Thursday, September 29, 2005
2. On the Friday afternoon before the far edge of Rita wheezed though Houston, we joined a neighbor in battening down some of the detritus---abandoned rebar, busted 2x4s, etc.---left by the bankrupt contractor that quit in the middle of installing a new water pipe below one of the two streets that make our neighborhood accessible to the larger world. We also diligently stowed away or weighted down the rubber “work zone” barricades (or “non-work zone,” in this case) and the tall one-way signs the city has put up on the long-closed eastern half of the street. People were rightly worried about all of this loose crap being flung about in a 100 mph breeze. No sooner had we finished and there coming down the street was a city truck with a work crew poised to perform the very same battening-down. We weren’t angry at all---in fact, we were more than pleasantly surprised that the city even bothered, given everything that was going on that day (not that there was much work left to do). Obviously, someone in Public Works---possibly having been nudged by one of our crankier, more activist-type neighbors---was on the ball. To paraphrase our hero and inspiration Larry King, “City of Houston, we salute you!”
3. From the New York Times, September 28, 2005: “[then-New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass’] unorthodox management style was evident two weeks after the hurricane when he stopped while visiting various police districts for a pedicure, a massage and a haircut. It was, he said, all part of visiting his ‘troops.’ ”
COMING NEXT WEEK: Slampo's Place introduces its new "reader representative."
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
There’s a slight chance we could be wrong, though. Maybe Friedman has come up with some good one-liners about hurricane preparedness and emergency response. Lord knows we could use some. We still may save ourselves for Friedman---why (the hell) not?---and of course haven’t totally ruled out throwing the full editorial weight of Slampo’s Place behind his candidacy.
Otherwise, the hurricanes don’t seem to have altered the Texas political landscape, although we sense a small and potentially widening opening for someone. Gov. Rick Perry has some blame to share with local officials for the clogged evacuation (and shouldn’t coordinating mass movements on city, county, state and federal roadways be the ultimate responsibility of the governor, even if just to give him [or her] something to do in between failing to come up with politically and legally workable school finance plans?), but overall, like Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, Perry managed to project an air of calm normalcy, and got plenty of TV face-time doing so. These boys weren’t about to be “Nagin-ized,” or, in Perry’s case, “Blanco-ized.” But luck---the hurricane’s late tacking away from Galveston-Houston---played a big part in that (not that it did much for Beaumont-Port Arthur and Lufkin and Jasper).
Which leaves the action in the GOP primary. White’s profile, and maybe his star, rose, but we still don’t see a Democrat as electable statewide in 2006, even if he or she has $40 million of his or her own to blow. White, though, is certainly a comer, although we can’t remember any mayor of Houston ascending to high statewide office (if we recall correctly, Perry’s GOP primary opponent, the Semi-Tough Grandma, did serve as Austin’s mayor, several surnames ago).
We thought Kay Bailey Hutchison came off best of all. We’ve warmed to Hutchison over the years, primarily because of her disinclination to always strap herself to ideological mast of the Republican National Committee’s talking points and her willingness to show the occasional visible streak of independence. She sounded thoughtful and reasonable, before and after Rita.
And what about Lyda Ann Thomas, the mayor of Galveston? We don’t know whether she’s a Democrat, Republican or Rosicrucian, but if that ruler-wielding schoolmarm had told us to evacuate, we wouldn’t have wasted time asking when or where to. (Love the way she softened “the look” when she appeared on Larry King Live, and Larry seemed smitten, too: “We salute you, Madam Mayor!”) We were so taken we wrote her a Beach Boys song: "Lyda A-a-ann/Take my ha-a-and/And lead me from this/Doomed i(s)--la-a-and/Oh, Lyda Ann ... "
Correction Corner/Appended Fulsome Tirade: In our initial unrevised posting of Sept. 25, 2005, Slampo’s Place misstated the dates of some selected postings of the Houston Chronicle’s SciGuy blogger: Due to organic brain damage and a copy editor’s error, we wrongly listed some of his Thursday postings as coming on Friday and some of his Wednesday postings as appearing on Thursday. (Lately the days all kinda blur together, y’know.) Which does not detract from our point: that before Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman starts goosing the local television news operations for supposedly needlessly whipping Houston-Galveston area residents into a Katrina-driven Rita frenzy, he should double-check the products of his own employer. Not to pick on this SciGuy---his stuff was just the most readily available---but he did raise the specter of a “truly horrific” outcome for the Houston area unless the hurricane adjusted track, and said forecast appeared after the freeway exodus had commenced. Which wasn’t necessarily “wrong” or even “bad.” However, we watched quite a bit of TV as the storm approached, in between boarding windows and storing away the seemingly endless amount of shit in our yard (like hundreds of thousands of other locals, we weren’t spending a whole lot of time reading blogs), and we don’t recall anyone---even Neil Frank at his most wound-up---proclaiming a possible “truly horrific” event.
We thought we’d leave the entire issue alone, but then we read the editorial in today’s (Sept. 27) Chronicle, which also claims with an apparently straight face that “television reports … added to Houstonians’ anxiety” (no specific examples offered). Then, about halfway through the long slog---check this out, if you haven’t--- the editorial breaks for commercial word on behalf of (tad da!) the paper’s very own SciGuy by quoting at length from a laudatory email about the blogger from an unnamed reader in Washington D.C. (was it Michael Brown?) … All this was from the same Chronicle editorial page that a little more than a week ago listed the No. 1 Katrina-taught “lesson” for Houston to be that local leaders should “presume the worst-case scenario.” Oh well. We don’t ask for consistency. Or logic. Or even facts …
And oh yeah: Slampo’s Place regrets the error.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Well, bully for you. Now shut up.
Or you got out on the freeway and it took you 20 hours to get to that Burger King parking lot in that town whose name you never knew, where your SUV carrying just the two other family members finally ran out of gas, and now you can’t stop whining and cursing “the media” and the politicians and vowing that you’ll never do that again …
Well, we feel ya, but for now would you please shut up?
Or maybe you’re a member of the media---non-credentialed “citizen journalist” or card-carrying word-and-image warrior in full-dress uniform---and you’ve mustered the gall to blame television for “hyping” the dangers of Hurricane Rita and causing people to needlessly flee and the clog the roads.
Well you---especially you---should shut up.
As we noted here in several postings (sorry to keep repeating ourself), the question of “go or stay” doesn’t bring forth an easy answer. Most Houston-area residents, we think, ran through some quick calculations (factoring in their own past experiences with hurricanes and their locations and particular situations), took into full consideration Katrina and what the media were saying about Rita, gauged the lengthening gas lines on Wednesday and their own pocketbooks and patience, and made their decisions accordingly.
If we lived on or near the coast we sure as hell would have beat a hasty retreat. But we live up in southwest Houston, equidistant from U.S. 59 and the Loop, a half-mile or so north of Brays Bayou. Flooding was a concern, but not a major one, since we came out OK in Allison. What worried us about Rita was the prospect of unprecedented high winds raking through Houston and ripping off the roof of our modest abode, with a secondary concern being the durability of the four large trees in our yard and the towering pine in the yard behind us. (When it first appeared that Rita might run straight through Galveston, we thought we might head up toward Jasper and camp on family property near there. That certainly would have worked out well.)
A small adjustment in the storm’s route and all those people who waited it out on the freeway and got somewhere they thought was safe might have been down on their knees thanking whatever supernatural being they pay obeisance to, while we could have been standing (if we were lucky) out in the front yard of our devastated house cursing the same supernatural entity. Man has yet to totally subdue nature, we've heard, and even inside that large cone of uncertainty that appeared to be making Neil Frank even punchier than normal, there’s no foolproof way to pinpoint exactly where a hurricane will fall on land until it’s pretty much too late to load up and roll out. So there was no “right” or “wrong” decision.
Which bring us to the question Banjo Jones has posed for polling: Did television news operations overhype the dangers Rita posed to the Houston-Galveston area?
Sure they did. They overhype a two-car fender-bender on the feeder road, so overhyping a potentially massively lethal hurricane was as easy as donning a rain slicker and getting blown about the beach.
We didn’t find the local television coverage to be any better or worse in tone than on a typical Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sure, it left us bilious, but that’s because it was like watching a 60-hour non-stop variety show from the 1960s, with anchors Jerome and Dominque and Bill and Shern-Min and Shara (and it was good to see you again, babe, but that fire engine-red outfit you sported on Thursday was screaming Code 3; muted earth tones are preferred for hurricane panic) filling the Ed Sullivan role and all the reporters in the field----Wayne and Ted and Jessica and Deborah and Mark and Phil and Whoever and Whomever etc.---being brought on stage for brief turns in the wind as Topio Gigio, the Little Italian Mouse, or comedian Alan King.
But was that bad? Irresponsible? Funnyboy Ken Hoffman of the Houston Chronicle, in a rare appearance in the paper’s front section on Sunday, avers that the television stations should be “investigated” (by a presidential commission? Congressional committee? HPD? Oh … that was a joke? Right!) for setting the viewing area needlessly on edge. He should spend more time reading his own paper and its non-paper products. As the storm approached, the Chronicle's much-promoted SciGuy blogger wrote (emphasis added):
With all due respect to this SciGuy, who's a smart writer, are these momentarily definitive judgments any different than what the television stations were saying/doing, minus the valedictory pronouncements? (Blogging being the closet written product to round-the-clock television and radio coverage when it comes to rapidly shifting developments, as opposed to the old, tired, frozen-in-time newspaper, which somehow never even made it to our house on Friday and didn't show up on Saturday till late afternoon.)
... with Rita due to make landfall some 75 miles east of Galveston. The bad news? I don't think there's a whole lot of confidence in the track. We may wake up with the storm shifted back over Galveston Bay, and it might be at the Texas/Louisiana border. Good luck trying to sleep tonight.
The official forecast track has slipped slightly northward again, but Houston remains in a very dangerous position. Unless the storm turns south or north in the next 24 to 48 hours we are set up for a truly horrific event. I am not going to sugar-coast this, my friends. If the storm comes ashore as forecast, it would essentially be the worst-case scenario ... As a Houston resident and property owner, I am truly mortified right now. If you are under a mandatory evacuation order, you should heed it.
Greater Houston is not a bowl, but has many more coastal communities and housing developments than the upper Gulf coast. These people absolutely must leave, their homes are likely to be flattened.
... it's looking more and more definite that we'll be hit by an extremely powerful storm in our own backyard. Let's do the best we can.
Actually, when it came to Hurricane Rita, we found one media outlet we could count on, again and again, without fail, to strike just the right balance of hard-eyed skepticism and bug-eyed hysteria, of fact and fiction, of the sacred and the profane.
Yes, that was us. But that’s the way we roll here at Slampo’s Place: all-seeing, all-knowing and “right” 100 percent of the time!
Now we’ll shut up.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Houston’s good dumb luck apparently will be the Golden Triangle’s (and New Orleans’) loss. Amazingly, we got through by phone at 7:30 a.m. to our mother on the far “dirty side” of the storm. She slept with her dog on the floor of her bathroom Friday night. Lost the cable, but not the electricity. It was still “bad” on Saturday morning, she reported, with 60-70 mph winds and driving rain. She’s anxiously watching the trees in the neighbors’ yards.
We had scoffed at 9 o’clock or so Friday night when we heard Frank Billingsley make what we thought was the premature declaration that the Houston area already had seen the worst of Rita. “I wanted to be the first to tell you,” he said. It’s still not outside the zone of certainty that Rita-spawned rains could dump 20 inches in our front yard, but at present it looks as if the Channel 2 weatherman was on the mark (first to tell you or not).
Friday, September 23, 2005
Back in World War II America had way to move masses of citizens quickly and safely. It was called a train system. We understand train technology has been refined quite a bit since then. In Europe and Asia.
But later for that sort of ax-grinding. We also understand some Pakistanis who own a bakery near our house are open and serving hot plate lunches. We’re going to get a couple to go and try to relax and breathe deeply for a while. One good thing about all this yoga we’ve been doing for years: We’re capable of literally kissing our own ass good-bye, if necessary.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Meteorology is complicated, no?
Our own cone of certainty has closed to zero and the probability stands at 100 percent that we’ll be staying home in southwest Houston. The gridlock made up our mind for us (it’s been pretty much as we imagined).
We’re on our own now: the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market called it a day about noon, Foodarama and Belden’s shuttered later. No Starbuck’s. No Blockbuster (and it’s the end of late fees!). No gas, although at late afternoon motorists had parked their vehicles in front of the bagged pumps, apparently believing that the tankers were on the way (later we noticed cops and constables shooing them away). No nothing, except for Rio Liquors (not interested at the moment) and Los Variedades El Salvador (ditto).
It looks as if about three-quarters of the residents on our block are staying, although we suspect a few may try to steal away in the night. We’re boarded up and iced down. Bring it on, as our president would say.
On somewhere else.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Being the pessimistic sort, we’re going with Neil. He’s got that crazy mad gleam in his eye, the one he gets anytime a hurricane or tropical storm even feints toward the Texas coast. He’s keeping our spirits up, too, by repeatedly calling the hurricane that decimated New Orleans and the Mississippi coast “kre-TINA.” Kretina, you’ll recall, was a bit player in the early Little Rascals episodes.
Besides, we’re in our own cone of uncertainty, still dithering after several inconclusive family counsels over whether to lie or hie. But we’ll say this for the hurricane: if nothing else it’s opened up a cone of social opportunities. Folks are battening down but they’re also gabbing and neighboring like there’s no tomorrow. We haven’t spoken to so many of our fellow subdivision dwellers in southwest Houston since Allison washed through. We walked our dog a couple of hours ago and must have crossed paths on the street with 10 people, only a couple of whom we knew. Instead of passing silently in the night, as we would on a normal Wednesday, we---they and us---spontaneously started conversing with the question of the moment: Are you staying or are you going? Right now our informal poll shows about 40 percent staying, 20 percent going, and the rest, as the pollsters say, are undecided.
We wish we had more time to think about this.
In the meantime we're headed back to our 24-hour Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. If it’s closed, we’ll take that as a sign from God to join the movement of the people. If it’s open, we’re sure we can find something to buy. Or someone to talk to.
But even then we knew hurricanes could kill. If you drove through Cameron Parish on the Louisiana coast in the early 1960s, you couldn’t miss the signs of Hurricane Audrey strewn up and down the roadside where the storm had left them in 1957: the many rusting overturned cars and trucks, household appliances that had floated loose and been bulldozed together in a pile, flimsy wood-frame houses that had been abandoned, their roofs blown off or the walls flattened. That made a lasting impression. More than 400 people (some sources say 600) died there, in what we now measure as a Category 4 storm. For many years, “Audrey” was the byword for hurricane destruction, the way Katrina has become (and we hope will remain going into next week).
When we were older, our work---and, on a couple of earlier occasions, misdirected youthful exuberance---brought us out into hurricanes. It wasn’t “fun,” exactly, but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit to getting a charge from driving down an empty highway in a pounding rain while trying to steer the vehicle so it wouldn’t be blown off the road. Then, in 1983, we saw (we didn’t really see it, more like we were in the vicinity of it), our first “hurricane-related fatality,” when we reported to work near the tail-end of Alicia and were dispatched to Magnolia Park on Houston’s east side, where a huge oak had fallen a few hours earlier on the back addition of a small frame house and killed the family abuela who was sleeping there. The poor woman was smushed---there’s no other way to accurately describe it. The rescue workers decided they needed a crane to pull the tree off and left for other emergency calls, which were coming in fast and furious as the city was waking to the full extent of that storm’s damage.
Then, two years ago, a Category 2 hurricane that got short shrift from the national media beat a path through our parents’ hometown and dropped the huge top half of what turned out to be a rotted water oak on their roof, causing more damage in dollars (not real ones) than what it cost my father to build the house. The four branches that pierced the ceiling hung down creepily into their living room like gnarled witch’s fingers (sorry---that’s exactly what they looked like). There’s nothing quite like living alone for five days, with no electricity, in the house where you grew up, working the rake and chainsaw all day, the street outside having been transformed into an open-air tunnel lined with six to eight feet of debris pushed to each side by the city (quickly and efficiently, too).
We’re factoring in these past experiences tonight as we dither over whether or not to vamoose in the face of Rita. We’re taking into account more recent experiences, of course---not just Katrina, but the fact that the water never fully covered our street during Tropical Storm Allison, even though we live just a few yards outside the100-year-flood plain. We already know we can go a good distance without electricity. Then there’s the pain-in-the-ass factor of fleeing, always a major consideration. Add it up and right now---late Tuesday night---we’re staying. But who knows what tomorrow will bring.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Sittin’ Here La-La Waitin’ for My Ya-Ya: Our Post-Katrina Scorecard, for Those Keeping Score (Extended Play Version)
Joel Osteen vs. The Dalai Lama, on Live with Larry King, last Sunday night: Not really “versing”* each other but paired side-by-side on screen to chew over the hurricane from competing (or perhaps complementary) theological viewpoints. Wizened ol’ Larry immediately drove the discussion the wrong way down a one-way street by asking the Dalai Lama what he’d say to those whose faith in God had been shaken by the hurricane, apparently not having been briefed that Buddhists such as TDL don’t “have faith” in a theistic sense but instead start from the First Noble Truth that to live is to suffer, etc. TDL looked as if he misunderstood Larry’s question and gave some halting non-memorable answer, but he tried to recover later by explaining that Buddhists view the disaster as another manifestation of karma, an oft-misunderstood concept that he thankfully didn’t try to elaborate on in the company of Larry King (other than moving his hand about in a circle [?]). Osteen, meanwhile, seemed to have come up with a more polished response to the question of theodicy than the one we’d seen him give shortly after the hurricane, when he said that evacuees could look on this particular act of God as an occasion to make a brand new start. This time, the preacher fell back on the tried and true standby: that God’s works are mysterious, that man can’t ever know God’s will, that believers should keep on believing, etc. But Osteen really brightened when he got to talk about the good works his Lakewood Church is performing for the evacuees (demonstrating again that organized religion is more effective and at ease when it’s doing things---saving souls, feeding the hungry, issuing fatwa, conducting Inquisitions, etc.---than when it’s trying to answer the really big and bothersome questions).
Winner: Osteen, by a nose (sharper dresser, far better command of the English language than TDL).
Ray Nagin vs. The World: The world’s kicking his ass. ("Ten thousand dead"?) But everybody loves Ray, right?
Winner So Far: The World (but hold on---we hear the mayor’s a closer).
Choke City vs. Clutch City: The Houston with the burdensome inferiority complex (the one that gives a shit what the New York Times says about it) vs. the capable, humble, can-do city with the big shoulders, wide bottom and heart of a champ-pee-yon. But look out: a third contestant has entered the ring, the city of overweening hubris, its air thick with self-congratulation, where swells and civic leaders gather to party and “preen” over Houston's post-Katrina performance (according to no less an authority on social preening than the Houston Chronicle’s Shelby Hodge). Be careful: Pride do indeedth goeth before a fall.
Winner So Far: Clutch City (but the scorecard isn't fully tallied).
Bush vs. Bush: Ok, he’s taken responsibility for the “serious problems” in the federal government’s response---the manly thing to do, certainly, and much out of character for Bush (a development with which Jon Stewart had fantastic fun on Wednesday night). Perhaps some of those lower down the chain in our federalist system may now be emboldened to step forward and seek contrition for their own shortcomings. But the mea culpa is unlikely to shift the debate---is the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd actually blaming Bush for the 34 deaths at the St. Bernard nursing home? Still (and we're writing just before his big Thursday night speech), we find Bush’s passive, above-it-all non-performance unsettling and eerily parallel to his approach to Iraq: He makes a bold decision (in this case his early emergency declaration; that certainly got our attention) that’s supposed to reflect a decisive, sleeves-up style of leadership, then he basically checks out and leaves it all to his allegedly competent subordinates … and the shit starts rolling meanly downhill. Not that we’d request a Carter-like obsession with detail, but we’d feel better if we had learned that Bush had gotten on his cell Tuesday or Wednesday after the hurricane and started ripping and roaring at his underlings to get those folks some help. But he didn’t, as far as we know (and if we heard it now we wouldn’t believe it).
Addendum, Re: His Thursday night speech: That settles it. He's a liberal.
Winner: Bush as LBJ, with a second term
Louisiana vs. The Rest of the United States: Again, not really versing* each other as such, but we can’t think of a state less equipped, in a civic sense, to deal with the confluence of natural and man-made events that resulted in the tragedy of Katrina (of course, we’ve only driven through North Dakota). It’s a historical, or even karmic, condition: As Stanley Kowalski himself put it, “In Louisiana, we got what’s known as the Napoleonic Code …” We tried to think of how now-imprisoned Edwin Edwards would have performed had he still been governor and concluded that it’s unlikely anyone would have gotten off of a roof any quicker, or the stores would have gone unlooted---in fact, the situation probably would’ve been worse---although Edwards would have made sure his son or brother got a cut of the clean-up and rebuilding contracts. The smooth lines of “charming” bullshit he’d now be spreading would sound tinny and off-key, which just serves to underscore the enormity of the tragedy.
Winner: The Rest of the United States
Ye Olde New Orleans vs. The New New Orleans: We heard some guy on NPR chattering about how New Orleans is poised now to become “Hollywood South” and attract “lots of cool young people,” meaning white folks without kids, parents or grandparents or even first cousins in the city. We were young once, although not so cool, and for a non-native shot a small but unhealthy percentage of our youthful wad in New Orleans. A couple of days after the hurricane we were getting all weepy and began typing up personal memories of the city, without spell-checking the restaurants or streets (it’s Freret, not Feret, dumbass) and purposely omitting the bad stuff (the 1984 World’s Fair, the time we and two other clowns had to “run for our lives” on Napoleon in broad daylight after a failed attempt to make a small purchase, the countless stoopid Mardi Gras[es] we’ve mostly and thankfully forgotten, etc.). When we went back a couple of days later to read it over, these stale reminiscences reminded us of the jottings of an upper-class Brit touring the colonies during the late 19th century and remarking on the local delicacies while ignoring the malaria epidemic festering among the natives. Y’know, as a frequent visitor it was all about music we heard, or food we ate, or spectacles we witnessed. Not really the hard day-to-day task of living there, for real. We haven’t been to New Orleans in a good five years, but even prior to that it appeared that the touristy part of the town was already the theme park people now fear the entire city will become (case in point: the disassociation we felt for 15 years hearing chanky-chank music blaring from every other tourist shop or bar in the French Quarter; when we lived in New Orleans briefly 30+ years ago you probably couldn’t find an accordion or washboard within 40 miles of Bourbon Street, and the absolutely only place to hear authentic Cajun music was way the hell on out on the highway in St. Bernard Parish, Cajun being a whole different plate of boiled shrimp than New Orleans). So much good to keep, but so much bad, too … a hard city, before the flood.
Winner: Time will tell. As they say.
State of Louisiana vs. Salvador and Mable Mangano, owners of St. Rita’s Nursing Home in Chalmette, charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide: Now here are some culprits that we can blame, without equivocation. If there’s lynch mob forming for these fuckers, we’re in.
Winner: Old folks everywhere, we hope.
Nature vs. Man
*”Versing,” the verb form of the preposition versus, as used by countless children all over the United States, a perfectly fine and serviceable grouping of vowels and consonants that should be added to the official lexicography ASAP.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
We had the opportunity to briefly shoot the shit with two of the new arrivals while in line at the bank. Wanda was standing behind us with a check to cash and her Louisiana driver’s license. Shortly after we exchanged hellos she was joined by a guy who later started a brief conversation with us by saying “Heyhowyadoin,” which is as for as we got with the introductions. We initially pegged Wanda and Heyhowyadoin as significant others, but then Heyhowyadoin asked of Wanda, “You still stayin’ at the Dome, right?” (she was) and “I’m sorry--- you’re name’s Wanda, right?” (it is).
Heyhowyadoin was somewhat conspicuous in the Bank One. He was thin and tall---6’ 4” or thereabouts---and very light, light enough to have passed for Italian 50 years ago if he had felt the need (and being from New Orleans, he very well might be a fourth or eighth or whatever Sicilian). He was good looking, kind of sharp featured, with short, curly hair. Dressed in what looked like his high water clothes: A blue T-shirt, blue jean cut-offs, high tops with no socks. What really stood out, though, was the tattoo of a dagger that ran up the side of his left leg from his high tops to his knee. The same kind of dagger that the New Orleans singer Aaron Neville has tattooed on his cheek, the cheek that’s airbrushed in photos or often turned from the camera when he’s on TV. There was no blood dripping off Heyhowyadoin’s shank, no inked inscription advertising his bad-assedness. Just a plain ol' dagger.
“We gotta find a liquor store---I feel like drinkin’ some Scotch tonight,” Heyhowyadoin told Wanda. “But, ah … my mama’s made at me.” “Why?” asked Wanda. “’Cause you …?” “No,” said Heyhowyadoin, “it’s ’cause I haven’t gotten in touch with my kids yet.” “How many you got?” asked Wanda, sounding as if she remembered from a previous conversation. “Four,” replied Heyhowyadoin.
Then he eyeballed us, introduced himself and asked if we knew of a liquor store close by. We started to point him toward one in the direction of our neighborhood, then remembered there was a Spec’s much closer and in the opposite direction. We offered to drop him there after we finished our business, and momentarily entertained the notion of buying him a bottle, although we didn't make that offer (like most everyone else in Houston, we can’t stop giving). But Heyhowyadoin declined. “My people are outside waitin' on me,” he explained. (We don’t ordinarily enable others in their pursuit of inebriation, but given Heyhowyadoin’s circumstances---he’d been driven from his home by the hurricane, he hadn’t hooked up with his children, he was exposing himself to potential arrest by the Bellaire, Texas police for being a black man wantonly displaying a large dagger tattoo, and on top of all that his mama was mad at him---we thought we’d make an exception.) We wished Heyhowyadoin a good weekend, and he wished us one back.
Earlier that day at a different location we had the pleasure of speaking at length with Leonard Johnson, a retiree who fled New Orleans before the hurricane with his wife, two daughters and two grandchildren. They had quickly settled in with a relative in Houston and enrolled the two grandchildren in a good public school. Mr. Johnson was fulsome in his praise of Houston and its efforts to help those displaced by the hurricane, and we heard him repeat that praise later when he was interviewed by a CBC news crew from Montreal. But he's not planning a long stay.
Mr. Johnson told us that he had lived all his life in the Lower 9th Ward and had long owned a house there. Although he didn’t have direct confirmation, he was sure his house was “submerged.” He's determined to live there again, though. We asked him when he would be going back.
“As soon as I can,” he said. “Just as soon as I can.”
We bet the man with the dagger tattoo feels the same way.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
We’re guilty of the same, in our way. You could have quizzed us 100 times before the hurricane, and we never would have guessed that someone named “Michael Brown” is the head of FEMA. Yet when we saw him on TV for the first time in the middle of last week we were instinctively disposed to be repulsed (is that a toupee?), and subsequent exposure has not changed our initial impression. Conversely, Mayor Ray Nagin may indeed be the hapless buffoon his legions of newfound critics claim him to be, yet we can’t help but root for the guy and nod along with his bombast, probably against our better judgment (and we wish him well in his next line of work). We instantly recognized Nagin’s kicking and screaming and crying and cussing as a more emotionally wrought version of the same populist playbook that's been passed down by Louisiana politicians from Huey Long to Edwin Edwards: They’re trying to wash us away, essentially, they being any powers-that-be conveniently located outside of the 64 parishes, or, in Nagin's case, what's left of the greater New Orleans metropolitan area. (And could someone issue a cease and desist order against TV's further use of that great Randy Newman song, as performed by the great Aaron Neville, as lulling and sentimental background music for scenes of the flooding? It’s been a good week now, and it’s obviousness in the current context has rendered it a soggy cliché. Next time we hear it we may drop to one knee, throw out our arms and sing out "Mammy ...")
Ah, where were we … oh, yeah. There is one school of thought we find to be beyond disputation---the one that’s been predicting for years this something like this was bound to happen. Saying it almost every spring when the waters begin to rise, and every summer when the hurricanes begin forming in the ocean. Saying it, we can remember, as far back as the Nixon administration. That’s why we were at a loss earlier this week when Houston Mayor Bill White was quoted as saying: “If someone here had forecast the destruction of New Orleans, then I’d like to join your church.” We understand he was speaking in the context of Houston trying to handle the unimagined relocation of a fifth or so of the New Orleans area’s population, but as to the destruction itself, it’s a fairly large church, with oft-quoted scripture: books, magazine articles, newspaper series after series, and reports by hydrologists and geologists and emergency management officials and, for all we know, astrologers and phrenologists. (Similarly, we can hardly contain ourselves every time we hear some sage journalist type declare---in precisely the following words---that the hurricane “exposed the racial and class divides in America.” Yes, we suppose, but only to someone who’s had his head up his ass for the past 40 years.)
There are many highly refined minds plotting scenarios for the future avoidance of the destruction and death Katrina delivered. But as some of the best of late 20th century literature reminds us, whenever you factor in the human element, systems tend to break down or fly apart. Especially when politicians are involved. There’s just no airtight precaution, no 100 percent guarantee. That’s why we’ve been heartened by the many inspiring stories of people who, left to their own small devices, took matters in hand and without waiting for the cavalry to arrive set about to save themselves, and others.
We’re thinking of the churches on the Mississippi Coast that rushed in to feed and house the disposed and displaced while FEMA personnel were still checking their frequent flyer miles. Or the dead-enders around Rampart and Desire in New Orleans that we saw Wednesday night on Nightline, who’ve formed their own informal protective and benevolent association to see that they’re all fed, watered and protected against predators. Or the state senator from Chalmette profiled on the same program who commandeered a large boat to house the homeless and waded into a CVS and grabbed as much food, water, diapers and other supplies as he could to distribute to his constituents. Or the boat owners who without being ordered or asked drove to the water's edge and launched off to fish the stranded from the waters (pub-seeking hot dog that he is, if Sean Penn pulled one person off of a roof---well, that's one more than we did). Or the homeowners in Uptown New Orleans and elsewhere who stood guard on their front porches and streets with their pistols and shotguns, ensuring that they and their neighbors didn’t survive Katrina to fall victim to the worst of human nature.
We hope that when a Category 5 storm bears down on Galveston and Houston all the plans are carried out as they are in the computer modeling---and you won’t have to ask us twice to leave, although we have a hard time envisioning ourselves stuck in traffic with 3 or 4 million other people headed out on 290 and I-10. If developments don’t go according to plan, though, we hope we’ll be in the vicinity of the kind of capable citizens whose stories have been about the only small shafts of light in this entire dark episode.
Authentic signature New Orleans song suggested for future use by cable networks as Katrina soundtrack:
“Give him water
When he gets thirsty
Tell him that water mighty fine when you dry.
Give him attention when he gets sickly
Give him the graveyard
In case he die.”
--- Junco Partner, as performed by Professor Longhair
Monday, September 05, 2005
So the Astrodome is serving a dual purpose---not only housing evacuees, but being used as a holding compound for celebrities who see the hurricane's aftermath as yet another stage on which to strut and preen. That's good---it keeps them out of the way in New Orleans, except for Sean Penn, who took along his personal photographer on a "rescue mission" that seems to have been modeled on a Three Stooges short, one with Shemp. According to this story from Yahoo! News:
Movie star and political activist Penn, 45, was in the collapsing city to aid stranded victims of flooding sparked by Hurricane Katrina, but the small boat he was piloting sprang a leak. The outspoken actor had planned to rescue children waylaid by the deadly waters, but apparently forgot to plug a hole in the bottom of the vessel, which began taking water within seconds of its launch. When the boat's motor failed to start, those aboard were forced to paddle themselves down the flooded New Orleans street. Asked what he had hoped to achieve in the waterlogged city, the actor replied: "Whatever I can do to help." But with the boat loaded with members of the Oscar-winner's entourage, including his personal photographer, one bystander taunted: "How are you going to get any people in that thing?"
We'll cut Oprah and Dr. Phil and Macy Gray some slack, since we assume they've come with good intentions, in addition to seizing the opportunity for self-glorification (no doubt that some interaction with show-biz types is a welcome distraction for the evacuees), and we've got to stand up and applaud Harry Connick Jr. for his efforts in New Orleans, even though we've always studiously avoided his muzak.
And while we'd like to declare martial law on Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, we'll have to cut her some slack, too, seeing as how she's become a one-woman Chamber of Commerce for the city of Houston. But wasn't that Van Susteren hectoring Clinton and the elder Bush Monday morning during their press conference to publicize the relief effort they're heading? We're pretty sure that was her asking them about the adequacy of the federal government's response to the hurricane, the federal government that neither of them heads anymore. And we hope that wasn't her, although it sure sounded like her, asking them (as they hurried off stage) what they would say to people in New Orleans who believe the levees were breached on purpose (as in the widespread rumor that powerful humans intentionally engineered the flooding of the 9th Ward to save the French Quarter). Or maybe that was a lady from a LaRouche publication.
UPDATE: We recently wondered where Dick Cheney has been since before the hurricane hit, and two readers, perhaps our only two, pointed out that our vice president has been vacationing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A perfect spot to ride out a hurricane, we'd say, as well as the storm after the hurricane.
P.S. There was a story in Tuesday's Houston Chronicle addressing the "rumors of violence" that have accompanied New Orleans evacuees to Houston. We're generally of two minds about this: Having puttered around in the trade ourselves, we still have the mainstream journalist's circumspection about passing on rumors, even in an attempt to establish them as unfounded. At the same time, so much of the world is greased by rumor and speculation that on some occasions it's a moral imperative to raise them and debunk them (or confirm their veracity, although then they've become news). This being one of the occasions.
We had heard the one about two rapes having been committed in the Astrodome; we heard it a couple of days ago, on the street, in front of our house, from a neighbor who said he'd heard at at a church in Humble from someone who had been volunteering at the Dome and claimed "they" were covering "it" up because "they" didn't want to panic Houstonians. According to the Chronicle, it's apparently not true (we can't say the story offered a definitive confirmation of its untruthfulness). That's good. That's what a newspaper can do (in what for the most part has been pretty much a TV story all the way). However, we didn't get the point of quoting verbatim from an email to the newspaper about an unfounded rumor that referred to "those dirty pieces of filth" at the Astrodome.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
We can’t begin to understand how our daughter’s new classmate feels, but we know how we’d feel: Last Thursday or Friday she was in her home, in her school, in her city, living her life, and a week later her family had fled that home, most likely with little or nothing to go back to, and suddenly she was standing before strange kids in a strange classroom in a strange city. Her new home, for now.
Multiply that little girl’s story by 100,000---the number of evacuees that Mayor Bill White estimates are in Houston (is that really possible?)---and it’s clear that New Orleans won’t be the only large American city transformed by Hurricane Katrina. In the coming weeks we want to keep this little girl in mind, her and all the other children housed at the Astrodome and the Brown Center and in hotels and homes and other locations across our city, as the inevitable but justifiable concerns about the costs of our hospitality---both to the public purse, and in the stresses to the social fabric---are raised and argued. We know that County Commissioner Steve Radack is trying to score a few quick political baskets at the expense of White and County Judge Robert Eckels, but what he’s saying about extending our hearts but thinking with our heads is worth heeding. Unlike all the instant armchair experts we’re reading and hearing everywhere we turn---the bloggers, the columnists, the editorialists, the TV and radio talkers, all high and dry and safe at home or work---we at Slampo’s Place don’t always put our faith in the benevolence and competence of government, nor do we believe in the ultimate perfectibility of man (or evacuation plans for a million-plus people).
In other words, we hope that much finer minds than ours are thinking ahead, looking down the road, running through the potential scenarios, such as what kind of psychological toll living in domed stadium for 2 or 3 weeks (months?) will take. We hope, then we remember Hurricane Alicia and the aftermath of Alicia, when the city of Houston, in one of the great misguided affirmative actions in the history of affirmative action, hired the reverend with the one pick-up to dispose of the debris. You remember that, don’t you? (In retrospect, we wonder how Kathy Whitmire survived that upcoming election.)
For instance: The initiatives by the state of Texas and the Houston school district to open our schools to evacuee kids are great. Getting them in school should be a priority. But at the campus level in HISD there’s a palpable apprehension about an impending deluge of the school system. This probably isn’t news to anyone, but schools in some parts of the city are already overcrowded. We understand HISD has been considering reopening some recently shuttered schools, or locating a temporary facility at or near the Astrodome. The latter would seem to make the best sense, especially when it comes to transportation and delivery of the services many of these kids wll need. And somebody, at the federal level, needs to sit up and slash some of the bullshit red tape. It's’s been pointed out to us that many students from New Orleans and elsewhere were taking advantage of the special education services they’re entitled to by federal law, yet it’s very unlikely that their school records will be quickly forthcoming to Houston, most likely because those school records don’t exist anymore, thus necessitating a new, costly and time-consuming round of assessments and evaluations here. And what about the teachers for these kids? Hopefully, displaced educators from Louisiana will be allowed to step into Houston classrooms without having to meet the silly certification requirements. Just get 'er done, as that blue-collar comedian guy says.
We detect a lot of wariness out in Houston, accompanied by almost overwhelming urge to help (that’s one of the advertised virtues of our city that happens to be true---its residents do indeed have big hearts). We were a mute party to a conversation last week between two African-American women---both with Louisiana roots, and one of whom has blood relatives in six families in Slidell who have been displaced---about the differences in “culture” between their high-schoolers and kids who might be coming from New Orleans’ 9th Ward, and they weren’t making this observation in a derogatory way, either. One of the women lives hard by the Medical Center, and she noted, without annoyance, that the traffic in the Astrodome area was horrendous Friday morning and caused her to be late to work. Of course, the conversation ended with one woman saying she was going to volunteer at the Dome on Saturday, and the other reporting that she was pushing her church to open to refugees the community center it recently built with the city’s help. Not saints, just average people, extending their hearts, thinking with their heads.
East of Houston, our mother reports that her town of about 110,000 is inundated with evacuees. The coliseum is at capacity, traffic is gridlocked. Her beauty parlor was overrun with women from New Orleans at week’s end, as was her branch of the public library, where many people had gone just to sit some place quiet and read the news they had lived. Reassuringly, some kids were seated at tables, finishing homework from textbooks. Many of the refugees were white, like the kids who’ve enrolled at my daughter’s school, and some were black, but they all looked middle-class. We mention this to point out that it’s not just poor African-Americans whose lives have been devastated, that there’s plenty of refugees out of the media eye who have the wherewithal to hold out in hotels or with friends, at least for a while … but for how long? Just dealing with your insurance company after something like this---it boggles the mind.
My mother also reported that there are lots of rumors and stories, unconfirmed, going around the town, as well as a free-floating and fairly widespread anger building against Bush---even in my mother’s small circles, where she usually counts herself as the only Democrat. We’re already sick of the finger-pointing, but who among wasn’t sitting in front of the TV Wednesday or Thursday and wondering why, in 2005 in the richest nation in the history of humankind, we couldn’t get some water and food and toilet paper to those people in front of the convention center or on the freeway overpass? And what was with that odd off-script crack Bush made in Mississippi about hoping to one day enjoy the view from Trent Lott’s rebuilt porch---while people were stewing and dying nearby in a pot of death and shit! And where’s Dick Cheney? I’m writing this late Saturday, and I can recall seeing neither hide nor hair of him since before the hurricane, and him a guy who likes to duck hunt down in south Louisiana. We’ve seen and heard plenty of and from Harry Connick Jr. and the LSU quarterback … but nothing from Cheney (!?).
And that reminds us that we saw Joel Osteen being interviewed on one of the Houston TV channels on Friday, and while we’ve previously confessed to liking the preacher and think he’s a decent sort, he’s obviously not someone equipped to grapple with questions that might be more than an inch deep. Osteen was asked the perennial--what would you say to the desolate and homeless who’ve been relocated to Houston and might be wondering why a supposedly benevolent God who wants you to drive a nice car and have a good dental care plan (we added the last part there) would allow such a disaster to happen----and he came off as downright callow. It appeared as if he hadn’t given it too much thought. Kind of not his thing, we suppose. The gist of his reply was that as Christians they just need to keep on believing, and hey, they should view all this as an opportunity for a new beginning. We guess he meant they should look at it as if Shell were transferring them from New Orleans to a better-paying job in Houston. Of course, these folks might have a lot more “junk” in their heads than the average Osteen congregant. Not a good answer, reverend.
Finally, as we mentioned above, we don’t always put our faith in the benevolence and competence of government, nor do we believe in the ultimate perfectibility of man (or evacuation plans for a million-plus people). Which is why, after the past week, we hope all law-abiding citizens take care to make a clean, well-functioning firearm, or two or three, part of their hurricane preparation kits. If you don’t, then you ain’t livin', as they say in Louisiana.
Used to say, we mean.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Walking alone in the northeast corner of the French Quarter, near Rampart, at 6 o'clock on a clear, crisp fall morning ...
A big nasty fried oyster po-boy at Mother's on Poydras ... the red beans and rice at Buster Holmes', the original ... Ye Olde College Inn on Carrrollton ... Tujague's, the original, almost empty and quiet at mid-afertnoon ... waiting in line, Saturday mornings, Camellia Grill ... Commander's Palace ... Compagno's ... so much more, eaten, digested, forgotten ...
Riding the "Freret Jet" bus in the fall of 1972, watching a 7 or 8-year-old black kid on the back bench, alone, singing one line from Curtis Mayfield, over and over: "Fred is dead. Fred is dead. Fred is dead. Fred is ..."
Accompanying Edwin Edwards to a rally at Jefferson Downs, watching him drive his supporters into a howling frenzy, then being lifted off our feet by the hungry, grabbing, pressed-in crowd that followed him as he left the racetrack, 1983(?) ...
Sitting with my wife at Cafe Du Monde at 1 a.m. and watching the guy who played Cliff Barnes on Dallas emerge stumble-drunk from a limousine and throw his arms up in the air in a "C'est moi!" gesture. Then burst out laughing ...
Professor Longhair at Tipitina's ... Sidney's Newstand on Decatur ... Fooseball at Eddie Price's ... Springsteen on his first tour south, at the Lakeshore Auditorium, 1974 ... The Meters everywhere ... Jax in a can ... The Maple Street Bookstore ... James Booker on piano at the Maple Leaf---gay, crippled and a junkie to boot, with an eye patch ... Watching the Pope roll down Canal Street in the Popemobile, 1988 ... and attending an anti-Pope news conference staged by a renegade nun, then walking back with her to the French Quarter townhouse she'd been "loaned," being invited in for iced tea and stunned near-speechless by the beauty of the interior ...
Coming to at 7 a.m. in the Gateway Bar in the Quarter, with P--- McD-----'s hulking frame sprawled halfway across the counter ...
David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars, The Warehouse, on Tchoupitoulas ...
Robert Stone's Hall of Mirrors and the movie version with Paul Newman ...
Seeing, but just barely, Ali retake his crown from Leon Spinks, from a perch on the second row from the top of the Superdome, which we later read was like looking down at the street from nine floors up; then walking with our glassy-eyed friend through the Hyatt and seeing the sweaty, ass-whipped Spinks being carried off an elevator by his handlers ... 1978(?)
The old white guys' bar at the edge of the Irish Channel where we twice went with M--- C----- to eat soft-boiled eggs and shoot pool ...
Ex-governor Jimmie Davis singing You Are My Sunshine at the Jazz Fest, 1979(?)
Jazz Fest, 1987, with E---- R----- (1952-2004), "Authorized Distributor, Chaos and Confusion" ...
Riding the streetcar back from the Quarter late one night with a girl whose name we've long forgotten, in a fierce thunderstorm and driving rain that gave us the impression the car was slipping and sliding all the way up St. Charles Ave. ...
Taking our family to meet our parents for a weekend at the Monteleone, the crazy weekend of the 2000 "Bayou Classic," and trying to show our kids some of the sights, give them a taste of the city ... they say now they don't remember much of that weekend ...
"We've lost our city. I fear it's potentially like Pompeii."
---former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial