New Orleans has been an important city to me and my family for over 200 years. To my early ancestors, it was the destination of their timber, the market for their wild Texas mustangs. It was where the young men imagined fancies not imaginable in the swampy wilds they called home.
It was the first city I visited on my own. It was the city where I sought refuge when my sexuality sent me into exile from my family. It was the place where my quick wit and sharp tongue were honed into social graces. I first visited there at the age of 17. I moved there by the time I was 19. The last time I lived there was 1977 and 1978. I have dozens of cousins and many old and true friends who still live there. There are hundreds of people there whom I know only casually. Some of the streets and neighborhoods are as fresh in my mind as the one where I presently live. For years after, I spoke of it so often and so familiarly that many assumed I was born and raised there. That complete is my identity with the place. My point in all of this? Nothing really, just that the tragedy is very personal.
Many dinner parties have taken up the discussion of "what'll happen if one of the levees ever breaks. It's like talk of "the next big one" in San Francisco. My opinion was always that it would make Escape from New York look like a kid's play.
When I remember my time in New Orleans, I think of the affairs I had, the incredible people I met, the wonderful food I ate and learned to cook. I don't remember the guy shot under my window in a botched robbery attempt by young teenagers. I don't remember the guy bleeding in my entrance way from being attacked. I barely remember the death of an acquaintance, killed by some rough trade he picked up. No, my memories are pretty sanitized.
I do remember from my time there that everybody has a gun. Blacks, Whites, Gays, Straights, Lesbians, Mexicans, You-Name-Its; everybody has guns. One of the reason the mayor is so worried, is that there is conceivably fifty thousand people still in various neighborhoods, and they're all armed! That's something to think about.
My Born To cousin, Cindy, lost her home, two cars, and her job. (She worked in New Orleans, lived in Gulfport.) She, her husband, and their two kids are with her brother right now. His house survived. A Born For cousin in New Orleans has lost her house and a new business on Magazine Street.
Other cousins in Louisiana and Texas are talking about the refugees. We're all used to evacuees. Those are prudent souls who live too close to the water and can afford to get away from the epicenter for a day or two. When they can't go home, they become refugees. Evacuees are self-sufficient. Refugees need help. I'll be watching the stories from around Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida in the next couple of months to see how well they treat refugees. I know we can count on those good Evangelical Christians to do good for their own kind and not somehow fall into the trap of blaming the victim. Although I did hear of two groups who were willing to say that this is god's wrath on New Orleans.
One group said it was because of the upcoming Southern Decadence party which is sort of a Gay Mardi Gras, only with warmer weather than the regular Mardi Gras. Another bunch of wingnuts said that god struck New Orleans because five of the ten abortion centers in Louisiana were located there. They even had a picture of the hurricane with the outlines of the states around the Gulf so that it sorta, kinda looked like a fetus in a womb.
It was tough, but I tried desperately not to blame the hurricane's destruction of the fact that both states voted for Bush in the last election, and the levee break was specifically for Louisiana passing that fucking "marriage is between a man and a woman" bullshit by three-fucking-quarters of the voters. However, the assholes who voted for that amendment are not the ones suffering in New Orleans. I just think god's a better shot than that. If she were aiming at a particular group, I think she'd be more on target. I'm just saying, that's all.
This probably reads choppy, but I keep getting phone calls from various cousins and friends telling me that so-in-so is alright, or that someone we know surely must have lost their house because they're all the way out in Chalmette and no one's heard from anyone out there. I'm sick with worry.
A friend just called and asked if I thought New Orleans would rebuild. Some parts will be rebuilt, I'm sure. Slums and public housing won't be rebuilt. Those people will just have to find hovels elsewhere. They'll seep back into the structure of New Orleans, though. Everyone and everything will be changed, but then everything will go back to being as it was before. La plus ca change, la plus ca meme chose. New Orleans is like a marshmallow. Squeeze it, punch it, poke it, whatever; it just springs back to it's original shape.
Hold onto your hats and stay-tuned to your favorite stations, but this story is just beginning. It may be remembered as the best of times or the worst of times, but it will be remembered.