Monday, September 28, 2009

Trunks, Trumps, Tornadoes and FEMA


Hi all,
Well, you'll be happy to know that whatever was left in storage is now on our porch and in our living room until it can be cleaned, another attempt to salvage it, and either re-packed or given the final heave ho. All in all it took five days to go through it all, not done all at once, but two days this week. The difference this week was that the power has been restored to that area of Tulane Ave so we got to do it in the light and not feel like characters out of a Zola novel. That, however, was a mixed blessing.

With the lights on in this huge place, we could see the totality of the filth and waste and loss. In the dark, some of that was blissfully not in our awareness. (I did take some pics and will get them out to you in the next day or so.) It was actually kinda worse in the light. So many people just opened their storage unit about two feet, took one look and left. We couldn't do that, but we absolutely understand those who did. We spent yesterday and the day before in there, and just navigating the hallways to get stuff out was difficult as so many pieces of lives were littering the hallways. I can't really find anything to compare it to. What was a gorgeous antique cabinet ten feet from a unit full of brand new, never-to-be-opened laminate flooring, down the hallway from a unit clearly filled with someone's business inventory. It looked like she did party planning and weddings, lots of colorful ribbon spools, never opened, the only color in the place. Everything else is kind of a gray brown. I was sitting on the cart at one point and looked over at the unit next to me. From the lock to the door was this spider webby black goo that was now dry. Strangest thing. We couldn't see all that with our flashlights.

As for our unit, we just kept going through it. Some of the boxes, as you've seen from the other emails and pics, were just slid around and were still so wet you couldn't pick them up, so the method became "rip the side out and see what was in it." That's the method we employed, trying to hold up the soggy sides, pick through, drop something possibly salvageable into a tupperware, pitch the rest into the pile in the corner. We didn't have to take the stuff out to the dumpsters. The guy from UHaul said just leave whatever you're not taking, some guys will be in to clear all this out next week. God help those guys. So that's what we did.

We started with the trunks. First trunks, dolls top to bottom. Saved a couple we think, and are going to make a valiant attempt to save Meg's first Cabbage Patch dolls. Of all of them we chose two that looked like they might be washable enough to make it and their hair wasn't falling off. One little clown doll that she went everywhere with was unsalvagable. That one hurt. Those three trunks on top of each other were hard to move. They had rusted together in a way, so we fought to get the first one down, then the second, then the third which was also pretty much rusted to the floor. Second trunk, Indian pots, Indian rugs, most of the Native American artifacts I've ever had including feathers. Some of the pots made it, some had returned to the clay they began as. We found the cremains of three dogs. The fan I'd made from an owl wing was gone. The pipe I'd made and used in so many classes was in there. I had been sure it was in the house, it wasn't. A talking stick that was one of the first things David and I bought together, all bone and leather and feathers, gone. We put anything ceremonial in a separate box even if it wasn't salvagable. Third trunk, ah yes. All the baby clothes, mine, my fathers, my daughters. I brought some things home and and hoping that it won't disintegrate in the washer on gentle. Meg's patches, ribbons and her jacket from drill team, I will be able to save most of them. Her graduation gown, probably save-able. It's the little things, ya know?

Then boxes. Rip. Oh no more photos. There is a smell to the wasted emulsion. Stew a picture in a mason jar for about five months then open it and you'll get close to the smell. Once again, hurray for Polaroids. We found some pics of Meg at Christmas, all polaroids. We dug through just about every pile of pics we found hoping to find a Polaroid. It was like the prize in a box of crackerjacks to find one. The rest of the pics turn into this slippery stack of nothing. The ones we saved we're thrilled about. We never did find any of the yearbooks, Dave's, mine or Meg's. Can't figure out where they went. We never saw them, or maybe didn't recognize them. They could have been in the initial book sludge boxes.

Found a lot of Meg's little treasures and found ourselves laughing over some. In one box, incredibly wet the box was, there sat a perfectly dry stuffed elephant from when we took her to the circus long ago. He was pristine. We can't figure it out.

We took some pics of the inside of our storage, and the rest of the facility and walked away. Now the real work begins as the stuff gets put out all over the place to dry. Then we'll see what we really have. If it was hard, wrapped in newspaper and didn't feel or sound broken, we put it in a box. Gotta get the newspaper off to see what it is. Ironically, it will probably require our soaking it once more in water, to get the paper off and clean it up. Priorities are the fabric and paper stuff. The rest can wait. We're told that they will have some units on the second floor soon. Thank goodness as there isn't a storage unit to be found for 50 miles and we're on the waiting list in two other places. We looked upstairs and it was fine. We know that some of this will have to go back into storage, so we'll dry it out, clean it, re-pack it and put it on the SECOND floor this time, in a much much smaller unit. We could look at this as a cost saving measure.

The night before last poor Lakeview had a tornado. A rather strong one. All those who had already started working on their houses, were now terrified about putting in another claim to their insurance. Some of what they'd already done was destroyed in the tornado. One woman's roof had just been completely re-done from Katrina, then got a tree through it from the tornado. Another man's wall made it through Katrina only to be blown down by the tornado. They have good reason to be worried. A guy at storage told us that he had bought a house in St. Bernard. Two story. Was told when he bought it that he wasn't in a flood plain, didn't need flood insurance. (I hear this story over and over, it's starting to really make me mad.) Now the same agent who said he didn't need flood insurance, is saying "We'll pay from the water line up. We'll give you 1000 bucks for your roof. That's it." The guy told the insurance agent to shove it. It will probably wind up in the thousands of lawsuits against insurance co's that are coming down the pike. Unfortunately for some people, the bank will have foreclosed on their property before the lawsuit and the insurance issues will be handled, so either way their house is gone.

The night before that we watched as his Bush-ness (a FABULOUS term that I'm stealing from a friend's email! Thanks, Louis, it really says it all!) showed us that his wish for global "freedom and democracy" trumps his wish for his own citizens to be taken care of in any way. We love the "math and science high school" idea, even as he cuts student loans, which will make it close to impossible for many of these highly educated high schoolers to build on that. Oh yeah, and no child left behind still hasn't been funded, so I'm not entirely sure how these math/science whizzes are going to BECOME such whizzes. Stories of teachers having to skew data just to keep funding rather than actually teaching the kids anything is the legacy of that snappy slogan. I played cards the other night with a 12 year old, 4th grade student, who can tell me his middle name but can't spell it. So with any luck, the children of Iraq will have good schools and not too much anger at their occupiers to come over here, help out our students, become doctors to staff our hospitals, and maybe some will be engineers who will know how to build a good levee system. Whaddya think? As he went on about the down trodden and oppressed, we kept thinking maybe he was talking about the Gulf Coast! Nope. He kept talking about people feeling "secure", but turned out it wasn't his own citizens he was concerned about. I keep thinking that the Gulf Coast states need to unite, make some kind of threat, be considered a "rogue nation" and maybe we'll get something done.

No Child Left Behind, no funding. A great promise, poorly planned, but a great promise. He's good at promises. Here's the latest on FEMA, broadly and personally.

There are currently about 5000 FEMA trailers in St. Bernard parish. Just sitting there. On the news this morning, one woman called in and said that she had called FEMA for the 100th time (the average time spent by a citizen of this region on FEMA/insurance/permit issues is 20 hrs a week.) She had been trying to get a trailer since October. They said, "Your trailer has been ready since Dec 3." She said, "No one called me!" "Oh, sorry." One of the officials in St. Bernard is now saying that he and his city council members and others are ready to go commandeer the trailers since FEMA can't manage to get them to the people who need them. FEMA guy on the news this morning says, "We will get them to the people by LEGAL means." Well, the elected guys in St. Bernard are over it. They might just go in there with trucks and take them, kinda like the Boston Tea Party, only they won't drop the trailers over the side of a ship, they'll put them in people's yards. And as for promises local companies would have first dibs on contracts for work has also gone by the wayside. News report last night, "A company out of Colorado has been awarded 1 million dollars to tow away the 100,000 abandoned cars in New Orleans." Okay, wait, 1000 bucks per car? And there was NO ONE here in Louisiana that could have done that? The local contractors are furious.

Now our personal FEMA journey. David has faithfully gone to the Disaster Relief Center every single week for nearly two months now. He's doing it as a matter of principle at this point. Each week he's been told, "We can't figure out why you didn't get the first 2000 that was promised and we can't figure out why you didn't get the second check either. There's nothing we can see on your paperwork." So each week, they'd fax their supervisor, one week he was told they were reviewing our case that day, the next week he was told it should be any minute now. THIS week he was told, "Oh, the first 2000, they turned program off six weeks ago. If you haven't gotten it yet, you won't be getting it. We're not even taking appeals on that anymore. You might get the second check, we don't know." "But we FILED Sept 10" says David. "Oh that doesn't matter. They stopped that program." Um, when did they tell these FEMA workers this stuff? If it was six weeks ago, why were they telling him TWO weeks ago that everything was fine? One FEMA worker actually said, with frustration, that she couldn't understand why there were so many people who did NOT get that "Bush on Jackson Square" promise. She sees them all day and probably would be fired if they knew that she said, "More people did NOT get it than DID."

But hey, in Iowa somewhere, people think everyone down here got rich and that we're getting handouts every single day. And Machiavelli always said, "Perception is everything."

Did ya know Karl Rove reads Machiavelli's "The Prince" once a year?
Love and Light,
Bec and David


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