I find it so bizarre that, after living in a City that has demonstrated its generosity to me for five long years now, I am strangely un-generous toward those who I feel are trying to steal it away from me. The way a cheap whore steals your boyfriend with a made-up sob story.
Let me explain.
I recently saw a post from a girl on my boyfriend's facebook wall wishing him a happy birthday, and calling him a "sweet boy." Naturally, this was annoying for a multitude of reasons that I won't go into. But it piqued my curiosity. Just who did this girl think she was? And so, with investigative skills that have been honed by my own extensive work with some PIs and a true gift for google stalking, I uncovered her blog. I will not link to it here, first because I'm about to say some truly vicious things, but second, I'm not as confrontational as I'd like to be. I'm working on that. (See "Aggression," infra.
Putting aside the fact that her blog was completely self-involved and pretentious - something almost every blogwriter in existence is guilty of - it wasn't even entertaining. And poorly written. Oh so poorly written. A colleague and I spent a little while today perusing the particular entry I am going to post about with the air of disdain that only people who have to write well for a living and are quite used to criticizing others' prose can do. It was a catharsis really. I feel slightly better about a few things now.
What made my water boil over is this girl was what I call "A K-stealer": translation, "someone who never experienced Katrina personally, but knew some people who did, and got teary-eyed when they watched the news. And has an arbitrary tattoo of New Orleans on her back."
Don't get me wrong. The outpouring of the nation's sympathy for New Orleans was overwhelmingly beautiful. The strange experience of living in a dead city with armored trucks and rotting refrigerators for months after returning will always be surreal. And of course, the nightmare of getting the hell out of town, which is a story for another time. But even giving this girl every benefit of the doubt, her attempt to convert New Orleans' tragedies into her own farcical Greek drama truly upset me. And while it is perhaps unfair to feel so possessive of my own newfound identity of a New Orleanian, I feel I've earned it.
I was going to go through her comments and analyze just why I feel like hording this part of the Mississippi away from her tattooed clutches, but I am far too tired. I wil thus, simply copy and paste and embolden the particular phrases that sparked my ire, and let my readers - particularly those of you who are brave and beautiful enough to make this place your home - judge for yourselves.
Title: Oh, My Nola
First of all, thank you to Harry Connick, Jr for making an album by this title and full of wonderful music from the city we share a love for, thereby introducing a phrase that remains in my vocabulary and permanently upon my back.
A few days ago I shared this post online: “5 years ago my heart was broken. Oh, my Nola, how it still hurts to recall the losses and to see your struggles but I share in the joy of your positive strides. You are my forever love.”
And so, as it is the 5th anniversary the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, I needed to reflect on my home, on my love.
Few instances in life truly write themselves upon one’s heart in indelible ink. 9/11 is one of those instances, as I remember each detail as though it were yesterday. The approach and arrival of Hurricane Katrina is another. With both I was not at the scene of the devastation but I recall watching with my heart tightened by a vice, short of breath, fear and sadness crashing over me just as the waves of Lake Ponchartrain crashed against those levees, whipped to a frenzy by wind and rain. Unlike the levees, I did not break, though if worse had happened to those I love, I may have.
I will begin this tale by being upfront: my family suffered material losses but no loss of life. However, we are as tied to the land of this crescent along the Mississippi River as any family could be. Having arrived as part of the Acadian Diaspora, my family rooted itself in and around the colony of New Orleans sometime around 1755 and the majority have stayed there. They survived Hurricane Camille and every other catastrophe that faced the city but this was something new for the current generation.
I recall laying on my couch the evening of August 28, 2005, watching The Weather Channel, clutching a pillow to my chest and crying. We knew. At that point, we knew. My mother, sister, and I lived in Fort Walton Beach and we had been in touch with the family to advise them to come to us for safety and shelter from the storm. Most stayed but thankfully my favorite cousin (the one closest to me in age and who has been closest to me all my life) brought her three children with her to Florida. After a fitful night of sleep, I arose the morning of August 29th and went to my mother’s house. My cousin and her children were there and we did our best as adults to entertain the children and keep their minds off the fact that their daddy had stayed at their home in Bellechase (on the West Bank). We cried as we watched the video footage but we couldn’t tear our eyes away. Occassionally someone who had stayed in the city and around the area would get a call to us, letting us know they were okay but the phone lines/ cell towers were both overridden with people attempting to contact their loved ones and out of service due to the storm.
I remember watching the people around the Convention Center, outside the Super Dome, and prisoners sitting upon the Bridge of Greater New Orleans (we call it the GNO). I recall footage from Biloxi, Gulfport, and Louisiana of brave (read: foolish) people who recorded their efforts as the waters rose and the winds increased. And then came the aftermath.
[WAY TOO LONG EXCERPT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WERE NOT EVEN IMMEDIATE FAMILY'S PROPERTY DAMAGE AND HOW BAD INSURANCE COMPANIES CAN SUCK. OH YEAH, WE KNOW]
After the storm, my little town expected a large influx of people from New Orleans, those the media were calling “refugees.” While this term appears pejorative to some, I think it is appropriate since refugees are those seeking refuge, and that’s precisely what New Orleanians were at that time. I was dismayed to hear those I called my friends disparaging this influx, fearful of what “those people” would do to our small town. Shame on you. Shame on anyone who would turn away those who lost all and were in need of shelter and food through no fault of their own. As many of us in Nashville know, many people from New Orleans left the city and settled here in Music City. Music City took them in and gave them a new home, much to its benefit.
The rest of my family had stayed through the storm and they are fine. A little structural damage to homes but nothing that wasn’t taken care of quickly. We were lucky. So many lives were lost, so many still have no money to fix their homes, much less replace their material goods. This year my new home, my Nashville, suffered historical flooding and it was a completely different experience. The loss of life was comparatively marginal and our waters receded much faster. Within hours volunteers were sandbagging and assisting with saving homes and property, as well as demolishing the interiors of homes to prevent the mold accumulation that is plaguing New Orleans. Whereas New Orleans was shut off from much of the outside world due to the extent of the flooding, Nashville was open to assistance. Whereas New Orleans’ criminal element came out of the woodworks to loot and commit violence, Nashvilliains banded together, neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping each other, everyone donating time, money, and goods to the cause. BUT Nashville still had power, still had water, still had grocery stores and food banks to turn to. New Orleans had none of that. When I returned to the city that December (the soonest I could possibly return), I cried as I drove through Slidell and Chalmette where all was dark. No restaurants, no power, no stores. Those people in the aftermath of Katrina were desperate. There is no excuse for looting televisions and electronics. Do not mistake what I am saying. Yes, there was crime and there was corruption, there was evidence of the worst of humanity, but there was also hope, there was kindness, there was generosity.
[ALL ABOUT GEORGE BUSH BEING A MORON AND CELEBRITY AID BEING AWESOME AND A SEGUE INTO THE OIL SPILL THAT IS COMPARATIVELY SHORT BUT STILL NOT WORTH BORING YOU WITH]
All that said, New Orleans remains the city closest to my heart. I love my home in Fort Walton Beach and I am certainly in love with Nashville but New Orleans is stitched into the fabric of my soul. While I dream of someday owning a home there, I believe the city needs another 5 years to recover. The criminal element of the city has surged, both due to some efforts at gentrification and due to the opportunistic nature of those disposed towards violence and taking from others what was hard won and earned through hard work. It is my own tendency towards self-preservation that will prevent me from living in New Orleans for at least the next 5 years, since a woman alone amongst an unsavory element is never a good combination. The change is palpable though. In areas where the neutral ground was once manicured and green there is now unkempt grass and weeds and plenty of litter, as you watch groups of young people with pants hanging around their knees gathering and meandering. You can sense that there is no safety on these streets anymore. Do not deny those instincts if you want to avoid being mugged, attacked, or murdered. I don’t. Also, relatives of mine who have lived in the city all their lives have been attacked this year though they had never been previously.
But is the city alive and thriving? Yes. We are still New Orleans. We are still a culture that celebrates all the small victories of this life.
Dear drama queen,
You apparently have two homes already. Go exploit their tragedies to sound profound. WE, the people who either live here, or who did through the worst of circumstances, are New Orleans. YOU are not invited.
The criminal element that is thankfully sparing us your presence for at least another 5 years.