Monday, September 26, 2005

Letter to Jamie

Dear Jamie,

It has been more than three years and I am still
not earning a living in Brooklyn. Yesterday, on
the list: "finish 2 kick-ass paintings for Art
show. Mail CD to RA. 'Therapy' page on
website. New splash page on website. Call
Jerry's and re-order out-of-stock linen canvas.
Finish Arts Circle poster. Grant apps: NYFA,
Greenshields, CFEVA. Laundry.' This was for the
week, not the day. I spend too much time sitting
in the kitchen window, fussing over houseplants.
The city gets on top of me.

So after working on paintings until they need to
sit and dry, I hop on my bike with laptop, bike
the long way around the park, breathing in the
trees, and wind up at the Tea Lounge, to work on
the poster. 'Make the poster, like, over the top
fussy, stuff stuff stuff, old-fashioned fonts,
really long and intricate,' says Grigorio. Only
he has not finalized the program information;
thus I can only go So Far.

Then I go to opening at TablaRasaGallery (not
'Tabula Rasa'--no Latin scholars in Brooklyn)
because Horley invited me, and when I checked my
email there were no less than three invitations
to same, coming from different sources. I still
hate art openings. Artists are weird and
squirrelly, and one day they talk with you
candidly and the next they snub you, and one of
the in-crowd at this gallery used to be my
ex-boyfriend's fuck buddy. Usually we pretend
not to recognize one another and edge out of the
room. My ex-boyfriend used to go on and on about
Ursula's erotic magnetism, and then one day we
ran into her in the train station; after she
shook hands and went away my ex-boyfriend
exclaimed, "my God, Ursula has turned into a
shriveled-up old hag, I would NEVER fuck a hag
like that," which gave me pause, on a whole lot
of levels. But of course I didn't walk away
right then. You never do.

Horley didn't show up at the opening until an
hour after I did. I spent the time avoiding
Ursula and edging my way back into Gerard's good
graces; Gerard turned squirrelly after I passed
him on my bike in the park one day and yelled
"hi, Gerard" but didn't stop to chat because I
was late. At least I think that was it. When
Gerard thawed out he launched into an idea for
forming a virtual gallery in order to obtain a
booth at the Emerging Art Fair, then declaring
bankruptcy immediately afterward. There are a
lot of reasons why this isn't a good idea, but he
didn't want to listen to any; eventually he
laughed and gave up when I agreed to participate,
as long as he did the paperwork. He will never
do any paperwork.

Serendipitously I met the mystery artist who did
an installation on the wall of the overpass by my
apartment. It was a whole rainstorm of aluminum
teardrops, in shades of silver, copper and brass,
stuck to the concrete. It was beautiful and
exactly the right thing for that corner, an
exceptionally bleak one which I have to pass on
my way to the subway station, and I loved it and
was heartbroken when the city took it down. I
had already caught the guy's eye a couple of
times, first at BWAC on Sunday and then at this
opening, because he seemed nice and not too
squirrelly. Then I opened his artist book and
discovered photos of aluminum installations on
overpass walls, and went up to him and gasped,
'did YOU do the teardrops on Prospect and 4th
Ave.? Where did they go?' He doesn't get
permission first, is the problem, and the city
follows around after him and scrapes them down.

Later, when Hawley arrived, I found out that this
guy is a friend of hers. We talked about the
other street artist who does intricate paper
cut-out figures and pastes them on walls, where
they slowly disintegrate. I thought about doing
a web page, "Cool Street Art in Brooklyn." It
surprises me how few people notice these things.

After the opening I schlepped out to the Empire
Diner in Chelsea, where Grigorio plays jazz piano
from 7 to 11, in order to get a Final Decision
from him about the damn poster, already. The
benefit for New Orleans Musicians is scheduled
for October 7, and the printer turn-around time
is at least a week, and you can't print something
until you have accurate information, all of which
is obvious to me but not to Grigorio. Since I
last talked to him the plan has changed utterly,
including the name of the concert, which is now
"Mardi Gras Resurrection Party." In the end it
was established that we'd save the long,
intricate poster for the Bowery Ballroom concert
on October 19, and print a color postcard with
minimal information for the October 7 event.
After he stopped playing at 11 we walked to
Kinko's to take care of it Right Then.

On the way, for some reason, I started ranting
about the fact that all these men over 60 with
bad teeth, no money, and fatuous conversation
keep hitting on me, and not taking 'ack!' for an
answer. Grigorio said, "Men of any age want smooth skin in
a woman. Should men over 60 just be lonely?
Where's your compassion?" Grigorio himself has
got to be at least 45, but emotionally he's still
about 7--ingenuous, earnest, quite astonishingly
naive. Whenever I get into long discussions with
him I come out feeling like a jaded, cynical old
bitch. Many retorts flooded to mind, but I
contented myself with saying, "Women deal with
the aging/attractiveness issue sooner and to a
greater degree than men do." Which is
politicizing the issue unnecessarily, in my
opinion, but it shut him up.

We stood at the counter at Kinko's until 12:30,
bickering like siblings, until it became apparent
that Kinko's was incompetent and ignoring us, and
Grigorio had to make the Staten Island Ferry at 1.
He asked if I would stand there alone and deal
with Kinko's; I said no, I'm exhausted and
Kinko's SUCKS. After more bickering we settled
that I'd email him the postcard file, he could
stand in line at Kinko's all day tomorrow, and
the thing would be out of my life.

This morning I slept late and had a bizarre dream
about running into Marc Webb and Jamie Berger at
a gallery/library sort of space in Chelsea. I
remembered that Jamie had sent out a long letter
and decided to write back.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

don't mind me, I'm just watching your lips move

It's been kind of a bizarre week.

Monday and Tuesday I spent doing an ad hoc art installation on a loading dock in Jersey City. This guy I know had 'curated a show' there that was supposed to be opening this evening. He sent out a blanket 'call for volunteers' to build partitions and clean the place up for the show. After I got over being annoyed with people who think that my time is theirs for the asking, I showed up in Jersey city on Monday afternoon, to find this guy sweeping acres of filthy loading dock floor with a very small broom, and nothing else at all.

I was not terribly surprised, as this guy is of a type you get a lot of in NYC--the one who talks and talks, about all the people he knows, all his connections, his big ideas and gallery sales. I did not believe the talk. It simply occured to me that there has been an inchoate installation idea floating around in the back of my mind for several months, involving drawing on a really old, distressed wall in subtle and interesting ways. I had a feeling that the loading dock in Jersey City might be a place to try this out, and I was right.

So while the guy continued pushing his broom around and talking, I got out some charcoal and pencils, fetched a ladder, and started drawing. I drew for a few hours, then went to Staples for more supplies. The next day I returned with a boom box, extension cord, handmade paper from Chinatown, pencils, pastels, oil sticks, scissors, tacks, map pins, duct tape, mandala drawings, random things picked up off the ground, and two feathers. I spent all day playing kindergarten while blasting Arvo Pärt into the far reaches of the loading dock; I don't know what the local construction workers thought about it. The 'curator' pushed the dirt around on the floor for a few hours and finally went home.

Once I got done with my experimental mess on the wall, late Tuesday night, I lost interest in the project. The 'curator' called me several times to say how 'encouraged' he was that I was so enthusiastic; the carpenter who was supposed to be building partitions was not returning his calls, so he decided to go ahead with the opening on Saturday, just not hang any art. I ask you.

Wednesday the director of Arts Circle called and begged begged begged me to meet him at the Empire Bar between 7 and 11, where he is the house pianist. He had graphics and information for me which, for some reason, could not be sent over the Internet. I bitched and grumbled about this but showed up anyway; it was an excuse to leave my apartment. And there was, indeed, something a little glamorous about drifting into the Empire Bar at 10:15 with my laptop, perching on a barstool next to the pianist, and doing some desultory faux-antique graphic design while waiting for Grigorio to go on break. All I can say about the proposed benefit concert for displaced New Orleans musicians is that it looks good on paper; Grigorio talked with Woody Allen's manager about the possibility of getting Woody to play sax, but results are, so far, inconclusive.

Thursday the director of EAI called and begged begged begged me to come to his loft and rewrite the press release, answer phones, and attack the backlog of listings by artists who cannot follow 'upload' directions correctly. By this time I was starting to feel like a character in a Barbara Pym novel, a sort of ironic, tweedy middle-aged woman who sublimates her animal instincts by doing laundry for clergymen and typing anthropologist's theses. If it hadn't been Jerry I would have said no. I admit it--I have a crush on Jerry. Not Jerry qua Jerry, himself--what I love about him is that he is utterly open about how M.J. is the love of his life, the inspiration for everything he's doing, his reason to devote himself to emerging artists everywhere, and I have no desire to screw that up. No, Jerry is only my new template. I'd like to meet someone just like him, but available, a little bigger, and a bit less hyperactive. That doesn't mean I wasn't watching his hands moving around on the keyboard, and the way he'd take his hair down for no real reason and put it back in its ponytail, and his smile. It Has Been Awhile.

In fact, the Coney Island episode of a few weeks back definitely woke up my 2nd chakra. Unfortunately, simply getting laid isn't the issue. If it were, I could probably do a few shots of tequila, wander down to 18th and 4th avenue and have my pick of cute Latino gangsters. I'm not merely 'over' the ex, thankfully and finally. I've spent the last year really learning boundaries, which has cleared up my 3rd chakra (identity) and 4th chakra (heart). Which means, I think, that I might be capable of connecting with another person in a somewhat non-dysfunctional way. I don't know, though, because I haven't found a test subject yet.

Thursday after Jerry called my phone line went dead, possibly in order to protect me from more phone calls from desperate men. (Boundaries?) I fell into a state of panic and despair when the lady from MCI said that a repair visit would cost me $180, and thought briefly of cashing in all my available credit and departing permanently for South America.

But then on Friday I got a different lady at MCI, who apologized for the trouble I was having and promised to deal with it immediately; she also helped me access my voicemail, which contained messages from desperate paying clients. I earned $160 in cash and a lot of gratitude. Also, Lara called me from California to say she'd won the screenwriting competition. This caused me to hoot myself hoarse; I am genuinely, profoundly thrilled at my friends' successes. Hoo-wheee.

Then on Saturday were all the art openings. I thought I was working at BWAC, but upon arrival discovered that no, I'd signed up for Sunday. So I hung out by the bar for two or three hours, consuming random bad things and soaking up community vibes. A semi-retarded individual sat down next to me and talked soothingly of many nothings (you know the Long Island Railroad? I saw the train tracks, on Myrtle Avenue, I saw them! My friend, has a dog, the dog won't stay with anyone, he likes me, licks me, jumps up and down, but won't stay) and I did not mind at all, just smiled and nodded and dozed.

In front of my apartment I met my next-door neighbor, an upstanding young man who has been in the Air Force, surfs, rides horses, and scuba dives for shipwrecks. He has adopted the alley cats and named them Reef and Giala. After we'd been discussing the cats for some time, along came the prophet Jeremiah, in the form of a drunken Samoan from down the block. Jeremiah did a great deal of portentious mumbling, much of which I couldn't catch, but the gist of which seemed to be that my next-door neighbor and I should get married. Not immediately, but someday. I thanked him, and urged him to go home and drink a glass of water (compulsive maternality dies hard). "I love Brooklyn," said my neighbor, as Jeremiah wandered away.

Then I set off for Jersey City after all. I did not make it. Traffic was horrible, the Holland Tunnel costs $6, and after sitting on Canal St. for an hour I decided that the odds of reaching the loading dock at long last to find an embarrassingly pathetic scene were too high. I turned around and went to Lowe's instead, where I bought latex gloves, turpentine, chrysanthemums and a toaster. Mmmmm, kinky.

Late, after Prairie Home Companion, I went to the MadArts opening down the block, where I found the inevitable Steve the Poet. I have come to accept Steve as my brother--bad poetry, bad teeth and all--and we had a pleasant chat. He kept backing me around the room, but again I hardly minded. Boundaries are all about knowing you CAN walk away at any moment; then you choose to stay.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Meanwhile, a genuine heroine

I can't express how much I admire Badger for GOING TO HOUSTON AND DOING SOMETHING. I have been on a partial news-fast and a total blog-fast for the last few weeks, so I didn't realize what she was doing until today. Librarian to the rescue! Her courage, love and humanity transcends, well, everything.

Dueling ideologies in my inbox

A friend of my mother's emailed me this article, under the mistaken notion that Mom would be reading my email while she was visiting. I started to write a response, but was prevented from completing it by the uncontrollable surge of anger rising up in my gut. My mom's friend is a lovely person, a devoted pediatrician from Baton Rouge, well over seventy years of age, and has always been very kind to me. It would be rude and disrespectful of the elderly to unleash my sarcastic tongue just now.

An Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare State

An Objectivist Review

by Robert Tracinski | The Intellectual Activist

September 2, 2005

It has taken four long days for state and federal officials to figure out how to deal with the disaster in New Orleans. I can't blame them, because it has also taken me four long days to figure out what is going on there. The reason is that the events there make no sense if you think that we are confronting a natural disaster.

If this is just a natural disaster, the response for public officials is obvious: you bring in food, water, and doctors; you send transportation to evacuate refugees to temporary shelters; you send engineers to stop the flooding and rebuild the city's infrastructure. For journalists, natural disasters also have a familiar pattern: the heroism of ordinary people pulling together to survive; the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, and rescue workers; the steps being taken to clean up and rebuild.

Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored vehicle, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And journalists--myself included--did not expect that the story would not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and looting.

But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.

The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and television channel has gotten the story wrong.

The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not happen over the past four days. It happened over the past four decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.

The man-made disaster is the welfare state.

For the past few days, I have found the news from New Orleans to be confusing. People were not behaving as you would expect them to behave in an emergency--indeed, they were not behaving as they have behaved in other emergencies. That is what has shocked so many people: they have been saying that this is not what we expect from America. In fact, it is not even what we expect from a Third World country.

When confronted with a disaster, people usually rise to the occasion. They work together to rescue people in danger, and they spontaneously organize to keep order and solve problems. This is especially true in America. We are an enterprising people, used to relying on our own initiative rather than waiting around for the government to take care of us. I have seen this a hundred times, in small examples (a small town whose main traffic light had gone out, causing ordinary citizens to get out of their cars and serve as impromptu traffic cops, directing cars through the intersection) and large ones (the spontaneous response of New Yorkers to September 11).

So what explains the chaos in New Orleans?

To give you an idea of the magnitude of what is going on, here is a description from a Washington Times story:

"Storm victims are raped and beaten; fights erupt with flying fists, knives and guns; fires are breaking out; corpses litter the streets; and police and rescue helicopters are repeatedly fired on.

"The plea from Mayor C. Ray Nagin came even as National Guardsmen poured in to restore order and stop the looting, carjackings and gunfire....

"Last night, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said 300 Iraq-hardened Arkansas National Guard members were inside New Orleans with shoot-to-kill orders.

"'These troops are...under my orders to restore order in the streets,' she said. 'They have M-16s, and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.' "

The reference to Iraq is eerie. The photo that accompanies this article shows National Guard troops, with rifles and armored vests, riding on an armored vehicle through trash-strewn streets lined by a rabble of squalid, listless people, one of whom appears to be yelling at them. It looks exactly like a scene from Sadr City in Baghdad.

What explains bands of thugs using a natural disaster as an excuse for an orgy of looting, armed robbery, and rape? What causes unruly mobs to storm the very buses that have arrived to evacuate them, causing the drivers to drive away, frightened for their lives? What causes people to attack the doctors trying to treat patients at the Super Dome?

Why are people responding to natural destruction by causing further destruction? Why are they attacking the people who are trying to help them?

My wife, Sherri, figured it out first, and she figured it out on a sense-of-life level. While watching the coverage last night on Fox News Channel, she told me that she was getting a familiar feeling. She studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Chicago, which is located in the South Side of Chicago just blocks away from the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the largest high-rise public housing projects in America. "The projects," as they were known, were infamous for uncontrollable crime and irremediable squalor. (They have since, mercifully, been demolished.)

What Sherri was getting from last night's television coverage was a whiff of the sense of life of "the projects." Then the "crawl"--the informational phrases flashed at the bottom of the screen on most news channels--gave some vital statistics to confirm this sense: 75% of the residents of New Orleans had already evacuated before the hurricane, and of the 300,000 or so who remained, a large number were from the city's public housing projects. Jack Wakeland then gave me an additional, crucial fact: early reports from CNN and Fox indicated that the city had no plan for evacuating all of the prisoners in the city's jails--so they just let many of them loose. There is no doubt a significant overlap between these two populations--that is, a large number of people in the jails used to live in the housing projects, and vice versa.

There were many decent, innocent people trapped in New Orleans when the deluge hit--but they were trapped alongside large numbers of people from two groups: criminals--and wards of the welfare state, people selected, over decades, for their lack of initiative and self-induced helplessness. The welfare wards were a mass of sheep--on whom the incompetent administration of New Orleans unleashed a pack of wolves.

All of this is related, incidentally, to the apparent incompetence of the city government, which failed to plan for a total evacuation of the city, despite the knowledge that this might be necessary. But in a city corrupted by the welfare state, the job of city officials is to ensure the flow of handouts to welfare recipients and patronage to political supporters--not to ensure a lawful, orderly evacuation in case of emergency.

No one has really reported this story, as far as I can tell. In fact, some are already actively distorting it, blaming President Bush, for example, for failing to personally ensure that the Mayor of New Orleans had drafted an adequate evacuation plan. The worst example is an execrable piece from the Toronto Globe and Mail, by a supercilious Canadian who blames the chaos on American "individualism." But the truth is precisely the opposite: the chaos was caused by a system that was the exact opposite of individualism.

What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken care of them. They don't use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men.

But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them.

The welfare state--and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages--is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story that no one is reporting.

Source: TIA Daily -- September 2, 2005

Copyright© 2002 The Intellectual Activist

Then, someone else sent me this one:

Eyewitness Report from New Orleans

September 6, 2005

On Saturday September 3, award-winning filmmaker Gloria La Riva, internationally-acclaimed photographer Bill Hackwell and A.N.S.W.E.R. Youth & Student Coordinator Caneisha Mills, a senior at Howard University, arrived in New Orleans.

The following is an eyewitness report of the crisis in the area written on Sunday, September 4.


While 80 percent of New Orleans was submerged in water, Algiers is one of the few districts that have been spared the worst of the flooding as it sits higher than most of the city. An historic district established in 1719, Algiers is on the west bank of the Mississippi river, across from the French Quarter. Probably 15% of the residents still remain behind, most of them determined to stay in their homes. The majority of homes are still intact, although many have suffered damage. While their houses survived, the peoples’ chance of survival seemed very bleak since there was no electricity or disbursement of food, water or other supplies.

We arrived in the Algiers district of New Orleans after getting through seven checkpoints. We quickly learned that the current media reports that relief and aid have finally arrived to New Orleans are as false as all earlier reports that also had as their origin government sources. The people in the Algiers area have received nothing or next to nothing since the Hurricane struck. Left without any way to escape, people are now struggling to survive in the aftermath. Now they are being told they have to abandon their homes, even though they want to stay. They are not being given what they need to stay and survive, and are being told they must leave.

“Imagine being in a city, poor, without any money and all of a sudden you are told to leave and you don’t even have a bicycle,” stated Malik Rahim, a community activist in the Algiers section of New Orleans. “90% of the people don’t even have cars.”

One woman told us it was not possible for her to evacuate. She said, “I can’t leave. I don’t have a car and I have nine children.” She and her husband are getting by with the help of several men in the community who are joining resources to provide for their neighbors.

The government claims that people can get water, but residents have to travel at least 17 miles to the nearest water and ice distribution center. Only one case of water is available per family. Countless people have no way to drive.

While the government is touting the deployment of personnel to the area, there is a huge military and police presence but none of it to provide services. All of them, north and south of the river, are stationed in front of private buildings and abandoned stores, protecting private property.

The goods that the government personnel are bringing in are for their own forces. They are not distributing provisions to people who desperately need them.

Not one of them has delivered water to Algiers or gone to the houses to see if sick or elderly people need help. There is no door-to-door survey to see who was injured.

The overwhelming majority of people who have stayed in Algiers are Black but some are white. One man in his late 50s in Algiers pointed across the street to a 10-acre grassy lot. It looks like a beautiful park. He said, “I had my daughter call FEMA. I told them I want to donate this land to the people in need. They could set up 100 tractor trailers with aid, they could set up tents. No one has ever called me back.” He is clearly angry.

Although some of the residents do express fear of burglaries into houses, acts of heroism, sacrifice and solidarity are evident everywhere.
Steve, a white man in his 40s, knocks on Malik’s front door. He tells us, “Malik has kept this neighborhood together. We don’t know what we’d do without his help.” He has come in because he needs to use the phone. Malik’s street is the only one with phones still working.

Malik and three of his friends have been delivering food, water and ice to those in need three times a day, searching everywhere for goods.

There is a strong suspicion among the residents that the government has another agenda in the deliberately forced removal of people from Algiers, even though this particular neighborhood is not under water and is intact. Algiers is full of quaint, historic French-style houses, with a high real estate value, and the residents know that the government and real estate forces would like to lay their hands on their neighborhood to push forward gentrification which is already evident.

Downtown New Orleans

Although entry is prohibited into downtown New Orleans north and east of the Mississippi, we were able to get in on Sunday.

The Superdome is still surrounded by water and all types of military helicopters, army trucks, etc are coming in and out of the area; however, most of the people who survived have already left. On US-90, the only road out of New Orleans, convoys of National Guard troops are pouring into the city, too late for many. According to an emergency issue of The Times-Picayune, 16,000 National Guard troops now occupy the city.

Thousands of troops are in New Orleans but water is premium and still not available. One African American couple we met looking for water told us, “We have four kids. When they told us to leave before the hurricane we couldn’t. We have no car and no money.”

Undoubtedly it is similar in the other states that got the direct hit of Katrina, Mississippi and Alabama. On the radio we hear reports of completely demolished towns. What differentiates the rest of the Gulf coast from New Orleans is that the many thousands of deaths in New Orleans were absolutely preventable and occurred after the hurricane. On everyone’s lips is the cutting in federal funds to strengthen the levees of Lake Pontchartrain. Two reporters from New York tell us they just came from the New Orleans airport emergency hospital that was set up. We made our way to the airport.

New Orleans International Airport

The New Orleans International Airport was converted into an emergency hospital center. Thousands of people were evacuated there to get supplies and food, and for transportation that would take them out of the city. Many people arrived with only one or two bags, their entire lives reduced to a few belongings.

Some people did not want to leave their homes, but say they were forced to do so. For example, one white woman and her husband were forced to evacuate. She said, “The military told us that we had one minute to evacuate. We said that we weren’t ready and he said they can’t force us to leave but if we don’t leave anybody left would be arrested … but it was the end of the month. The two of us have been living for a couple of months on $600 a month and rent is $550. At the end of the month, we only had $20 and 1/8 of a tank of gas. There was no way we could leave.”

When it became apparent that nobody was coming back to pick them up, the couple walked five miles to the airport to see if they could get help.

Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, doctors, nurses and community organizations came from as far as San Diego, California and Kentucky to provide support during the crisis. None of them were dispersed into the community. When we arrived at the airport on Sunday, September 4, there were approximately 20 medical people for every one patient while people in regions such as Algiers and the 9th ward were left to fend for themselves.

The majority of people in New Orleans blame the local and national government for the catastrophe. One young Black man said, “The government abandoned us … [it’s] pre-meditated murder.” Another said, “Why would you [the government] protect a building … instead of rescuing people that have been without food or water for three or four days? It seems like that was the plan. … We couldn’t starve them out, the hurricane didn’t kill them, it seems planned.”

Baton Rouge

As we drive to Baton Rouge tonight to visit evacuated people, we hear on local radio that possibly 10,000 people have died in the flooded areas of New Orleans. Tonight in one announcement, we hear the names of some of the missing people still being searched for, a 90-year-old woman named Lisa, a man 102 years old, two women 82 and 85 years old. The elderly, the most vulnerable, left to their own devices.

Bodies are lying everywhere, and hidden in attics and apartments. The announcer describes how one body, rotting after days in the sun, was surrounded by a wall fashioned from fallen bricks by survivors, and given a provisional burial to give her some dignity. Written on the sheet covering her is, “Here lies Vera, God Help Us.”

At a Red Cross shelter outside of Baton Rouge, we meet Emmanuel, who can’t find his wife and three sons after the floods. His story is shocking but not unusual. His home is near the 17th Street Canal, where the Pontchartrain levee broke through.
“I stayed behind to rescue my neighbors while I sent my wife and kids to dry land,” he says. It is difficult for him to relate what happened. He had a small boat so he went from house to house picking up neighbors. While doing so, he encountered many bodies in the water.
“My best friend’s body was floating by in the water. One mother whose baby drowned tied her baby to a fence so she could bury him after she returned.” Because troops kept driving by him and others without helping them, he had to walk 30 miles north until he was picked up.

The people of New Orleans did not have to die; their lives did not have to be destroyed. This conduct of the government is a crime of the highest magnitude. There is not a single adjective that is adequate.

Negligence, incompetence, callous disregard while all are true, none are sufficient. Those who manage a system that always and everywhere puts the needs of business and private property ahead of the people, that always find money to fund wars that benefit the rich of this country rather than meeting people’s needs should be held responsible and accountable. The real problem however, is not with the managers of the system, but with the system itself. They call it the free market. It is the economic and social system of plutocracy, the system of modern capitalism, of, by, and for the rich that in words declares itself to be of, by and for the people. The reality, however, can now been seen in the streets of New Orleans.

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism
National Office in Washington DC: 202-544-3389
New York City: 212-533-0417
Los Angeles: 323-464-1636
San Francisco: 415-821-6545


When autumn comes
It doesn't ask
It just walks in where it left you last
You never know when it starts
Until there's fog inside the glass around
Your summer heart

--John Mayer, "Something's Missing"

People keep asking, 'how has your summer been?" I know they're just making conversation, but I find it confusing. It's not like I did any thing differently "for the summer." Except turn into another person--there was that. Just in time, too. The old one was simply not a sustainable proposition.

Last year for my birthday I went to Canada. For a pile of bleeding nerve endings I was outwardly functioning fairly well--I made the 12-hour drive up to Toronto without mishap, was a neat and considerate houseguest, delivered up cut-rate massage therapy on cue, cooked and washed dishes. On my birthday I wanted to see 'Vanity Fair.' It had just come out, starring Reese Witherspoon, and I had been looking forward to it for months.

When it was time to leave for the theatre, my hostess looked me in the eye and snapped, "Well, I'd rather see 'Collateral.'"

So on my thirty-seventh birthday, in Canada, I watched Tom Cruise shooting people in cold blood, rather than the peerless Reese wrapping nineteenth-century aristocrats around her little finger. It wasn't such a big deal, which is why I didn't make a big fuss; a fuss would have been petty and embarrassing. It just sort of happened that I didn't feel like calling my Canadian hostess again until March. Of course, she wasn't calling me, either; over time and distance I could practically feel her seething, 'Serena hasn't called me in months, after I put her up for four days over her birthday, and listened to all that crap about her stupid broken heart.'

Over time my gradually healing mind began to pose the question, "Is this, then, friendship?" And the answer emerged, serenely and kindly, "No."

Which is, to this new person I've become, okay. The old me would have felt guilty, as though I were the one who had been selfish and petty, and envious and unforgiving. But that person is dead, killed by codependency. I've been thinking of making a T-shirt, or a bumper sticker: Codependency Kills. Maybe that sounds melodramatic. It's been running through and through my head.

It still surprises me when people don't get over it. My ex-friends are not horrible people, most of them--they can be generous and loving and fun. We've had a lot of wonderful times together. But over six months it has never once occurred to Neneng-girl, "You know, maybe it was a little childish of me to expect that Serena would include me in all of her projects, no matter how tentative or unsuitable, and unwise of me to force the issue when she was already under stress. I've been a bit spiteful, these last six months, failing to return her emails and phone calls, blowing off her exhibition and disinviting her to my events. Maybe I should call and apologize."

So, in peace and in gratitude, I am Letting Go.

This year on my birthday I had, at last, a reception for my show. Art receptions are a bit like college keg parties--people who attend them act like they are bestowing a bigger favor than people who throw them. I am not a trendy person at the moment; my art reception was not mobbed. Nobody was there who had the potential for being able to afford my work, at any time in the near or distant future. Not only did John Mayer fail to pop in and spontaneously perform acoustic renditions of "Clarity" and "Something's Missing," but H. couldn't even make it with his accordion.

But neither did I have a second to stand around wondering if anyone was coming, and for this I am grateful. Some Arts Circle people came, and one of them gave me a little jade frog, which is currently residing in my favorite plant. One of my clients came, the one who wrote a few months ago to say that I had 'inspired' her. A friend of my ex-boyfriend's came, the one who made a point of attending all of my openings even though we were never close; she is now separated from her husband of a year and a half, and looks as though a 16-ton weight has been lifted off of her head. "Last time I saw you I was such a mess," she said. "You are talking to someone who was a puddle of jelly for a year," I replied. "I would never judge you and I'm so glad you're here." Some of my less flashy and more dependable friends were there, and a friend of my mother's, whom she met at a knitting convention, and who turned out to be the retired executive vice-president of MOMA, in charge of publicity, marketing and fundraising. We all had a lovely time, and by eight-thirty I was ready for bed, and not at all interested in enabling the gentleman who followed me and Mom to the train station, hoping for a dinner invitation. Hint: social cheek kissing is not supposed to be damp; and I do not date men over fifty, particularly if they are still renting.

The gallery extended the show. They are renovating and don't want to change the art until after it is done; thus my show will be up until they can book a contractor, which means that it could very well stay there all season. I can't afford to hope that anything more will come of it, though. I did the best I could, postcards and emails and website and urging friends and family to push every remote contact button they could; the fact is that the gallery didn't help, I haven't reached critical mass, and it's time to ratchet up my massage practice and turn off the air conditioning.