Monday, December 18, 2006

It's the week before Christmas, and all through the house. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Light,
Bec and David

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