A Katrina Story: Part 5
TUESDAY, AUGUST 30th, 2005
As we sat glued to the tube on Tuesday to witness the drowning of New Orleans, it was pretty apparent that we weren't going to be able to go home in the near future, and we weren't in a position to stay in hotel indefinitely either.
Katrina had automatically applied a massive pressure on Amy and myself; escalating and elevating our relationship status. We were no longer slowly and organically finding our way to a blended future. We immediately became "georgeandamy" out of necessity.
We had to hit the road, Jack. Either to Jerome Idaho, or Skaneateles New York, our respective birth homes. Ultimately, introducing a lover and now freshly minted partner of permanence twenty years her senior to the Idaho contingent wasn't really the most pragmatic of moves. Kind of a hard sell. It was time to solidify an action plan with Moms and Pops Rossi.
I placed a call to Nick and Linda that morning. They were having lunch at Cam's Diner on Jordan Road.
We all knew that housing Amy, myself, and two little doggies in their Legg Hall condo was an immediate impossibility. The building did not allow pets, and we would have been at each other's throats is about two days in such close quarters even if Legg Hall did relax their pet policy.
We needed a private landing strip to lick our wounds, for how long no one knew. They promised to start hunting.
It's funny how in the face of utter catastrophe, that destiny, serendipity, charity and grace can present itself.
Lew and Dawn Allyn were sitting in the booth at Cam's next to my parents, overhearing the phone conversation. Within five minutes of hanging up, the graciously offered their camp for the next month, free of charge, so Amy and I would have the opportunity of getting our bearings.
Had I made that phone call one half hour earlier or later, that might have never happened. Everything is connected to everything else, and every event is connected to the next in the time continuum; life's real narrative. Every choice we make, even one's as insignificant as randomly deciding when to make a phone call, effects future outcomes.
The script gets written simultaneously as the movie of life unspools, it's flickering images projected before our very eyes.
Within five minutes, Lew and Dawn offered Amy and I sanctuary and a stab at some kind of temporary peace of mind as we commenced travelling into the the frightening unknown. If that isn't one for "The Gratitude Files", I don't know what "one" is.
We stayed a few more days in Birmingham, and then travelled North an a meandering pace. Poor Amy was about to be abruptly thrown in to the psychological Waring Blender known as "Skanny-Atlas livin' with the Family Rossi"; she was about to be a stranger in a very strange land.
At twenty five, how graceful Amy was. She negotiated anything that got thrown at her, and under these circumstances, much was about to be thrown over the next 18 months.
Nick and Linda took good care of us that September. They made sure that we were well fed, and as little agitated as possible. They were as tender as they could be, and accepted Amy as their own, right from the jump.
We tried to get our shit straight that month, but it was tough. In retrospect, I think we both had started to develop post traumatic stress syndrome. We got some clothes, filled out FEMA paper work, and enjoyed countless hours of humiliation as we registered and entered the Governmental Social Safety Net system. We tried to make plans for a projected future, but it was difficult due to the uncertain nature of the recovery of New Orleans.
We played a fundraiser for the Red Cross at the Red House where some of our displaced NOLA friends flew up to join us, but basically we treaded metaphoric water as New Orleans was pumped and drained of its actual flood waters, hurrying up and waiting for the all clear to return to The Crescent City.
After the false start of re-opening the city gates and then immediately closing them again to its residents due to Hurricane Rita, Mayor C. Ray Nagin finally gave the green light to go home.
There wasn't much of a home to go back to, but we decided to fly back down to make a temporary first hand damage assessment; on the city and our personal, former lives.
It wasn't pretty.
As we drove in the rental car from the Airport in Kenner, you could track the mark of the water line as you passed every building. Everything looked like it was bathed in a sepia and gray tint. Dead boarded-up buildings, dead trees, dead grass, and destruction everywhere you looked. It was a ghost town punctuated by the absence of life.
Mid City looked like a neutron bomb went off. Folks had started to gut their homes, so the sides of the streets were piled high with rotted sheet rock, construction detritus, and abandoned appliances. There were dead cars everywhere covered in dust and dried sewage, indicating that many folks had a way to escape, and chose not to. The city hadn't had the means to hide that evidence yet.
Entering Amy's house was like entering a tomb. The only thing worth salvaging of her belongings was her family's antique bed frame. The mold had taken hold of everything by that point, and the first floor was destroyed.
My Bourbon Street shotgun apartment hadn't suffered any flood damage. Although it had some wind damage, it was pretty much intact. I tapped out a large chunk of my newly acquired life savings and paid my landlord a year's worth of rent to reserve a future place, and to lock the rental rate in before greed and the law of supply and housing demand shot rents through the roof.
We then sublet the apartment to Amy's good friends Waylon and Bryant at the same Pre-Katrina rate. That reserved a future home in New Orleans for the both of us, and the boys had a home. A "win-win" in a climate of loss.
We were hoping that the tourist economy would bounce back first, and that our pianna plunkin jobs would re-materialize at some point. That was the plan "A", anyway.
The Quarter was lined with "Katrina Coffins": Upright refrigerators with their doors duct taped shut to prevent being exposed to the vile rot encased within. At night, the commercial ends of the streets were manned with National Guard transport vehicles and Guardsmen armed with AK-47's.
Under the thinnest veneer of trying to get back to some kind of normal, the natives were just walking around exhibiting a combined state of nervous cheerleader delusion and zombie-like shock.
The rest of the stay was spent with reconnecting with friends, buddies from work and my Bourbon Street neighbors, getting drunk as they updated us with the recovery effort as they regaled us with the thousands of urban legends that sprung forth from Katrina's wake. Murder, mayhem, incompetence, and local governmental malfeasance.
That's typical New Orleans cocktail party repartee, but at this stage in the game, it was amplified mightily. Watching the surveillance tapes of the NOPD busting into the local next-door hardware store and trying to break into the safe was particularly edifying for me. It wasn't all "legend".
On our last evening before flying back to Syracuse, we went down to the old duelling pianna plantation to retrieve our music libraries. My old pal Alvin met us at the front door and let us in. He was always there for me in the past when I was hitting low ebb... tonight would be no different.
Alvin was a Pat O'Brien's lifer, in fact, he was born into the Pat O's family. His Mama Miss Micki was a piano entertainer there for many decades. Alvin played the tray on any shift that Mr. Eddie didn't, including matinees and off nights for about over thirty years.
His house was destroyed and he was living in a little one room apartment a half a block away on St. Peter's with his wife Dainnie.
Pat O's wasn't open to the public yet. There was no public to open to anyway. They were still cleaning up from the storm. Alvin was helping to re-organize but basically he was working as a nightwatchman to make sure the place didn't get looted.
When Amy and I arrived, unexpectedly Uncle Charlie and Heather Varish, who worked in the Pat O's operations and administration office, were there. Both of them I'm sure were being sorely battled tested to try to get the business up and running again.
So we took the tour of damage, and ended up in the piano lounge, the six of us recent victims of Katrina's ass kicking that all had a shared interest in seeing the old girl of a business resurrect.
We got liquored up, and Alvin scooted home to grab his thimbles and tray. When he got back, We fired up the P.A., Amy and I manned the pianos, Alvin hopped on stage, and we put on a little show for Charlie, Heather, and Dainnie.
Just the six of us, trying to catch a glimpse of what we had and clutch a rope of hope for the future. We hugged, shook hands, said our goodbyes, and made promises to stay in constant contact.
Amy and I grabbed our music bags and walked out.
That was the last time my finger tips touched the keys of one of those pianos. It would be a long time for Amy, but she finally got to touch them again.
We migrated due north in an aluminum bird the next day, back to the land of the lake. It was going to be a long, hard winter.
(Stay Tuned For Part 6)
Sharing is Caring... if you got this far, pass this along.