Monday, September 18, 2006

Johnny White's and the Great White Cat 9.18.2005

Subject: Johnny White's and the Great White Cat Date: 9/18 2:21 PM

Hi all,
Yesterday at Blaine Kern's I was handed a huge list of medical supplies that are needed by the doc over there. I've passed that on and I now have the trusty "pass" needed to get trucks in here, so for those of you who have contacted me telling me you have truckloads of supplies to get in, contact me again and give me a fax number. I'll fax you back the pass needed to accomplish this, the address of Blaine Kern's to deliver it to, and Lily Duke's number for the latest route in. (The routes change almost daily as this road opens and that one closes.) I'll try to get in touch with the free pet food people J turned me on to because boy that really is needed. Food distribution will continue for a few weeks at least. I think it will wind down on the Westbank as the stores open and start up on the Eastbank right after that. David waited 20 minutes to get into a local grocery store, then ran amok buying groceries which our bodies then couldn't figure out what to do with after eating lots of crackers for a while here! But we were indeed grateful for the food.

They let business owners into the Quarter yesterday so we headed across to check on the cats at the shop I work at. The SPCA had gotten many of them out. There had originally been 10 cats, two dogs, two snakes and now I hear 2 ferrets. They got as many as they could out but there are at least five still in there. Moose and Pickle are the shop's cats, and T, the owner's house cats were there too, one is still there we think. Her mother's apartment is upstairs from the shop, one of HER cats is still there. We could only find three, one we couldn't identify. We have to find an open Home Depot and put a new hasp and lock on the alley door which the SPCA kicked in to get the others out. We don't care that it's kicked in. There was food and water in abundance still in the shop and we brought more. But with that door ajar in any way, the cats can get out to the street and we want to keep them contained where we can feed them.

The shop, Yesteryears, is full of wonderful masks and beautiful dolls. It was eerie going in there with a flashlight. No power, dolls all over the place, but the mess isn't as big as expected. Masks on the stairs. Cats in shadows. It's usually so bright and full of color, but yesterday it was dark, hot and so quiet that we could kinda hear where the cats were. We'll go back tomorrow and give them fresh water and do the lock.

We decided to walk down the street to "our block." That is the block of St. Peter between Bourbon and Royal. I walk that block to go the A&P when I'm working and David drives his mule UP that block. Often we see each other as we pass. I know every crack and potentially ankle breaking dip in the sidewalk. It felt funny to walk down there and see nothing but law enforcement and military. We got to Preservation Hall. Looks fine. The grand old bastion of jazz appears to have made it through with little damage. They have a huge white cat with white/green eyes that lives there. He can often be seen as you walk that block, sitting outside the Preservation Hall gate, taking in the sun, ignoring the tourists. He was there. He'd run out of food and water. He jumped the gate and sat in my lap while David went back to the car for more food and water. The Preservation Hall gate has a sheet of iron all the way to the ground so getting food in was tough. We poured two lbs of cat food on the sidewalk and I sat there pushing it under the gate for him. David cut an empty gallon container of water into a bowl, squeezed it through the upper bars of the gate, and perfectly aimed the fresh water into the makeshift bowl. The place and the cat are landmarks. At least we can take care of the cat, so he's now on our list critters to keep track of.

We continued down the street to St. Louis Cathedral. The Presbytere, the building to the right if you're looking at the Cathedral, had its cupola blown down in a hurricane in 1915. It's roof had been bare since then. About two months ago they finally replaced it so that it matches the one on its sister building, the Cabildo. We were looking up to make sure that it was there and it was. An Immigration and Customs guy who was down there wondered what we were looking at. We told him. He said, "They musta used super glue this time." We were both okay til we got to the front of the Cathedral, then all I could do was cry. I cried for the next four blocks as we made our way around the Square. Stacks of cots where the artists usually are. One artist who paints cats every day near the hack stand where the buggies sit, had dripped paint for years on the block at the bottom of the fence around the Square. The paint was still there, she wasn't and we hoped that she was okay. Shops in the Pontalba building filled with masks all fine, just waiting for the doors to open, and in front of them bags and bags of trash and a lost filthy surgical mask. Giant media trucks and mobile medical units in front of Cafe du Monde. No human statues, no jugglers, no balloon guys, not even "One Note Johnny", a guy who played on the Square for change and annoyed everyone with his one note. We were worried about all of them and wishing we could hear his one note.

We made our way back up to Bourbon, where our car was, to assess what we needed in the way of hardware for the shop. We took a look and got in the car and headed down Bourbon to go check on another shop T owns in the Marigny. And then we see it. A crowd of people on the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann. Johnny White's Bar. It's been open during and since Katrina struck. It's become a de facto supply center and story collecting area. Outside a guy sleeps on a cot, oblivious to the people running in and out. A Washington Post photographer comes in, shoots pictures, listens to stories, and hears the gripes. Across St. Ann a mobile med unit manned by an 82nd Airborne doc is giving out tetanus shots. Coming in, getting folks from the bar, giving them their shot, sending them back to the bar for a "shot." They ran out of beer for about 1/2 hr then miraculously several cases appeared, but they needed ice. Street guy we know, who we were delighted to see vertical and breathing, grabs David and says there are pallets of ice just melting in the sun. He and David take off to find them, find it's only a rumor, then find a truck filled with ice. The driver doesn't want to give it to them, it's under lock and key. He warily asks where these two guys are from. Steve, the street guy, not known for soberness or tact, says, "Johnny White's Bar." David says, "I've been doing some work for the Church of Christ." Which is true. I guess the truck driver was a good man. He gave them 18 bags of ice and the beer was cold again. We had some toilet paper still in our car from our supply runs, and the Quarter hasn't really had as much relief as the Westbank. We gave it to them over there. Those folks needed it. There were people there who had no homes to go back to. Larry, the bartender, says to me, "I'm 61 yrs old, but have been running on adrenalin so long I feel like I'm 25."

We're wondering what's going to happen when the adrenalin runs out. They can always get beer and ice, but the adrenalin will give out sooner or later. At some point the city is going to have the "after the funeral" syndrome. After a death, the house is full of helpful people, wonderful caring helpful people. They all bring a covered dish, food of some kind. They clean up, organize, do what they can. But eventually they have to go home and the bereaved is left to deal alone. Sooner or later that will happen to this city. I hope we're ready when it does.

Little weird story: David goes to get gas the other night. He finds a station with gas but no one there. It had pumps that took an ATM card, so he puts the card in and hopes it works. ATM machines have been iffy at best with the phone system being what it is. It works! HUZZAH! Up rolls a seen-better-days Taurus with two women who also fit that description. They have to get to Baton Rouge. David tells them that the ATM function is working. They tell him they don't have a credit card or an ATM card but they have ten dollars in cash. Could he put the ten on the card so they can get to Baton Rouge. Well, truth be told, everyone is a little leery of each other in this city because, well, just because---until you know what you're up against you kind of have your guard up. They give him their ten dollars and he puts the gas in their car. They both get in the car and say, "Thank you, David." He says he froze in his tracks. He turned to them and said, "How did you know my name?" They both looked as confused as he was and said they didn't know how they'd known his name. Then one followed that with, "You must be an angel." At that moment he was and there are so many angels here working their hearts out, doing whatever needs to be done. Right then that's what he was doing.

Love and Light,
Bec and David
NOTE 9.18.2006
Just prior to the storm, I had ordered two new fax ribbon rolls. Thank goodness I had.

Allen Broussard, the President of Jefferson Parish, had issued two permits, one for passing through Jeff Parish, the other a work permit. Our neighbor's neice worked somewhere that gave her access to them, so she had faxed one of each over to us. They were remarkably non-official looking, just a fill in the blanks form with Broussard's signature on the bottom. We were suddenly faxing and copying these passes all over the place. If someone wanted to get in to check their house, they'd contact us and we'd tell them to get to the Kinko's in Dallas, or Atlanta, or wherever they were and we'd fax them "zee paperssss" and we did. We could do it as long as the power, phone and fax ribbons held out. We still have copies of them in our glove compartment, one of those little holdovers. No idea how many of them we faxed out during that time.

Preservation Hall's cat, it turns out, had food in the back, but who knew. And his name is Champ. There is a really good bar that makes great burgers across the street from Preservation Hall called Yo Mama's. One of our favorite haunts. After the storm, Champ would sashay across the street and say hi to me if I was in there.

Yesteryear's is still in business, barely holding on, as is the case for all French Quarter businesses. All the cats are okay, but we worry that the businesses we know and love might not make it to the new year. There has been little or no help for the small business owner, and SBA is offering loans which are hard to get, rarely seen, and are LOANS. For many small business owners, getting a loan right now is a scary proposition when they are having trouble making the rent on their shops and feeding themselves. T started that business over 27 years ago. It's been a fixture on Bourbon Street, a wonderful shop in the midst of tshirt places. There were customers who had come to New Orleans every year for a decade, and had bought a doll at Yesteryears every year.

To visitors and locals alike: PLEASE SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES. If you're visitor, you'd hate seeing nothing but big box stores in New Orleans. You come here to get away from them. So did we. I needed a new mouse for my computer last week. I bought it from a tiny computer store in the Quarter that is making it literally day by day (there is a letter from the owner of this business on New Orleans Slate). I could have gotten in the car and headed for Best Buy and maybe gotten it cheaper, but if we don't support these businesses they'll be gone.

That would be a horror.


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