Friday, September 30, 2005

Lugo and Milo


Lugo and Milo
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
Here's a nice little break from my Katrina coverage. Which of these guys has the cuter smile? Lugo, on the left, or Milo, on the right?

Lugo is our old neighbor from NYC and Brando's old BFF. Lugo was fished out of the East River when he was a puppy. He's also featured in an essay in Dog Culture. The day before left NYC to move to Florida, Brando went to visit Lugo and leapt back and forth over top of him like an acrobat. Lugo let Brando get away with that kind of thing. Milo was just a baby then, and Brando used to slip his socks off and suck on them when no one was watching. That was funny--the first time.

Why are both these young men smiling? Because they know the person behind the camera loves them.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

My afternoon with the Red Cross, FEMA and a displaced pit bull

After spending the night talking to FEMA reps who couldn't access their computers, I decided to call the wrong FEMA number again and ask if there was any way to talk to someone about my application. "I don't know," was the answer again. They suggested I go the Red Cross, so later today I drove over with some clothes people had given me that didn't quite fit. I figured I could find someone else who needed them.

Outside on the steps was a young couple with a sweet pit bull. They were from Texas, and their seven week old baby and two more pits were staying with grandma. Inside I asked the main desk about leaving clothes. "Take them to Good Will," they said. "Isn't there a way that I could just give them away?" I asked, instead of having Good Will sell them. They stared at me as if I was insane.

I said I had a FEMA question, and they told me that they had FEMA reps there. I actually felt a bit elated. I could actually talk to someone face to face, I wouldn't get disconnected or hung up on. Then I asked the woman behind the desk full of pamphlets if there was any way of knowing when I might get the housing assitance they have been promoting. "You could try calling," she said. I told her I had and that they told me to come here. "You can go on the internet," she said. I told her I had tried that too. "I don't know," she said. I realized that she was really just a woman wearing a FEMA shirt, distributing brochures about mold. "Isn't there some way a person could tell me if my file is complete, or when I can actually pay my rent?" "We recommend you do it one month at a time," she said. "So that's your answer?" I asked. Then she teased me again, telling me that I could go to a "disaster center" where they would be able to access my file and tell me what the status was. Great I thought, and asked her to write down the address. It was 180 miles away...

My fortune

I ate some really bad Chinese food when I got to Tallahassee a few weeks ago and this was the fortune at the end of the meal:

"Keep on charging the enemy so long as there is life."

My night with FEMA

Since my landlord expects me to pay rent on my New Orleans house, and I'll soon have to find another place to live while waiting to return to New Orleans, I decided to contact FEMA to find out why I haven't received the rent money that other people are getting. It would be particularly useful if I'm having to rent two places at once. All week, when I've called during the day, I'm immediately disconnected--call another time they say. Try the middle of the night. So, early this morning, after waking up and not being able to get back to sleep, I decided to call them. The computers are down. They can't tell me anything. Call back in an hour. I call back in an hour. The computers are down. They can't tell me anything. Call back in an hour.

"That's what I was told an hour ago," I say.

"Try in the morning," the woman now tells me.

"That's when they say to call in the middle of the night."

The woman then emitted the sounds of a Charlie Brown adult, and I hung up.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Thousands of New Orleans renters face eviction

The latest surprise for those of us who haven't been able to return home is this: Our landlords want their rent, even though the city won't allow us to occupy our houses and apartments. Why? Because FEMA will use the apartments apparently, for their own workers. And in this way, having already gotten rid of the "undesirable" underclass, the city and federal government can know whittle away at the renting/working class, including artists, musicians and teachers.

I can certainly understand why landlords would want to get rent, but I'm surprised that there isn't any aid available to negotiate this limbo period. FEMA is issuing money to cover relocation expenses. The landlords want that money to come to them, which leaves the hurricane victims--me included--with no money to cover their current living situation. Yet, for most of us, we only have the landlord's word that our homes are habitable and that are things are still there. I called FEMA today and they had no answers, and actually told me I should be grateful they were giving me anything at all. Then I tried the Red Cross, but the only numbers on their website are for people wanting to give money. Then I called FEMA again and they directed me to the Louisiana Recovery Hotline, where I was told "Landlords can do whatever they want." Is that the offical state response? I asked. Yes, said "Hazel". When I asked how I could be expected to give up my apartment when the city won't allow to return to collect our things, she had no answer. "Call the state police" she said, "I think they're letting people in." This, of course, is not true, and the number she gave me is never answered. I called back again and spoke with someone new--"If people are giving out phone numbers as answers to questions, shouldn't they be numbers that actually work?" I asked. This second person was a bit more helpful and told me that in a conversation with a landlord yesterday, she discovered that the landlords can rent to new tenants as long as they store our things--and "if they throw your stuff outside and put a tarp over it, that's considered storage."

Apparently the New New Orleans will consist only of property owners and slumlords--what a great way to attract tourists!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Apparently I'm African American...and other media-inspired epiphanies.

In Mississippi, during and after the storm, there was no electricity and therefore no media reporting what may or may not be going on in New Orleans. At the time it was frustrating, because what reports were filtering down by word of mouth seemed confusing and contradictory. Now, after three weeks of watching the news off and on, I miss those days of innocence. Back then, when people talked about the response of the government and the media being influenced by race, I felt pretty strongly that it wasn't just race--it was more than anything about class. People with money have no sense of what it is like to not have any: how limiting it is and, frankly, how it is possible to be working full time and still living in poverty.

My perception has been altered in recent days. First, by entering the crime forum at nola.com, where I encountered a mostly hostile collection of white men concerned about their Corvettes being stolen by...those people. When I posted a few thoughts that didn't fall in line with theirs--suggesting, for example, that not all criminals are black--they immediately assumed I was African American and began hurling insults at me. When I mentioned that I had to borrow money to evacuate, they continued, telling me that I was exactly the kind of person they needed to get rid of. When I identified myself as a school teacher, they told me I was what was wrong with the public school system and that I must have snorted my paycheck. The level of ignorance displayed by these self-identified proper New Orleanians sickened me. It made me not want to go back. Of course, they existed before the storm--I just never encountered them directly, in part because if we had met face to face they would have realized I was white--and therefore, absurdly, withheld the comments and ire they targeted me with onliine. But online, they were able to judge me based on just a few facts: my neighbhorhood and my income. The conclusions they drew show just how unfamiliar they are with their city, and the fact that it is possible to work hard and still have an empty bank account at the end of the week.

But in many ways they are no different than the mainstream media--or perhaps they are the product of it. If you read The New York Times, you will discover neighborhood distinctions that don't actually exist in the real New Orleans: North Bywater, Riverside, etc. only exist on the maps they have drawn to illustrate the points they want to make about flooding and demographics. The truth is that while race, racism and poverty are widespread in the city, none of it is so easily portrayed on a map. In fact, the map of New York City is far more distinct in the lines drawn between rich and poor, black and white.

But most appalling of all was the news today in the Times Picayune, which reports that the widespread rape and murder reported during and after the flood was completely fabricated--by frantic citizens, rapid reporters and, I think, particularly bloggers, some of whom wrote as if they were eyewitnesses to these crimes even as they blogged away from some safe haven. Remember the seven year old girl who was discovered with her throat slashed? Fiction, apparently, as are most of the other deaths reported at the Superdome and the convention center. The gangs of thugs raping and terrorizing children after the lights went out--again, no confirmations at all from anyone who was actually there. In fact, the homicide rate during and after the hurricane was exactly the same as it was before, which is admittedly too high, but still, the theory that packing poor, mostly African American people together inspired rampant crime is a myth that too many people--including me, apparently--were willing to buy.