Krewe:Ray in New Orleans, Tom, June, me, Mr. A, Sinfonian, Cynthia, Mike Danablog, Cheri and Harry (archeop).Spork_incident took the picture. This is the picture while we’re all still clean and shiny.
Today we hooked up with ACORN in NOLA for the gutting portion of the trip. One of the things local people have been telling us since we got here is that any renovation, any recovery work, is really being done piecemeal by individuals lucky enough to have gotten insurance or other funding, or who had enough money to just go ahead and rebuild. ACORN, the organizers said, had gutted about 2,000 homes. The city has done 400.
One of the things that continues to shock me is just how silent the streets are. I compared it to the day after a blizzard in Chicago, when the plows haven’t yet gotten to you and all the neighbors are helping each other dig out with skillets and cookie sheets and whatever else if they don’t have a shovel. And this, though, isn’t two days after the storm but two years. There’s no one; people are on their own.
Inside the house it was dusty and dark; our goggles fogged up and we were drenched in seconds, but it was satisfying, in a situation in which you feel there’s so little you can do, to slam a crowbar into some drywall. And that’s for the convention center, and that’s for fucking Geraldo having smarts our government didn’t have and that’s for every right-wing nutball who said people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and that’s for everybody who ever told me America was a Christian nation.That’s for Gentilly and that’s for St. Bernard and that’s for New Orleans and that’s for my country, you fucking fucks, as Ashley would say.
We were joined on our gutting trip by 15 students from Elon University, who were from a policy class and were in town interviewing people. They’d come up the Gulf Coast and were in Mississippi the previous day, and were heading home on Sunday. So it was us, the First Draft Krewe, and a bunch of college kids playing football with the water bottles when they weren’t working harder than six people each.
And we were joined by an incredible gentleman named Victor Vavasseur, who had lived next door and moved back two weeks before, into a FEMA trailer and part of his house, and told us the people that had lived in our home were all dead, except one daughter in a mental hospital and another now living in Houston. Mr. Vavasseur was 76 years old, he said, and had a Scottish Terrier named Whoopi Goldberg, and when he saw us all on his lawn he came out and told us how he and his wife Germaine evacuated intending to come back in a week, and were gone two years.
FEMA had told him his home was worth $50,000, and offered him that for the $290,000 he needs in repairs. Houses in his neighborhood, he said, were going for more than $100,000 before the storm. He knew the people next door, whose house we were working on, and told us their story. Then he ran his hose out into the front yard so we could wash up, bought us all chicken wings (like a protein rush to the cortex after all the work we’d been doing) and brought his wife and dog out to meet us. He had pictures of snow, he said, from when he was living in Chicago after the evacuation.
We swept and pulled nails out, and scared up cockroaches and termites (thank you to the young man whose name I did not get before he kindly killed one that was terrorizing me) and Harry and Cheri were heroic with the wheelbarrows, hauling load after load of debris. The yard was overgrown, and down the street a rose garden had become a rose forest, huge bushes climbing up the side of an abandoned house, pink and yellow and scarlet, riotous life amongst all the evidence of death.
That’s for everybody who has story fatigue, who no longer gives a damn, who can’t be bothered, who throws up his or her hands and says it’s just too hard, let’s go back to napping in front of the cable shows.That’s for all of it, for the way we failed each other. But that’s also for the Krewe pictured above, who could have taken a beach weekend instead of a bug-scaring excursion.That’s for everybody who donated money so we could rent a car and take pictures, that’s for Spocko who sent filter masks for us to wear and for dan mcenroe who sent respirators, and that’s for everybody who lives here and continues to live here, continues to read, continues to care.That’s for everything that’s right amid so much (so much we’ll be talking about it nonstop in the coming days) so very much that’s wrong.
That’s for all of us.
Not. One. Inch.