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Authors: Chris Rose

1 Dead in Attic

BOOK: 1 Dead in Attic
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Contents

Foreword

Epigraph

Introduction

Who We Are

Early Days

Facing the Unknown

The First Time Back

Survivors

Life in the Surreal City

Hope

Rita Takes Aim

The Empty City

God and Strippers

The More Things Change

Enough to Feed an Army

Tough Times in the Blue Tarp Town

Blue Roof Blues

The Smell

The Elephant Men

Mad City

1 Dead in Attic

Despair

The Ties That Bind

My Introduction to New Orleans

The Funky Butt

The Hurricane Kids

Traveling Man

Have Barbie, Will Travel

Prep Boys and Jesuits

Good-bye

Groundhog Day

Coming Home

Life in the Refrigerator City

Civil Unrest

Refrigerator Town

Lurching Toward Babylon

The Cat Lady

Caving In

The Magnet Man

The Last Ride

Lights in the City

Let the Good Times Roll

Our Katrina Christmas

Tears, Fears, and a New Year

Misadventures in the Chocolate City

Chocolate City

Tutti-Frutti

He Had a Dream

He's Picking the Pairs for Nola's Ark

Rider on the Storm

Car 54, Where Are You?

Not in My Pothole

Survive This

Love Among the Ruins

September Never Ends

The Muddy Middle Ground

Misery in the Melting Pot

The End of the World

A Huck Finn Kind of Life

Our Very Scary Summer

Songs in the Key of Strife

The End of the Line

We Raze, and Raise, and Keep Pushing Forward

Echoes of Katrina in the Country

The Purple Upside-Down Car

Second Line, Same Verse

Don't Mess with Mrs. Rose

Shooting the Rock

The City That Hair Forgot

A Rapturous Day in the Real World

Big Daddy No Fun

Peace Among the Ruins

Artful Practicality

“She Rescued My Heart”

Miss Ellen Deserved Better

Things Worth Fighting For

Rebirth at the Maple Leaf

Melancholy Reveler

They Don't Get Mardi Gras, and They Never Will

Reality Fest

Love Fest

O Brothers, Where Be Y'all?

Funeral for a Friend

Thanks, We Needed That

Say What's So, Joe

A Night to Remember

Eternal Dome Nation

Falling Down

On the Inside Looking Out

A City on Hold

A Tough Nut to Crack

Hell and Back

Letters from the Edge

Where We Go From Here

Children of the Storm, It's Time to Represent

Thank You, Whoever You Are

A New Dawn

Acknowledgments

About Chris Rose

This book is dedicated to Thomas Coleman, a retired longshoreman, who died in his attic at 2214 St. Roch Avenue in New Orleans' 8th Ward on or about August 29, 2005. He had a can of juice and a bedspread at his side when the waters rose.

There were more than a thousand like him.

TEN YEARS LATER
A Foreword by Chris Rose

Hard to believe it's been ten years.

Sometimes it seems like a million years ago, sometimes like it was yesterday. But it never seems like it didn't happen.

Even ten years after—with so much rebuilt, restored, resettled, reconfigured, and entirely reimagined—the specter of Katrina still colors life here, in some small way, even if just a muted gray.

In casual conversations or social settings, it comes up. Might take a while, but it
will
come up eventually.

That's not to suggest that the stranger sitting next to you is ready to collapse into a fit of despair, rail against the injustice, and then itemize everything he lost.

It's not like
that
anymore, thank God.

It was for a really long time, though.

And that time sucked.

•  •  •

Looking back, the hardest thing to wrap your head around is remembering how many people said: Let it go. Let New Orleans wash into the sea.

This was not just the discontented grumblings from America's online lunatic fringe, but from established members of the media, the clergy, and Congress, most of whom made such vulgar pronouncements far away from the stink, the misery, and the wreckage.

The prevailing sentiment among such folks was that New Orleans—bless her charming, offbeat little powdered-sugar heart—was not worth fixing.

Because not just the levees needed fixing. The roads needed fixing, the parks needed fixing, the schools needed fixing.

The jails, which needed fixing, were being jammed by the judiciary, which needed fixing. They were stressed to the breaking point handling the massive caseloads delivered by the NOPD, which needed a
lot
of fixing, and who were not fit or equipped to handle this city's crime situation—which needed the most fixing of all.

You wonder: How could anyone have thought New Orleans was broken beyond repair?

(That was sarcasm.)

I acknowledge, looking back now from this side of the rubble and the flood—looking back from this side of history—that even a conservative estimate of the projected cost of rebuilding this city, coupled with the dubious integrity and doubtful competence of City Hall at the time . . . it was not a sure bet.

But still: Let New Orleans die?

When destiny calls you home, when it's time to exit the stage, when your number is called (insert any other number of overused clichés for dying): There's not a damn thing you can do about it. Money and politics can't fix dead.

But we weren't dead. Or if we were, we didn't know it.

Here, in arguably the most death-obsessed city in the world, the natives are by turns unaware, unconcerned, and often unconvinced of our own mortality.

And whereas our geographical positioning might have seemed like a great idea at the time—say, 1718—it's now a challenge, perhaps even a risk.

And it's true, we are neither the most logical nor efficient municipality in this great land.

But still.

We're also not the most educated folks you'll ever meet, but one thing we
did
know: We were not going gently into that good night. We were not giving up on New Orleans.

And with the help of 500,000 of our closest friends around the country—or hell, maybe a million—we put on some boots, pulled on some gloves, and got busy.

•  •  •

If what the magazines and websites have been saying—if what the analysts and futurists are predicting—is true, then New Orleans is the destination for America's next generation of young artists, entrepreneurs, and designers. Millennials, dreamers, and visionaries are here creating the next new business model, designing the next great app, fusing the next landmark technology, mixing the next banging cocktail.

We're the new Austin. The new Portland. The new Brooklyn. Hollywood South. Hipster City, USA. The New New Orleans, the bright new shining city on the hill. Except, well, without the hill.

We don't have any hills.

But you get the point.

And maybe that's all a load of piffle, I don't know. I reckon time will tell.

But I do know this: The more New Orleans changes, the more she remains the same. That is the nature of a place where irony is a birthright and contradiction is the dominant hand of fate.

It's hard to envision the day when the Thinking Class outnumbers the Drinking Class in this city, but we are approaching a necessary equilibrium between the old and new, the practical and the frivolous, the digital and the sensual.

We are innovation and tradition, high-tech and antique, fiber optics and gas lamps, new urbanism and the Vieux Carré, Uber cabs and streetcar lines, Airbnb and the Hotel Monteleone.

We're Dixieland jazz and sissy bounce.

New Orleans is today, as it was before, a place suspended between the physical world and the realm of imagination. The experience of everyday life here is magnified by emotional intensity and creative reverie, yet also reduced by the heat, humidity, and altitude to its most basic and primal elements: Food, shelter, and the Saints.

You can regulate our smoking and regulate our music and—hard to believe this day has come—you can even regulate our go-cups.

But you cannot regulate soul. You cannot legislate funk. And you cannot pass an ordinance that makes us ordinary.

The best things about us will never change.

•  •  •

And one final word: Thank you, America. Thank you, from me and my city—you 500,000 (or hell, maybe a million) of our closest friends—who came down here over the past ten years and helped us rebuild this crazy, shambling, loveable hot mess of a city.

Because without New Orleans, where would all the Wild Things go in the night?

There's a bunch of old nicknames for this city and a whole bunch more now, but taking stock of this past decade of transformation—from our despair to our triumph, from our shame to our redemption—I know where I live now.

Welcome to Lucky Town.

—June 2015

“If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom.”

—J
UDY
D
ECK

Introduction

Writing an introduction for a book like this is tricky business.

Intros I have read over the years are generally composed of personal anecdotes and references to the body of work that follows. But, in this case, what follows
is
the personal work, the veil pulled away, the soul of a city—and a writer—laid bare.

Newspaper reporters are used to covering death and disaster—it's our bread and butter—but nothing prepares you to do it in your own town. Usually, we parachute into trouble, fill our notebooks, and then hightail it back to the comfort of our homes and offices.

Katrina changed all that.

Our comfort zones disappeared, turned into rubble, wastelands, and ghost towns. I went from being a detached entertainment columnist to a soldier on the front line of a battle to save a city, a culture, a newspaper, my job, my home.

Whether we won or lost the war remains to be seen. New Orleans is still a work in progress. The observations, lamentations, and ruminations that follow are the story so far, as it unfolded to me in the first sixteen months after the flood.

It's probably too emotional for conventional newspaper work. Too sentimental. Too angry. And way too self-absorbed, particularly for someone who weathered the storm remarkably well—in a material sense, at least (I suffered a broken screen door and a loose gutter)—and whose career not only survived the storm, but actually thrived in the aftermath.

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