Friday, June 22, 2007

It's been a tough year, even by New Orleans standards.

One of the things that I've always admired (and I must admit it's part of the city's appeal to me) about New Orleans is how it deals with tragedy. Some folks found their way to Louisiana through hardships in their homelands, others suffered upon arrival. So many different groups, with just about as many different kinds of suffering. Yellow Fever. Hurricanes. AIDS.

So much of what makes this region what it is today comes indirectly from the struggles it has endured. That will be what makes us stronger as we move through this ongoing recovery.


It's been a really tough year.

New Orleans is still way below it's pre-Katrina population of 450, 000+. Recent estimates put us at less than half that, depending on which survey and what agency is in whose pocket to set the numbers high or low. That makes us now officially a small city. Smaller than Plano, TX. Tinier than Anchorage, AK. Embarrassingly diminutive next to the likes of Jersey City, Lexington, and Buffalo.

(Not that we're obsessed with size.)

However, if you haven't caught any of our news recently, it seems that people are just dying to get into New Orleans. Or maybe that's not quite right. Dying to stay, perhaps?

This past weekend brought our fair city its 90th and 91st murders. A handful of arrests have been made. No convictions this year. This is not the post to dwell on why. I don't have that kind of time just now. Most of those are gang/drug related retaliation killings. I once thought that you could fairly easily avoid the parts of the city where all this is happening.

I was wrong.

And now it's personal.

Last week, Robin was found beaten to death in his Marigny home. The Faubourg Marigny is the wonderful sprawling neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter, and my home for many years now. Robin's house is a mere 7 blocks from my apartment.

It's all too close now.

There haven't been any arrests in his murder, although the authorities have questioned a "person of interest". Robin's car was taken at the time and found burned out some blocks away, either in an attempt to make it look like a robbery or some such act gone bad. Truth is we just don't know the truth and might never know.

But like I said, it's personal now. Robin rode the school bus with my friends Mark and Chrissie. He managed a bar that I frequented throughout my most formative years in the city. He was a champion of many causes, using his more recent success at the salon he owned with his sister to raise money for AIDS and breast cancer research. And as recently as October 2006, Robin had been interviewed by WDSU NewsChannel 6 regarding crime in New Orleans:

"Drive-by muggings -- I mean, there's guys riding around in vehicles just mugging people, jumping in their vehicles, going around the corner, mugging somebody else," Malta said. "I'd like to see the mayor actually walk Marigny Street, from Charters to Rampart Street, by himself at 3 o'clock in the morning. I guarantee you he'd get mugged."

No irony there, eh?

In 1997, Robin reigned as Southern Decadence Grand Marshall, and single-handedly scared the crap out of a whole hell of a lot of military guys when the parade he was leading intersected with the Labor Day Parade in the Quarter. In full "I Dream of Jeanie" costume, he mounted the running board of the nearest Humvee as it slowly cruised down the street. Holding onto the driver's side mirror and waving his free arm wildly, singing at the top of his lungs as the parade crawled along Decatur Street - I can still hear him belting out the theme song now.

It's up to us to remember in our own ways each person who's gone now. But it's more than murders. It's all kinds of death now.

It appeared to start with older friends - struggling with myriad afflictions, and exacerbated by the effort of recovery - started to succumb more rapidly. A shocker for me was Sandra. Sandra (whom I always pictured as 40ish) passed away at the tender age of 67 after struggling through the horror of Alzheimer's. I first met Sandra in 1991, weeks after I arrived in NOLA at a P-FLAG meeting - she was president of this chapter for 15 years and spearheaded the national meeting here in 1993. I had not seen her since the storm.

I sang with our church choir at a truly moving memorial service last week for a former choir member at my church. Chris was described during the service as a magnificently kind and elegant woman - and she was. But, oh...she could be salty when she wanted to be. It was her kindness and elegance that made her saltiness shocking and yet acceptable.

Arly, the owner of a local pub and grub, suffered a devastating 45 minute seizure that left her in a vegetative state for 2 weeks before she mercifully slipped away one day. My dear friend Venette's wife Cate worked for Arly for years - and I had the great honor of attending the wedding rehearsal dinner Arly and her partner Louis through for Cate and Venette. Lord, did they throw down some food that night!

An officer in a nearby parish died in an on-duty accident 10 days ago. During the car procession to his funeral, a violent summer storm blew up - winds so fierce they knocked a huge tree over onto the car of two officers on their way to the service...killing one officer and critically injuring the other.

A New Orleans officer took his own life just days before standing trial for brutally beating an unarmed 65 year old retired teacher in the early repopulation after Katrina.

So much death following so many months of struggle to bring this city back to life...

Before the week is over, New Orleans will have its 100th murder. Like other bloodier milestones, this is not one to celebrate.

Somehow, we...We will come through. We will grieve. We will deal with tragedy. We may employ some clearly inappropriate humor and drink a bit too much to do it, but we'll deal.

We - together - will get through this.

There are only two things certain right now in New Orleans. The first is daunting, but the second is much more powerful.
  1. More death will come to our city.

  2. We will rise.

(For those of you wondering where I've been and why I haven't been posting to the blog, it's been a really tough couple of weeks. And this post was trying to get out.)

4 comment(s):

Jenn in Holland

Oh, Ambassador, that is a tough year. A tough couple of weeks sure. But a wonderful post.
Rife with pain, but full of hope. That's what keeps me coming back for more... and as often as I can get it, I appreciate every word.
Blessings on wing.

cathouse teri

I'm so sorry to hear all of this. I'm just kind of.... speechless.

soccer mom in denial

I love you. I'm sorry I've been out of touch. But I was moved by this quote of Robin's from Decadence:


May we all live by those words. May we all live by them.

You are a true friend. This piece shows that.

I love you and wish I could hug you in person. A blog hug isn't as satisfying.


Hang in there, Ken.

All will be well.


  © Blogger template 'Minimalist E' by 2008

Back to TOP