Friday, October 27, 2006

Food, Football, Musical Chairs and Blackwater 10.27.2005

Subject: Food, Football, Musical Chairs and Blackwater Date: 10/27 7:50 PM

Hi all,
It's been a few days since I've had a chance to write.

We went out to storage. They will let us in to look, and you ought to see the waiver we have to sign. Basically if the roof falls down on our head it's not their fault. No problem. We'll sign it. We've been trying for two days to get hold of the guy who can open the door. There's still no power there, so we have to go through the non-electronic doors. We did get a chance to see into the building through the windows and it's pretty grim. We just want to go in and see what's left. Get it over with. Maybe next week we'll get hold of the guy.

Mail service has been bizarre. Our Netflix sat in the mailbox to go out for three days. We went to the Post Office where we were told that if there's nothing to go IN the mailbox, the guy isn't going to come up to get outgoing. Everything is being processed through Baton Rouge and it's kinda like we get mail once a week if we're lucky. I can only imagine the logistical nightmare of trying to sort mail when so many have put in change of address forms. It's gotta be a horror show. That being said, though, it's still frustrating not to get mail when you're waiting for things like forms from FEMA or something.

Speaking of whom, we played musical chairs for two hours last week at a Jewish Community Center on St. Charles. The Garden District fared pretty well but the streetcars aren't running yet. Very little mass transit is. Besides, the neutral ground (which for those of you unfamiliar with the term is the median in any other city) has become a de facto parking lot all over town, including on the tracks of the St. Charles streetcar line. We found a spot on the neutral ground, parked and went into the JCC. We went because we'd heard there were people there from FEMA who could actually DO something. Medicaid, Social Security, various other groups were represented out there. It was a nice change seeing everything in one place. Upon entering, we were greeted by a guy with khaki green cargo pants, a tan cargo shirt with a logo that said BLACKWATER, and a belt with a holstered 9mm. He also had three more clips of ammunition. Blackwater is one of those odd companies that provides "security" (check out their website blackwaterusa.com) but these aren't security guards from central casting. These guys are armed and very very serious. We were curious why this disaster relief center needed the four or five guys Blackwater had checking us as we came in and checking us as we came out. "What are you here for?" We tell the guy who then points us to a check in table where we tell the woman there the same thing we just told the first guy. She then tells us to go talk to the woman in the red shirt. Okay, off we go. She points us to the chairs that are set aside for people who need to deal with FEMA. The chairs had been labelled for whatever agency was being waited for. We were told to sit down and that the two lines of chairs ahead of us were FEMA also. Every few minutes, someone would get to the front of the "line", get up from the chair and go to the table where a FEMA worker was sitting with a laptop. Then all the rest of us would move over one seat, or two seats if it was a couple. The whole time Blackwater guys are keeping an eye on things. Very strange. We did get giggles from thinking that if FEMA was doing a better job, maybe they wouldn't need armed guards!

We finally get to the guy with the laptop. We had been told the day before that we'd been turned down, didn't qualify. This guy looks at all our papers, looks at the screen and says, "Here's the problem. This box was checked wrong. We'll get it fixed and that should take care of it. It will probably be two weeks at least til the change gets through the system." Well, THIS is progress! We're not holding our breath, but we are trying to believe that this might actually fix the gigantic mess that is FEMA in our lives. We'll see.

So what does food and football have to do with all this?

Nothing.

New Orleans is known for, among other things, great food and horrible football. Two people who are huge "New Orleans names" have been conspicuously missing from the recovery of this city. Both have made millions by virtue of their connection to this city and from the residents themselves.

Emeril Lagasse, yup, you know, the BAM guy. Owns restaurants of the highest caliber, writes books, does TV shows, toothpaste commercials. Has made a fortune from this city's cache and tourists. Lagasse hasn't been seen in New Orleans since the storm blew us away. Paul Prudhomme was out in the street cooking beans for people who were here and working. Not Lagasse. He had some books to sign. He had some interviews to do. He had to be at a Sam's Club in Indiana or some such place to sign his new cookbook. His employees have heard little or nothing from the corporate entity, unless it was a message telling them they were laid off. To his credit, he did put together some sort of fund for his employees, which they have to apply to get help from, but beyond that he has done nothing to help really in two months. Incredible to me. With the kind of exposure this guy has he could have helped boost morale if nothing else. His flagship restaurant here was damaged, but he should have been here, broom in hand with all his bravado, hollering "We'll get this place up and running for the renewal of New Orleans!" But he didn't. I've always wanted to go to his restaurant. Don't know if I will ever do that. It'll be a long time before I can forget his absence.

The New Orleans Saints, bless their hearts. The owner of the team, Tom Benson, has made money on the irrationally loyal fans of this city for years. Being a Saints fan is often akin to being a White Sox fan------oh wait, until this week that is! Everywhere you look are Saints tshirts, hats, you name it. Season ticket holders continue to buy their tickets every year, and they hope and they hope and they hope that maybe THIS will be the year. Prior to Katrina, Benson had been holding up the city for a new stadium. He'd been playing the "maybe I'll take the team elsewhere" game that I saw in San Francisco years ago with the 49ers and their owner extorting a new stadium from the city. On TV sets all over New Orleans the game is followed faithfully--ignoring the piles of debris outside in the street--and the fans wear their jerseys and their hats and shake their heads at one more turnover, then order another beer---but they'll be there again next week hoping. Tom Benson has not been seen here either. He has been busy in San Antonio and the bars are full of rumors that he's trying to move his team there permanently, or that San Antonio doesn't want them. For what this city has provided for this man over the years, and for all the fans who stuck by that team no matter what, he owes this city and its residents something. He and his wife, with her queenly wave, ought to be here taking part in discussions about rebuilding. Shame on him. At the very least, if he moves the team, he ought to have to relinquish the name "Saints."

The stadium issue is a whole 'nother thing. David and I have been talking about the Superdome a lot lately. We really feel that the thing has become a gigantic symbol of shame, of failures at all levels, of horror and sorrow and fear. It needs to go. It needs to be packed full of C4, have Mayor Nagin call a City holiday, set up booths with food, drinks. Make it an event. "The Superdome Blast Party!" Naturally the party would take place far enough from the blast to protect everyone, but close enough to be seen and heard. It would be so cathartic. It's a sad looking place now, if you've seen pictures. Blow it up! Make Emeril cater the party and Benson pay for the damn new stadium. Yeah, that would work.

And now we see Florida dealing with yet another storm. Our landlord/neighbor/friends' families live there. We heard they were okay. God bless them all, they'll be dealing with FEMA themselves soon.

More in a day or two,
Love and Light,
Bec and David

PS OH YEAH, forgot to tell you. The Red Cross actually sent us a check! We couldn't believe our eyes. Took it to the bank immediately. We thought maybe it had a self-destruct mechanism on it or something. Invisible ink perhaps. Only visible for 12 hours. Amazing. More than 40 days trying to get through on the phone, and one little form gets it done in two weeks. We're still stunned!

_______________________
NOTE 10.27.2006
This just does NOT feel like a year ago. Sometimes it feels like two weeks ago, other times it feels like ten years ago. It's also interesting that life in New Orleans two months after the storm was a bit insular in a strange way. Everyone was so busy trying to figure out the paperwork, or their job, or their home situation, that some information just didn't get to people until much later.

Blackwater, it turns out, had been sitting on porches in the Garden District, hired to protect property over there, and then, somehow wound up in the Community Center. It's still unclear to us who hired these guys. We still see them around now and then, and they're still scary.

Emeril, to his credit, did re-open his restaurant and it seems to be doing pretty well. He did go on national TV and talked about what was happening here back then, and from what I hear also put together some foundations, so I guess I can go to his restaurant some day when I have a couple hundred to spend on dinner. I still feel that he should have been here at the time. It would have helped morale in an enormous way.

Tom Benson is still a jerk, in my opinion, and the issue of will the team stay or go is evidently not yet decided, although I heard that the NFL wants them to stay here. Not being a great follower of the ins and outs of football league rules, etc., I don't know what will happen with all that.

I DO know that there was a "Superdome Blast Party" that was probably more productive than our idea of blowing the place up. The day the Saints returned to play in the Dome was the biggest morale boost I've ever seen. And their continued success is making everyone a fan. We are not football fans per se, but we are indeed Saints fans. They have redeemed and transcended the horrid energy of the Superdome, turning it into an ecumenical cathedral of hope for the entire city.

We took our grandson and daughter to the Children's Museum a week ago Sunday. There was a home game. Everyone in the place was monitoring the game on their cell phones and when the Saints won, the news rippled through the museum passed word of mouth. I went outside and was waiting for the family to come out. A man was sweeping up the entry way. He asked if I knew if we had won. I said, yes and told him the score. He grinned, leaned on his broom and said, "Then it's a good day."

The Red Cross check did not self-destruct.

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