Posted: September 4, 2005 in The Roper Files

New Orleans Aftermath
I hadn’t watched this much CNN in one day since 9/11.

Lootings, fire, and floods of biblical proportions all make for captivating television of course but this is all a bit much. I got up pre-dawn today to report to my menial job, fixed coffee and turned on CNN. At 4:00 am they don’t even try. They were showing yesterdays pre-flood footage; someone holding a camcorder out the passenger side of a car.

The subtitle underneath said: KATRINA COSTS LOTS. I’m not making this up; they might as well have done it in crayon with the “R” backwards, or spelled “costs” with a “k” Last night when I got home from work I watched two and a half hours non-stop of CNN and only stopped when I remembered I needed to eat dinner.

At the restaurant I ate at, New Orleans was all anyone was talking about; meanwhile the TV on the wall had on Tommy Lee Goes To College, an all-too-obviously-staged “reality” series I vowed to myself I would never watch, and yet here I was. When the tsunami hit last December, they pre-empted everything. Why are we having to look at Tommy Lees’ goony mug? And while I live a good 10-12 hour drive away from New Orleans, this disaster is going to effect me.

On the news, they’ve predicted yet another spike in gas prices and the newspaper said this morning that one-sixth on our coffee surplus was stored guess where? Yikes! Coffee costs enough as is and now it’s going up as well.

I snuck out of work a few hours early; nothing to do. I can only sweep the floor and take out the trash for X number of hours to look busy. Screw this! I need my CNN fix and race home. God, is THAT Wolf Blitzer? He’s grayer than Larry King now! At 2:00 pm things are deteriorating at a rapid rate.

The looting and the flooding are both getting worse. They’re predicting hundreds, if not thousands of deaths once all the bloated corpses are counted. The flood water is a horrible puke-green color with oil visible on the surface. I watch people treading through it and think of the ants, snakes and the mosquitos, not to mention the occasional alligator. What a mess. They’re already talking about re-building, but WHY? This could happen again, and they’ve known for years that this was possible to begin with.

I can’t believe how ill-prepared they seem to do anything about this. Maybe they should do like San Francisco did after the 1906 earthquake and just bulldoze everything and use the rubble to raise the place above sea level. After the foundations of the buildings are all soaked in toxic raw sewage for the one month minimum they’re predicting it’s going to take to fix the levees and drain the floodwater,everything’s probably going to have to be re-built anyway. And one issue NONE of the talking heads on TV are discussing is that hurricane season is hardly over; this nightmare could be compounded next week by another storm for all anyone knows.

On the Insomniac Volume 1 DVD, one segment was taped in New Orleans and Dave Attell explained about how New Orleans is below sea level. He goes to the pump station that keeps it the city dry (or used to ) and talks to the supervisor who mans the pumps at night, or used to. I wonder what HE’s doing today?

Sitting on his roof with a hunting rifle, or floating face down inches from the ceiling? At the time they taped this, it was one of the more lackluster bits in the series; now it’s an intriguing bit of history. I hope he’s OK, though. 2:45 PM-The talking heads are hinting at $4 a gallon gas. No one knows how many bodies are inside the roofs sticking out of the water. Gunfire on the streets is slowing down rescue efforts. The looting is getting progressively worse. Why steal TVs when there’s no electricity ? What are you going to watch, anyway? Enough chaos for you? As I’m riveted to my television, I keep waiting for the news-anchor to announce the dead are coming back to life and feasting on the flesh of the living. No wait, that’s just in the movies. Or is it? SEPTEMBER 1st, 5 AM Thursday morning- After a toss-and-turn night of attempted sleep, I get up, feed the cats and fix my precious coffee. Screw work today; they had nothing to do yesterday and I’m not even going to waste gas driving out to that Godforsaken Everman just to find out there isn’t jack to do today.

I turn on I Love Lucy. Good, it’s the Richard Widmark episode.

Anything but…no…must…watch…CNN.

After changing the channel, the sad reality sets back in. No, it wasn’t a bad dream; everything’s still screwed. I’ve must say that people blindly taking in survivors of this tragedy are much braver than myself. I mean really, you have NO WAY to know whether you’re taking in a man and his wife or a pimp and his prostitute. Or a gang member. Or someone desperate enough to go through your desk drawers and piece together a new identity for themselves.

This is called social breakdown; there’s no way to verify anything a person says. Most of the people who did flee the storm came here to Texas; that’s OK, what’s a few thousand more shell-shocked homeless on the streets? At least the ones who drove have a car to live in. Just give ’em directions to Gov. Rick Perrys’ house, I’m sure he’s got a few extra rooms. 10:30 AM- I walk to my landlords’ house and pay the rent like a good tenant and then walk to the cafe down the street. After a nap-inducing meal, I return and fall asleep on the futon. 3:30 PM- After a lengthy siesta, I turn on the television.

National Guardsmen are removing bodies from the SuperDome and the Convention Center. This is all too Dawn Of The Dead for me; I can’t believe what I’m watching. I feel guilty. I feel as if I ought to do SOMETHING; I’m only one man, I can only do…what?

SATURDAY-September 3rd, 8AM…Couldn’t watch TV yesterday; the story just gets worse.

Turned it on today and there are small glimmers of hope. The National Guard has finally arrived. Food and water are finally starting to be distributed. But people are still shooting at the police. Fires and explosions are rampant in the industrial areas on the waterfront. There are still many, many people stranded by floodwaters, trapped in apartment buildings and on rooftops surrounded by what looks like raw sewage.

As well as the bodies that are rotting in the streets, they’re finding dead animals everywhere that drank the toxic water. This is like a cocktail recipe for Cholera, bubonic plague and who-knows-what-else. Helicopter footage shows large black plumes of smoke hanging over New Orleans and what looks like efforts to shore up the broken levees. One-third of the police force has disappeared.

But the Lt. General in charge of the Federal emergency relief effort sure looks like a no-BS type. They need more people like him down there. Watching him yelling at the MP’s and telling them to point their weapons down impressed me. The crowds standing around didn’t look too disorderly to me. Most of them looked to me as if they were waiting for help much more patiently than I can imagine myself doing under these same shitty circumstances.

I saw people clapping joyfully that help was starting to trickle in. As I said earlier, small glimmers of hope…

9 PM…SATURDAY NIGHT…I’ve only been eating intermittently this week, perhaps a unconscious guilt-driven penance fueled by non-stop images of suffering people. But I’ve only been eating maybe once a day, or twice max all week, as opposed to my usual three squares a day. I’m only sleeping a few hours a night as well; am I feeling guilty about sleeping in my own bed? Or having running water? Or air-conditioning? Or a toilet that actually flushes?

7:30 AM SUNDAY MORNING SEPTEMBER 4th…Another fitful night of tossing and turning. I attempt my normal routine. Get up, feed the cats, make coffee. Turn on CNN. They’re running the same footage they were showing last night. Or are they? Multiple, non-stop images that mirror any footage shot after any disaster in the hellhole of your choice; it’s all running together into a mental blur. This can’t be psychologically healthy. The lack of appetite, my recent inability to sleep; I know this is a side-effect of this barrage of images of…dammit, where’s my thesaurus? I’m running out of adjectives for “suffering.” I’m trying real hard here to put all of this in perspective, but it’s difficult.

Me personally, I’ve never been in a “lose-everything” disaster. But I have ridden out a tornado in a bathtub holding a frightened kitten. I’ve had to watch helplessly as softball-sized hail pounded my pickup into an unrecognizable pulp. Or sit in my living room as hail pummeled the windows and yelling at God: “Very funny! Now stop it!” and wondering which one was going to shatter first.

Still want to move to Texas?

There’s a reason for our cheap (compared to other parts of the country) real estate. In spite of these things, Texans always manage somehow to sweep up the glass and repair the place. Nothing a ton of insurance money won’t fix, right? A new roof here or a million roofs there and the state’s good as new. But New Orleans has a much more Herculean task ahead. Of course I’m talking about a city that somehow survives Mardi Gras every year, and I’ve seen video of their clean-ups after that. Bulldozers shoving around huge piles of bottles, beads, cups and well, you know…my point being if they can just get the floodwater out and find those crews they might have a chance.

10:00 AM-Well, they’ve bussed out most of the SuperDome and Convention Center evacuees, but people are coming out of the wood-work and showing up still. And there are still untold numbers of people stranded on rooftops and attics, etc. The usual talking heads on CNN are engaged in a lot of heated armchair quarterbacking about Whose Fault This Is. Looking at some of the foreign press’ Web sites becomes a real “roast” about “America’s Hidden Poor”

If there’s any foreign press reading this sSite, read my butt-lips: America’s Hidden Poor are what’s left of the middle class in this country.

The rich get tax-cuts while the rest of us get down-sized and replaced with…ah, what’s the use? Sorry for yelling; I must be caught up the heat of the moment. Excuse me while I take a deep breath… 4:15 PM-There, that’s better; nothing like a six-hour breath! Now that the bulk of the known survivors are out of the two main shelters, so are the cameras. They had one CNN reporter walking through one of them earlier. Someone, National Guardsmen maybe, had rolled wheeled dumpsters inside, but the place was for all purposes deserted.

They’re starting to do stories about Judge Rehnquist, and even sports stories now. The cameras have shifted into Mississippi now. Crying housewives going through the ruins of their homes; I can’t help but think of how this is like some demented reality series…

MONDAY,SEPT. 5th, 6:30AM-Well, golly gosh gee, has this been one f—–up Labor Day weekend or what? The barrage of tortured imagery I’ve viewed for the last six days would have driven lesser men over the edge. (And better men to go volunteer for the “hook and pull” crews.) A virtual cornucopia of despair; Dante himself would have found inspiration in spades. On the local news just a minute ago, they were showing National Guardsmen carrying elderly people through chest-high water while on the audio the announcer informs us that “National Guardsmen are hard at work trying to fill in the levees.” Huh? Hey wait a minute…switching over to CNN, National Guardsmen in a boat are shown “tagging” the roof of a house with spray-paint after they’ve searched it. One of them tells the reporter they’re finding bulges in roofs where someone tried to kick it out but… BR


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