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The Exile On Helen Street
(And now, back to our regular scheduled program)
A Katrina Story: Part 4
MONDAY MORNING AUGUST 29, 2005
Even though utterly exhausted, my inner insomniac really didn't care about that particular state of personal affairs.
I woke up at 5:00am initially disoriented in a strange environment, but a familiar one to a travelling musician: surrounded the cookie cutter, absolutely devoid of any type of design aesthetics American mid-priced corporate hotel decor.
I stared at the ceiling for a while to get my bearings, Amy's soft and steady sonambulent breath on my neck. We weren't in "Kansas" anymore, kid.
Huck and Doo seem to miraculously sense when some type of consciousness overtakes me, no matter how subtle that process might be. Woof! As a groan of annoyance rumbled out of Amy, I oozed out of bed slowly and threw on a pair of jeans. Time to walk the doggies.
The Hampton Inn lobby, empty a scant four hours previously, had transformed into a refugee encampment. All were either clustered, or craning their necks around the singular community computer area, the television in the common area, or the front desk desperately trying to find an alternate place to lay their heads. Katrina was about to open her curtain and start the show.
After the ritual of the morning canine constitutional, I grabbed a couple of bagels from the complimentary continental breakfast set-up, and headed back to the room to watch the oncoming horror show in private.
The initial reports that were on the wire that morning were highly inaccurate. Perception is a funny thing. Just like people thinking that NYC is the only thing in New York State, The French Quarter and Downtown New Orleans do not a city make. This point seemed to go unrealized by major cable news outlets and their various rain slickered talking heads in the field.
As the eye of the storm passed over New Orleans, and the first damage assessments were broadcast, it didn't look too bad. Some wind damage related stuff, but it looked as if The Crescent City may have dodged a major bullet.
It was a false sense of hope obviously as history now proves. The aerial video of the levee and canal breaches weren't on the media's radar at that point. When I walked through the lobby for the noon dog walk, the general mood in the refugee camp was one of relief.
By late afternoon, the upcoming ugly realities started to slowly filter through the pink fluffy clouds of that false sense of security, like the constant and steady deluge over the breached 17th Street canal.
It was just a slow leak of ultimate shock and awe, persistently filling you up as the flood waters filled New Orleans.
You didn't know where anybody was. Everyone was scattered, and communications were knocked out.
For someone who called New Orleans home, that slow leak of information over the next few days got more and more surreal. You sat glued to the TV while simultaneously burning up the phone trying to make sure that your friends, family and loved ones were safe. Had they escaped? Were they alive?
Parts of Mississippi Gulf Shores looked like it had been carpet bombed by the Enola Gay. The Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, slowly drowning. As the flood waters rose, you knew the body count was rising reciprocally, and it didn't seem like anybody was really addressing that equation, except for footage of both first responders and citizen volunteers on daring aquatic search and rescue operations in private or comandeered boats.
There were as many tales of heroism as there were tales of heinous human behavior.
The idiot comedy of jurisdictional pissing matches between State and Federal governments and agencies continued and reached full dramatic flower, causing a state of paralysis and ultimately magnifying Katrina's ultimate product of her wrath. Death and destruction.
Pictures of large scale abject human suffering; corpses floating in water or left abandoned in front of the Convention Center juxtaposed with President Bush declaring in "Frat Boy" speak in a news conference that FEMA director Michael "Brownie" Brown was "... doing a heck of a job.".
Senator David Vitter maintaining in a news conference that "...I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening", while you're looking at a live broadcast of aerial rooftop rescues shot with the backdrop of the panorama of 80% of the land mass of the city filled to the roof eaves with flood waters, raw sewage, and God knows what else.
It was real life drama, a combination of Dante's "Divine Comedy" and John Kennedy O'Tooles "A Confederacy of Dunces", truly realized as if scripted by Harold Pinter with a heavy editorial and directorial hand from Salvador Dali; and all the while in your own brain it was starting to smell like opportunistic economic and social engineering through a Federally sanctioned genocide of a segment of a race based on economic standing.
You could hear the salacious licking of real estate developer's and high ground landlord's chops in the far off distance.
My beloved C. Ray Nagin finally cracked in a radio interview on WWL-AM stating at the end of a scathing and emotionally raw interview: "Now get off your asses and do something, and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country"; Virtually assuring his eventual public and political crucifixion by throwing a last ditch, hail mary pass and wake up call of actual truth telling for some kind of tangible help.
The horror just slowly ratcheted up with each passing moment. When reports came in of search and rescue efforts being halted because of widespread burning and looting, and with all semblance of societal control, empathy, ethics or morality being willingly cast asunder, it was official.
The point had been finally driven in your head and heart like a railway spike: All forms of Hell and Anarchy broke loose and Evil Incarnate had seized control.
New Orleans transformed into the Seventh Circle before your very eyes.
My little family had lost its home. We had lost everything that we had defined ourselves with, and I mean everything. That realization achieved clarity, piece by piece, in a slow, grindingly tortuous, televised fandango.
There was no home to go to. The borders shut, the city, and its soul, forsaken.
We were safe, and we were alive. But I was in too much shock to realize the gratitude in that thought.
Within the matter of a few days, I was torn completely down with no idea of how to build it up again. It wasn't the first time, and ultimately it wouldn't be the last, but at that moment it sure felt like it was.
(STAY TUNED FOR PART 5)
"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.
I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.
The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"
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THANK YOU KINDLY,
COLONEL BEAUREGARD "IRON THIGHS" JEFFERSON, A.K.A. "THE MANAGEMENT"