Slidell, LA - The residents of Chalmette are glum: three and a half weeks ago, Hurricane Katrina ravaged their coastal community, a suburb east of New Orleans. Chalmette was determined to be "100%"; this damage classification means that all of the homes in the community were badly damaged by the storm, nearly obliterating the small town. Thirty-seven year-old Ben Holder, longtime resident and homeowner, came back Monday to find his two-story home flooded with six feet of brackish water and briny mud. Holder, like many of the residents I spoke with, has an unusually optimistic attitude:

"My grandmother and mother-in-law were both drowned in the flood, and my truck is completely destroyed, my boat is upside-down on the roof of my house, which is also upside down; but somehow, by the grace of God, these two little lizards I was keeping upstairs spent ten days alone without food and water and both of them survived!"

Neighboring Slidell was only slightly more fortunate: a drive south toward New Orleans along the marshy coast reveals a once-picturesque gulfside community leveled by the hundred-fifty plus mile-per-hour winds that swept parallel to the shore for miles. Seventy-five percent of the trees in the area are down, leaving great swatches of mangled forest, as though some terrible Harryhausen creature had strolled vindictively throughout the area. The recovery has begun; in front of each home is an enormous pile of scrap metal, shingles, broken glass, refrigerators, furniture, sheet rock, and other mangled particles of the resident's lives.

I spoke with Janet Morrow, whose home once occupied a place on a quaint court. Janet, whose rich Jamaican accent gives a musical lilt to everything she says, lost Earl, her husband of twelve years, to cancer two weeks prior to Katrina's wanton march across Louisiana. Her house now smells poisonous, like mildew and vomit, acrid and nauseating, an atmosphere palpably detrimental to the humors, one that causes the eyes to water. Some of the fetid aroma is from her freezer that has been off and full of rancid shrimp for three weeks; some of it is from the elk skin covering her sofa. Janet asked me to help her remove it from the overturned couch but when I grasped it, the slimy hide fell apart in my hand. I walked outside for air and glimpsed the heretofore stoic Janet clutching one of her neighbors and sobbing, "I have lost so much."

Now, not yet a month after Katrina, these battered and worn residents are preparing for another storm. Rita spins through the gulf with sustained winds reaching over one hundred and fifty miles per hour, her course noticeably wobbly. As hurricanes gain strength, they destabilize and the eye's route across the globe fluctuates wildly, casuing the massive storm to behave like a child's top unleashed on tiny green plastic soldiers and Hot Wheels cars. But despite the threat of another fierce windstorm approaching, what few residents are left seem to be unconcerned with the approaching crisis. Earlier today I was rudely asked to buy beer for some kids outside a gas station, pimply goth kids who presumed to ask me to break the law. I asked them about their take on the threat of Rita. They shrugged in unison; indifferent.

"What the hell difference does it make, now? What else is there to do?" drawled the tall girl as she sipped her King Cobra forty-ounce.

As evening approaches, your humble correspondent has hunkered down in a shed that has been crushed by a giant water oak. By some miracle, the phone line still works, and I have a decent supply of pot and lukewarm beer, so I think I can ride out the storm. The largish cockroaches and I have been getting stoned and listening to the rain fall on the patchy tin roof, and I just saw a small raccoon run by the door with a soup can on his head. I am rather well set up here; if I can tap into the optimism shown by the locals, I may even survive.

Lord willing.

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