Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Storm weary

I was just reading about the growing strength of Rita. This evening I went into DC to attend a career networking event. Remember I was going to hit the ground running and all that? Well...whatever. The event was interesting, people were pretty friendly, I have some leads to follow up on...not jobs just friendly contacts...but I'm not feeling it.
Tomorrow we're getting the boot from this hotel because there's a big golf tournament in the area. The gas isn't on at the new place so no hot water or stove. But we can stay there.
I'm just thinking about that wall people hit. Maybe I'm coming up on it. I'm tired of being hopeful and focused. I tired of soldiering through. I just want to stop. I just cringed at being introduced as a "Katrina victim" and at the helpless, overwhelmed stares. "Oh" was a popular response to my third party intros. Here's Renea...she lost everything. The crazy thing is that then I feel compelled to comfort them. "We'll be ok" or "It's not as bad as it could have been" or, my favorite, "Hey! What are you gonna do?"
Everyone was really nice but I just don't want to talk about all this just yet. Some jerk actually asked me if any of my relatives or friends were killed or missing. Like I'm a hypothetical representative of "all this."
Ironically enough it does help to write about it. Whenever I can squeeze in a minute. Things have been so hectic this week I've barely had a chance to think.
Everyone's processing differently. I've developed this hard candy shell. Sometimes I just smile and try to be really nice, other times I cut right to it, no chaser. But I try not to let anything in...And while all my senses feel heightened, my emotions feel really dull. I told my parents we should all ask the Red Cross representative about seeing a counselor. By the way, the staff at the Fauquier Chapter of the Red Cross were extra kind...both of them, Phyllis and Denise. They have a small chapter and the two of them are part time. They have a lot of volunteers helping out.
I feel kind of detached and achy. My arm is all blotchy again but my face has stopped twitching this evening. I've been eating pretty well but not sleeping so much.
I dreamed Robi and Sam were sleeping with me. Sandwiching me in like they used to before Sam started prowling the streets like a real tomcat. I hate to think about them being gone. I tried to reassure myself that the feeling was a reassuring presence. But I feel like I failed them. I haven't gotten any reply about them being rescued. I'll keep checking. Even if I couldn't get them back I hope they find a safe home...

Downtime explained

OK-- I figured I'd be offline for a few days while I worked out all this moving stuff. But I didn't realize how difficult it would be to get online or how busy I'd be.
How I've spent my days:
1) Waiting for traffic to let up on the Beltway
2) Navigating maps and printing directions from the internet
3) Being late

I got to Maryland last Thursday...I think it was Thursday...the days blur together. But I didn't get to Warrenton until Friday. I think it was Friday. Anyway...the house is really nice. And so is the town and all the people I met. Of course I'm going to flesh all this out. But right now I fell like someone hit me with a bag of quarters.

Tonight despite the fact I am still crazily trying to get things settled at the house, I am driving into DC for a career network event. Got to meet the people. And I have no iron. So I may be rumpled and late. There's a look. But I should be able to work my posting out Thursday and beyond. Oh the stories I'll tell...

Saturday, September 17, 2005


It's my second full day in Maryland. I arrived Thursday evening. All the days are running together. I have to check to make sure I know for sure when I left and where I am now. Yesterday I was able to drive into Warrenton and check out the place. My parents are going to be OK there. Today I just need to get some things for Gram, safety rails for the bathroom...I'm going to try and find Mom a tin rooster...just so she'll feel at home.
I'm starting to lose my energy. Once they arrive, I'll really have to process all this. Yesterday I was driving around on the Beltway realizing that there was no home for me to go back to...when my parents arrive, here is where we will be. I am feeling inundated with choices and information. Sitting in traffic yesterday was really the first time I started to get angry and short-tempered about all this. I'm not sure if I should stop and let all this emotion come through or just keep it moving...
This morning I remembered not to put on the same jeans and t-shirt. The routine, uniform was getting kind of comforting. Monday I'll be able to catch up to the Red Cross and really look around Warrenton.
I was reading some of my internet sites for info. One African American message board has already erupted with backlash. People from Houston complaining about people from New Orleans...critiquing how they are allegedly spending their "FEMA money," griping about their behavior and the whole situation. I'm glad we didn't go there. I think like Baton Rouge, Houston, Dallas, maybe even Atlanta are going to have the first outbreaks of 'compassion fatigue' if not outright breakdown. I'm told there are 23 other families relocated by Katrina in Fauquier County, Virginia but I'm not sure where they're from our what their situation is...I'll tell all when I find out.
I've been putting off this FEMA paperwork, but I guess I need to get back to that.
I think it may be a bit trickier to get back into the swing of things than I imagined...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Leaving Port Allen for VA

So my parents had no luck finding housing to accomodate them and Gram in the Baton Rouge area. Gary's family came through big time, so I'm leaving tomorrow (!) to get some things set up in Virginia. My parents will follow in a few days.
So dont' send mail or anything to us in Port Allen. We won't get it.
When I get a new address, I'll let you know...
I should be back to blogging by next week.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Break from Katrinaland

Today I took a break…My parents went out to look for housing, find secondary support for Gram. I only went out once, stopping at local farmers’ market and finally getting a notebook and pens.
So now FEMA is going to throw some cash our way. I can’t find any info about how or when these debit cards will be distributed. I am also concerned about whether my grandmother will receive one. My mother hasn’t talked to her, as far as I know, about this whole insurance hot potato thing. But we have to get it together and file an appeal. Zero dollars for someone’s house fully submerged by water! Bureaucracy reigns. Foolishness reigns!
I really needed a break today. A mental health break. But I don’t want to lose momentum. So either late tonight or first thing tomorrow I’m going to use my new notebook and pen to start a list of job leads and other tasks that need follow-up. I’ve been trying to keep them in my brain…not the most reliable filing system right now.
She didn’t have a lot of details, but apparently the housing market in Baton Rouge is bleak. They were shown a really unacceptable place that even the agent was embarrassed about. They’re going to get back to it tomorrow. The plan is to work something out with their mortgage company or something.
Some of the kids at the motel are going to school. I wonder what it’s like for them. Others run around all day unattended. I wonder what their parents are thinking. Orleans Parish has announced that school is probably closed until January, another parish—St. Bernard, I think—has thrown in the towel for the entire academic year. There’s a sweet little baby on the first floor who’s been wearing the same t-shirt for three days- “Somebody in Costa Playa Loves Me”—another curly haired toddler trods around in diapers and baby work boots. All he says is “Hi”…he’s very focused on staying upright in those big boots.
There are three guys staying the room next door to us. Every night they split a case of beer in the parking lot under a tree. Today I saw a big fluffy cat in someone’s window, gray with that smooshy, flat face.
So the horror begins again. Soledad O’Brien is reporting on over thirty people found dead in a Chalmette nursing home…some dead in their beds…and about 100, also in Chalmette who died awaiting rescue at the Chalmette Slip.
It’s hard to strike the right balance watching all this coverage. I want to know everything. I want to honor those who have lost their lives by not turning away. But I guess you could drown in sorrow taking this all in…
After 9/11 I felt the same way. Coincidentally, I had left New York City the day before that tragedy. How can I turn away? How can I not?
Now it’s my own hometown. I watch the reporters rowing through neighborhoods and I scan the poles for street signs…
Now FEMA wants to ban photos of dead bodies. When will they stop trying to spin and get to their work? If they were helping people they wouldn’t have time to censor the press. I wish someone would tell them to stop telling people who have lost all their possessions to go ONLINE and file a claim. I wish they would dispatch their representatives to the area and start trying to convince people they have some humanity. Now that would be a PR coup…

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Oprah in Katrinaland

So the motel TV is copperating enough for me to see Oprah Winfrey today. Apparently, she came down to New Orleans this weekend and tape an episode. I love that woman. Of course, I'm a weepy, snotty mess. But I'm glad that her audience will be reminded that this is still going on. I can't believe how tramautized I feel, and I am lucky. I left before the storm started. I watched the rain come with my family through our motel window. And when I dream at night my house is still there. I have not seen or heard or smelled or feared or known what these faces register. But I still cry everyday...
Thanks Oprah. Thank you for talking and seeing and caring and mostly for making your audience look and understand and witness.
On CNN, they are now discussing New Orleans. People are writing in that they should turn the city into a theme park. Keep the French Quarter and let the rest go back to marshland. My childhood under water. My parents and my grandparents hard earned homes paved over...Wow...People don't think about how the words they say might sound. That damn Barbara Bush. The lives these 'underprivileged' people were living had dignity and value. They are not "better off" or "making out much better" because this calamity swept through their days.
I'm not sure how things will ever get back to normal...not ever.

Barbara Bush comes to Katrinaland

So what am I supposed to be shocked? This is the woman who first looked at George W, surveyed her job as a parent and said, "Mission Accomplished!"
I guess poor people everywhere can thank the Bush Admininstration for turning Katrina into the first natural disaster social service program. Next Washington D.C. will find its poor swept into better environs perhaps by monsoon winds.
As long as she kept her mouth shut, I used to enterain the fantasy that Barbara Bush was just as dumbfounded by her sons and husband as I have been. But now she's opened her mouth. That whole family is a bunch of pseudo-patrician, anti-intellectual misanthropes who could care less about anything or anyone that isn't related to their own cliquish, oil-grubbing world. At least W is a lame duck, soon we'll be done with them.
I applied for the unemployment. I have to wait as long as seven days to find out if I'm eligible.
My grandmother got a letter from FEMA today. It says she is eligible for $0. That's right. I called in and was told that anyone with homeowners' insurance is automatically disqualified. This despite the fact the aftermath of the hurricane damage was caused by flooding which is specifically disallowed by homeowners' insurance. Then I was told I was technically making a help call, to call back in a week because they are focusing on taking claims.
OK. So if my grandmother had no savings, she would be in a shelter. Now she's has to fight Uncle Sam to prove something they should already know. Flooding is not covered by homeowner's insurance. Compounding this all, I'm not even sure my grandmother has homeowner's insurance. She says she does, but I don't know. She also says she asked her agent for a flood policy for a year and got nothing...but that's another rant for another time. Now, though she has no paperwork, I'm going to have to harass my grandmother to remember the name fo the company she has homeowner's insurance with...file a claim, get a letter--if she's covered--that says flood damage is disallowed, and file an appeal with FEMA within 60 days. If she runs out of money to keep her motel room before then, I suppose I should bring her to a shelter...
Oh people, if you only knew...

Since my grandmother lives on her and my deceased grandfather's social security benefits, she qualifies as part of Barbara Bush's new upwardly mobile social segment. Yes, indeed. Gram's getting fat off Uncle Sam. She's moved up like George and Weezy. FEMA said no, but I'm sure she'll get those food stamps. And everyone knows what a bonanza Medicare is...discounted prescriptions and all. WTF! I can't believe Barbara Bsh thinks the Astrodome is the threshold to the promised land, I can't believe she thought New Orleans was such a hellhole anyway!

Gosh, I learn so much everyday...

Monday, September 05, 2005


Maybe I'll change the name of my blog for awhile...Anyhow, after apologizing for losing yesterday's post, I see it went up...typos and all. Go figure! I came back to balance it. I don't mean to suggest that everything that is going on is racial. I think a good chunk of the failure to respond has been garden-variety ineptitude. And I also don't mean to paint Baton Rouge with a broad brush...many of the people here have been very nice and this experience has been traumatic for everyone. But like my favorite novel--Invisible Man--I couldn't help but to fill out the opportunities I've had to see how race continues to play out in this situation. That is what I am interested in, so that is what I muse on. I'll probably touch on class, gender and other social issues as well as occasionally having personal moments (pity parties, I got a right!) I'll get to put all that theory into praxis again. and I will write my posts before I log on...I'm seeing other people are finding my blog, please bear with the fact that I also use this site to communicate with my friends. If you would please consider the quasi-personal nature of what I may be posting here I would appreciate it. Translation...don't scare me by sending weird letters to me or my parents in my post office box, we've been through enough.


First, off blogging and stress don't mix. I wrote a long-ass post yesterday talking about race and response, updating all on my social service experiences...Then pushed the wrong button and lost the whole damn post. So this is the deal, I looked at the comments some people posted. I'm totally on the people side right now. I hope they are calling the agencies and organization that formed to offer long term support to 9-11 survivors. Things are going to be on that order. Health-care for first and continuing responders, psychological support, relocation and job training efforts, etc. Did I already post that FEMA is nowhere in this area? At least that's what I was told Saturday at the Red Cross Center. I can't get a person on the phone at their toll-free number. I have no idea what's going on or what I'm supposed to do. We all are just following each other like sheep from one social service agency to another. "I heard such-and-such" "Really! I'll go over and check it out." So tomorrow I'm going to file for unemployment, I'm sure I'm ineligible...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Katrina thoughts

So I promised more travails in the aftermath of Katrina. Being African-American--like American Express-sometimes has its benefits. After reading a fellow alum's BS post about how 'we' had no use for Kanye West's comments--which I saw after the fact on CNN--I feel compelled to address this recalcitrant notion that race is not playing a role in this unfolding crisis.
OK- so today, I ventured out of the house again. Though I fully expect to be denied, today I went to apply for emergency unemployment benefits. Before I got there, I stopped at the local Red Cross shelter. The volunteer there very sheepischly but very clearly told me that FEMA is NOT in the area. And by area, she meant Baton Rouge. I have a car and she was give me directions to different state social service offices that are open 24 hours a day this week (That's right, 24/7) to handle the needs of incoming displaced evacuees. The food stamp office-- where I refused to queue yesterday-- is open 24 hours until the 7th. Likewise there is a state Job Center office across the bridge in Baton Rouge that will be open 24 hours a day processing unemployment insurance claims. So again I say, lay off poor Kathleen Blanco. These Feds have been conning her all week, but she is doing all she can to make sure the state offers assistance.
So back to the racial stuff. I was in line behind a young white man. His family is homeless and displaced from Gulfport. He told me about '"the so-called Christians" (his words) at the church next to the office who all during their food giveaway referred to the mostly black people there as 'refugees.' He sad he walked away in disgust and gave their food back after he lectured them. He told them that until last Saturday he was hard at work and that everyone there white or black had the right to be treated with respect. Some of the younger, black adults in the line were talking loudly about being refugees taking up the some do the "n"-word. He was clearly pained about it...
So my brush...Last night around 11PM, I am standing outside trying to get my cell phone to work. A fruitless, thankless ritual. A sheriff's deputy appears and tells me I have to 'go inside' because there is a 'curfew.' I startle him by questioning, "Since when?" His reply, "Just go inside!" My reply, "Sir"--because when confronted by law enforcement, the first rule of being stopped while black is to be very polite, even if ironically so--"Sir, I'm an adult, I do not have a curfew." He says, " Ma'am" --because the second rule of being stopped by being black is that law enforcement will be very polite to you even as they suggest the most outrageous abridgements of your rights--"Ma'am, I'm just trying to keep things safe. There's an 11 o'clock curfew. You need to go inside." I reply, "I am standing outside my own room trying to use my own cell phone. I am not going inside."
So he walks away. And sure enough fat, hot, little tears start rolling down my face. I am furious. And soon my nose is running and I am having a good, ugly cry. I have spent this past week being very philosophical about the fact that all my belongings are gone, that my parents house may be gone, that my grandmother's house may be gone, that my damn hometown may be gone. And now, I am being told to go on lockdown. All week in the local paper, evacuees have been referred to as "New Orleans thugs." I've felt the tension in the air as locals find their town swelling with lost, stressed out black people. Some disheveled, some destitute...
I decided that I was not going to be treated like an inmate. Especially since I am paying to be here! I marched over to the front desk. Of course, the damn deputy was there. So I begin to address my comments to the desk clerk. He, of course, chimes in. I want to say I am talking ABOUT you, not TO you. But I restrain myself. The deputy and I end up having a tense exchange. He tells me I have no grounds to be offended--because apparently he also a member of the emotion police!--and insinuates that if I don't like it, you guessed it! Well, I am fuming. I ask him if, in fact, he is suggesting that because I refuse to submit to his 'curfew'--did I forget to mention that on my way to the front office I walked past 5! white guests who apparently were free to come and go as they pleased--that if I would not be confined to my room that I should leave. He concedes that is what he means. I asked him when did I agree to a curfew, I didn't see one when I paid. That I was a GUEST, a paying guest...not an inmate. This cracker---sorry, gotta tell the truth---asks me how was he supposed to know who I was. I asked him as a law enforcement officer whether he was trained to discern between suspicious people and suspicious activity. Then I turned on my heel and told the front desk clerk that I hoped this was not going to become an unpleasant place to stay and I hoped it was possible for guests to be safe and comfortable.
So, those who wish to believe that race is irrelevant can dismiss mine as an isolated anecdote...that's how it usually works. And those who are open to the possibility that there is something awry with all this can draw withever conclusion they wish as well.
Tomorrow I'll remember to type my post before I log on--smile.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina Thoughts

OK-- This post will be brief. First, thanks for the phone calls. Apparently, the nice people at Sprint are not so ready to handle this mess. My cell phone has been useless for the past two days. It actually got worse a day or two after the storm. I haven't been able to retrieve my voicemail since Wednesday. But some of you managed to reach me at the motel. Which leads to the second thing, Tonya sagely suggested we get a post office box. We have. The address is P.O. Box 987, Port Allen, LA, 70767. Great idea. ........OK. So everybody is fighting about why the response has been so underwhelming and whether race and/or class plays a part. I do think there is a lot that needs be investigated about this 'response effort.' Somes of the comments have been particularly cruel, suggesting that people who didn't evacuate somehow deserve their fate. I will take some time and write more about that later. What I don't understand is why efforts are not being taken to control the flooding at the Tennessee Street breach in the levee system. The 17th Street breach they keep mentioning on the news and taking such care with, empties into a part of town that is largely populated by whites and is full of commercial interests. The Tennessee Street breach is the one that as most likely devasted my grandmother's neighborhood and perhaps added to flooding in the suburb where I live New Orleans East. The lower ninth ward is predominantly poor and lower working class African Americans and it gives way to a suburb--Chalmette-- of poor and lower working class whites. I had just finished reading Rising Tide by John Barry about the 1927 Mississippi River flood. Apparently that part of town has been sacrificed before. As for New Orleans East, I have long complained of the consumer racism in the city. Our suburb is shockingly underdeveloped. A shopping mall has wanted for tenants and capable developers for nearly a decade. Despite the presence of a stable middle-class population, commercial interests have not seen fit to attend to our area in the way they have Metairie, Jefferson, Kenner and the western end of the municipality. But I'm sure there are sound engineering reasons why the 17th Street breach is being attended to and not the other...Perhaps someone will tell me what they are. Next time I will tell you all about the life of a Katrina victim...I've registered with FEMA and for food stamps. Next week, I'll file for unemployment and who knows what else...This is definitely a new ball game.