Saturday, March 04, 2006

"It's Our Lives"

"These politicians look at us like it's property. It's not. It's our lives" says Terry Baker whose house is located just across from the 17th Street Canal levee. He spoke to me while he waited with other Lakeview residents for a Congressional delegation to arrive yesterday. "I'll pull the plywood off my door to let them in. I want Congress to come in and see my wedding picture setting on the floor ruined. That was my life. It shouldn't be like this in America."

Terry, a senior buyer for a manufacturing company, approached me as I took notes interviewing another resident. Curious and a bit cautious he asked who who I was with and I explained I wrote for an internet website. Terry strikes me as someone who wouldn't have given a darn to speak to a reporter at any time in the past but it was readily evident he wanted the story of Lakeview to be told now even if it was only to a blogger.

He explained that his home had been appraised at $450,000 pre-Katrina. He got $300,000 from insurance which leaves a $150,000 gap. I asked "what does that mean for you" expecting a lesson in finance and economics from this businessman. Instead he replied as a philosopher, "It means life isn't always fair." Katrina changes people.

There's political change as Terry told me this..... "Oh and by the way I use to vote Republican til a few days ago." He says "Id always been a President Bush fan but he needs to get his butt down here." Angry and disillusioned with all levels of government he said...."The government can kiss my Cajun butt." Residents tell me Lakeview is a Republican stronghold but that may be changing.

Then there is the economic change. Terry says that this area accounts for 40% of New Orlean's tax base but it is going to be lost at this rate if the levees are not fixed. He says doctor and lawyers are leaving. Others are waiting to see what happens. "Who'll give us insurance here? Those levees didn't top. Everyone's waiting for the elevation maps. Nothing will happen before hurricane season. If they fix the levees it will come back." He relates he bought property in Metairie and has no choice but to sit on his property here for now. The NOLA reconstruction plan calls for green spaces in many areas. Terry says "People are naive if they think there will be green space for any amount of time. In 6 months or a year, the developers will be waiting and then they'll buy it all up."

Some things don't change though. With frustration he points down the street to a house in the road, "It's 6 months after Katrina and why is a house sitting in the road?" Then he points to his house..."I got a car next to my house and I don't know whose it is and I'm not paying to have it removed." Terry has left his house as it was when the levee broke. He just stares at it a while and his mood changes as he talks of his children and all the lost posessions that make a house a "home" and that accounts for one's life. I sense he'd like to show them to me but doesn't want to ask too much. I broach it by asking if I could take a picture of his house mindful also that Terry isn't a fan of the many sightseers who drive down his road each day with camera shutters clicking away. He gladly offers to take me in for a tour.

We walk carefully through the debris in his yard to the back door covered with a sheet of plywood. He grabs a hammer and prys it off. Once inside he shows me his home, his life, not his property.

He flips the pages of the ruined photo album to his daughter's picture....

On the counter he points out his sons' baseball mitts....

Family photos still on the wall.....

He goes to the master bedroom ......

This is where he digs out his wedding picture ....the one he wanted to show to Congress.
Today he'll show it to me only though.
He holds it up ......

Of course Terry wants America to see and know what has happened here.

We go outside and as he pounds the plywood back over his door he tells me how the first time back here the "emotions were overwhelming." It was also a frightening place the first time back, as he just escaped being attacked by "3 bloody and mangy dogs." I think he was more disturbed by the possibilty that he was going to have to kill them with the only protection he had with him, a machette from the garage. It didn't come to that.

It may have felt safer later when the National Guard arrived in his area but it was also surreal. Struggling for words he described it. "First time I saw that big military truck with armed soldiers in front.....I...I...I thought here? This is America! And here'd I'd been just the week before grilling out with my kids."

Terry 's property is in ruins. Feeling overlooked and forgotten like most in Lakeview, it is obvious this proud man is working to keep hold of his life as a father, husband, even as an American though everything around him challenges that. And in this shell of a property is the memory of home and how life once was.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scout, you are doing God's work down there. How many thousands of Terrys are there? How do you start to rebuild when you have nothing -- not even a community -- left to build with.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Chocolate Proton said...

I can feel this guys pain from a thousand miles away. And I can't stand Republicans. As sad as his situation is, and I hold no brief for folks who can buy $450,000 homes (I come from a poor family), it may tell us that there is hope here for people who are mindless Republicans. That is, people who vote Republican without giving it any real thought. This is the sort of event that points out someone's utter inability to empathize with other people -- until it happens to them, personally.

I know too many people near there (and I have family that live [lived?] in New Orleans) who have lost everything. I know a guy who was in his last year before retirement, his home paid for, and now it's all washed away and he's left with nothing. I know a lot of stories like that. And FEMA? What a worthless group of oxygen thieves.

I keep waiting for my anger to fade.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous donna said...

This is the kind of story that's important to get out there. A lot of those people who couldn't relate to "those poor people just sucking off the government tit anyway" could relate to THIS. A lot of Republicans could see their lives as being just like Terry's.

Thanks for the great work you're doing. I've passed it along to my MoveOn group and others, and the common response is just "wow, we didn't know". And it isn't just NOLA - I have friends in Florida who lost their home to Rita, had to move their mother to Connecticut since she lost her home too. My friend hurt his back in the evacuation and spent several months in bed. Their business has suffered tremendously. Their FEMA check was all of 10,000, and the insurance didn't cover the house appraisal, either.

Keep it up - great work!

1:16 PM  
Anonymous tena said...

This is very powerful material and you are handling it beautifully.

I'm so proud of you, Scout. You really are kind of magic - I always knew that about you. And here you are, dropping it all over the place. :)

Be safe coming home.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous robinhood said...

Yes! I'm with tena! Scout is a sweet heart with brains and a spine!

2:08 PM  

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