Saturday, June 21, 2008

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: Fall 2004

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 10 - In The Air Tonight

Ric had been stopped, driving his brand new PT Cruiser, just a few blocks from his home in Casselberry. He and a bunch of his neighbor friends who also lived at Reflections Apartments had been celebrating the imminent arrival of the Orlando area's 2nd major hurricane of the season, Hurricane Charley. They needed more supplies for their Hurricane Party so Ric volunteered to make the liquor run. Ric admitted to me later that this trip was also to score some crack cocaine. Not for him, he said, but for one of the other party-goers. Sure, Ric, sure.

Supposedly he had only a "couple" of beers when he got behind the wheel. He said he wasn't drunk during the previous 2 DUI arrests either. I guess it's just bad luck. Actually, Ric thinks it had to do primarily with racial profiling since his passenger was a black guy. Um, most likely it was because he was driving erratically on an evening when most of the area was battening down the hatches, preparing for a direct hit from a major hurricane barreling towards them.

Whatever the excuses, when it was all said and done, he spent the night in jail, and was facing felony charges, as is the case with more than 2 DUIs in the state of Florida.

Within a month of his arrest he'd gotten "lawyered up" and was preparing for a long process of motions and pre-trials. He eased his potential transportation dependencies by moving to Sun Lake Apartments nearer to his job in Lake Mary. Luckily, Sun Lake was owned by the same property management company so instead of breaking a lease, he was able to transfer it.

He sold his car back to Carmax and bought an expensive racing bike to use for his transportation needs. Unlike my bitter attitude regarding my loss of driving privileges and difficulty adjusting to life without a car, he did some slick cognitive restructuring of his mindset and, to this day, he transitioned happily, it would seem, to a car-less bicycle commuter.

Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, a few weeks after Hurricane Charley hit Florida, we citizens of the Crescent City were watching the TV news as an even bigger hurricane was making a beeline directly up the Gulf of Mexico towards us.

As I've mentioned before, all the precursor events leading up to the Hurricane Katrina disaster were presented to the watchful eyes of New Orleans' population a year earlier, in the Fall of 2004, with the approach of Category 5 Hurricane Ivan.

This thing looked ominous. Watching the satellite images of Hurricane Ivan on the TV news, it filled the screen, it was so big. Just like a year later with Katrina, houses and businesses were boarded up, the highways out of town were log-jammed with poorly-coordinated evacuee traffic. I watched as tourists were rushing onto shuttle buses from the downtown hotels to whisk them to the airport to escape the approaching storm.

Even then, before what we later came to learn with Katrina, I saw that the people who had the means, the well-to-do and the tourists, were scurrying away, leaving the potentially doomed city to the poor and downtrodden. I, being most definitely in the poor and downtrodden category stayed in my little house in Gentilly, only a mile away from the levee, and watched through the night as the trees swayed and winds howled around me.

As we all know though, this was not yet to be New Orleans' time. Ivan would skirt by at the last minute and avoid hitting the city or major waterways around the city dead on. Lake Pontchartrain flooded, but not beyond a few hundred feet or so. The levees, for now, held their ground.

The hurricane did cause a minor crisis for me though. Because of the storm, we employees of PMA lost 3 days of work. Three days of income to a person living paycheck-to-paycheck can be devastating. Though I later found out that I may have been able to qualify for FEMA assistance, I didn't know that at the time. It would have been nice if my employers had suggested that.

So I was late for a few weeks with rent, but since we all had lived through it, we knew that sometimes, when you live in New Orleans, your life gets interrupted by a storm.

I knew I eventually had to get a better job if I was going to make it here. Resumes went out, but no one called back. I was starting to get discouraged again.

One night at around 4 o'clock in the morning, sometime in November, I heard the dogs barking. (Three dogs lived on the property. Two outdoor dogs owned by Albert, and Reese, who stayed indoors with Alicison.) Then I heard Alicison telling the dogs to be quiet.

Curious as to why Alicison would be up so early, I looked out my window and saw her washing her car, in the moonlight. She had a plastic bottle of Dawn dish liquid in one hand and a garden hose in the other. She was smoking a cigarette and it hung from her mouth threatening to fall to the ground. She looked dazed and she was stumbling. She would put down the dish liquid every now and then to lazily swish a wet rag across the hood of her car, then she'd pick up the bottle to squeeze out more soap and repeat the same ineffective swabbing of the cloth on the same exact area of her hood.

She was using again.

Ever since I met Alicison she had been a stalwart defender and espouser of the Narcotics Anonymous doctrine of sober living. She was the sponsor for several of the younger members of her NA group. Now, it appeared, she had slipped.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Alicison fell into a tailspin. Albert, and I were trying do light intervention with her, but until she admitted it, it was just assumption, yet the symptoms were obvious. She rapidly went downhill as she apparently used more and more. It affected her speech and body movements. She couldn't sleep and was up all hours of the night. She rear-ended another car and escaped without citation since she fled the scene. Her behavior at work was the same as it was at home and she lost her job. Soon, she was out of money and was begging for me to help her. It was painful to watch as she fell deeper and deeper into a hole of despair, and I couldn't help her. I didn't know how to help her with her addiction and I didn't have any free money to help her with her financial dilemma.

Luckily, by Christmastime, she started to get good counseling from her sponsor Judy and was turning it around. She found a new job and started paying off her debts.

But now, our little complex of households was affected by yet another tragedy. Albert's girl friend, who had just a month earlier left him for a guy who lived across the street, killed herself.

Now, it appeared, it was Albert who was using again to deal with his grief and stress. He missed work and since his drug of choice was coke, he seemed frenzied and wired all the time. And not in a nice way, he became paranoid and defensive, and he kept complaining about everything. Especially money, or the lack of it. He was broke now and since electricity was included in mine and Alicison's rent, was especially critical of our electric usage.

At work, my manager had taken me off of the easy appointment setting project and put me on an actual cold call sales campaign. One that was unproven and would be a hard sell with a likely barrage of nasty rejection. I wasn't ready for this.

Back in Florida, Ric had settled nicely into his new apartment and things seemed to be smoothed out, until the trial that is, for him. I fondly remembered the Lake Mary area where he lived now and how much I loved it ever since the days of my ex-fling Justin back in 1997.

On Christmas Day, I watched outside my New Orleans home as snowflakes drifted to the ground. And accumulated! Though it only amounted to about a half inch or so before it eventually melted away, I witnessed my first snowfall in over 7 years. But I was in the Deep South! It wasn't supposed to snow here!

I was tired of things not being the way they should be.

I needed better opportunity.

I needed stability.

Ric and I talked about the good and bad of it, but I thought I'd give it another go. I remember his couch was actually quite comfortable.

After quitting my job, I packed my things up and got ready to go. I thanked Alicison for all she had done and asked if she could take me to the bus terminal.

I planned on taking the train, on New Year's eve, but the train was delayed due to inclement weather. I would have to wait hours for a replacement bus and it's 15-hour itinerary. Screw that. Luckily I had the funds. I decided to leave New Orleans the way I always leave New Orleans, by plane.

So I found myself descending through the puffy white clouds over Orlando, returning, yes, once again to Florida, on the first day of 2005.

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