I’m not sure what is going on in New Orleans for the second “anniversary” of Katrina—but there seems to be less “focus” on the city than last year. Not that that’s bad, but it does represent a sense that we are off the radar when it comes to the national agenda, especially when it comes to continuing efforts to rebuild the city with much needed outside resources. NPR’s Morning Edition has been running some good pieces over the past few days, though. Now that’s a “yat” accent!
This is a difficult time of year for me. I guess it will always be—every year. I’m not home. I should be home. I should be rebuilding the city. And whatever rationalization I use to justify why I’m not in New Orleans, the fact of the matter is I never have a day where I didn’t wish that my family and I weren’t back home.
Not one day….
Life is good in Texas. I would be lying if I said anything less. We bought our house three months ago, prior to the housing debacle the country finds itself in right now. Susan and I have been having constant parties at the house since we moved in—celebrating Huey Long’s birthday just this last Saturday with Hurricanes and Ramos Gin Fizzes, Gumbo, and Pecan Pie. The schools are good, I have a tenure-track job, and Susan gets to stay at home, raising Devin who is nearly 4 into a fine young man. We don’t have to lock our doors at night, and indeed the doors to the cars are never locked. We see a dark horizon out our back porch at night—seeing the stars brightly shining overhead. Frogs burp in the creek below, and we can hear an occasional coyote in the distance.The front porch light is left on, but only for decoration—its red light bulbs illuminating a radiant glow of defiance in the neighborhood. Of course, there’s the Pink Flamingo in the front yard, and the house is full of Simon’s art. With all the walls colored something different (red, yellow, greenish-yellow, blue pillared archways), you can’t help but feel you’re in New Orleans when you come inside the house.
But we’re not in New Orleans….
And if you’re a New Orleanian, you know exactly what I mean.
A piece of my identity lies waiting for me in the Streets of New Orleans—along Decatur Street in the French Quarter, or along Frenchman Street in the Marigny. I long to hear the sounds of the Mississippi River on a Sunday morning—barges pushing goods up river, causing large waves to slap at the side of the riverbank. There is a quiet to New Orleans on a Sunday morning that is a mix of the absence of last night’s party and the faint sounds of cleaning up after the party. I long for a great po-boy—Roast Beef, Oyster or Shrimp. Dressed. Yeah you right. I want to say hello on a Friday afternoon to Kathleen at the antique shop, or Brad at Artist’s Alley, or Rhonda at FunRockin’ I want them to notice how big Devin has become. I want to share a drink at Molly’s with a total stranger who is looking for a great place to eat in the Quarter. I want to walk down a street and be able to smile at people and have them smile back at me—to say “hey, how ya doin’,” and mean it.
That doesn’t exist in Killeen, Texas…. Nor would I expect it to exist here. It’s not fair to Killeen or to the heritage of Central Texas. You can’t compare apples and oranges.
I hate Katrina. Yet, I knew it could happen. What I really hate is the fact that Katrina made the decision for me to leave New Orleans. I didn’t. And perhaps the crime, the bad schools, the gentrification, the politics, the fact I didn’t have a steady job—all would perhaps force me to realize that I needed to leave New Orleans for something more solid and stable for my family and myself. It’s an issue of control. If I had made the decision to leave, I would still miss New Orleans, but I would know that I left giving it my best effort. But Katrina put me in a situation where I had to leave, after coming so close (so close) to actually making it in New Orleans.
So, Wednesday, August 29, 2007, I will be in my classroom at Fort Hood conducting a course on “The City,” focusing on what it means to one’s self to find a “centrality of place.” My students and I will engage in a discussion on this topic, and I may show them a video on why New Orleans matters. And with the lights down, face forward at the movie screen, I will cry. I will cry for my city. I will cry for my friends who are rebuilding the city on their own. I will wish that I was there with them on this night—mourning the loss of a great International City.
Yeah you right…