Lo and Behold

... the diary of one Chicago guy pointing his car South and traveling to New Orleans to work, gut homes and not mess up the recovery efforts in New Orleans USA April 2006 ...

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Location: shivering

Please check out mark-guarino.com or wordpreserve.com.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Freaky Friday

By Friday, none of us could barely move. This is exhausting work. Not just because I don't do physical labor everyday. But there is speed involved. A Habitat higher-up told our team leader that if every team was like our's, they'd be finishing more houses. We really locked into a rhythm by week's end and everyone became essential. It shows that you can get a group of strangers, put them in one setting and if the chemistry is there, stand out of the way.

We found dark humor that, on the same day we finished a week of in the worst devastation possible, W. was in town, heeding the call of his spin doctors. We heard the helicopters yesterday. Too bad the general public doesn't know how much of a fake photo-op his appearances like these are. Just like "Mission Accomplished," it is a calculated distortion. He showed up at a home building, not gutting. The idea was to show that New Orleans is on the rebound, the government is doing its job, conversativism is still compassionate and these neighborhoods are coming back fast. The truth is, of course, there is hardly any construction here. These neighborhoods are far, far, far, far from that stage. A majority of the city's black population is dismissed from here and nothing will be the same. If he wanted to roll up his sleeves and help us gut one of these sadly destroyed homes in neighborhoods that went on for miles, he was welcome. However, his handlers instead chose to shovel sweet candy in front of the nation, an image that does not exist and the idea that the problem is solved.

And this is another example of why the real story of Katrina is not being told. It's lost in the smoke and mirrors of the administration in charge and a media that's inert. If this is the case in New Orleans, on American soil, can you imagine what atrocities are being covered up in Iraq?

I drove to to the site because I needed to get to the Jazzfest grounds the moment we were finished. So I followed the bus.

"Operation Blessing" is the name of a group run by professional hatemonger/zealot Pat Robertson who donated the buses, so to advertise, that slogan was spread across the side of every vehicle. If we knew that Monday, most of said we would have driven ourselves to the site.

We finished the second home by late morning. It involved getting the debris out of the second floor (no easy task, just chuck it down the stairs), tear down the ceiling high above the foyer (Andrew and Rob did that) and general cleanup. Look how satisfied we are.
Then we went to the new house. We all agreed -- this house had a definite creepy vibe. The rooms were clausterphobic, the mold was to the ceiling, narrow hallways and few windows made it very dark, the living room was dark red and the outside was purple. A team had already pulled out the personal debris and mud/sludge. Our job was to do the drywall, cabinetry. Here are some "before" photos.


I took this shot from the inside. Religious statuary salvaged with the American flag in the back. Images we see all the time from the despots of the right wing war machine, but definitely not in this context. Where's real patriotism and compassion when they actually matter?


The door next door was creepier because it had not been gutted. It was like how we found the first house --- furniture in sludge, everything a mess. Remember how on Monday my batteries died so I couldn't take pictures of that? On Friday I poked my camera up to the window of this house to capture what homes look like before anyone -- families, cleanup crews -- goes inside. It's pretty horrible.
Here, the sofa is in the kitchen:

Then we took a lunch break. I've never had so many Snickers bars in one week.

And I walked around the block. Here's some photos of the neighborhood. An ironic mermaid fountain guards a waterlogged house.
A motorcycle in a backyard no one will likely ride again.
Santa Claus down for the count at the doorway.
In backyards, fences and sheds were always in shambles.
How New Orleans: In this pile of debris, someone strung Mardi Gras beads.
Warning: snakes.
View of the streets.

Brawny wrestlers must have gutted this house. Look how high up they got that mattress and sofa.
As always, Virgin Mary stayed behind to watch over many homes.
I would end this post with a photo of the finished house. But I handed my camera to someone on another team ... and I dropped it. It shattered. Buying a replacement today.

When the bus came, I jumped in my car with Rob and raced downtown. I dropped him off at home then went to the Reyes, showered, then raced again to Jazzfest to catch Bob Dylan. I can't really talk much about the music because I'm covering it for a magazine. I will say that St. John's Bayou, the neighborhood in which the fairgrounds are located, is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city and the one that made me fall in love with New Orleans way back when. I walked the bridge over the Bayou past the little cottages, flowers in bloom. The festival was incredibly packed with people. As Dylan sang "it's rough down there/high water everywhere," it perfectly summed up what I've seen all week.

One thing that was immediate obvious was activity. All week we worked in neighborhoods that were deadly silent except for our crowbars and hammers. But in other parts of town, life. The silence of the devastated neighborhoods told a story in itself. Not many people at Jazzfest will have a chance to see what we've seen because they're removed by just a little distance. So in a way, silence kills, still.

There's more. Just stay tuned.

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