Man, I am SO glad to be back in New Orleans. I've considered it home for a decade. It's the only place in the U.S. that I want to be.
I left the first time in 2002 for New York City and came back in 2003. It wasn't a cliched return because I couldn't make it there--I had a good though infuriating job, a nice apartment in Brooklyn, and the connections I needed to make things work. I came back because I was lonely for New Orleans. I kept dreaming about Magazine Street and potholes and people being themselves and many of the things I'd complained about when I lived here. And then there was this crystallized moment when I'd fallen asleep with the tv on and woke up to Louis Armstrong's "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans." I started crying. I had to come back even if it meant being in between jobs for awhile, living without health insurance, running up credit cards. I realized it was the only place I'd ever lived that was real, the only place where anything was going on. I drove the 28 hours straight.
I left the second time on August 28, 2005--wearing the t-shirt and sweats I'd slept in, with my dog, two books, one cd, and one change of clothes--for my home town, 600 miles away, a 20-hour drive that day. This second departure was made possible by several lucky breaks, including but not limited to the following: I had a relative outside the projected path of the storm, a 200-something mile swath; as a "middle-class" person, I had a car that would idle long enough, without overheating, to get to Meridian, MS, where traffic finally became traffic rather than a parking lot; because of a meager income, twice that of the median income for New Orleans residents, I had $132 in my bank account (despite it being the end of the month) and a credit card with a little space on it; and I had a full tank of gas. I include these details for anyone who may wonder why everyone didn't get out of the city.
I returned five weeks later, the first day people in my zip were allowed back into the city. I drove in from the west, down Claiborne, through a city on fire, literally, through a scene resembling a Bosch painting, but one that can only really be understood by anybody else who saw it.
I was lucky. My apartment did not flood. It had been "looted" (and I don't think by the much- hyped "looters" on CNN et al, either). The street I lived on was barely passable. A tree was on my roof. My block was litttered with the hot, decomposing corpses of dogs and cats. Severed power and cable lines hung limp. Flies, rats and mice were everywhere, inside and out. The fridge was full of maggots even though the only things in there had been condiments and frozen brocoli. Yet somehow my apt was one of the only ones in the city with running water, electricty, and cable. I still had a regular paycheck and a job for awhile, one that I could do from home. I had some FEMA money left, only because I happened to be the only one who lived at my address. Any complaints of mine in this regard are nothing but whining, comparatively.
This is the thing: I didn't lose my stuff or my dwelling, and I can't speak for the people who did at all. But I thought for a good month that I had, and that wasn't what was primarily important to me. What really gets a person is this and this and this and this. What really gets a person is seeing their own government let its people literally die. There's something about that that nobody gets over, even if there is some kind of reparation or apology later, which in this case there obviously hasn't been.
This post doesn't stop here, I bit off more than I could chew, and I may or may not come back to it. If you're from here, you know all these stories and you know what I mean. I don't want this blog in general to be narrative or autobiographical or any of that. This is just a little of what's up with A.F. in N.O.