Officers coming from around the state and country to join NOPD so as we get additional people we can get to 150. Once we reach 150, we will be able to up the foot patrols. Some officers have to be in cars for quicker emergency response but once the numbers go up, you'll see more foot patrols.

James Carter is here now.

Aud: Do we own the skytower cameras that we use during Mardi Gras. Why can't we use them the rest of the year?

RILEY: Yes we own them.

It's a good idea, but the people who work those skywatch cameras, we need civilian techs and officers, we don't have the money. But we do bring them out for special events, but we can't afford overtime pay to keep them there all the time.

Aud:
What can we do to help you do your jobs more efficiently.

RILEY:
We've gone to the state and asked for more officers. We can't have volunteers without them going through training.

2 cars, which could be 2-3, sometimes 4 officers. The majority of the time you'll have two officers per car. That does not include our task force people, you have plainclothes, some nights you're going to have 7-8 officers in an area if we notice a trend. We know by 8AM every morning if we know that we need to shift resources to a particular area. It used to be adjusted weekly, now it's done daily.

Jeff/Buffa's: re:Training from Harrah's. I've had incidents where I called and was treated like a criminal.

RILEY: Some of the old time officers are just not gonna get it. Harrah's is trying to get our officers to understand that the citizens of NOLA are our customers and we have to treat them with respect. Some officers do have a police against the citizen mentality. We're trying very hard to change that.

Aud: If we have to argue to get a case number

RILEY: Report that officer, give us the area and time, we'll know which officer was there. If you request an item number, you should get an item number.

Aud: Can your officers please be instructed to give us a report number?

(I took a break to take photos)

RILEY: We have some officers that just won't do what they are supposed to. Hold us accountable. Hold us accountable. We get rid of those people.

In many cases, once we turn them over to lockup, the DA gets our reports. There's no reason you shouldn't get a case number. Call and ask for a supervisor.

Aud: We need to know when we should start calling! We're a laissez faire city. How long before we should start complaining?

RILEY: You do have a responsibility to follow up. We need to sit down with you, get a small committee together to find out what you want to see on our website in order to get that information.

We need to give the citizens some insight as to what they can do.

Thanks all around. Cops and Riley still here. Also Carter and Fielkow.

Denzer: My goal is to provide you with access to crime info within 24-48 hours. What I want to point out is that there is more NOPD can be doing.

Dep Supt (?) should be commended for the email blast system. I don't view that as adequate. I was told that we couldn't have access to crime info until it was approved. We just heard Riley say they get a list of crimes every morning at 8AM. I want to know why we can't get that list too.

I was told we have to wait. If you go to the city's crime mapping website it takes up to two weeks to find out where crime has happened.

I don't want to disparage Riley, I want to work WITH him. I ran the data and the stats, and found that assault category was underreported, as well as other categories. I was told we had to wait 2-4 weeks in the interest of accuracy. I wrote Riley, what they did was eliminate that info from their crime mapping site. It looks like sabotage to keep us from knowing the truth. The icons are still there, but the description of the event.

They're getting information every morning at 8AM. We should have access to that.

Councilmember Fielkow is here as well as Councilman Carter. Two weeks ago they endorsed the NOLA/Stat policy. It's an open stat policy.

I want open records across the boards so we can identify problems and find solutions.

Andrea Garland: Text msgng alerts. NOLA crime alerts message. Every neighborhood has a group, send txt message and it's forwarded. Check website for full instructions. You sign up and are approved, then you can send msgs.

Meeting breaking up into little groups. Carter being interviewed outside.

CB: We have five Guardian Angels, we'll be talking to them for the next meeting.

We need to do regular meetings.

Big applause for Jeff.

No followup if we don't continue to meet. Once a month?

This was the first time I'd ever been heard.
The best crime meeting I've ever been to. If we don't batter Riley we get more info.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Buffa's Crime Meeting Notes and Pics

Below are my notes from the meeting on crime held yesterday at Buffa's. I am a fast typist, but still a lot of it is paraphrased while holding the basic content of the statement together---lots of words, not enough fingers! I have put some of my personal notes in parentheses and I think I fixed all the abbreviations. Thanks to the always wonderful liprap for looking it over. I can't guarantee that all names are spelled correctly, and at some points lots of people were talking all at once. I hope that this gives you the overall picture of what was discussed and what recommendations were made.

I have to say that I was very impressed with the turnout, and with Councilmen Fielkow and Carter's patience in listening. I was also very happy that District Attorney Cannizzaro took such an active part.

As for NOPD, well, nothing to be said there really.

I really have to thank Terry Taravella for grabbing my camera and taking the photos. It was clear that there was no way I could type and take photos at the same time, and she just stepped right in.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

1.23.2009
Buffa's Crime Meeting Notes
Meeting called by Camille Burgin

(nola.com FQ forums – organized through there)

11:55AM approx 30 ppl in back room, WDSU outside covering it, another station, still unidentified coming in the door.



NOON: Lord David outside doing an interview. Someone in Buffa's refused entrance to the news crews. More people arriving every minute.

12:01PM James Carter arrives.

Camille Burgin opens meeting.

“I know everybody's scared. I know I am., Husband works at in Quarter, walks to get his car at St. Louis and Rampart every night 2AM or later. She waits for him with fear every night.

We're all upset. The thing I don't want us to do is let the fear and horror to go away. We need to channel it so that we can prevent it from happening again.

FBI Stats:
Three times the violent crimes of Mobile between January and June of last year.

I don't know the answers. I don't want us all to think alike. I want to get some solutions.”

Our city council man, James Carter, introduced.



Carter:
I'd like to say that it's really shameful what happened to the woman who lost her life.

We have to make sure we have visible patrols in these areas. That is going to happen. The city has dispersed the light people to fix the lights throughout the Quarter. We have to continue to focus on these violent repeat offenders who prey on the citizens of NOLA. DA's representatives are here, I want to thank them for attending. Councilman Fielkow is here. I want to hear what you all have to say.




Lord David:
I never see patrols. Who can we call to get patrols?

James Carter
Major Kelly (? Not sure if that’s the name said)

Brian Denzer did a presentation and Carter doesn't know why he was turned down.

He (Denzer) came and did another presentation.

The above came from Lord David saying go to NOLA website tons of places to pay fines no place to report crime, why wasn't Denzer's proposal accepted.

No answer.

Fielkow: Denzer has been in front of us for two weeks now. DC has something like his proposal. Yesterday council voted have those people meet with Denzer immediately.

Harrison Boyd Tech Director-- Barrage his office, reference council CapStat (I think that’s the name) program, tell him to talk to Brian Denzer to implement it immediately.

Applause

Fielkow: This is ridiculous. Long term needs to be reformed, but for shorter term it's crime cameras that aren't working, lights not working, strategic problems.

Major Hosli couldn't get clearance to come here because he was not invited. Make sure police have formal invitation to come to ANY meeting like this.

Crowd has grown. Folks are starting to shout out complaints.

We're being outsmarted by 15 yr old kids with no education (attendee comment)

Carter: Outside of Bourbon St do you ever see patrols.

Entire room says NO.

Woman complaining about the tap dancers, calling them pickpockets and gangsters.

Carter again asked re:foot patrols.




One in audience says she saw one the other day, the cop said he had to do it for a couple weeks.

Woman saying she comes home from gigs at 2AM carries a blade.

The cops are certainly around when a car needs to be towed.

How long can we have MP's here. Safer with them than NOPD.

Guard term has been extended four times, can't be done again.

Lord David: telling story from his post re: Billy Sothern's robbery report of a theft involving a cell phone. (Humid City)Re-read Lord David's Humid City post as reference.

658-6800 number for Internal Affairs.

Fielkow: you need to come up with a laundry list of what you think needs to be done. Schedule a meeting w/Hosli and Riley asap, let council participate with you.

What comes out of this has to be fed and put into action, get some representatives and schedule a meeting. James Carter is the head of the Crime committee.

NEWS CREWS NOW LET IN.


Fielkow: If the DA will also attend the meeting you schedule that would help.

Aud: is there anything the council can do to get Riley to respond.?

A call for his resignation gets applause.

We work mostly in the service industry. If this keeps happening we'll have no revenue brought into the city.



George Kulman “DamnYankees” screenname
Lives on Gov Nicholls betw Bourb and Royal, he's from NYC, raised Lower Eastside.

He says has been actively following things, had lived here part time for years, moved permanently after Katrina. What he's seen is horrendous event happens, everyone gets up in arms, in two weeks everything goes away. We must organize and hold every responsible party's feet to the fire.

I am not for vigilantism, but I will be getting a conceal carry license. I will also assist anyone else who wants one. It'll cost you 350 or so, but if we get a couple hundred people applying for carry permits, even if we don't CARRY the gun, it's the police dept's worst nightmare.

Second, city built on tourism. I don't want to hurt it. The people who can prevent that from happening are our council people, the mayor. We need our group to put banners, get a local news contact committee, national news contact. Tell people from out of town to rethink coming here.

MOST THINK THAT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA. (Basically the whole room disagreed)

George: Local patrols. Formal organization, crimewatch is a defunct organization but maybe we can take it over.

CANNIZZARO IS HERE IN BACK.

Geo: We will not be placated if action isn't taken. I will not be appeased like Chamberlain was appeased by Hitler.

Traceman: Wife and I live in the Marigny a couple blocks from the robbery. Thousands and thousands of banners and armbands so everywhere anyone goes in Quarter or Marigny will see “We're watching YOU.” You can wear them over your Mardi Gras costumes. Print on the armband “Ray Nagin is fill in the blank.” Make it yellow like police tape and a purple lightning bolt.

Aud: Armbands won't stop a bullet.

We need the police to do something.

5 armed robberies and one car jacking within the same area as Wendy's murder in the last month.

I tell my husband's story. Reference my post. (For the record, NOPD finally did call him back, asked him to come down and look at photo arrays. He was doing that as I was at this meeting.)

Terry Taravella says her hubs saw cop tried to get his attention, couldn't get the policeman's attention.

We just want the cops to do their jobs. There are no patrols. We're upset. We don't want to carry guns, we want the cops to do their jobs.

We also want them prosecuted.





DA:
Very sad circumstances that bring us together, but am glad to see the large number of people here who want to do something. It's going to take your involvement. You have to be vigilant, you have to call.. We ARE going to prosecute them to the full extent of the law. I have certain ethical and procedural rules because they are juveniles. We like to think of out 14 yrs olds as children, but if the put a gun in your chest they're not kids anymore. We need to get them off the street. We couldn't even give the names of the juveniles til we got permission from the court. The 14 yr old offender, we can not give the name or the nature of the charge until we file juvenile file court judge to transfer. We will probably be setting transf hearing for Monday. The 15 yr olds will probably be in front of a magistrate asking for bond, improbable that they will get it, that will happen this weekend.

60 day murder: Legislature has changed that to 120 days. We're still investigating that case. Saturday night our (DA’s office) investigators were on the crime scene. Team of three people with every investigative police unit.

I have to thank the council, we wouldn't have been able to get the funding to do the job we need to do. Information has to be gotten immediately, in the past DA's didn't get involved until 30, 60, 90 days after the arrest, now the witness has changed his mind, might not be locatable, or has been intimidated or killed. It's our game plan to get hold of those witnesses immediately to encourage them to stay with us as we prosecute the case.

The arrest does us no good unless or until we can get this person charged. We want to make sure these people are taken out of circulation forever.

I've had the misfortune of sitting with families of victims. I can't bring them back. I pledge to you that we will put them away. Please, I need your help.

I can't make any public statements (re:suspects). Many have been in the system before. It's important that we prevent them from moving up the crime ladder. Education is important, drug rehab is important. It's almost unthinkable that we have 15 yr olds like that in our society, we want to prevent other kids from escalating to these other crimes.

Get involved. Don't NOT prosecute if you're robbed, stay with it.

AUD: Can we call YOUR office?

DA: Lots of people don't want to file charges. I'm hearing that.

AUD: We're accused of being involved!!! (in the crime) Who do we call??? The cops accuse me of being part of an armed robbery and you want me to call THEM. What about police intimidation of someone reporting a crime? It's very common. (Lord David with others chiming in.)

DA: Call our office, but I need a police report.,

Lord David: What if that doesn't work.
AUD: Don't be so cynical. Make the call.

DA: I can't do anything without a complaint filed.

AUD Member to Lord David: I think your attitude is what's causing your problem.

DA: There MUST be a record. When something happens we can't say we didn't KNOW but we won't know if you don't report it. There's not good in every profession.

Being a cop is a difficult job, but we expect them to do it right. We make the decision in the DA's office whether or not to accept the charge. They take the complaint, present it to us, then we determine if there is a case.

(Personal note: I see only three people of color at this meeting with the exception of one of the camera man and one of the DA's assistants. I’m bothered by that as once again it is a white woman’s killing causing this outpouring. I’m wishing the group was more racially balanced.)

AUD: Wendy's murder is a totally predictable consequence. Go to the crime commission website and look at the numbers. Violent arrests here are less than 10 percent. (Metropolitan crime commission website) What are you gonna do to MAKE NOPD do their jobs. They are not making arrests for violent crimes.

DA: We will be on crime scenes to assist. Murders and rapes. Second: we've sat down with the superintendent and many of the deputies, we're trying to get them to improve their report writing and get people to testify. We're trying to improve the quality of police work. Everyone has to be treated with dignity and respect. We're working and trying to get the violent off the street. This is the first time the DA's office has brought people to the scenes of crimes in the history of NO. We have roughly 200 murders/1000 armed robberies (Personal Note: I believe those numbers were per year). We can't be at every crime scene, not enough money.

AUD Lord David: HOW DO WE MAKE THE COPS DO THEIR JOB?


Fielkow:
To have a good criminal justice system we have to have police/DA/public defenders/judges. From a money standpoint we have given. Fielkow believes we have the right DA and judges. The mayor hires the police chief. The council can fire the executive branch, rarely used. Frustration in the council re:crime problems. Cops weren't invited, but it's BS that they didn't attend.

(At this point Camille Burgin says, they WERE invited. Fielkow says, “That’s even worse then.” He was visibly upset that they weren’t there.)

Here's what we can do for accountability:

We have a committed city council, who would like not to have to go to that extreme measure. Start at the top. Have your list, let Carter, Clarkson and I help you get your suggestions get to Riley. If that doesn't work, you'll see us move to the next level.

I do want to make a point. Please do not do anything that will hurt the economy. If we start to go on a national campaign to keep dollars out of here, then we can't get the money we need. So let's not do that.

AUD: So we get the list together and do what you recommend what timeline are we looking at?

Fielkow: Get your three reps, meet with us, then we'll get hold of the DA, and get Riley to meet with you. If he doesn't appear at the meeting, we can issue a subpoena for his appearance at that meeting.

AUD: We don't want to make this a racist thing, but there is a profile. (There was talk of profiling and black men being just as frightened by the cops—fear of being pulled over for no reason.)

Kaye: I've lived here since 1974 I can't live anywhere else. I opened another biz in the Quarter. It's been hard since K. Brother robbed at gunpoint at one point. From a biz person's standpoint any banner will HURT, do irreparable damage to the businesses. Visible patrols, lighting, these things must be done. I will not become a prisoner in our own home. We need to know our neighbors. We need to meet once a month.

AUD: the people in this room need to become leaders for the rest of the city. Crime is killing our city.


AUD: Police need to do their job.

AUD: Question for DA: Can we know when hearings are so we can be a force.

DA: Courtrooms are open. I would encourage that. We are waiting now for the police reports, they will turn them over to us, then we will do our investigation, we will then have 120 days to issue an indictment. You can find out which section of court they're allotted to, if you get a representative to get hold of an ADA. You have a right to follow it from arraignment to sentencing. We want you to be in there supporting us. Often the defendants have a lot of people in the courtrooms, we very much encourage you to get involved and come to the hearings. Sometimes we have to ask citizens to leave while we are choosing jurors, but once that's done you have a right to be in there.

Fielkow: That applies to council meetings also. The silent majority doesn't come. You have to come en masse so when we're talking budget or DA or whatever we can hear what you have to say. We the legislators need to hear from the majority of the city. Come to our meetings and make your voice heard.

Lord David: Texting as crime watch. Activate yourself as individuals. Exchange contact info. I can be contacted at Skull-Club@cox.net. I am collecting stories of NOPD neglect. I've received many in just 72 hours. Please take advantage of our collective.

(sp)Jimmy Delery: I was one who with Harry Anderson put together town hall meetings after K. This is groundhog day for me. We've done this before. Some so full of people that they couldn't get in the place. Let's not walk out of here and forget. If we don't change the management of this police department we can't change anything. We have a great new council and DA. Last night at Aunt Tiki's, 12 police cruisers outside to arrest 2 street musicians. Frenchman St. we can't get one regular policeman down there.

Audience alternately groaned and laughed at the 12 cruisers vs 2 street musicians.

AUD: What can you councilmen do to get us better lighting in the lower end of the Quarter. We gotta get more light below St. Philip St. What can you guys do to get public works to get us better lighting. Warehouse district is well lit.

Carter/Fielkow talking to each other.

Meeting deteriorating into a bitch session.

Back to lighting:
Carter: two different issues, one is the ones that are out, the company that the city commissioned to deal w/lights are in the Quarter every night. Second issue is prioritization, we as a council can prioritize, and it's also a question of money.

Fielkow: if it's a question of resources there's nothing we won't put resources to if it will keep people safe. Stacy Head chair of Public Works. Come to the meeting, come out w/50 people to the Public Works meeting. Alert media that you're doing it. You all have power. Use it.

If it's a money issue we'll allocate what we can, let's get public/private groups to fund, more teamwork, talk to Steve Parry.

AUD: In the last two days I saw lots of cops with their windows down, I said hi and thanked them. The ideal situation would be if they knew who we are and we knew theirs. Make the cops a part of the community.

1:25 Meeting attendance is dwindling.

AUD: Mr. Fielkow we don't feel very powerful. We need to attend meetings to get street lights replaced?

Councilmen and DA have left. News crews have left.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Senseless, Stupid, Sad--Torrential Rage

Anyone living in the city of New Orleans right now knows exactly what I'm talking about. For the record, the "victim," as she keeps being referred had a name: Wendy Byrne. I keep hearing Brando whispering, "The Horror, the horror."

I am not going to go on and on about this, as others have done so much better than I could, over at Humid City there are several, read Lord David's post "At the Cost of a Life" for sure. Via Twitter, another rage against violence posted by Penny Dreadful. The NOLA Krewe of Wenches has written a rant on their MySpace page. There are others, many others, all of them worth reading.

I am going to copy/paste a comment I left on Lord David's piece, followed by his response:

Slate Says:

January 19th, 2009 at 10:52 am
My husband was heading to work just about that time. As he drove his carriage down Esplanade, he saw what he believes to be one of the shooters running across Esplanade as though his life depended on it, and it probably did, (he didn’t know at the time any shooting or robbery had happened, he just noticed that the kid was running blindly). The kid ran across Esplanade into the Marigny. It bothered my husband all evening. When he got home he checked NOLA.com, found a number for Crimestoppers (no number posted for NOPD). He called it. It’s out of state. He had to repeat “New Orleans, yes ma’am, New Orleans. NEW ORLEANS. He then explained what he’d seen, by then he knew the intersection that the crime had happened on, he told them that too, gave a description of the kid he saw including hair, build, jacket, jeans and shoes. He was told, “Call back if you have a name or address for him.” He was never asked his name. He’s going to try NOPD, but we aren’t holding out much hope.

Nevermind, I’m gonna post this. It’s outrageous.

Lord David Says:

January 19th, 2009 at 11:08 am
The above post is a perfect example of the reaction of the local police.

“Call Crimestoppers.”
Nevermind that they’re an out of state information center.

I wonder if my waiter said, “Maybe that lady at the next table can bring you some water. I hear she’s a waiter at another place”, how long they would be employed. What happened to all the Beat Cops we were promised, who were around for a week? Was it too hard to walk around all day? Try tending bar during Mardi Gras. Of course, you might get killed on the walk home.

If the cops are going to ignore any calls they don’t feel like going on and focus on seatbelt violators and a few pot heads to get their statistics up and raise City Cash, then we are merely at the mercy of another huge armed gang, with Riley & Nagin as their Leaders.

To Protect and Serve.
Do it or go home.
That includes you, Ray.
Do your fucking job.


I've been thinking about this all day. The nola.com article gives the lead detective's name, Homicide Detective Richard Chambers. The article ends there but is followed by this:

Citizens with information that can help solve this crime are asked to call CRIMESTOPPERS at 822-1111, toll-free 1-877-903-STOP(7867). You could receive a cash reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the responsible person(s). You do not have to give your name nor testify to receive the reward.


The cost of a life indeed. They should have posted Detective Chambers direct line and cell. BTW, the composites drawings of the alleged perpetrators have been released. The one on the right is an exact depiction of the kid my husband saw running.

Humid City's site posted the Decatur Street memoriam. Below is the Governor Nicholls and Dauphine memoriam. It's utterly incongruous on that quiet corner. No more words. Blogger won't let me upload the last three. Not sure they're needed anyway.










EDIT 8:45PM: Blogger finally let me upload the rest of the photos. But more importantly, my husband called the homicide detective today to report his information. He made that call at 11:24AM. He has not received a return call yet.