by Angeliska on September 1, 2011
This year there’s just too much, too much to write, to say, to show –
it’s all disjointed fragments that don’t quite fit together, scrabbled here
and there over the last few days of travel. It ain’t much, but it’s what I got.
“The Water Is Rising” by Amy Earles
Amy sent this to me after the storm, because it made such a huge impression on me.
It was such an amazing thing to receive in the mail, especially from a total stranger –
and it marked the beginning of our friendship. It captured so much of what I felt then,
the ominous feeling of leaving, knowing the water would rise, and that so many would
stay behind, and be trapped in their houses. I don’t dream of tidal waves anymore –
now I dream of floods, inexorable, consuming water that just gets higher and higher.
A group of mourners and a man spat from the depths of Hades build a boat from
the debris of New Orleans to rescue their lost loved ones trapped beneath the sea.
Just in case you never saw this, or even if you did – it’s so beautiful, it bears
watching again. I cry and cry every time I see it. Keep an eye out for their
new film, set in the swamps: Beasts of the Southern Wild
My Katrinanniversary was spent in the following ways:
I escaped New York and the Hurricane Irene fear-fever by the skin on my teeth, at 4am
in a hail of bullets & falling corpses, our valiantly diving through the swiftly closing doors of the last
train out of Armageddon (in a rubber jumpsuit, natch.) Okay, not really – but it was pretty crazy.
I just barely made my train out of the city because of a shooting at the stop before mine & a suicide at
the one after. End times were preemptively in the air, making everyone extra crazy. The air was a sodden
fug of unease – dead still & flat, so heavy and too quiet for that big city. Having evacuation flashbacks in NYC
was surreal and unpleasant – packing hurriedly to steal away in the wee hours, remembering to breathe and
hoping that everything would be okay for all the people who were sticking around to see what the storm brought.
Every grocery store that day was crammed with people buying provisions, the check-out line vibrating with tension
and talk of taping windows. It was kind of like waiting in line for a super-scary haunted house with a bunch of first
graders rather than the juvies you’re used to. No offense meant by that at all, mind you – it’s just a matter of experience.
The day before I evacuated for Katrina, I went to the Matassa’s, the bank and out to Mona’s for Lebanese. Not one person
even mentioned it – and I had chatted with people everywhere I went. I had no idea that a massive storm was headed our
way until I went in to work the next day, and found my employers packing up the shop and getting everything low off the floor.
Usually, the storm warnings I got in New Orleans were one of the old-timer stoop-sitters in my neighborhood reminding me
to take my potted plants in off the balcony. I remember sometimes wishing that people would freak out a little more,
especially when the minor tropical storms and depressions got nasty and knocked out my power. I guess you just
got used to it after awhile – six months of hurricane season every year, constantly punctuated by threats and fizzles.
As tense and weird as Irene’s approach was making everyone around me, I also continuously stunned by the kindness
and helpfulness so many of the New Yorkers I encountered – especially the cabbie who picked me and all my bags
up and took me to the next stop so I wouldn’t miss my train, and the sweet felon who helped me haul my crap through
the turnstiles. He told me he worked in “telecommunications & debt collections”, and complimented my “Italian-girl ass”.
It was hard to leave New York this time – I felt we’d resumed our love affair that seemed so sour last time I had visited.
This time I found her brilliant and silvery, a beautiful and mercurial beast with a sharp, serendipitous kiss. Her back is
ridged with spikes of glass and metal and thronging with people like shining like stars. I can feel her grit lodged into
my tongue, and I let it stay, knowing it will one day become a pearl. I fell in love with the city again, and hope to find
myself rambling around her golden grid again sooner than later. We’ve got big things to do, she and I. Soon, soon.
(A deer wades through floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene on August 28, 2011, in Lincoln Park, N.J. Photo by Julio Cortez/AP)
I ended up riding Irene out in Philadelphia, in the company of two very inspiring ladies, Tabatha and Nyx
of < • le MONDe Primitif •>, and a bottle of Wild Turkey. We spent two days doing nothing but eating,
sleeping, talking and cutting up old Soviet Life and Art in America magazines for collage. I needed that
sweet respite so much after a week of running and hustling non-stop. Just to sit and watch the wind and
rain out the window and breathe. I lay in bed and watched the maples thrash and prayed to Oya to be kind.
– Photo by Ted Jackson / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE
August 29th this year found me in an aisle seat on a Greyhound bus for six hours, struggling to write something about
Katrina for the Austin Chronicle, and getting frantic texts from my friends in New Orleans asking if they could come evacuate
to my house because the poisonous gasses emanating from marsh-fires were making them sick. So bizarre to be living in
the post-apocalyptic nightmare of terrible droughts, storms, fires, oh, and – earthquakes! I was riding the train to brunch
and honestly didn’t think too much about it when the subway car jolted and shook us all for a minute or two. I remember
wondering if that sort of turbulence was common, and then thinking nothing more of it until I got out onto the street.
Everyone had come out of their offices and were crowded on the sidewalk smoking and looking pensive and freaked out.
Apparently, there’s a fault line right under 14th St., which was my stop. People don’t like to talk about it being there, but
it’s there all the same. Earthquakes terrify me more than hurricanes. A hurricane you can prepare for, run away from.
A year or so before Katrina, I was given the amazing gift of a taxidermied peacock from my dear friend Ilya.
It was one of the things that I was most pained to lose after my roof blew off. That whole side of the parlor
had been destroyed – the walls had crumbled, and blackly viscous curls of moldy fiberglass insulation had
peeled down over chunks of plaster and debris. I pretty much left everything on that side of the room alone -
the kitchen table and everything on it, the dvd player and all our movies, and the poor sodden peacock,
who had fallen on the wall and was pinned by a large part of the ceiling. I was so allergic to the mold, that
I feared to take most of my taxidermy collection from the rubble, and once the trailer was totally packed with
whatever else I could salvage, sticking a wet, gross, dead bird on top of it all seemed like a bad plan.
It was the one thing that I mourned above all others – above my records and tapes, all my shoes and boots,
clothes and costumes, photos and other treasures. I couldn’t imagine ever being gifted another peacock in
my life, and had never come across one for sale that I could even begin to afford. About a year after the storm,
I heard that for a short time, my peacock had resurfaced in the briefly reincarnated ramshackle version of Z’otz
Coffeeshop that happened at the old Siam. I was told that the mighty bird had been spray-painted black, and
decorated with broken mirrors. After that, I lost track of it again – until recently. My friend Miss Angie texted me
the photos below from her phone, asking “Is this your peacock?”. There was no doubt that it was. I called up the
dealer who had brought it in, and luckily, he was willing to let me have it back, provided I paid him the $30 bucks
he had paid for it. So, things come full circle. Sometimes. I have my fucked-up, moldy-ass peacock back from the
rubble, delivered to my door by my friends who were escaping from marsh fire sickness. That fire is the size of
City Park right now, and NO ONE is even talking about it. All my friends who haven’t gotten out are sick in bed,
and the whole thing is getting whitewashed by the media. No one is talking about why a marsh would catch fire
and keep burning for days. No one is talking about BP’s oil, or how completely fucked Louisiana’s ecosystem is.
Friends who own houses there, businesses there, who’ve stuck it out all this time are finally talking about leaving,
because they’re afraid the city will kill them, one way or another. Heartbreak on top of heartbreak. Oh, New Orleans…
The other night, I got into a discussion about New Orleans in a bar in Pittsburgh.
The bartender asked me, “If I had to choose between Austin and New Orleans,
which one would I choose?” I explained to him that it didn’t really work like that,
but that my aversion for natural disasters had grown to a point where I’m no longer
willing to knowingly put up with or prepare for them. A strange drunk man at the bar
interjected to ask me if at some point I had been into natural disasters but only decided
I didn’t like them only after I had been “divested of my belongings.” I told him that seven years
of constant evacuations and fear culminating in the eventual destruction and loss of my
city, home, belongings, lover, job, community and friends, and just my whole life as I knew
it was enough to do the trick. I had to go into how I felt about all people who patted my hand
to make themselves feel better by telling me it was “just stuff”. I’m afraid I ranted a little bit in
a sazerac-induced way about people who buy everything they own at Ikea, and have no
emotional attachment to objects. I went off for a bit about how most of the things I treasure
most were passed down to me by loved ones who have died, and how those objects represent
the only tangible, physical artifacts left of them for me. I apologized, explaining that the day before
had been the six year anniversary of the storm, and that I was feeling pretty raw, as I tend to when
the end of August rolls around. He responded by saying “Happy anniversary?” and that was it.
No, dude. Not happy. Wrong answer! He tried to back pedal, but I had to shut him down, saying
that I had just taken the time to speak to him from my heart about experiences that are still very
painful for me, and that he had just taken an opportunity to connect with another human being
and instead thrown it away being drunk and dunderheaded and letting callous bullshit fall out
of his mouth. It was weird. Weird and fucked up to still be getting into it about Katrina in bars with
people who find it more comfortable to stand on the outside of a tragedy and look in on it coldly,
thinking they’re being objective, when really they’re just afraid or incapable of empathy.
Or maybe they’re just assholes. Right after the storm I ended up getting in a few near-brawls
in bars with that sort of guy. I was so, so, so fucking angry and anyone who said the wrong thing,
or just wasn’t getting it needed to be educated as far as I was concerned, and often my version of
doing at the time only ended up getting me nearly kicked out of a few watering holes. PTSD and
whiskey are a bad, bad combination. I try to stay calmer about it these days, but it’s still hard when
people don’t want to get it, don’t really want to try to understand what it was like to go through that.
I remember getting booted from the Longbranch Inn one night for giving a homeless lady money
and then freaking out on the owner when he told me I couldn’t do that. I stood on the sidewalk,
weaving with drink and trying not to cry when the old man who worked at the bar came up to me.
He wore a big cowboy hat, and was a good dancer. He had been showing me moves all night.
His face was the color of dark oiled wood, and his eyes were misty with blue cataracts.
He told me he was The Man With No Name (I found out after he died that he was known as
“Fast Black”, but his name was Carl Miller.) He took my hand, and looked deep into my eyes,
and he said, “Forgive those who do not know.” It was the one piece of wisdom that
helped me through that time – the only thing that helped soothe the rage that kept threatening
to bubble over in barrooms and kept me pacing the floors of my tiny house every night.
Forgive those who do not know. It’s a hard thing to do, but I still try. I try and keep dancing, too.
✸ Susannah Breslin nails it once again – I never really believed in or understood what PTSD was before it happened to me.
Reading about her experience with it really helped me. After Hurricane Katrina, Years of Post-Traumatic Stress
EFN 03 – “Stoop Sitting”
By Will Hoffman & Daniel Mercadante
EVERYONE FOREVER NOW is an episodic motion-based media project.
It is an examination of the collective wisdom and expression of human actions.
✸ What I’m going home to: 3 heartbreaking photos of desert-like Lake Travis during the Texas drought
✸ As Texas Withers, Gas Industry Guzzles
Drought restrictions are forcing homeowners to quit watering their gardens,
even as thirsty fracking operations help themselves to the agua.
IRMA THOMAS – “It’s Raining” – maybe if I play this over and over,
it will bring rain to where it’s needed and away from where it’s not.
If you’ve still got it in you, here’s some collected writings
about my experiences with Hurricane Katrina,
in reverse chronological order. Dig in:
✸ One Year