Friday, July 27, 2007

Way Down Yonder

Cajun posted a column yesterday, from the great Times Picayune writer, Chris Rose.

For those of you who are unsure of what a picayune is, it was a small Spanish coin, and came to mean something trivial.

Chris Rose was an entertainment writer for said Times Picayune.. as he once stated, he was Brittany Spear's worst nightmare, camping out around her home in Louisiana. When that big ass bitch, Katrina, hit, Chris headed out of town, along with a lot of other folk... thing is, he went back to what he saw as home.

He's become New Orleans' favourite son. You can find his work in an amazing book, One Dead in Attic, that talks about my city, my hometown, after Katrina. He also writes a daily column, and it's darn good reading. You'd never know he was a damn Yankee.

Thing is, after Caj's journal today, I re-read One Dead in Attic (the title is taken from the notes left on homes, to tell workers how many were.. well, you get the idea), a book suggested to me when it came out, as Chris' work was to me following Katrina, by the formidable MaryV.

My father was overwhelmed by all of this when it happened, this huge event, this storm that managed to bring New Orleans to her drop her face down. Even in his state with dementia and Alzheimer's, he was aware the city he'd been born in, that he considered home, that he adored, was being torn apart.

The neighborhood we played in.... a Dead Zone now. My cousins lived by the levee... their things, gone. We were thankful for cell phones, text messages went through. One set had raced to Purvis, Mississippi to seek shelter, only to be slammed by Katrina on her way north.

The city I'd grown up in, where my family had lived for generations, since the mid 1800's, where we have family vaults, and my great grandmother and her children had a vegetable stall in the French Quarter, my uncle is a New Orleans baseball legend, another one owned the Dodge dealerships, my Uncle G was from generations back, my Dad graduated Tulane (GO GREEN WAVE!), family who lived in the Quarter on Burgundy (pronounced baGUNdy) my cousins are Yats, my MawMaw went to the Ursuline Convent School and I grew up making groceries at Schwegmann's.... yeah, we were New Orleans... and I sat and watched her go under.

I'd lived though Betsy... whoa, there was a bitch. Carla, she tried to take us out, but, Besty... we'd run outside during the eye, so calm, so serene, talking about what we were doing, the parents hammering up the boards, doing a basic check on trees, watching as the winds started up again. Our bathtubs filled with water, food supplies ready.

With Betsy, the week before, the neighborhood had gotten together and made a huge amount of crawfish étouffée, a arduous task when you add in 100 lbs of crawfish, all the makings, and a large amount of beer and whiskey and sharp knives. My parents had recently purchased a chest style freezer, so, the food was parceled out, marked, and stored. When the electricity went out, as it will in a major hurricane, we started eating everything in the freezers, especially the food they'd worked so hard on...meaning we had étouffée for breakfast, lunch and supper. I think Mr Frank and Mr Warren (you don't call grown up's by their first names alone) and my Dad were still eating it when the dogs turned their noses up at the idea of touching the stuff.

Each time
we rebuilt, in the hot muggy air, each time saying, "The next one, that's the one that'll take out the levees" and, suddenly, there they were, bursting out on national television. Filling the city so quickly, it was surreal.

I'd volunteered to go work, and ended up having my knee taken apart and put back together, so, that stopped that. My father became upset that I would leave him.... and that stopped any future plans.

The GoldenChild ponied up, for once, and did some great relief work.

He and a friend in Santa Monica managed in four days time to fill a huge number of semi's with water, cots, clothes, food, blankets.... and a wad of cash to fill the fuel tanks of said semis.... and they were off. Now, the GoldenChild is funny, I'll give him that. He remarked that many a kind soul came to the trucks, after raiding their closets.

These were Santa Monica and West Hollywood women.

Classic, stereotypical Santa Monica and West Hollywood women.

<> big. They brought black cocktail dresses. Stiletto heels. Strapless gowns, capri pants, crop tops.... everything. And all of it <> big.

GoldenChild said, "I wanted to say, "Babe, I come from NEW ORLEANS... did you see the women at the Convention Center?" " But, you don't turn generosity aside.

We had a hard time getting the stuff down there, FEMA was a whore. If you had connections, your stuff got through. Otherwise, it rotted on the side of the road next to where they eventually parked their whoreish trailers.

He was stopped on the way, ice melting, sweating... called me, "Sis, DO something, if anyone can get something done, you can." He used to threaten his staff with me. He had two sayings that always made me laugh. If his grips were not working, he'd announce at full volume, "This is a LOcation, not a VAcation." and, to his entire staff inside, "If you can't get the job/site/things done, I'll call in my sis and fire your asses. She'll do it better and faster."

He was serious on both. He's a fuckwad, but, he knows his stuff.

I started calling, finally reaching the Slidell Police Department, and spoke to the Sheriff. You don't mess around with big ass governments in Louisiana, you just go local.

Suddenly, for a week, the GoldenChild was associated with the Slidell Police Department. His trucks got through. Generators were passed out, teeny tiny clothes, food, water... what was needed got there, to Slidell, East New Orleans, Ponchatoula.

Then, he slipped back into fuckwad mode. Sold his company, his family, his soul. Different story, not for here, ever. Let us just say, we don't speak anymore. But, what he did then? Well done, GC, well done.

Two months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Dad died. Now, the nice thing is, the last time he saw New Orleans, he was still doing pretty good. We walked the Quarter. Saw the family graves. Hit the River Walk. He spent time with my Aunt A, whom he said he should have married instead of her sister. He had grits and coffee and eggs and took a nap every day.

He ate his way though a huge ass pile of crabs and crawfish boiled up with potatoes and corn spread over newspaper on a table on the back patio out in Ponchatoula, at O and J's house. He drank cold beer, and sucked down the great desserts that J makes. My bread pudding is better, but, she doesn't read this journal, so, she'll never know I said so.

He ate and we drove around, and on the way to the airport, we went to the house where I grew up. The neighborhood had gone through changes in those years since we left. The last time we'd been there, it was pretty rough, to the point we didn't even slow down on the drive past. Now, people were taking care of things again, and our house was nice, lovely, painted gray. The big cyprus was cut down, the backyard had a vinyl fence around it... lots of flowers. We sat in the rental car across the street, and... talked. Of New Orleans itself, how his family had arrived there. How my MawMaw (his mom) taught me to hide money in the freezer (therefore, I was not surprised when a Louisiana politician was found to have tens of thousands in his freezer...made sense to me and many other New Orleanians) About when I was a kid, and the neighbors. Of all of them living in these tract homes, 700 square feet, 2.3 kids, with 3 bedrooms, 1 bath and my mom would shut off the living room... for company. He closed in the carport, added on a bedroom for his mother in law. They all were working hard, mowing that damn St Augustine grass. And, Mom's prized car, a deeply used 1954 Buick, with a wooden driver's window.

Don't ask how she drove it in our many rainstorms.

She parked it under the pine tree, on the side of our lot that nestled up to a shell half street.

He said, "I used to see you out there, in the car, what were you doing?"

I didn't realise anyone had ever noticed me.... so, I told him. I drove all over the world. All over the universe. Me, who hated cars with a passion, loved that Buick. It had a huge steering wheel, and I would hold on to it, and.... go places, far away. I'd sit and read in it, after the Chinese elm blew down in the back yard. I hid from the GC and other kids and the world.

He nodded... and laughed. "You were a funny child. I'm sorry I wasn't a better dad."

We had bought muffaletta's for lunch and brought them on the plane. The divine smell you get from olive salad smell soon circulated, and people were asking, "What is that? Can I get some?"

It was a great way to end his last trip home.

I had had Dad cremated, and since November of 2005, he's lived in a lovely jar. D has some of his ashes, but, I have the bulk of them. Since my move to New York, he was put into a closet from his old spot in the sunroom. He liked it there, it was comfortable. I'm not sure he likes the closet, he shares it with Barbies. He was never fond of small children or Barbies.

My point, and I have one here, is I need to bring him... home.

I've put it off and put it off... partly because I don't want to face this final goodbye, even though we had his funeral. Mostly, I don't want to go home. My Aunt A says, "Boo, you don't want to come here. It's not pretty."

I know. But, I have to go home. It's time. When I finish the wedding, and the maybe perhaps trip to LA, I'll pack up and fly to New Orleans one more time with my Dad.

I'll let his sister know, she can fly down from Monroe. We'll go to the family raised site. I'm next on the deed.... in New Orleans, you have to have a deed to open a grave...but, it's so complicated to get it all done. After the Hurricane, people actually trashed out the Archdiocese.... fortunately, someone had put all the records on the internet, so, I can prove who I am, and the lineage...still.

Why pay someone $150 to dig a little hole, when we can do it, then, when we can quietly stand. in St Pats (I won't say which one), pour him in, and I'll play a few of John Prine and Dr. John's pieces. I'll keep a little bit of the ash, too, so I can have some of him at home. I kind of miss the old fart.

We'll end with Ode to Joy. He loved Ludwig.

Then, we'll head over to the Lake and eat. A lot. I'll stay a week, and go see my City... help out with the relief work that is still going on. Do my part that I want to get done, to feel I've put back what I took out. Get this out of my system, and accept that although she's changed, she's still there, going strong, still with a big ol' murder rate, corrupt politicians, smells and tastes and sights you won't see anywhere else in the world... drink my coffee and cream, eat my french bread and red beans, have some decent seafood, and I'll be making the bread pudding.

One thing, though; I won't be eating any crawfish étouffée.... I lost my taste for that when I was a little kid.


Your friend R said...

Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful sotry. I was spellbound.

I will buy the book you cited, One Dead in the Attic.

My friend and her mother went after Katrina, to support the city's tourism. Her photos are haunting, and so different than the photos she'd taken there a few years prior. The couple she visited left New Orleans shortly after my friend's visit.

One of my huge regrets was that, when my Red Cross chapter was deployed to your home, I was denied because of health. One of the most pissed times in my life was reading that someone I know not only bragged publicly (online) that he had gone but used it as an excuse to get out of promises - and, no, he hadn't. When he goes to Hell, he'll be with the scum who pretended to be firefighters so they could steal the donations made following September 11, 2001.

I can help out to get your dad home, if you need. Just ask. You're worth more than that URL you sent - your writing alone is worth it and I'm glad I don't have to pay to read your blog!

I'll see you in six hours!

pistolah said...

I wish I could have seen the city in her prime. I was asked to go for a week or so to help with the efforts and to help rebuild some homes and although I would have loved it the people asked me one day in advance and I couldn't. I wish I had.

Quin said...

r~one dead in attic is a great read. rose gets it, the city, the whole thing. like i said, you'd never know he was a yankee. my cousins still struggle to get through the muck that is fema, but, they "...ain't goin' nowhere". you live and die in the city. i'm packed! sorta.

pistolah~there are still chances. 9th ward is still rebuilding, lots and lots of places are. we'll be rebuilding for years. the quarter is untouched, which says those old timers knew what they were doing.

golfwidow said...

Right after I finished reading this, I went to Geekspeak's page and he had this link:

Somebody actually had enough spare time to program his scanner to play music.

Quin said...

gw~this is why i love you.

The Cajun Boy said...

long live chris rose!!!