Saturday, November 05, 2005

refrigerator city

From my journal, seven weeks after the storm:

I feel lost and I'm so sad. I can't shake it. Every time I go out in my truck and see the city, the people, feel the city, I cry. Hard crying. I'm stuck in some sorrow that I can't free myself from. And I know I'm not alone. I see it in a lot of faces around me, that same spooked sad look in the eyes. The only laughter I hear is drunken and hysterical. What are we going to do? I picked George up from the airport yesterday and now he's next door cleaning his refrigerator. When I took him to Sav A Center earlier he smelled like refrigerator. What a crazy phenomenon that is, for a person to reek of refrigerator. That refrigerator smell on his skin made me nauseous and until just now, when I fixed a gin and tonic, I felt sick.
I also feel very intense and, strangely, closer to being real than usual. Maybe because my feelings aren't in my control right now. I'm not "fine." In New Orleans I've been able somehow to feel like I belonged to something. It's my home. I was born at Baptist Hospital. It has always felt to me that I was okay here, that it didn't judge me. And now the city is filled with out-of-towners who are touristing but that's not their purpose for being here. They're workers. They're putting the city back together. They're getting paid to be here. They don't have that awe going on. They are more in awe of their own work. They're not here because they love New Orleans, they're here because they work and they undoubtedly have pride in their work and so they take some credit for the continuing living of this city and they walk around New Orleans like New Orleans is in a coma. And they don't bother whispering.

Friday. George called first thing this morning to say he couldn't get the smell out of his refrigerator so he paid Tony at the corner twenty bucks to take it out and put it on the street and we went to Sears and bought new refrigerators. Mine cost $449. We had to take a number at the Sears refrigerator department to get waited on, there were that many people buying refrigerators.There was a guy I'd met at Molly's the other day who gave me his number and said he'd help us retrieve our refrigerators, so after we made our purchases we called him, but we couldn't reach him, so the Sears men put both of our new Kenmores in the back of my little Nissan pickup truck, tied a little pink twine around them, and I DROVE them home myself. I had to move slowly and not make any sharp movements so I took Causeway to Airline Highway -- was very nervous going up and down overpasses and that traffic circle -- then continued down Tulane Avenue. It was the worst damage from the storm I'd seen. Every building on the entire avenue was flooded and busted up. Tulane Avenue is dead. I took an illegal left on Claiborne and cruised onto Marigny Street and parked in front of our house. A stranger driving the wrong way on Marigny stopped and asked if we needed help getting the refrigerators out, and so we paid him and Tony $30 each to bring our machines in, and it is now up and humming. Oh, and Robert's Grocery parking lot is now being used as a staging area for dump trucks. Robert's got almost completely destroyed by looters. Ravished by viciousness.

Saturday. Bonnie and I began a list of Katrina-related images and terms: mountains of trees, duct-taped refrigerators, superdome, convention center, grocery carts on overpasses, boats, national guardsmen, garbage, FEMA, MRE's, face masks, ghosts, blue roofs, boarded windows, spray-painted warnings to looters, commandeering, mosquitoes, flies, animal rescue and crow bars, torn open 25 pound bags of dog and cat food on the sidewalks, the x sign, the Saints. Someone wrote in to a nola.com discussion forum that she was looking for MRE wrappers. I smell a costume coming on.
George boiled a big pot of water on his barbecue grill for me so I took a good bath, and did the whole grooming thing. I feel like a woman again. It's the first hot bath I've had in a week. Bonnie says she thinks the reality of the hurricane is coming on us, like maybe we're getting over the shock and it's settling in. Maybe that's what the heaviness is. Too much has happened. It's impossible to process things that happen so fast. But maybe the processing is occurring finally. I've been like in a daze. I spoke with Linda, my student from last year who was so influential to me as a teacher, and she gave me the skinny on everyone. Most of the people we had in common are in either Houston, Dallas, or Atlanta. She's in California. She wants to come home.
Tim is coming home tonight!!!!! His presence will give me perspective. I really wonder what has changed in me. How has New Orleans changed? How has life changed?

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