They interviewed him during the days after the storm, and this fascinated me because we could not get in touch with him. There no cell service, and he was there, in New Orleans, and we were there, in Houston, just waiting and watching the television as the fury unfolded, and we were helpless and running out of our suspension of disbelief. To see him alive and prerecorded at that time was like a drug to me. I burst into tears every time his face showed on the screen, talking about how he helped rescue some guy from his drowning vehicle. He’d never mentioned this to us.
They kept showing this still photo of the WWL crew the day before it all happened, when they were all camped out, waiting. The photo contains about twenty or thirty people, and I didn’t even have to scan the faces to find my dad in the back row, holding a cigar in the air and smiling with all his teeth.
This picture, which the Weather Channel felt compelled to pan over about fifty times while playing a dramatic voiceover about courage. . .it broke my heart into bits and pieces. Because I knew it was taken the day before my dad would be forced to wander around in a mechanical daze, a haze of camera equipment and machinery operated on autopilot, the day before he would subsist off of peanut butter crackers, the kind that come in little snak paks of six. He brought me thirteen packs of them the first time I saw him after the storm– he said he couldn’t look at them, he was tired of them, and did I want them? i took them but could not bring myself to eat them. They were poisoned. poisoned with:
1. Sad Rain, with
2. being holed up in the Hyatt Ballroom next to the Superdome while the city crumbled outside and all the windows are breaking and your family knows you’re in there and they’re watching the news from the next state, watching the windows break one by one till the Hyatt looks like a bomb shelter and Dad’s inside, with
3. Not Speaking To Your Family For Days While They Assumed You Were Dead, with
4. Paddling through the Ninth Ward streets and moving dead bodies out of the path of the pirogue with a stick, with
5. gathering footage of dead babies tied to telephone poles, gathering footage of octets of adults tied to one another, dead and floating because of their last ditch effort to uphold the romance in “Safety In Numbers.”
Thus began Day One of my slow descent into Hurricane Tinged Pathological Negativity. The bar i was in was closed but Tony, the Bartender, let me stay and watch the show, and had it not been for Tony the Bartender, I would have collapsed and melted into a puddle of defeat on the sports bar floor. He clapped and cheered with me every time my dad’s face appeared, and I just sat there and cried all my eye makeup off, and Tony the Bartender bought all my beer.
And I knew my dad was now safe in a fourteen-square-foot apartment on the Upper East Side and not in some idiotic suburb in New Metairie surrounded by other people’s debris, all this shit that’s now laying on the side of the road, ruined and wet and still there and rotting, the detritus that had become the culmination of everything they worked for in the city they loved, these bolts of carpet from people’s materialistic living rooms and their floating family heirlooms and their furniture warped from mold and moisture. He is in SoHo with the fondue bars and the crosswalks and his new security guard job at the art museum and his third floor walkup and his crazy Canadian neighbor, Bridget. He will not fall apart in the midst of street signs half obscured by a rising tide, in the midst of storage buildings stripped of their walls, interstates cracked and empty, and silent airports and death in the soil.
Home came up in conversation the other day when I was with some friends, over a beer, at a table covered in cracked linoleum, and a girl unrelated to my group spilled her pink drink all over the terrazo floor. . .and I thought of those disgusting, fantastic, seafood-rotten streets as that liquid hit the ground running. Sedimentary bricks, crumbling, ivy-covered iron bars to promote humilty, modesty, and my face just peeking through, planning, approved, everything so sinister and crude, puddles of muck that never dry up, watch where I step, keep your eyes attuned to neon.
After Katrina I never wanted to hear about the politics, the newsprint smudging fingertips, and I’d blow it off, but inside I’m blowing up, no needles, no pebbles, no stickers in the grass, no egg hunts, no track and field, no hair sticking to the side of the face smoking a cigarette outside the tattoo shop, no closed circuit cameras behind the bartenders’ heads, no walking down the balcony steps wishing I’d jumped instead.
No more hanging at the library learning the cajun two-step, playing in teepees, interactive culture toys, archaeologist dig, dig, City Park lusher by the minutes, minutes, teeming Magazine, iced coffee, brats in the Whole Foods, skaters kept to the left, smoky clubs and cock-a-roaches everywhere all over the sofa, loafing, back when I liked cider beer, back when Snake N Jakes was the best thing next to well-deserved demerits and lesbian phases in high school, back when the pot was best smoked in a school uniform next to the train tracks, seeing the guts of the bars countless times from blocks away but never going in, I’m heartfuckingbroken but too scared to be dramatic, these being my only remaining vestiges of The Big Sleazy.