Thursday, June 8th, 2006
The whole world was watching when we re-elected “Our Mayor Ray Nagin,” and I’m glad the old swashbuckler won. Me, I voted for Mitch Landrieu, but that’s a mere technicality. I was coin toss undecided until the moment I pressed the button, torn between two candidates I actually wanted to win — a first for me in the voting booth, where I usually hold my nose and go for the lesser of two evils. Having two good guys to choose from is a luxury anywhere and unheard of in a state where now-jailed former governor Edwin Edwards narrowly defeated now-jailed former Klansman David Duke with a “Vote for the Crook” campaign.
(Insert William Jefferson freezer joke here.)
The good news is we got the election out of the way just before the start of hurricane season. The bad news is we got the election out of the way just before the start of hurricane season.
I haven’t seen a “Bipolar and Proud of It” bumper sticker yet but I expect to any day, with the highs and lows of today’s New Orleans. Sure, Jazz Fest was a spectacular success, testament to the power of musical healing, as I reported for High Times. And just last month, the Aquarium of the Americas reopened to much hoopla, restocked with more than 4,000 marine species temporarily lost to the floods. But they’re still finding human bodies — two in the last week alone. That brings the total known death toll to 1,577, a figure memorialized on Memorial Day with 1,577 flowers tossed into the 17th St. Canal. It’s hard not to be jolted by these constant reminders of the precarious thread we’re hanging by, especially when the Army Corps of Bunglers holds all the strings as deadlines come and go for fixing the city’s breached levees and canals.
Every edition of the Times-Picayune reads like the Bipolar News. Jarring juxtapositions also abound on local TV, where a rousing commercial for Abita beer that was produced pre-K is in heavy rotation as a post-K anthem. “Celebrate the good things/they’re all around in this town,” a chorus of voices sings, swelling into the tagline: “We are Louisiana true.” Cut to the next spot. “We lost everything,” says the bravely smiling blonde sitting on a brand spanking new couch at Gallery Furniture in Houston, which is touting its $79 flat fee for delivering replacement bedroom sets and living room suites to New Orleans.
Life where I live in the unflooded Strip ain’t that tough, of course. A roofing crew, conveniently headed by our next-door neighbor, has nearly finished the new House of Boo roof, with the insurance company picking up most (and probably all) of the tab. Our fence is repaired and painted, awaiting my finishing touches of purple and green stripes. And my stepdaughter’s husband who works for the state says he can get us a generator tax-free so we can run the fridge, TV, computers and a fan during the next hurricane power outage.
The fan’s for my 90-year-old mom, who’s not used to the heat. She just moved here from Ohio in December and is living in Malta Park, a senior residence a few blocks away. The plan is to bring her to our house if a Cat 2 strikes, since a “mandatory” Cat 2 evacuation won’t actually be enforced, and House of Boo was only grazed by Cat 3 Katrina.
Or at least that was the plan before she fell and broke her wrist and suffered a heart attack at the same time.
Now Mom’s up in Touro hospital, wired to heart monitors, her good right hand splinted, unable to do much of anything except listen to classical music on NPR (she refuses to watch TV). She’s not terminal, but she’s got days, maybe weeks, of recovery ahead. She may ultimately need to go into a full-fledged nursing home, and there’s no way we’re casting her fate to the vagaries of Louisiana’s nursing care system, site of countless post- K horror stories. My sister Jill’s coming down this week from Joliet, Illinois — where we’ll most likely move Mom when she’s strong enough to travel. That means uprooting her yet again just after she got settled, which will be tough on her (and us). But it sure beats drowning in a nursing home.
As for Donald and me, we’re still getting that generator. It seems like a wise investment, especially since he’ll be on tour in Europe for the entire month of September — the height of hurricane season — leaving me and five (or more) cats to fend for ourselves if the big one hits (again). Assuming, of course, we all make it through June, July and August. (Not to sound all manic-depressive about it.)
And yet, and yet… the spirit of this town is undeniable. It’s why I chose to live here and why I chose to came back.
Case in point: Over Memorial Day weekend, I hit the 33rd annual Greek Festival in Lakeview, site of some of the worst post-K flooding. The ornate Orthodox cathedral was completely restored, the crowds trying gamely to dance to bouzouki bands were bigger than ever, and the spitted spring lamb was divine. Opa!
A little further down the Bayou St. John, hard-hit Mid-City was celebrating its own Boogie on the Bayou. The heavens opened when I arrived, pouring much-needed rain on the grounds and putting the main stage band on hold. I sallied forth with my big umbrella, in search of some musical action, and it didn’t take long to find. Mardi Gras Indians were keeping the beat under one canopy crowded with festers, while brass band horns held sway in the tent across the way. Then the sun came out and everybody kept on keeping on, greeting friends in the beer line, scarfing pizza from Slice and dancing barefoot on the wet grass.
And everywhere, all over town, in random piles of debris, wild sunflowers are blooming. On the eve of hurricane season, that’s got to be a good omen, right?