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I’ve finally turned off my TV. I had to. Intellectually reconciling myself with the grim realities of a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina is disturbing enough, but the constant CNN video feed of the people stuck in New Orleans, suffering, starving, and helpless, reduced me to a puddle. I’m one of those people who cries more often watching the news than during sad movies or as a result of personal pain. The world keeps me up at night, and last night, I stayed up like it was my own private wake for the people I saw on CNN.

Maybe social injustice is just the lens through which I see the world, but I kept wondering, if they can get 40,000 soldiers into New Orleans, why can’t they get 50,000 people out? And on that note, why does it seem like almost all the people stuck and screaming outside the convention centre are black, while those safely inside the Houston Astrodome are almost all white? I hope it’s just me, but even though I don’t particularly believe in god, I’m saying extra prayers just in case.
Please let all those people be rescued safely and cared for gently.
Please don’t let the world be as awful a place as I sometimes think it is.

There are almost as many police and soldiers in New Orleans as stranded civilians, and I have to admit to myself why: because two days is all it takes for some people to become animals. I know that’s a simplistic way to look at it, but I can’t concede that I might share my species with people who would rape other people trying to escape the aftermath of a hurricane. Looting is one thing. In a system where many people are disenfranchised and taught a value set that compels them to want what they will never be able to afford, looting when the system falls apart seems somehow natural to me. Hell, we’ve had looting here because our hockey team lost. Looting is a crime against property, not humanity. Raping hurricane victims, on the other hand…
Please watch over all those people still stuck in hell. Protect them from nature and each other.
Besides, most of the stolen goods were things like food, drinks, and toilet paper.

Katrina is my little sister’s name. She is moving away this weekend to start university, and I tell her that it’s a good thing we don’t believe in omens. I joke about always having known that her fury could be deadly even though I’m the one in the family known for my temper. It was a bad joke to begin with, but somehow I’m still secretly scared for her. If I can cry all night watching the news, what kind of effect could it have to have such suffering become associated with your name? I tell her maybe she shouldn’t travel south for awhile, but quit because none of this was ever even funny, it’s just that I didn’t know what to say.

For three months in 1999, I lived amongst what I call "the bus people," for lack of a better term. At the time I was broke, without a car and struggling to find work and I rode the bus with these good folks. They are the people that "ordinary" middle class Americans find themselves somehow incapable of understanding.

They work long days, compounded by wait and travel times on the city buses. They have nothing but a meager home and a meager existence and they fight their way through life from paycheck to paycheck.

Once I found myself living back in the comfortable surroundings of middle class America, only because I have a father who is rather well off, I noticed their contempt for the bus people. Most perceived the bus people as some kind of parasites or scavengers somehow living off the government or making their money by selling drugs or robbing liquor stores. I found most of the bus people to be hard working people who often held down two low paying jobs to feed their families and stay alive. I remember talking to one man who always looked tired but kept a smile on his face and a glint of hope in his eye. He worked as a cook at a hotel during the day and part time as a janitor at another at night. He got on the bus at five o'clock in the morning and took the ten o'clock bus home at night. When he could get the hours, he worked weekends, saving up the money to take his grandson to one of Orlando's theme parks. He'd been saving for close to ten years for that trip when I met him, and it was a trip he didn't even have to leave town for.

The faces of the people who are adrift and losing hope in New Orleans... so many of them I recognize... they are the bus people.

I cringed the other night when a certain elected official made a comment about how people were told to evacuate and implied their misery was their own fault. After all, he said, he was in a dry house sleeping in a dry bed and had just had a nice hot shower. Sure. He had a car, he had people to take him in, and he had the means to make this all possible. The bus people don't have cars. That's why they are the bus people, because they rely on public transportation. They don't have the money to get on a train or take the Greyhound to somewhere they can get a hotel room for the duration of the storm and its aftermath. They have nowhere to go. Home is all they have.

And now the bus people are dying in New Orleans, not because they are lazy, not because they are shiftless, not because they ignore warnings or because they are foolish, but because they are poor. They are there because the evacuation only included those who had a car, friends or family with a car or access to other means out of town. When the evacuation order went down, there were no buses lining up to take those without their own transportation out of town.

One nation under Mammon.

My 11-year-old niece Taler is a funny kid. I'd almost forgotten what a kickass age 11 is until the other day.

Every weekend, Taler goes to Boise to stay with her mother, whom she worships. Heidi is about my age (a fact that does not fly under my holy shit! radar), very beautiful, and very cool. She married her second husband at Burning Man a couple of years ago. She lives in a house that is just shy of being a commune. She sings in A Local Band Whose Name Escapes Me.

So Taler gets to go spend weekends in this nouveau-hippie commune-like place, and the stories she comes back with are priceless.

When Taler comes to visit, I always make tea. Russian tea, actually - a kind of nasty blend of Tang, instant Lipton iced tea, and some other crap. But it's very friendly to 11-year-old tastes, and it makes her feel kind of special and grown up.

So last Monday night Taler and her dad came down to pick up their dinner. George doesn't have time to cook much during the week and my sister's cooking skills are limited to Kraft Easy Mac, so my mom always makes enough for the whole gang. I saw them driving up, so I put the pseudo-tea water on.

She's a very solemn kid most of the time. She's a reader, like me, so we always sit and chat about what books she's working on. The new Harry Potter was the Hot Topic, and she was kind of pissed that I'd already read it, but we sit there and discuss Dumbledore while our tea cools to a drinkable temperature.

All of a sudden her face lights up.

Aunt Ashley! Tommy taught me a joke! Tommy is her mom's new boyfriend (yeah, that second marriage didn't take).

'Kay, Tay, hit me, I say. I sit back, prepared for some stupid knock-knock joke.

Taler takes a deep breath and gets this look of concentration.

Okay...okay...um...this guy goes to a doctor. And he says, "Hey doctor, I think I have a tapeworm." So the doctor says, "Okay, I want you to go to the store and bring back two apples and a cookie."

(Taler snickers a little but regains her poise.)

Okay...anyway...the guy comes back and brings the doctor two apples and a cookie. The doctor tells him to bend over, and first he shoves the two apples up the guy's heinie, then shoves the cookie in. Then the doctor tells the guy to come back next week and to bring two apples and a cookie with him.

(I am struggling not to bust up over "heinie", but I manage.)

Okay...so the guy comes back next week with two apples and a cookie. The doctor does the same thing, and tells him to come back next week with two apples and a cookie. This goes on for a lot of weeks.

(Taler pauses, musters up the punchline bit.)

After a lot of time, the guy finally gets tired of having things shoved up his heinie, so he asks the doctor, "Doctor, how much longer do I have to do this?" The doctor thinks for a minute and says, "Okay, I think you're ready. Go to the store and bring back two apples and a hammer."

(By this time I'm actually into this joke for the long haul.)

So...the guy comes back to the doctor and the doctor tells him to bend over, and the guy gets really scared but he wants this tapeworm to go away, so he bends over. And the doctor shoves two apples up his heinie and waits.

(Dramatic pause.)

All of a sudden, the tapeworm sticks his head out of the guy's heinie and yells, "WHERE'S MY DAMN COOKIE?"

And then Taler yells WHAM!!! at the top of her lungs, and I snarf my boiling hot tea.

I fucking love being an aunt.


For more tapeworm hilarity, this is funny stuff.

Tonight my girlfriend and I are beginning preparations for a 10 day fast. The fast is decribed in a book called The Master Cleanser by Stanley Burroughs.

Some friends asked me to keep a record of how things go, so I naturally thought of E2. This should be interesting. Either I will go through with the whole thing and experience the highs and lows. Or...I will wuss out and start eating again before 10 days expire. I have never attempted a real fast. The closest I have ever tried was an all raw vegetable and fruit diet. I only lasted a day on that one. The headaches and the constant trips to the shitter were too much for me.

Tonight we took a ferry boat over to Water Island. On Saturday nights some locals have a steak cook out at the beach. It's a little on the expensive side, but well worth it. The steak was delicious, and the company of friends was wonderful. I had an excellent time, and by 9:00pm had the last bit of non-fasting food and drink for the next 10 days.

Before bed I am to have an herbal laxative tea. The purpose of this tea is to insure that my bowels move even though no solid food will be consumed. This fast is semi-famous and there are several books written about it. I do not know all the details. I have been trusting my girlfriend to plan it all out. But I plan on reading one of the books in the next day or two while fasting. On this fast I will only be allowed to intake water, and fresh squeezed lemonade with cayenne pepper and maple syrup. Occasionaly I can have plain peppermint tea also.

I am not doing this fast to lose weight. It is supposed to be a cleansing, detox fast. It is also a test of will.

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