"the deadliest bullshit is odorless and transparent" - William Gibson

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hurricane memories

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I remember being a young kid, maybe 14 or so. I went with my father and my uncle to board up our beach house in anticipation of a hurricane. We were riding in our quasi-futuristic silver Toyota Previa and we were armed with hammers and for three hours it felt like we were driving into battle. It was even a school night.

I remember being safe in New Orleans at school when Hurricane Fran totally wrecked the beach house and very nearly took out my parent's other house 200 miles inland. When I came back, trees and docks and ceilings had been destroyed. Some friends and I had a great party at the beach house that was in mid-repair. Someone installed a new overhead ceiling light drunk and we played cards on a weatherbeaten table. The hurricane had taken from us a water heater, but its surge had brought us two hibachi's and one exercise bike.

I don't remember exactly why we decided to leave at night, but after many beers we had made a quick, firm, and potentially unwise decision to flee New Orleans in the dead of night. There was a big hurricane coming and our new mission was to head upriver toward Nashville. Some time in the night we almost hit a fallen tree. I was too drunk and tired to know if there had been real danger. We listened to a lot of chris rock CD's. When we reached Vanderbilt University and found a welcoming refugee camp set up on a friend's floor, we felt safe and powerful somehow. We watched the weather channel and saw the storm still headed at our home and we talked to friends who had all fled sooner or later and at that time we all felt that we very well might not have a home to go back to. We did everything we could to share our spirit of freedom and excitement and play our role as the entertaining refugees. Our hosts ensured that we had all the neccessary booze and extreme indoor sporting equipment to stage a memorable refugee party. In the morning we awoke slowly and bruised and watched as the storm turned at the last minute and missed our city. We were all glad, but also a bit disappointed. The freedom of being severed from possessions and school obligations by an act of god was quite enticing. After another day, we learned it was safe to return and we drove back.

I remember walking back from cultural anthropology class to find my ground level apartment thigh deep in water. Cd's and books and clothes floated around in our living room. My roomates had saved the electronics, but the flood came quickly and the house was a disaster and my car was deep in floodwater. We relocated to a second story house and learned how the pumps that keep water out of the city had failed in the tail end of some hurricane which came onshore far east of the city. People water skiied in the streets, canoed to bars in baithing suits and went swimming in former classrooms. We carried around what we could save from our liquor collection and visited friends that lived out of the flood's reach. It was the most fun I've ever had.

The clean-up was brutal and eventually life went back to routine, but I never really recovered. I have no doubt that we all inhaled tons of unhealthy black mold spores or whatever grew in the flood soaked walls. I got appendecitis and had to have a friend carry me against my will to student health. I vommited out the window for most of the ride to the hospital. Later that semester I passed out at the library and had to get 16 stiches put in my head. I withdrew or took incompletes in several course. When I came back the next semester I moved apartments and spent most of my time in the library trying to finish an unholy amount of credits to graduate. I barely barely made it. I turned in my last paper on my way to the Superdome for graduation ceremonies. It was the first time I had been back in the Superdome since I saw a woman fall to her death 2 and a half years earlier.

Now I watch a storm which "represents 10 or 15 atomic bombs in terms of the energy it releases,” bear down on New Orleans, and that same Superdome is a place of last resort for 20,000 or so New Orleanians who had no where else to go. Everyone always said that if New Orleans ever got hit by the big one, the city could be destroyed, washed off the map, reclaimed by the gulf. It looks really grim right now. I tried to watch the web cam ontop of Fat Harry's, a favorite uptown bar with good cheese fries and a great jukebox, but the wind and the rain and lights make it too blurry and abstract and frightening.

I hope the storm weakens before it hits. I hope the levys hold. I hope everyone got out who could. I hope I can go there soon, I miss it.


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