Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rally at the Louisiana Capitol Building

Click in the image to begin Video. The images are grainy and unsteady. Kind of like the City in some ways, I guess.

Video #1: New Orleans' Mayor C. Ray Nagin
Video #2: A 18-year-old New Orleanian on his way to Tulane University in the fall.

New Orleans’ Rally
June 13, 2007
Louisiana State Capitol Building
Family and Friends—

Disclosure: This was a political rally and since I have employment ties to the Mayor’s Office, I will not comment directly about the videos.

It’s 80 miles to Baton Rouge. Organizers of the rally procured 20 brand new bright yellow school buses to take New Orleanians to the Governor’s mansion.

These buses were beautiful. “At least the schools have new buses,” I thought.

I walked behind one. “Mississippi” the plate read. And the next one, “Mississippi” and the next “Mississippi.”

“We can’t even get Louisiana buses to transport our citizens,” a resident said to himself but loud enough for me to hear.

It was the first hot day of the Louisiana summer. Pants stuck to men’s legs by nine a.m., sweat beaded while standing, and ladies’ nylons must have been bordering on unbearable. I wonder why women still wear nylons.

We made the drive to the Governor’s mansion and state patrolmen, politicians and news cameras greeted the New Orleanians. Signs lamented about the broken Road Home and poor medical conditions. The people talked about how their state had failed them. News reporters asked what they thought the rally would do for the future of their City.

People cheered, laughed and smiled. This wasn't an angry crowd. People walked and hugged all the way to the Capitol steps.

Leaders and residents from St. Tammany, St. Bernard, Jefferson and Orleans’ parishes spoke. The laughter turned serious. Their voices trembled. Their voices carried. And politicians were concerned little about following protocol.

And after standing for an hour in the Louisiana heat, the people went inside. They walked by docents and security guards, lawyers and legislators, all enjoying the comfortable capitol air conditioning.

The Mississippi buses pulled away at 2 p.m. People were hot, but happy, all wondering what the gathering might accomplish.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

After Dark: St. Louis Cemetery #1

St. Louis Cemetery #1
New Orleans, La.
10 p.m.,
June 6, 2007

Family and Friends—

The wall was only seven feet high, and I wasn’t going sacrifice-hunting before sunset. The night was just beginning for the New Orleans Police Department, whose lights flashed on the upriver side of the St. Louis #1 cemetery wall.

Fables and news reports say drunken French Quarter tourists have been sacrificed in St. Louis #1 by Voodoo Priests or Priestesses. But, I couldn’t help humming “Thriller” to calm my heart rate. And then I smiled. Wait, I thought, is “Thriller” disrespectful to Voodoo?

I had come in peace to St. Louis cemetery #1, respectful and with no desire to be sacrificed.

People tell me that the easiest way to describe Voodoo is like a drink. Splash some pagan and splash some Catholicism and you’ve got Voodoo. Of course, to those inside the religion, the nuances are what make it special.

After I realized I may have upset someone much more than me, I made the sign of the cross. New Orleans is decidedly Catholic. I know no Voodoo symbolism.

St. Louis #1’s walls block the dead from the street. Only the most extravagant tombs can be seen from street level. Most tombs look like mini-houses, but the ones visible from North Rampart St. are more like mini-palaces.

The dead rest above ground in New Orleans. They’d float away in traditional underground sites.

The cockroaches have colonized on the wall of one mini-palace. They were nowhere else in this massive place. “Had a Voodoo priest cursed this family?” I wondered. I didn’t care to find out.

So I walked down the rows, more cautiously when I turned corners, knowing it doesn’t take an Olympian to hop the wall. I didn’t see anyone. I was alone with thousands of dead New Orleanians--old New Orleanians. The ones with , African, Caribbean, French and Spanish and Native American blood. A French Quarter transplant from Michigan will never be buried in any of the St. Louis cemeteries.

Angels and crosses were the norm. Many tombs are extravagant, a reverence to those who lay inside. And some are rather humble, with fireplace brick chipping in the corners. I climbed on top of one of these and looked at the New Orleans approaching midnight sky. The big house Canal St. hotels look out on the French Quarter and St. Louis #1, which is about one block to lakeside (north) of the Quarter’s boundary.

The sharp white marble tomb next to me read:

Armand le Merciep du Quesnay

Kingston, Jamaique 22 Juin, 1815-Nlle Orleans 13 Oct 1892.

The silence was peaceful.

I think they like it here. I hopped over the wall. A guy gave me a funny look. No sacrifices, tonight.



PS: I will never ever go to a cemetery alone after dark again for those who have already or who were planning on scolding me. Sorry.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Meet Carl Davis. A Face of the New Orleans' Mental Health Crisis

May, 2007
Duncan Plaza, City Hall
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

Carl Davis makes me nervous. Asking a homeless guy if he’s a hustler doesn’t happen everyday. But, I wanted to know.

After all, he might be one of the best hustlers on the streets of
New Orleans. He was charming despite terribly sun-cracked and blistered lips.

“Are you a hustler?” I ask.

“You know what a hustler is?” he says. “They’re the guys that ask a few bucks from everybody, line up 30 or 40 dollars and buy crack with it.

Then, they’ll try and bum a cigarette the next day.”

Carl and I are on the steps of Duncan Plaza, the park outside of New Orleans’ City Hall. The things he says are frightening. And the dent in his head is all the evidence I need to know he’s truthful.

He’s been homeless on and off since 1981. The father of six is “ashamed.” “I don’t want them to see me,” he says.

He also hasn’t seen a mental health professional in four years. It’s early morning now, and the voices haven’t started yet, he says.

We talked openly about the mental health struggles he’s had. “I see monsters,” he says. “They try to get me.”

Voices tell him to jump in the Mississippi river. He’s tried twice since KATRINA. Both times, a more loving voice told him not to do it. “I want to go to heaven,” he says.

He tells me that the drugs made him groggy and that New Orleans doesn't have any good psychiatrists. It’s funny, there really aren’t enough here to take a sample of good and bad.

Twenty-six psychiatrists are registered in Orleans parish post-Katrina. There’s probably more on one block in Manhattan.

Psychiatric beds are down more than 80 percent. The mentally ill homeless picked up tend to be taken to jail by the NOPD. It’s out of necessity, not malice. There is nowhere to put them, the police department says.

Some people say the earth is not a cold, dead place. But we do forget people.

Carl Davis is 54. He was a pipe-fitter, has a great smile and better demeanor.

Don’t forget him.

We Americans have forgotten enough people post-Katrina in serious need of help with their mental health.

It’s a crisis. More psychiatrists/psychologists/crisis counselors, etc. are needed here.

Write your Senators and Congressmen.