b Papa Dog's Blog: Life Below Sea Level

Papa Dog's Blog

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Life Below Sea Level

New Orleans, I hear, is evacuating in the face of Ivan. I was there for a hurricane once, in the summer of 1992. Thinking about it this morning, I wasn’t even sure of the name of the hurricane, but a little research tells me I was right in guessing that it must have been Andrew. Ambrose and I were staying at Marquette House, the youth hostel on Carondelet St., but we were running low on funds and just days away from once again living in the car. At first, we didn’t pay any attention to the news of the hurricane – what, that’s like a big rainstorm, right? Who gives a shit? But then we were having lunch at the St. Ann Kitchen (sadly, I think no longer there), and an emergency bulletin came over the radio. It was like a scene from a movie from the 40s – an announcer came on with a special bulletin and everybody in the room stopped talking and stared at the radio, listening intently. I think that was the first time we noticed the apprehensive vibe permeating the town, poking up under the eternal laissez les bon temps rouler veneer. It was about that time it occurred to us that a single tree branch through the windshield of the Cutlass would leave our future house fucked for habitation, and we decided to head north right away to wait out the storm. I don’t remember how this came about, but we brought a nice girl from Utah along with us. She was getting married soon and was for some reason traveling by herself in New Orleans. I’d guess it was her rumspringa, but that’s the Amish, not the Mormons. I can’t think what else would possess her to take off with a couple of lowlifes like us. If she was looking for a wild time in the eye of the storm, though, I guess she ended up disappointed. She was too afraid of Ambrose and I was too much of a gentleman (or maybe too afraid of Mormons), and you couldn’t ask for a more proper arrangement of two horny guys living in a car with a nice girl from Utah.

I-55 looked like a single caravan headed north. I imagine it’s like that now. We were late adopters, so by the time we got to Jackson, MS, everything was full except for some scary fuck motel on the highway where you parked your car in a garage next to the room. It was too expensive anyway, so we kept driving and ended up sleeping at a rest stop, Utah girl in the back seat of the car and Ambrose and I on top of picnic tables. When he woke up, Ambrose found a mash note from some nocturnal visitor tucked under his head. Ambrose always slept with a knife handy when we were at rest stops. The guy was lucky Ambrose slept heavily and didn’t wake up with the wrong idea. Over breakfast at the picnic table, we had a chat with a groundskeeper, a nice old codger who asked us where we were from and how we liked running from a hurricane. He talked about how Jackson was a real nice town, except now – mouth twisted in distaste – the blacks were taking over, and we figured maybe we should keep heading north and try to find a place where the nice old men aren’t such openly racist assholes.

We ended up in Nashville, which for all I know is chock full of nice old racist assholes, but at least they had a room at the Elvis Presley Boulevard Inn (not a very useful link, but the best I could find), and that’s where we waited out the hurricane. It never even hit New Orleans, but how were we supposed to know?

Another time, round about 1995 or so, I was staying at (that’s what we say in New Orleans – “staying at,” not “living in”) a house on Joseph St. and working at a place over towards the Riverbend. One night walking home, I got caught in a flash flood. I’d known rain was coming, so I had my umbrella, but when it really started coming down, I might as well have been holding a single square of toilet paper over my head for all the good it was doing. Worse, the winds were starting to gust and it seemed likely that I was going to get swept up in an updraft like Mary Poppins. I just folded the umbrella up, hunched myself into the wind, and by the time I got home I looked like I’d swum the whole way.

Lisa and Debbie were staying with me that week, because my housemate was out of town and they’d rented their apartment out for Jazzfest or something. Lisa and I were in the living room, watching Miller’s Crossing, when there was a knock on the door. “Who could that be?” we goggled comically. Oh, of course. It was Debbie, stark naked and drenched. She’d crept out the back way and wanted Lisa to come join her dancing naked in the rain. They frolicked about on the lawn, dancing and laughing like little kids. I stood on the porch, not wanting a second soaking, and hoped that the spectacle wasn’t going to prove to embarrassing for my housemate when he got home and heard about it from the neighbours. Then I happened to glance to my right and saw the brief orange glow of a cigarette on the porch next door. Mean Redneck Dad next door was watching from the shadows, and he was keeping such a low profile that I could be pretty sure he wouldn’t want to talk about it with the neighbours later. Then the rain got even heavier and Debbie suddenly noticed that the flood waters were creeping up to her car, so the dance ended as, still naked, she moved the car to higher ground. Two teenagers across the street spotlighted her with flashlights the whole way. All good clean fun.

That was all long ago and far away, and now I hardly have anyone left in New Orleans, the one town in the world that has always been most special to me. Those of you who are still there – Lisa and family, Charlene, David and Tami, Michelle, Sylvie, Patrick, anybody else I’m forgetting – I love you all and miss you and hope that this day finds you warm and safe and dry in your perfectly intact homes.

Oh, and damn, I hope Molly's is well shuttered!


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