Merry Christmas

Today was a pretty good day, other than the fact that I’m missing my extended family and wishing they were here. It is E’s first Christmas after all, so we made the best of it. K’s entire family came over, and we started off with mimosas and brunch, followed by a few presents, wine, and a really nice dinner that K and I spent most of Christmas Eve cooking. A good time to be thankful for what we still have and hope for a happier 2006.


We're Having Mardi Gras

Chris Rose sums it up perfectly:

We're having Mardi Gras, and that's final:

"Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge.

Mardi Gras is...returning to the same street corner, year after year, and standing next to the same people, year after year -- people whose names you may or may not even know but you've watched their kids grow up in this public tableau and when they're not there, you wonder: Where are those guys this year?

It is dressing your dog in a stupid costume and cheering when the marching bands go crazy and clapping and saluting the military bands when they crisply snap to.

Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods and our joy of living. All at once.

And it doesn't really matter if there are superparades or even any parades at all this year. Because some group of horn players will grab their instruments and they will march Down the Avenue because that's what they do, and I, for one, will follow.

If there are no parades, I'm hitching a boombox to a wagon, putting James Booker on the CD player and pulling my kids Down the Avenue and you're welcome to come along with me and where more than two tribes gather, there is a parade.

We are the parade. We are Mardi Gras."



Still haven't had the heart to go into our totaled house, although I need to go over there soon and see if there's anything left that's salvageable. Sooner or later, we're going to have to drag everything out of it and begin gutting it. Not looking forward to that process.



E is doing well. She's back in her pre-Katrina daycare and seems happy every day when I pick her up, which is a big relief, as they have an all-new staff. (All of the former staff lost their homes and haven't made it back yet.) They can only staff the place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. right now, which makes my work schedule interesting.

She's getting very active--has become a pro at pulling herself up on things. We went and had her picture taken with Santa last week—guess that will be our only traditional pre-Christmas activity, as we've looked everywhere for a Christmas tree and haven't been able to find one. Maybe we can decorate one of the cats or something.


Back to Work

Work is surprisingly normal--our building sustained very little damage, other than flooding on the first floor. When you walk into the elevator lobby, you can see where the paint was eaten off of the elevator doors by the flooding. Makes me feel kind of insecure about taking a ride, but there's not much of a choice in the matter, as I'm on the 18th floor. And of course, out of nine elevators in the building, only one is working, so it takes a ridiculously long time to get anywhere in the building with several hundred people all trying to use that one elevator.

No restaurants are open anywhere within walking distance, so we all bring our lunches. No vending machines, so I bring my Coke-fix from home.


Home Again

We’re back in New Orleans and settling into life here again. Things feel somewhat normal and completely abnormal at the same time. Can you say PTSD?

It was pretty eerie when we first got into town, driving through New Orleans East and seeing mile after mile of deserted, lifeless neighborhoods. I cried and cried when we first got here, just overwhelmed and heartbroken by the sheer amount of loss and suffering of so many people. As I'd been told, life in the Uptown/CBD/French Quarter area feels pretty normal--lots of people going about their everyday lives. The area isn't completely unscathed--lots of blue roofs, lots of fallen limbs and lots of debris in the streets. And pick-up of said debris is sporadic, at best. Still, pretty good, considering.

Drive about one mile north of our area into the flood zone, though, and it's a completely different story. It's hard to wrap your mind around 80 percent of the city being damaged by flooding until you're here and can actually see it. The flood area begins right around our former apartment on Baronne Street (before our brief experiment in home ownership), so neighborhoods that I'm well accustomed to driving/walking through every day are in pretty bad shape. Trash everywhere, abandoned cars on the streets and in the neutral grounds, spray paint markings on every building, trees lying on the tops of roofs, blocks that burned down during gas fires, etc. And everything is brown---brown grass, brown muddy streets, brown water marks on the houses.

Some businesses are open, but there are many more that are just big, dark gaping shells. It's depressing and fascinating at the same time, to see the damage done by the flood.

There are so many inconveniences as far as daily life is concerned. Grocery stores close at 7:00 p.m., drug stores and gas stations are few and far between. Fast food restaurants are non-existent, as they can't afford to staff them--not that it's any great loss not to be able to eat fast food, just another weird circumstance when you're accustomed to living in a city that used to operate 24/7. Most traffic lights are still out, so just about every intersection is a four-way stop.

I think one of my least favorite daily activities would have to be walking past restaurants/grocery stores that are in the process of cleaning up after the flooding--I have to walk by one on my way to work every morning that has a gigantic mound of rotting food and other trash blocking the sidewalk. God only knows when it will be picked up. Welcome to life in New Orleans.


Santa Who?

Who is this strange bearded man, why is he holding me, and for the love of God, why are we wearing matching outfits?


Dude, Where's My Car?

Geico called me today and wanted to know if I had any idea of where my car is. I thought that was pretty funny, as if they thought I might have driven over to Bay St. Louis, picked up the car and driven it home. I reported it totaled due to storm surge a week after the hurricane and gave them the exact location. And now they’re calling me more than two months later wanting to know where it is? I’m sure it’s long since been towed off by someone and could quite possibly be coming to a used car dealership near you. I guess I should be thankful for small blessings, like the fact that my car isn't insured through Allstate....


Allstate Really Sucks

I snapped tonight on the phone with Allstate. I was talking to a representative, explaining our situation for approximately the 300th time. Our house flooded during Hurricane Katrina, we are unable to live in it. We reported the claim on August 30th. We’ve been assigned to three different adjusters, each of whom eventually tells us that he’s not responsible for our case. Our home has yet to be inspected. The 90-day moratorium will end in another 30 days. And on, and on, and on.

And she, of course, told me that she couldn’t help me and would have to take down my information and have someone call me back. Then she asked me for my home phone number. And I completely lost it, I'm afraid. I may have ended up screaming, “We no longer have a home--that's what I've been trying to tell you for the past hour.” She was nonplussed, but it made me feel better. Maybe now they’ll assign us a fourth adjuster.


Halloween Dress Rehearsal

When looking for ways to entertain yourself during the next evacuation from New Orleans, I highly recommend trying out various hats and wigs on your six-month-old daughter to find that perfect "my first Halloween" look.


Allstate Sucks

I am exhausted. And I hate insurance adjustors. Our days are spent calling Allstate, trying to get an answer on when, exactly, our house will be inspected. The stress of not knowing whether our house will officially be declared totaled is getting to me. I keep worrying about what we’re going to do when the 90-day moratorium on mortgage payments ends and we have to start making payments again on a house that we can’t live in. So far, we've been referred to three different adjusters.


Looted and Traveling Light

K just got back from another trip to New Orleans, bringing with him a few salvaged post-Katrina possessions. It’s strange to have almost everything you own fit into two Rubbermaid storage containers. We would have had more, but someone decided to break into our utility room and help themselves to our power tools, etc. It’s bad enough to lose virtually everything without someone helping themselves to the little that’s left.



What is there to say, really? The past few weeks have passed in a haze. We’re living in a house in Decatur that some friends of my sister were nice enough to “loan” to us. It’s an old 1970’s split level—pretty much the spitting image of the Brady Bunch house—that’s on the market as a tear-down. So now we’re living in it either until it sells and they start demolishing it or we figure out what in the hell we’re doing. Kenny wants to go back to New Orleans. The longer I spend in Atlanta, the more I dread the thought of going home.

I love that city, but this is so hard. How can we go back there and start over when almost everything is gone? I don’t want to go back, but I don’t want to stay here either. It feels like I don't belong anywhere right now.



I found a list on the internet tonight of people listed as missing since Katrina. My old friend Curtis is listed as missing from Bay St. Louis. I’ve tried searching for his name on a dozen other sites, hoping to find him among the found, but he’s not there. I tried calling his parents’ and sister's houses, but of course all of the phones are out. I hope like hell that he’s okay.



Kenny showed me the pictures that he took of our house tonight. It was surreal.

Our couch is now laying sort of tilted up in the air, with part of one side resting on top of a lamp and an end table sitting on top of the other side of it.

Our refrigerator is crashed over in the middle of the kitchen—which should make getting it out of the house, full of the rotting food in it, especially fun. (Note to self--do NOT stock the freezer with chicken, steaks, ground beef, etc. during the height of hurricane season.) And yet the utility cart that was sitting next to the refrigerator is still standing upright—it even still has a watermelon sitting on top of it, although the watermelon is quite, um, fuzzy.

When Kenny showed me a picture of the bathtub, I didn’t know what it was until he told me. I've never seen anything quite like that before--or anything quite like the stuff that was in it. I shudder to think what, exactly, that stuff might be.

The pictures of the closet were interesting—my black leather jacket is now furry and a lovely, seafoam green color. All of Kenny's baseball caps had mold growing down from them in a straight line, like stalactites.

The official water line was just to the top of Emmeline’s crib mattress, which made me sad.

And the walls? I don't even know how to describe what they look like. Just ugly black mold growing everywhere, covering almost every inch.


It's Official

It’s official--at least in our minds. Our house is totaled. Whether Allstate will agree remains to be seen. Kenny finally got into it, and we had about 3 1/2 feet of water. He talked to one of our neighbors, who had been there the entire time in his second-floor apartment. The guy said that the water started rising in our neighborhood on the Tuesday night after the hurricane and that it stayed there for 12 days. And Kenny’s guess about the sewage was right, too—not only did we have floodwaters from the 17th Street Canal but also raw sewage that backed up from the pumping stations in Jefferson Parish. There’s not much in our house that’s salvageable, that’s for sure.


Red Cross

Went to the Red Cross today to apply for assistance. Our relief worker's name? Katrina. Of course. She was very apologetic when she introduced herself--I'm sure she's gotten some interesting reactions.


Pictures from NOLA

I got on the nola.com site tonight to look for pictures of what the flooding has done to the city, and I found a slide show. Good God. It included one of a black Lab impaled on an iron fence. I guess when the floodwaters were rising, he tried to swim over the fence and got stuck on one of the posts. As the waters receded, he was impaled further and further onto the post and hung there until he died. I really wish I hadn’t seen that picture--now I can't get it out of my head.


A Report from Home

Kenny called on the walkie-talkie--he made it into New Orleans. He told the cops that stopped him at a checkpoint that he’d come into town to check on the restaurant. Still no concrete news on our house, but it doesn’t look good. Kenny and his dad got to our street, but it was flooded and they couldn't drive any further than about a block down from the highway before the water was up past the tires on the Explorer and they had to turn around. He said it’s bad—that he could tell that the further down the street, the higher the water. Our house is in the last block. He also said that the smell of the water, which obviously included a lot of raw sewage, was so overwhelming and god-awful that both he and his dad leaned out of the car and threw up. Goodbye, house.


Fingers Crossed

Kenny left today to head into New Orleans to try and find out the status of our house. I debated about going with him, but I just don't have the heart to do it right now; and I can't really see leaving Emmeline here with Kendra and Jeff while I go--I know she'd be fine, but she has enough confusion in her life right now without having to wonder where we are. Part of me wants to believe our house just might be okay, but I really don’t think it is. When you see a guy on the national news cruising down the street in a boat a few blocks from where your house is located, that's usually not a good sign.


Hindsight is 20/20 (and nine feet short of the surge)

I called Geico to tell them that my car went under a 37-foot storm surge. In hindsight, it was stupid to leave it in Bay St. Louis—but I left it in the highest point there, which was 28 feet above sea level, in an area that didn’t flood during Camille. Who could have known that Cat 3 Katrina would have a storm surge that dwarfed Camille’s? The surge only made it to the railroad tracks during Camille, a Category 5 hurricane. Katrina's surge made it about five times farther inland.


The National Guard

I sat in my sister's living room and cried today, as the news showed the National Guard finally arriving in New Orleans. Why it took them six days to get there is anyone's guess--but thank God they're finally there so at least the suffering in that city can begin to ease. How can our country leave people to just fend for themselves for this long, with no food and water? We know there are ways into (and therefore out of) the city--but yet they've left people there to die like dogs. George W. Bush, you are an asshole and an idiot for making the people of New Orleans wait this long.


We just heard from my stepfather. Pretty much everything in their house is ruined--they got water up to about three feet on the second floor. Considering that the house is raised off of the ground 15 feet, and water still got into the 2nd floor, that means they had about 35 feet of water in their area. The storm surge went all the way to I-10, which is about six or seven miles inland. Truly amazing to think about.

As far as our house in New Orleans is concerned, still no news other than what we can get off of the internet and television.

Kenny and I are still uncertain as to our long-range plans. I've heard that it could be weeks, if not months, before they can drain all of the water out of the city, just as was predicted in the doomsday scenario before all of this happened. We're debating about whether Kenny should go back in at some point, just to see if any of our sentimental stuff is left.

We all just sit around, dazed, watching the television to catch glimpses of what used to be our home and now looks like some other country. I'm just so thankful that we all got out safely, and my heart aches for the people that are still stuck there with no way out. Needless to say, we're all having our ups and downs each day. I know things are pretty bad right now, but I also know that we'll get through this. And God, how lucky we are that we're all still alive and have a roof over our heads, rather than being trapped in what looks like hell on earth right now.


Some Good News

Kenny is back in Atlanta, with his mom, stepfather and grandmother. They got back here late last night. Kenny drove through the night to get there--it took him about 16 hours to drive what normally takes about six, but I'm still surprised that he made it that quickly--we figured it would be a while before he made it back.

The fact that he made it there so relatively easy is incredibly frustrating to me, considering that there’s still no help coming into the area from the government. No food, no water, no nothing.

Kenny drove up to his aunt's house, where his family was staying, and all that was left were three walls--his mother was asleep in a chair next to where the fourth wall used to be. He said that his aunt's boyfriend was obviously in shock--he was in the yard, picking tiny pieces of insulation out of the grass, even though his house was pretty much destroyed.

Anyway, they're all safe and back here in Atlanta. Kenny has an uncle that lives in Memphis, so he's coming to get all of them tomorrow and take them back with him, as we don’t have room for more people and another dog in my sister’s house. Virginia, Kenny's grandmother, is in shock as well, as one of her dogs died in her arms earlier today. He was an older dog and just couldn't take all of the stress, I guess.

Kenny is still reeling from what he saw down there. He said that it's many times worse than what you see on television. His sister's house is in splinters and is now located on someone else's property, and his grandmother's house is completely gone, nothing left but the slab. His mother's apartment is still standing, but there's no roof and everything in it is destroyed--he said it looked like someone had run everything in the apartment through a blender with a truckload of mud and then poured it back in through the top of the building.

Mom and Nicks's house is still standing--Kenny wasn't able to get close enough to tell if the house is still structurally sound, as he said that the mud in the street was knee-deep and, of course, there's debris everywhere. Nick left for Bay St. Louis earlier today to try to get to the house and find out if there's anything left to salvage.

Kenny had taken extra water and gas with him to Bay St. Louis. After seeing the desperate need there for the most basic supplies, he gave away everything he had. He saw an elderly man walking along the road, headed for Highway 90 in search of water, so he gave him all of his bottled water. He donated his extra gas to the Waveland Fire Department; one of the firemen cried when he did. What in God's name are we all going to do now?


The Gulf Coast

We can't get any news at all other than the little we see on the national news. There is frightening lack of communication coming out of the Gulf Coast. Kenny's mom, stepfather and grandmother decided to ride out the storm about 10 miles north of Bay St. Louis. No one has heard from them since Sunday, before the storm hit, so we're worried. Hopefully, they're fine and just can't contact us, as Bay St. Louis appears to be cut off from the entire world right now.

Kenny is frantic and left this afternoon to drive down there--he's going to get as close to the area as he can and then, if need be, bike/walk the rest of the way in. Quite possibly a futile effort, but he couldn't stand just sitting and doing nothing, and I can't really blame him. I would probably do the same thing if my family was still down there. We loaded up his car with five-gallon containers of gas, several cases of bottled water and a gun, and then he took off.

We're pretty sure that my parents' house has been severely damaged, if not completely obliterated--the only news we've seen coming out of Mississippi is of houses reduced to shards.

News doesn't seem to be much better in New Orleans. We have no specific news about our neighborhood in general, but I've seen news reports of flooding in areas very close to our home. Very bizarre to watch a reporter cruising around in a boat on a street you drive down regularly. Things don’t look good. It's true when they say New Orleans is a big bowl--our house is at about two feet above sea level, and that's considered relatively high. Once the water gets into the city, it’s pretty difficult to get it out--the levees that were supposed to hold the water out are now holding it in, and the pumps that normally get the water out are submerged.

We're trying to take this all day by day--it's too overwhelming to do anything else.


New Orleans

The situation in New Orleans started out okay. Newscasters were discussing all day how the city had “dodged a bullet,” and I felt both relieved and guilty. My home was spared, our families’ homes were not. But as the day goes by, it looks like things in New Orleans are bad as well. The levees breached. No one knows how much damage there is yet. We might have lost our house after all.

Jeane Meserve was just on CNN. We’ve been watching her, along with every other national reporter, give reports from New Orleans for several days now. In this report, her voice was wavering as she talking about how catastrophic the situation has become. She was in a boat in New Orleans East, in the dark. She said she could hear people begging for help from their rooftops, and she said she’d seen dogs in the flood waters, entangled in fallen power lines and being electrocuted. She sounded awful, and it was obvious by listening to her voice that the things she was seeing were incredibly disturbing to her. After the past few days of constant fear and stress, I finally lost it. Completely lost it. Went out on the porch and cried and cried and cried. I haven’t cried like that since Charles died. What do we do now?



We’ve done nothing but sit around staring at the television all day. We’re all in shock, I think. It looks like the worst has happened. The eye of the storm went in over Bay St. Louis and Waveland. Things have got to be bad there.

Today would have been Charles’ 27th birthday.



Mom, Emmeline, and I are in Atlanta. We left this morning, scared to death we’d end up in an hours-long traffic jam of evacuees. We seem to have beaten the mad rush out of town, though. Kenny promises he’ll come tomorrow if things continue to look bad. And things are continuing to look bad. I can’t believe this is happening. As of yesterday morning, Katrina was a Category 1 storm that was supposed to loop around and head back into Florida. And then I turned on the news late last night to discover that Katrina had become a Category 5 storm and was heading for us.

It’s not supposed to happen this quickly. We usually have a few days to watch the storm as it spins around in the Gulf, waiting to see which area it will set its sights on. This one came out of nowhere. I didn't even pack up all of the sentimental stuff I usually take with me. I just grabbed a suitcase, threw a few clothes in it for me and E, and took off to Bay St. Louis to travel on from there with Mom. I left our house this morning and wondered, as you always do in these situations, will I be coming back?

Evacuating for a hurricane is surreal. It’s kind of like trying to face the incontrovertible fact of your own death. You know rationally that everyone dies, but there’s always a part of you that’s surprised to know that it really will happen to you. When you leave, you know there’s a chance that everything you own will be destroyed, but you don’t really believe it. You take two or three days worth of clothes, as you feel certain you’ll be back in that amount of time, and then go on with life as normal. Maybe this will still turn out that way. But I have a feeling, as I sit here looking at that monster on television, that this time is going to be different.