Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Clap the thin aluminum door shut behind you and hold the broom with both hands. Step outside onto the wooden platform, the crest of the plywood staircase that leads up to your trailer that is painted white like gleaming disaster. Sweep the square of wood that you stand on, keep it kempt, keep it tidy. Look out to the blue blue sky and see the gray cloud in the corner bringing raindrops in but a few hours. Turn to the noise next door, grasp the broom with both hands, and watch.
They sling crowbars into the ceiling, splitting the plaster open and then a downward yank and the ceiling comes down in pieces. Falls apart with each new fissure. The air is hot and dusty and the smell of mold sifts down from the rafters. Remnants of the attic spill out with each rupture in the plaster skin. A magazine, three beer cans, and an old sweater. Breathing hard, breathing stale air through styrofoam masks, feeling the sweat linger and refusing to evaporate.
Make sure there is not a stray piece of leaf or trash on this wooden step. Watch the workers ruckus inside the empty shell next door. Hear the sound of dropped tools, the thud of metal hitting wood, the sandy footfall of fiberglass and insulation. Turn inside your home your trailer and pour yourself a glass of iced tea.
One boy stands atop a ladder to remove a ceiling fan. With a gloved hand he pulls with all his strength and it pops loose from its plastic joint, the wires exposed like naked ligaments. With a pair of rusty wire cutters, he severs them with one swift maneuver and carries the wooden fan outside and sets it on the green grass.
Place your glass of tea on the rough wooden banister that lines this step. Rest your elbow on it, look at the workers, watch the workers because there is nothing else to do today but be wary of splinters.
They move the slabs of plaster outside onto the curb to be taken away. They pour the insulation from plastic garbage cans outside onto the curb to be taken away. They shoulder the dislodged beams of wood outside onto the curb to be taken away. The dank entrails of a gutted home, steaming with the scent of dust and mold.
Look the gray corner of the sky has been stretched and it begins to rain.
The crowd hurries to the white van and quickly stashes the tools inside. One by one, they elude the rain, ducking in the door under the drumming of raindrops and pull away from the rubble arrayed on the curb, piled high like humanity.
Clap the thin aluminum door shut behind you and carry the empty glass of tea indoors. Move from the kitchen to your bedroom in one step and lie down on your bed as the sun begins to set. Craft yourself more makeshift idols from the temporal smoke of volunteers and find some way to dream because after all, the comatose world as you know it breathes slower and slower, weaker and frailer with each forgetting.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Every morning at about ten ‘til 9, I drive into downtown on Poydras St., swing a left on Camp, another left on Common, and finish my commute by turning right into the Pere Marquette Parking Garage located a block from my office building. There is nothing ostensibly remarkable about the car park: my coworker and I just happened to stumble upon it on our first morning of work, liked $8 daily rate, and have been going back ever since. In fact, we were never really supposed to park there. Our boss had recommended that we park at a cheaper garage on the 6th floor of some other building we never actually found. A little lost and a little late on our first day of work, we decided we had better cut our losses and park where we could rather than drive around aimlessly and waste the precious few minutes we had until we were due in the office.
I don’t want to invoke the supernatural just yet, but I’ve got to say, I’m pretty glad we happened upon this particular parking garage that first morning five weeks ago. It’s not just the friendly, prompt service the valet staff supplies every day; it’s not just the hard time that one guy gives me every morning I’m running a couple minutes late, and it’s not just that I no longer have to ask for a receipt every afternoon because all the valets know me as “that guy.” No, I’m especially happy with my parking garage because last Friday, it might have just saved my weekend. After a day spent geo-coding data in the office, I walked down
For such a relatively minor inconvenience, the future looked terribly grim. The battery was dead, or the alternator or…something. I thanked my valet friends for trying and was about to pick up my cell phone when I heard that sound…the key turning in the ignition, and the car finally starting! The valet Manuel had the magic touch, and suddenly, my Friday—and most likely, the rest of my weekend—was saved.
Part of me doesn’t want to blow this event out of proportion, but I’m starting to think that appealing to Fate isn’t entirely out of the question. If I had chosen another garage that first day; Who knows? Maybe there wouldn’t have been any jumper cables or friendly valets with magical hands….Really, who knows? I may very well have spent my weekend having to deal with the type of annoying chore that everyone hates. Instead, Manuel started my car, I drove it home, and I had an awesome weekend.
I know I’m taking a while to make my point but here it is:
As we were sitting around chomping down pizza the other night, someone in the group asked, “So, could you guys see yourselves coming back to
Interesting question, I thought. If coming back to NOLA is anything like ending up here in the first place, I certainly can’t rule out the possibility. Accidents are meant to happen, and for that, I am very grateful.
Well, when word, in the form of an email, arrived from Joy that the prospect of getting a camera was about as bleak as scoring a Tickle Me Elmo doll circa Winter 1997, I was a bit surprised but certainly not going to give up hope. I had Joy and Dr. Schaad on my side (Mary and Joseph? let’s see how far I can take this…). Alright so this brings us to the second week of Advent/NOLA, which in my mind mine as well be synonymous because they evoke the same feels of joy (hehe Joy…) in me, and putting off the filming of the video another week wouldn’t be the end of the world because there were other projects on the works. By the end of the week, we had a few leads but the chance of getting a video camera was grim. I was growing impatient but had no choice but to resort to Plan B (an actual plan, not the contraceptive). We made arrangements with the media specialist at the government office to film our video and soon afterwards received an email from Joy requesting that we submit a formal camera proposal (Christmas list?) to Eric Mlyn (Santa Claus?), director almighty of DukeEngage. Although the camera would not arrive in time for the filming, we would at least have one at our disposal for future projects (cue sigh of relief). The pink candle was burning brightly in my mind. Christmas was going to be awesome!
Looks like I’ve been a bad boy this year because the request was outright denied. My impatience, which, of late, had turned into anger, was now replaced by painful indifference. Despite our best efforts, we had nothing to show for them, having exhausted every contact and outlet. The filming went relatively smoothly given that we were working with a cameraman essentially oblivious to our vision of how the video was to be filmed. Much to our surprise, we received a phone call from Dr. Schaad soon after the filming telling us that he had acquired a video camera for our use, which we finally received last week.
At a very insignificant level, the frustration I experienced trying to get a camera had similar elements to the frustrations that residents of New Orleans and surrounding parishes have experienced and are still experiencing post-Katrina. Receiving assistance from the government, what they thought was a given, especially after a disaster of this magnitude, has proven to be immensely more convoluted than initially expected. Promises unfulfilled, the public’s dissatisfaction with the government’s response grows daily. Organizations like FEMA are unnecessarily complicating an effort for which it is very easy to feel detached. Their actions thus far are indicative of a gross indifference toward the plight in which residents have been stuck for almost two years now. The last thing New Orleans needs right now is a detached agency in charge of distributing emergency funds to the affected residents. Sadly, I don’t think there is much the public can do to rectify the situation. Only so much can be accomplished with the resources at their disposable. They can fight. They can complain. They can recount their sad tales. They can try to move on with their lives, but without government assistance it’s all in vain. This city needs a Santa Claus-and soon.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Undoubtedly, the work I am doing in the New Orleans Health Department is valuable. Fingers crossed, the grant I am currently applying for will be won, and I will leave a tangible legacy in New Orleans, in the form of an HIV education and prevention program, to be implemented on HBCU campuses. However, it is also possible that the grant will not be won, my hard work is rendered useless, and I have nothing to show for my time here. With all of this running through my head, I subjected my co-worker, Tucker, to my rants, to which he offered some consolation: even if we don’t end up winning the much-needed thousands of dollars for the department, at least we provided our co-workers with some entertainment.
Although it took a few minutes, I came to realize that my sage friend just might be right. Thinking over my hours spent in the NOHD, I concluded that I have logged just as many hours dancing the Cupid Shuffle (hottest dance to hit the US since the Macarena, fyi) with Valrita, joking with Dr. Franklin, and having lengthy conversations with Ro as I have spent actually drafting my grant proposal. While some may argue that my little quips and office banter aren’t exactly the kind of post-Katrina relief this city is looking for, I disagree. My office, as I’m sure is characteristic of many in New Orleans, is a breeding ground for stress; tensions are high and, at times, progress seems almost nonexistent. Additional funds, obviously, would help to alleviate some of the financial burden facing the department and its programs; however, a brief smile or laugh would just as effectively lift the cloud of anxiety that so often hinders productivity here.
The outcome of my efforts spent in the NOHD, then, is only somewhat unknown. Perhaps my lofty aspirations of “leaving my mark” will actually be realized, in which case I can pat myself on the back and self-servingly add the accomplishment to my resume and grad school applications. However, if the only mark I’ve managed to leave in New Orleans is in Val or Ro’s memory, as that “wacky, friendly, intern from Duke”, I won’t be disappointed; with the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans as a backdrop, perhaps the most valuable thing I can offer is a distraction.
Why is this relevant? Because faced with the daunting prospect of rebuilding,
After five weeks in City Hall, the lack of focus on the most fundamental issues facing the city is startling. Health Department meetings designed to address the future of New Orleans inevitably end with everyone agreeing that the department does not have the resources or the power to enact any fundamental social change and deciding to focus instead on surface problems that, while certainly easier to address, do nothing to change the reasons why those problems exist in the first place. At one meeting, for example, everyone agreed to focus on improving access to healthcare. But why do people lack access to healthcare? Lack of transportation, among other reasons. Why do people lack adequate transportation? Poverty. Why are people poor? For many individuals in
The Health Department’s inability to address underlying social issues certainly is not for lack of trying. Everyone here would love to delve deeper into the root causes of
First the obvious: insurance money and higher wages have given people money to spend.
Second: Katrina destroyed not only housing, health care, and public service infrastructure but also local entertainment options.
People who would have once spent free nights in a bowling alley or at a local bar now turn to the casinos as the only available form of entertainment. This combination of factors seems likely to lead to tragedy for those who let gambling go past entertainment and leave their only chance to rebuild sitting on a roulette table.
Casinos Boom in Katrina's WakeBy GARY RIVLINPublished: July 16, 2007
BILOXI, Miss. — This seaside gambling resort along a stretch of the Gulf Coast, sometimes called the “redneck Riviera,” has 40 percent fewer hotel rooms and only two-thirds as many slot machines as it did before Hurricane Katrina. A major bridge that connects the casinos in this popular tourist destination to Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and other points east remains closed, and Mayor A. J. Holloway estimates that as many as 15 percent of the city’s pre-Katrina residents still have not returned.
Yet business in the gambling halls of Biloxi has reached all-time highs in recent months, so much so that Larry Gregory, the executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, has half-jokingly barred his staff from uttering the phrase “record-setting” because “it was becoming too redundant.”
A similar story has been unfolding in New Orleans, where tourism is still in the doldrums and only 60 percent of the pre-Katrina population has returned nearly two years after the hurricane and flooding devastated the area.
Indeed, the casinos there seem to be faring even better than their Gulf Coast cousins.
Harrah’s New Orleans, the largest casino in the city, is on pace for its best year ever: gambling revenue is up 13.6 percent through the first five months of 2007 compared with the same period in 2005, pre-Katrina.
The casinos in this region are generating more revenue — from significantly fewer players — in large part because of the extra money that many area residents have in their pockets and fewer alternatives on where to spend it, casino executives and others in the region say.
(Full article here)