44°F

It hit a low of 44ºF here in Bloomington yesterday. The high? 67º.

Yes, it gets that cold in New Orleans. Colder even. For a few days. In January. Not at the end of September.

This is why I don’t think I can move back to the Midwest.

Good for the Soul

About a week before Katrina hit, I turned on WWOZ and heard some super heavy jazz organ. I thought it was pretty cool, and paid special attention to the DJ when he announced it was Robert Walter.

The Friday before Katrina hit, the entertainment section of the Times-Picayune revealed that Robert Walter had recently moved to New Orleans and would be playing at Tipitina’s the following Thursday. I made a mental note and thought I might go to check him out with my friend David Bryan.

Then Katrina hit. But — surprise — last night I saw Robert Walter play right here in Bloomington at a club called Uncle Fester’s.

I bluffed my way in: “I hear people from New Orleans get in free.” And I presented my drivers license to the bouncer. It worked! Xy and I both got in free.

What a great show.

We also went to Second Story and saw Brando. They rocked.

Funeral for a Friend

Johnny McKay died a couple of weeks ago. He was 32. I didn’t know him that well, but we had some mutual friends, and Xy & I crashed on a futon at his house on the west side of Bloomington, once upon a time.

We just went to his memorial service. It was pretty cool. There was a reading from the Tao Te Ching, and they played some recordings by Skeeter, a band he and his wife Abby were in together.

Afterwards, a bunch of attendees drifted over to a nearby amphitheater and burned a couple joints in Johnny’s memory. I’m sure he would have approved.

I didn’t partake, myself. But it was one of those memorable Bloomington moments.

Good Honest Work

I got a job! John Byers hired me to help with a renovation he’s doing. I spent about four hours this morning pulling nails out of dismantled cabinetry and pulling floorboards up in an attic. It was sweaty and dirty work but not particularly difficult. I suppose I’m doing it more for the sake of doing something than for the money. I’m making $8.50 an hour.

The Stream Keeps Splitting

Last night our friend Jaylene came down from Indy with her step-dad. They were delivering a bed and some other furniture for us. The bed was available because Jaylene’s mom — Jimmy’s wife — died just a few weeks ago.

As I sat on our front porch talking with Jimmy, I recalled something I’d said to Xy just the day before: “The only thing that would hurt worse than this hurricane would be losing you.” Well, here I was talking to a man who’d lost his wife. It kind of put things in perspective.

Jaylene also brought our mutual friend Abby along. Her husband Johnny just died last week. I’m not sure how old he was, but I’m sure he was younger than me. She said I could have some of his clothes.

So there we all were, a bunch of people who’d sustained heavy recent losses, drowning our sorrows in wine and beer. Mostly I sat on the front porch and talked with Jimmy, observing the occasional young college couple walk down the darkened street, listening to the muffled roar that I assumed had something to do with Men’s Formal Rush but was probably just a big party.

Jimmy and I struggled to find common ground. There was a big gulf between us that can be summed up in one word: class. I’ve never felt so bourgeois in my whole life as I did while sitting there talking to him — well, except for the whole last two weeks as I’ve watched people dying in New Orleans on the big screen TV at my in-laws’ house.

Has it really been two weeks? It feels like two years. But I’m rambling.

Jimmy said one thing in particular which I struck me as beautiful, funny and profound. Almost like a zen koan, really.

Can you walk on water? Well, I can. But the damn stream keeps splitting in two.

Settling In

It was the silverware that really got to me.

A couple days ago we moved into a house on the east side of IU’s campus. The housing was graciously donated to us, rent free for at least a month, by Timothy and Susan Mayer. They are parents of Andrew Mayer, a friend and video collaborator who is now living in Los Angeles.

It’s a nice neighborhood, almost completely populated by students, and just a block or two away from Indiana University’s massive campus. Ironically, it’s very close to Ashton dormitory, where IU will be housing around 100 evacuees who are expected to arrive Monday.

Xy starts work at Harmony school on Monday. I’m still looking for some sort of work, but I’m not sure exactly what. Xavier has said that faculty and staff will remain on salary, with classes resuming January 4th. That seems bravely optimistic.

A bunch of people have given us (or loaned us) a bunch of stuff. We’ve really landed on our feet. We appreciate everyone who’s helped us.

But somehow it was unpacking the new set of silverware that really drove home the fact that we’re gonna be here for a while. I’ve known that, of course, but something about that silverware was very depressing.

Yet mostly our spirits remain high. I’ve been riding a complex torrent of conflicting emotions, predominantly sadness, rage and shame, mixed with guilt, hope, confusion and a thousand other feelings. Despair seems constantly imminent, held at bay by a mere act of volition. I remind myself that it’s a choice — a choice I’m not going to make. I’m not going to wallow in self-pity. There’s to much at stake now, both for myself and my city, to waste time with that.

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to keep up with e-mails. Many people have contacted me. I’ve been unable to respond because of limited internet access. Hopefully that will change next week sometime with a computer and a broadband connection.

Gotta run now — Chad Carruthers wants to interview me on WFHB for the daily local news program at 5:30pm (central). Listen in if you get a chance.

Column

This story about us appeared in the local Bloomington paper yesterday. Thanks, Mike.

NOLA evacuees just glad to be back in Bloomington

by Mike Leonard
H-T columnist
September 1, 2005

Bart Everson and Christy Paxson hadn’t evacuated New Orleans in the six years they’d lived there and didn’t pay much heed to Hurricane Katrina, either, when chatter about the storm increased in intensity over the course of last week.

“Saturday morning, I got up and started reading The Times-Picayune, and when I saw the map with the projected path, I thought, ‘Uh-oh,'” Everson said Wednesday afternoon. “Within about a half-hour, I’d pretty well decided we were leaving tomorrow.”

The couple got up at 3 a.m. Sunday, packed hastily, and headed north from their Mid-City home at about 5 a.m. They made it as far as north-central Mississippi that evening when they decided to grab a hotel room where they could wait out the storm.

“When we got up in the morning and saw the footage of the roof being ripped off the Superdome, I honestly had visions of me stomping through the snow,” Everson said. “I knew we were headed back to Bloomington, and it was going to be a long time before we could go home.”

The married couple made it safely back to Bloomington, where Paxson’s parents, Mike and Susie, live.

“We’re homeless and jobless, and we don’t know what we’re going to do,” Everson said. “We got out with a couple of changes of clothing and our three cats, and that’s about it.”

Still, the former Bloomington residents are surprisingly sanguine.

“Every time I start feeling sorry for myself, I think of those images from the Superdome and the flooded streets and that snaps me back to reality pretty
quickly,” Paxson said. “We have friends and family here, and we’re healthy and safe.”

Like a million other evacuees from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, however, the couple still have a hard time comprehending what happened to their
lives over the course of a weekend.

Paxson, an Ellettsville native, had just begun her second year teaching sixth grade in a public school in Algiers, which is just south and east of metropolitan New Orleans. School was just getting started for Everson as well at Xavier University, where he works as a “multi-media artist” doing video production, Web design and computer programming.

Both are Indiana University alumni, and Everson was among the first graduates of the IU’s innovative MIME (Master’s in Immersive Mediated Environments) program.

Paxson and Everson say they truly came to love New Orleans and feel a part of the city and culture after living there for six years.

“It has a well-earned mystique in literature and film and cuisine,” Everson said. “It’s also a city where many people live in bone-crushing poverty, which is
something that people who go there for vacations or conventions can’t fully appreciate.”

Paxson noted, for example, that it was considered bold when the New Orleans school district guaranteed at the beginning of the school year that the schools would have toilet paper at all times and administrators were authorized to use credit cards to buy toilet paper at Wal-Mart if necessary.

The couple chafes at insinuations that people who didn’t evacuate were just stupid.

“There are 100,000 people in New Orleans that are too poor to own a car or pay for transportation,” Everson said. “And the thing is, that’s always been known. The potential for a devastating hurricane has been known. But there’s never been a plan to get these people out.”

They worry about their neighbors in racially and economically mixed Mid-City, which was inundated with water after a levee between the city and Lake
Pontchartrain failed on Monday. They’ve had trouble even contacting friends because telephone communication to land-lines and cell phones in the 504
area code remains spotty at best.

They expect that it will be months before they can return to the city, and even then, some are predicting that colleges will be closed for at least a semester and the public schools for possibly the entire school year. They fear that looters may well make off with what possessions the flood waters didn’t take.

“We’ll be looking for jobs here, and who knows, maybe we’ll wind up staying here for the rest of our lives,” Everson said. “I love Bloomington, but I hope we can go back. The future is just so uncertain right now.”

Paxson said she was in a surprisingly good mood on Wednesday, and she really couldn’t figure out why. “I have one pair of shoes,” she said with a good-humored laugh.

“It’s because what’s happened has made you focus on what’s really important,” her husband offered. “Life is not about stuff. It’s about people and family. Sometimes it takes something like this to remind us of that.”

Post-Katrina Me

Hurricane Refugees

We made it out of New Orleans with our three cats and not much else. We’re now safely ensconced with the in-laws in Bloomington, Indiana.

We got up at 3AM on Sunday morning, packed a few things, choked down some hash browns, checked the weather reports, and hit the road by 5AM. Five hours later we got a hotel room in Winona, Mississippi. We were thinking maybe the storm wouldn’t hit New Orleans too bad, maybe we’d be able to return quickly.

Obviously, that’s not the case.

We spent the night in Winona, glued to CNN. When we woke up Monday morning and saw Katrina ripping the roof off the Superdome, we realized a quick return was unlikely, and decided to continue northward. We spent last night in Bloomington. Today we’re being inundated by Katrina rain here, too. There may even be flash floods in parts of Indiana.

It looked for a while like New Orleans had escaped the doomsday scenario, but then the levee broke on the 17th Street Canal. Our neighborhood is most certainly flooded now. We just don’t know how bad. The mayor says 80% of the city is under water. I’m worried about what’s become of our friend and neighbor Michael Homan. You can read what he posted to his blog before the power went out; it’s scary.

Calls to the 504 area code are problematic, so if you call our cell phone, you might not reach us. If you need to give a call, try 812-336-4656.

See You at Nick’s

It’s official. We’ll be meeting at Nick’s English Hut in Bloomington, Indiana, at 8:30pm on the evening of Wednesday, July 6th.

Who are “we”? Well, in this case, “we” is me and everyone who reads this, if you’re in the Bloomington area. Even if we’ve never met in person, feel free to come on by and say hello. You know what I look like:

My New Haircut

…so it shouldn’t be hard to find me in the vast recesses of Nick’s.

As an added enticement, I’ll give a copy of the new ROX DVD to the first person who comes up to me and says, “La propriété, c’est le vol!”

See you there.