Gifts from Nola by Guy Gallo

BOMB 96 Summer 2006
096 Summer 2006 1024X1024

HOMECOMING. There’s something so elegiac about this trip to New Orleans. Traveling alone, to my childhood home, a home recently shattered and in ruins. I’ve been feeling ill and out of sorts. I am underslept. My head and back hurt. My stomach is sour. I cannot stop the thought, morbid, that I am returning home to die.

I’m not sure why I’m going. I’m not sure why I haven’t gone sooner. I can’t figure, truly, why I am here. Is this homage? Is this voyeurism? Is it possible to visit such heartache? Learn such loss?

HURRICANES. AUDREY. 1957. I was only two, and so have no memory of this storm. But whenever a New Orleanian makes a list of bad hurricanes, Audrey almost always has pride of place.

BETSY. 1965. The first I remember. The first where I understood that there was, in fact, a calm before the storm. I was out riding my bike when an eerie gray descended and the air became sodden with foreboding. Betsy scored a direct hit. As the eye passed directly overhead my father and I rushed through the peculiar silence and calm to gather up my stubborn grandmother from next door. The next day oak trees littered the neighborhood.

CAMILLE. 1969. The one that missed. And then tore up the Gulf Coast. Where my sister’s boyfriend’s family had a beach house. Where I landed a three-foot shark with a four-ounce rod. Camille vanished three blocks in from the beach, leaving nothing but slabs.

Around this time my mother concocted a typically New Orleanian bit of magical thinking. She became convinced that the bad ones would strike in alphabetical order. And the next really big storm would begin with the letter D. She took the usual precautions each hurricane season, packing photographs onto top shelves, laying in candles, battening down. But she wouldn’t really worry until after the C storm, and would breath easier after the D.

GEORGES. 1998. My sister, a nurse, was scheduled to work the duration of the storm at East Jefferson Hospital. She invited our mom to come spend the hurricane at the hospital. An hour before they were to meet at East Jefferson, my sister complained of chest pains. She did ride out Hurricane Georges in the hospital. Not as a nurse, but as a patient. The same hour Georges made landfall east of New Orleans in Biloxi my sister was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

After Georges, my family feared hurricanes with a difference. They still might wash away photographs, or mold the baseboards or down a favorite oak tree. But really, what’s so bad? What amount of rainfall could compare to Linda’s weeping?

Surprisingly, my mother didn’t see how Georges had laid waste to her system for predicting catastrophe. Last year she was worried about a nothing named Dennis that veered east. She was surprised, and I think a little offended, when Katrina turned out to be such a disaster. I wonder if she’ll still be most fearful of the D storm next year. Or did Katrina reset the counter?


KATRINA. We knew the Big One was coming, we welcomed it really. In some odd way we thought we deserved it. But, magical thinkers always, I’m certain most of the city believed, even as they watched the waters rising on Monday and Tuesday, that this would pass, be inconvenient but not deadly. For me, it sunk in on Wednesday. With that blonde woman holding the sleeping and dehydrated child. “He won’t wake up,” she wept into the camera, as a scrawny black woman behind her mopped the child’s forehead. Unasked, I’m sure. That’s when I knew the city had sunk.

It’s been six months. People ask if I’ve seen it yet. Most are surprised when I say no. Considering in the same conversation it’s likely I’ve told them four out of five family homes were destroyed.

I watched a lot of TV. I had trouble not watching. But for the longest time there was nothing for me to do even if I could get there. My father’s house was underwater. My mother’s gone. Everyone was a refugee. And when they were allowed back, they didn’t need me underfoot. Houseguest without a house.

There’s nothing I can say that will diminish the cowardice. I was afraid. Not of hurt or disease. But that I would be crushed by sadness. By impotence.

When my sister became ill, I was looked to—because I know a radiologist at Mt. Sinai—for answers. My arrival brought an awful hope into my father’s eyes. And for a time I did give them some solace by supplying a string of confirming second opinions. But what they wanted was for me to fix it. I wanted to fix it. And of course I could not.

Perhaps I feared a reprise had I hurried down to still-flooded New Orleans. That they would look to me for sense and meaning. In fact I’m looking to them for some way to comprehend all that has happened, to know what has become of my family, my city. After all these years expatriate, New Orleans is still my city.

I left New Orleans decades ago. Yet I have never strayed far, in my imaginative landscape, from New Orleans. New Orleans imprints its denizens for life. New Orleanians who have moved away are like recovering alcoholics. Full of longing and confused nostalgia, and convinced that any whiff of their city will drag them back into cruel servitude.

Georges and Katrina have completely rewoven the fabric of my family and my city. I almost understand how my sister’s death altered the dynamic, shifted the locus, the heart of the matter. How old bitternesses, once held in check by her personality, could now erupt. But Katrina. No one knows yet, can’t imagine, how deeply things have been changed.

I got a Christmas card from an aunt. She said living in exile was odd. Several times a day, doing something mundane like making iced tea, it hits you. You reach for a long handled spoon and remember. “Oh, yeah, I used to have one of those.”

No one died. But everyone’s a bit dazed. My family is now so fragmented. So numb, broken, and strangely angry. I have this image of them all walking around, looking like they’ve survived pretty well compared to many, and saying to themselves over and over: Yeah. I used to have one of those.

METAIRIE. The suburbs got the least of it. Jefferson Parish was spared the worst of the flooding. Still, in this climate even a little flooding is enough to damage belongings and rot walls and warp floors. So even though this parish was quick to restore electricity and the shops and restaurants have reopened, most of the area remains in a state of confused rebuilding.

Metairie began as a development for returning WWII Veterans. Like any American suburb the houses are too close together and too similar, the streets are too clogged with cars. The ecology of such a tightly packed community finds a peculiar equilibrium. Lawn flamingoes and discreet shrines to the Virgin are acceptable for front lawns; cinder-blocked mustangs and air-stream trailers need to be off the street, tucked into carports and back yards. Parking against traffic accepted in front of your house, but not mine. Street rights often as contentious as maritime law.

Katrina has leveled all such worries. Everyone is white trash now. Every front lawn home to a FEMA trailer, every side lawn piled high with junked belongings, every driveway blocked by a POD storage container where salvaged stuff lives while the houses are ripped to the studs and re-sheet rocked and reapplianced and rewired and recarpeted. Perhaps one in ten families, lucky beneficiaries of minuscule variations in elevation, have moved back into their homes.

I drove through Metairie with my nephew. We went to see the progress being made in rebuilding his house. Which had been my sister’s house. It had been the center of the family. Where the Christmas party was held, where the kids met after baseball practice, where I stayed when I came for a visit from the incomprehensibly cold North.

When Linda died, her son bought the house. It was hard, I think, to make it a home. Everyone still thought of it as “Linda’s house.” But they were getting there. Then Katrina gave them a remodeling push.

There was enough water to buckle the floors and mold the walls and ruin the appliances. Some of the heavy wooden furniture survived. Anything upholstered was thrown away. He told me how the first time he walked into the house after they were allowed back from Houston he was walking through the piles of stuff and crud and he found a photo album Linda had put together during the months before she settled into her deathbed. And how he found it a collection of sodden, crumbling, faded approximations of the memories they had once captured in sharp image. Unrecoverable. How he walked out, his friends calling after him confused, and couldn’t even look at the house for another month.

THE LAKEFRONT. Today I had my first view of Orleans Parish. Driving out to my father’s house. Off of the Interstate and onto Canal Blvd, north toward Lake Pontchartrain, past the stoplight where I got my first ticket for laying rubber in a Volkswagen (if you can believe that), I began to see it: a shit-brown smear marking the high-water mark of the flood. A scum line. A bathtub ring.

These were big houses. Solid houses. The kind I always thought of as the homes, not of the genteel upper class, but of successful blue collared men who had spent a lifetime lifting things; who now owned homes as strong as they had always been.

Block after block, mile after mile, the brown smudge crept higher and higher up the walls; waist-high, chest-high, chin-high.

I’d seen how disrupted my own family’s life had been by the storm. The loss and displacement. And now I drove past hundreds, thousands of such stories. Worse stories. That’s what the images on TV failed to capture. It could show immediate and dramatic horror. It picked the stunning or the mangled or the gross. But no images I’ve seen broadcast captured the mundanity of the destruction, the boring sameness and repetition, the almost endless repetition, the full and shattering extent of loss.

My father’s house is in an area called Pontchartrain Park, smack-dab, really, between the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals. The water was about eight feet above street level for almost a month. Luckily, his is a three-story townhouse.

My dad fled Katrina on Sunday. He was on the run for more than a month. First north to his brother’s house in Covington. From there to Florida to his girlfriend/ex-wife’s sister’s daughter’s house. And then to Arizona to the same girlfriend/ex-wife’s daughter’s house.

I was glad the ex-wife was girlfriend again. Had she not been there for Katrina I’m fairly sure my dad would have ended up on his roof waiting for a helicopter. After weeks living out of a paper bag, he had returned to see the damage. The ex-wife, now ex-girlfriend, stayed in Arizona.

He wants me to meet his contractor. And he’s asked my mother, his first ex-wife, to go over the papers, help pick out the stove, the marble for the countertop, the bathroom fixtures. Divorced for 30 years, but not so’s you’d notice. I think he hopes she’ll move in with him when the house is livable. Completing the restoration.

An old high school friend stopped by. An architect named Robert, though I still call him Bobby, and he still lets me. So, by accident, there I was, again able to offer my family a second opinion, some professional comfort and counsel.

Driving along the Lakefront, east from my father’s, lying a foot from the gutter—into a now well-traveled street—was a filthy and smushed Rag Doll. Once blue home-spun with once white trim, now uniform gray, lying face down, rolled over countless times by passing cars. I wondered how it had arrived here, which home it had escaped, how long it had floated. I wondered why it was still there, six months later. Why no one had picked it up, bagged it, burnt it. And while still musing on this trivial image of loss, there lay another: Teddy Bear. And another: Big Bird. Three children’s friends within five blocks, within five minutes. As if the grown-ups had left them lying about the city as tokens of grief. Or talismans of optimism. As if they wanted the children to find them and clean them and set the world to rights again.

PONTCHARTRAIN BOULEVARD. The neutral ground here, as wide as a football field, runs for miles. It was the dumping ground. The staging area for garbage collection. The worst of it—the stinking refrigerators and the molding sofas and tons and tons of crumbling sheet rock—had been removed. One football field remained. Three stories of gnarled tree roots. That’s what we didn’t see on TV. The three and four stories of garbage.

A sailboat in a tiny pond. Another propped on an impromptu dry dock in the middle of the street. The flat, graveled-over peninsula where the New Orleans Yacht Club had been. Where Bobby and I escorted the Bagot sisters to Spring dances.

Bobby suggested I call my book Eight Miles Wide, Twelve Miles Deep: the dimensions of the destruction. He told me, slowly, how he owns two houses, both on the river side of St. Charles Avenue. The Old City that did not flood. How he sometimes stands looking across St. Charles at the eight by twelve and feels guilty. Katrina Guilt.

In the neighborhoods between the 17th Street Canal and the London and Industrial Canal—in Lake View and Lake Vista and LakeWood—there are no storage pods. Nothing to store. In these homes everything was destroyed. There are fewer FEMA trailers. My father turned his down. I guess because he knew the reconstruction of his house would take longer than he could bear living in a trailer. Good thing too, as there is still no electricity in his neighborhood.

THE LOST CITY. An in-law drove a group of us down to Chalmette, through the Upper 9th Ward, to have a peek at Katrina’s worst. Before we were fully underway one of the other voyeurs launched into a tirade about how the blacks (not her word) were whining about getting kicked out of area hotels. How they, the hotels, would surely have to completely renovate. She paused long enough to apologize: “I know you’re a lot more liberal than we are, Guy.” I hadn’t had enough coffee to argue, and little will to get embroiled with this particular racist. So I hunkered down. Until the steady dribble of cliché and wingnutitude threatened to topple our SUV. I grunted without turning and with firm indifference to the deference I would normally afford the elderly and managed a surly: “Bullshit.” We rode in blessed silence for a few minutes.

No doubt the displaced were less than perfect guests. I’m sure there were shouting matches and trashed rooms and abuses. Maybe one family actually did barbeque chicken wings in the bathtub. But so? So?

Anecdotal evidence is insufficient to alter policy. Government makes policy because it’s sensible. Because it’s just. Right. The right thing to do. Where did that government go? Where did my civics class government go?

An anecdote. My nephew-in-law knew a guy who jumped in his boat the day after the flood and started off to rescue the stranded from rooftops. And within minutes, a so-called victim pulls a gun and hijacks his boat. So of course we’re not going to risk our lives to save them. Not in that neighborhood. Not going to care they were at the Convention Center. Going to feel justified in complacent racism. Anecdotal evidence is insufficient. Even if your friend gets hijacked. You get another boat.

A barge that had landed atop a school bus. A house that had been lifted and landed a half a block away lay in the middle of the street. Speed boat lodged on a roof. A van roosting in a tree. A statue of the Virgin Mary, arms wide in benediction, the only thing standing amid an acre of ruin.

Block after block of middle-class homes—not impoverished shacks, but clean-cut American suburbs—crushed and crumpled and filthy. That’s another thing about this storm no one is really hearing. The media makes it so much a race thing (and God knows it is at some level). But they go about it all wrong. It isn’t as simple as the poor neighborhoods being the ones that flooded. It’s true the Old City, which includes most of the historic buildings, flooded least. But outsiders do not understand that virtually every rich neighborhood is bounded by a poor neighborhood. So there are poor areas in the Old City. And there are rich areas in the flood plain. The 9th Ward is primarily black. Chalmette is primarily white. New Orleans East black. Pontchartrain Park mixed. Lake Vista white. Canal Blvd mixed. The boundaries, like virtually everything else in this dank city, are soft.

A DAY OF REST. Sunday. I didn’t go through destroyed neighborhoods. I didn’t search out the scum line. I spent the entire day in the company of true-blue New Orleanians. Not suburbans. People who love the city. Who had stayed in the Old City when most of the middle class had fled to the outlying swamps.

I met Bobby for coffee on Magazine Street. I cruised through the antique store district. I found an open children’s clothing store and rejoiced that they had what my five-year-old daughter had asked me to bring her back from New Orleans: a red velvet dress. Seems the perfect thing, right? How did she know?

I met my cousin Claire and her mom at Tipitina’s. They were in line for a book signing by a local columnist. Chris Rose. One Dead in Attic. Prior to the storm he did entertainment news, covering the growing film industry lured to Louisiana by tax breaks (wonder how long that will take to rebuild?). But after the storm he stepped up and wrote perceptively about the aftermath.

The line was out the door and halfway down the block. People went inside to get gumbo and beer and stood there patiently. Line didn’t seem to be moving to me. Everyone seemed glad to be there.

Parked curbside was a car covered in refrigerator magnets. Some guy had made it his mission to rescue these trivial tokens of normalcy from the thousands of junked fridges and present them to the world. It seemed a perfect image of how most of the city is dealing: finding small bits of meaning and gathering them together and hoping they add up and gently sharing the stew of sadness and bravery with their neighbors.

We found lunch at a neighborhood bar/restaurant called Parasol’s. Restaurant is a stretch. Behind the dingy bar, up three steps, there’s a room with four tables. Next to the Coke machine there’s a Dutch door onto a kitchen you don’t want to look at too closely. They call your name for pick-up or if it isn’t busy dump your sandwich off in a basket with a bunch of napkins. And I’m here to say it was the best shrimp po-boy I’ve had in years.

On the muted TV was the breaking news that Dick Cheney had shot a hunting partner. I knew I was Uptown when the folks at the next table found it as funny as I did. In Metairie my derisive head shake would have been met with silence or anger.

After lunch I spent some time at my aunt’s half of a shotgun double. A bookcase filled with philosophy, literature, and eroticism. The passions I remember as typical of that side of my family.

The day has reminded me of what I miss about this city. What about New Orleans was still whole (rather than the peculiar mix of memory and myth that constitutes my imaginary Crescent City). The gumbo of passion and gentility, hedonism and hospitality that even Katrina could not diminish.

THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD. My mom and I jumped in the car for a drive. A Sunday Drive on Monday.

She moved out to Metairie decades ago. After letting my dad divorce her. Following my sister and her new baby boy. Metairie became home for the extended family that grew up around my sister. They all live out there now. They have fewer and fewer connections with the city. Yet they still try to hold onto passions they exported from New Orleans to the landfill known as Jefferson Parish.

When Metairie first started getting thick with refugees running from integration and high real-estate taxes, one of the two famous cafés, the Morning Call relocated from the French Quarter to a strip mall across the street from Lakeside Shopping Center. They moved the old oak bar and the thick leaded glass mirrors (and probably the same sugar shakers as well). And the newly minted suburbans, still talking with thick Y’at (as in, “Where y’at?”) accents from the Irish Channel, convinced themselves nothing had been lost and no harm done. They still went to West End for fresh boiled crabs on Friday. They still drank thick coffee and chicory and powdered squares of fried dough. They still trooped down to the Quarter for special occasions and Mardi Gras.

What they never saw, and still refuse, is how their flight from juicy New Orleans became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The schools got worse and worse. The police got more and more corrupt. The poor got more and more desperate. The docks rotted while the economy became more and more tourist dependent. Tourism and Oil. But oil money doesn’t stay. Oil money never stays.

I suspect the secret of suburban hatred for the inner city, of the resurgent racism since Katrina, is self-loathing. Guilt. Shame that they gave up New Orleans. And know now they can no longer lay claim, can no longer pretend it’s still their city. In some real measure, the failure of the 17th Street Canal can be blamed on the loss of civic identity, the loss of tax base, the confused corruption of city administration. It’s a cruel irony that the waters rushed into the homes of those who had stayed, and not into the swampy suburb the frightened and fleeing middle class had made their home.

We entered the city at the juncture of Old Metairie and Canal Street. It used to be the edge of town. It’s where many of the city’s 19th century, and all of the 20th century, cemeteries are bunched together like so many concrete gardens. At the top of Canal is a tiny cemetery called Odd Fellows Rest. I’d passed it all my young life. And then I found out I have ancestors buried there. The root branch of my mother’s family. Jacob Samuel Whitmore. What a name. A hundred yards east is my father’s mother, and both my mother’s parents. Two hundred yards west lies my sister in a modern mausoleum that, for the life of me, always makes me think of a filing cabinet.

At the bottom of Canal, is something of a ridge. A bit higher than much of the city. I think it was once called the Allard Ridge. Or the Carrollton Ridge. The scum line seems to just skirt the bottom of the houses, just touching the tops of the brick columns that raise these older, smarter homes two feet above ground.

Turning toward Uptown we sank. Gliding slightly downward. A difference of one foot is a big difference when water is rushing to seek level. Six feet is enough to drown a home. At the juncture of Carrollton and Airline Highway, judging from the scum line, had we been here a few months earlier this would have been a quite nice little lake, thank you. The high-water mark reached high up along the concrete columns holding the highway above the city. This is where the bodies must have pooled during that horrid first two weeks.

Then we rose. Slowly. Past the burnt-out ruins of a wonderful old Craftsman house that burned while I watched on CNN and no one could figure out where it was. Here it was. Across the street from Notre Dame Seminary. East of Claiborne. South of Carrollton.

The scum line receded, dropping down to below floor level as we approached Riverbend, where Carrollton turns left into St. Charles. You might remember it, if you’ve ever been given a tour by a native, as where you went for a turkey-cheese omelet and bad jokes at the Camellia Grill. Still closed.

We drove St. Charles. And here, more than any other part of the city, it was like nothing had happened. The mansions, if they had been damaged, were already repaired. A fallen tree here. A blown off roof there. But nothing serious. Nothing they hadn’t come to expect every hurricane season.

We stopped talking about Katrina long enough to buy more lavish clothing for my daughter. We emptied the sale rack of her size. My mom and I smiled so broadly, imagining the glee to come, that our cheeks hurt.

We hunted for lunch. Parasol’s closed early due to staff vacation. Loved that. The better restaurants on Magazine were saving themselves for dinner. I decided we’d head toward the old neighborhood. Parkway. At Bayou St. John. They must be open.

We drove north on Jefferson to Vendome to Jefferson Davis. This was the route I’d taken home to and from high school for five years. The scum line steadily rose as you traveled north. From just below the raised first floor, to just enough to buckle the planking but not rot the walls, to the window-sills, to mid-window.

This was a reclaimed area in the middle of the city known as Broadmoor. Once upon a time this was a marshland. My dad’s dad (fresh from Italy) no doubt pulled catfish from Lake Broadmoor.

During the Roaring Twenties Lake Broadmoor was drained. And populated by second generation immigrants and the Jews not welcome in older neighborhoods. At first the homes were raised. The living area up there, above utility rooms that would become garages. Stilt houses. Built cautiously high. But people forgot. Became inured. No longer feared floods. And the houses settled. Today the scum line shows how most of Broadmoor was underwater almost to the eaves after Katarina.

Curiously, there weren’t a whole lot of FEMA trailers or PODs parked on the front lawns of these unlivable areas of Mid-City. And it made me think: what was the talent required to work the Bureaucracy efficiently? Clearly the indigent didn’t have it. Clearly the upper reaches had other alternatives. It was the fat middle, those who aren’t expecting a hand-out or help (so they say) but sure are quick to capitalize on it when made available.

The lower classes had no access, and no understanding of how to get the most out of the system. In the early days the best way to apply for a FEMA grant was online. I doubt the folks at the Superdome or the Convention Center had access to the Internet, or access to cousins who had access to the Internet. It was the middle class, like my nephew and my dad, who either had their computers in exile or had relations with computers, who filed immediately. Who got in line for the hand out.

The middle class sees this as a way to make a buck, not just be made whole or to fix their rooves. Get that FEMA trailer (even if you don’t need it). Get the inflated insurance adjustment—part guilt, part sympathy. I know instances where adjusters were incredibly generous. Because they felt sympathy. Because they belonged to the same class club carnival krewe college fraternity armed forces, because they liked the color of the insured’s eyes. Generous to those they, in effect, knew. Nepotism rampant. Generous to those who, technically, did not need to be overcompensated.

And those who have nothing? Who have the wrong color eyes? Who didn’t get punched for the frat, weren’t invited to the party, club, krewe? Nothing but contempt.

Today a judge threw out the appeal filed on behalf of the displaced impoverished that have been housed in area hotels. The big news of the week. Bigger than Mike Brown saying the White House knew of the levee breach. A handful of welfare families getting kicked out of hotels. That was news. And far too many were gleeful at it. The lack of compassion palpable.

We drove the old neighborhood. Past the house where my sister turned sweet 16 and where my mother’s marriage failed. Along Bayou St. John. Where I learned to fish. Where I scuba-dived, against all good sense, alone. Holy Rosary Parish. Which we delighted in calling Holy Roaches.

The houses in my old neighborhood, many on the higher ground close to the Bayou, seemed so much more elegant and desirable than I remember. I used to think of them as ordinary. Nothing special. I could do better. And now, in their placid solidity, their oak over-hung simplicity, they seem to mock me. They were still here. And me? I was still looking for home, wasn’t I?

HOMECOMING. In a cab on the way home. Van Wyck. Lovely, dry, mold-free Grand Central Parkway. FDR. Home again, home again jiggedy-jog. Suitcase filled with really neat dresses for my daughter. One red velvet. One pink silk. A peculiar a-line of black wool into which a seemingly random spray of white twine has been woven. That’s the one that made me laugh. A Jackie-O coat that’s too big for her this year but will be great next year. Next year. Aren’t we just so ready for next year?

I’m still feeling out of sorts. I’m still under-slept and my back and head still hurt. My stomach is even more sour from all that fried food. But it wasn’t a trip home to curl up and die. I guess my complaints can be chalked up to the mundane and unavoidable fact of getting old.

What have I learned?

That New Orleans is just one big fucking falsehood. We make it up. All of us. Expatriate, native, suburbanite, ghetto punk, tourist. New Orleans is one big Nostalgia. One big Golden Age That Never Was. An image of loss for the addicted. A delicate balance of passions for the privileged. A rotting antique for the angry. A place to get mugged for the suburban refugee. A trap of someone else’s making for the indigent. A place to get crazy for the tourist from Indiana burnt pink by a searing summer sun.

That New Orleans will be fine. Those who make the city will come through this catastrophe surely, slowly. With the same élan displayed through conquest and pestilence and civil war and racism and deep corruption. They’ll be fine.

That the rest of the country has forgotten about Katrina. Or, worse, used it as a weapon to batter an already battered populace. The City That Care Forgot. That’s what people once called New Orleans, meaning: leave your cares behind, laissez le bon temps roulez, take your coat off, set a spell, have a mint julep and a stripper. This year the phrase resonates differently, no? The City That Care Forgot, Forgets, is Forgetting.

That my love of New Orleans looks a whole lot like my love of my fractured and broken family: damaged and creaky and fraught with guilt and shame. Despite hurricanes and death, such love abides. Whether anyone is looking or not.

Tomorrow morning my girl will wake up and find me and ask me what I brought her from New Orleans. And I’ll be able to say: just what you asked for, sweet, just what you asked for.

—Guy Gallo was born and raised in New Orleans and has lived in the Northeast since escaping soon after high school. Of the 18 screenplays he has written, five have been produced, including Under the Volcano and Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Last Christmas is his most recent screenplay, written in collaboration with his wife, Jeannine Dominy.

Saving Mom by William S. Monaghan
Saving Mom by William S. Monaghan

Mom was winning the argument; it was true that no house had ever been lost to a hurricane in our neighborhood in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.

Jim Shepard by Christie Hodgen
Jim Shepard

In the ambitious stories in Shepard’s latest collection, You Think That’s Bad, psychological insight is derived from the characters’ exposure to extreme duress. Shepard discusses his short stories with fiction writer Christie Hodgen.

Aesthetics of Catastrophe by Aric Mayer

Aric Mayer discusses the problems and possibilities in photographing New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in this audio slideshow. Aric was the lead photographer covering the storm for The Wall Street Journal.

Originally published in

BOMB 96, Summer 2006

Featuring interviews with Bernard Piffaretti, Liz Larner, Tony Oursler, Kimiko Hahn, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Park Chanwook, Anthony Coleman, Jesper Just, A.R. Gurney, William Forsythe.

Read the issue
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