Thursday, November 03, 2005

All we had was that funny feeling

This is something I tried to write several times...apparently some part of me wasn't ready to let it out. It doesn't really matter now...but it was the next part of the story of what the hell happened to us. The date above is the first time I took a stab at it. The real date today is June 27, 2006...Your Ambassador

The weather had improved enough to move ahead with the next challenge--getting the plywood off the windows to get air in the building and let it begin to dry out (and hopefully create some ventilation...August is still August, hurricane or no...).

M and I ventured out onto the long balcony to start manually removing all the screws to get the boards down, when J said he was heading home to get his cordless rechargeable screwdriver from his apartment. M and I continued on in his absence, bouyed by the knowledge that this task was going to get much easier on his return. Minutes dragged by and then more than an hour and no J...

We finished the task at hand by ourselves and still no J...another hour or so and still no J...another hour and we were more than panic-sticken...where the hell was he? A little later he turned up, not quite understanding the dark current swirling through the condo...yes, we were relieved that he was ok but where the hell had he been? Passed out at his apartment. I have never been quite so quietly angry in a very long time, but that was nothing compared to the balancing act that M was attempting between absolute relief that J was ok and utter, paralyzing frustration and anger with J's apparent lack of judgement or concern for the greater good. Yes, we all slept poorly the night before and yes, we had all had a couple cocktails to get us through the storm, but we had no idea how much J had been drinking to help him to deal with all the many levels of crap he perceived he was facing. Funny, the friends we reach for in our darkest moments, eh?

This rolled over us and through us...and then the next obvious task was organizing dinner for the 8 remaining people in the whole condo. R and R from downstairs fired up the charcoal grill--and dinner of burgers and hot dogs and chips and such was thrown together with much nattering and fussing and awkward moments--one of the more obtuse (read fuck-head) residents was not so quietly inquiring as to the arrangement of M-me-J, when I leaned in and loudly said, "I'm the new boyfriend. Any other questions?" J resumed drinking through the evening and assured us that, given that we were all a little shaken by some of the "noises" we were already hearing, he would take the first watch of the night and then wake one of us around 3AM to take over. About an hour after the rest of us turned in, J passed out again--as L discovered when she came out to check on some new odd noises downstairs. So much for security issues.

The next day, the residents of B. House and their sundry associates (J and me) hit the street in front of the condo--slinging branches and trash up on the neutral ground to help clear the way for whatever services might need to travel our way to restore power to the neighborhood. With an odd assortment of rakes and shovels and hacksaws and M's truck, we managed to clear all of our block and then turned our attention to the catch basin for the drain nearest the front entrance. No wonder the street fills with water there when the rain comes at a its customary pace--there was so much trash and debris in their, stewing in the late summer swill that comes of stormy runoff.

It was during this part of the day that I spotted a police car slowly working its way down our end of Bourbon Street. My initial reaction turned out to be right, tho' no one including M believed me at first. "Guys, the cops are looking for gas tanks they can siphon out of." I had been paying special attention (read: anal) to the mayor's announcements about the citywide state of emergency and martial law--enforcement officials can commandeer a building, vehicle or its contents as they deem necessary. After a moment of doubt on everyone else's parts, we approached the cops and they admitted that they absolutely were working the neighborhood, seeking the older cars and vans and trucks that would be easiest to get into and liberate gas from. M had to talk them out of taking his, saying truthfully that if necessary, it would be our only way out of town. (On reflection, we never saw those two officers again and we have come to believe that they may have been looking for enough fuel to get themselves out of town and therefore become deserters. Mere speculation, but if that is what came to pass, may the Lord and their fellow officers have mercy on them.)

Finished with the morning grunt work, we grabbed a quick bite to each and then headed over to my apartment to collect the last of my food stores and bottled water and candles and everything else that might be of some remote usefulness to us all. We did discover during the course of the day that the condo still had land-line phone access, as long as you had a non-cordless phone...let's here it for the stone age! Chats with our friends B and V prompted us to head out in M's truck to not only traverse the city inspecting their respective homes, but also to ransack their kitchens for anything edible with their blessings (it was understood that any liquor not hidden or locked up was fair game too--martial law, you know). On the way to B's place, we retraced our path so many times due to the not-surprising number of downed trees and power lines and to the vast stretches of standing water through the vicinity. We finally got headed in the right direction, only to discover that the main road to B's flat was full...full of people and cars and water...more and more water...too much to risk forcing the truck through on a fool's errand.

So we turned around and headed back to the condo, only to encounter our first taste of the looting that would come to brand and stain the city so in the hours and days ahead. Breaking into the grocery store and Walgreen's for the necessities was something we could ultimately rationalize for anyone who suddenly had nothing. Were we among those ranks yet? No, thankfully...but it could have so easily been us. Then, there on the corner...people crawling out of the hole they had ripped in the side of the Beauty World...bags and boxes and armloads of supplies and product and weaves and wouldn't be the last time that day that my stomach would lurched in a way I'd never known before then.

Shaken by this, I was beginning to decompress in my head and physically started rocking in my seat...when I realized that M wasn't returning to the condo, but rather headed uptown toward V's pad. Nononononononononono I can't I can't take me back I can't do this I will not die this way don't make me do it I don't want to die this way why are you doing this to me...None of this I verbalized and this is the first I have made mention of it since. On and on we drove, near to the river as we could along Tchoupitoulas Street, driving the wrong way on one way streets at times to avoid the largest of the fallen trees...Other than downed trees and the buildings, there was much less catastrophic damage than we had expected to see. A new ugly parking garage which we all hated had been partially ripped away much to our very dark glee...favorite ancient haunts of ours, still standing as they had for more than a hundred years...and then the Wal-Mart...scores of peole, trailing away with shopping carts overflowing with everything...absolutely everything...clothes and food and guns and toys and bikes and TVs and stereos and absolutely everything.

We drove on, quietly appalled, but unhindered by human confrontation. At last our journey led us past the Zoo, which we could see little of other than the morass of fallen trees and abandoned vehicles. Moments later, we uneventfully arrived at V's house, grateful to discover that the China Ball tree smack in front of the house had fallen JUST to the side of it, ever so slightly grazing it but doing no discernible damage. The little victories are huge at a time like that...and then across the street, the little grocery run by a fabulous and kind man of Vietnamese heritage who kept the store name of Singleton's was spotted to be open--and we scored some more food and water and most importantly (tho' I could not have known this then) a carton of cigarettes for J. After a quick assessment of the treasure that V's kitchen held, we took the lot and her toilet paper and candles and a stack of her best towels and hit the road for the French Quarter.

This is still only the day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall over Southeast Louisiana. We did not leave for two more days.

This does not begin to answer for you as to where J and M and I are at now in this unexpected friendship...because the story gets much worse and I hate myself for some of the things I thought at the time, because I know the reasons now...but there is so much story that I will try to continue telling it if I can bear to pick up this thread again...

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