Tuesday, September 01, 2015

My Katrina by Mark Anthony Given


____________________________________________________

 Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still know where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
 -Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
____________________________________________________


               THE SILENCE was eerie and every night I woke up in the five-hundred dollar a night hotel room at President Casino Broadwater Resort overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, one month after Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, made me question my sanity, and now ten years later, I'm fix'n to tell ya'll what really happened.  Boots on the ground (maybe flip flops) eye-witness first hand account.  When people didn't check out thru the front desk Fire and Rescue had to kick the doors in because the electric locks weren't working.  They had to verify no one is in there because the computer said they never checked out.  Usually two or three whacks with an ax and the could reach in an unlock them.  Two or three on each floor.  I found one on the top floor front and center, and like another twenty thousand vacant motel rooms:   no human's allowed and even the birds were gone.  No squirrels, bees, not a bug on the ground and it looked just like a bomb went off and this is what's left.  Shit scattered everywhere.  All I could think of was the novel I read when I was a kid by Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land because absent any sign of life other than the gentle constant sway of ragged and torn small plastic shopping bags caught where the moss should have been hanging from the ancient Oak Trees, it was dead silence and totally creepy.  Most folks would have been way to scared but I'd been living on the streets nearly all my life, and I kinda liked it.  It was a lot like being in a real world Twilight Zone.
               I HAD BEEN running out of New Orleans, the den of inequity, to the tranquility of twenty-six miles of man made white sandy beach from Biloxi to Pass Christian, Mississippi, just forty-five minutes from the New Orleans French Quarter my base of operation in a twenty year one man crime wave I still write about in my blog Real Life Heist.  I knew every inch of the beach and even walked the entirety of it listening to Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," on audio CD's I swiped from Barnes and Nobel.    There were armed national guard at all the main arteries to the beach right where the railroad  was, usually about a mile off the beach itself.  But you could turn into neighborhoods and meander your way down to the beach if you knew the area, and that's just what I did.  Went straight to the richest part where the President Casino and twenty six hole golf course and every room upscale with real oak furniture and giant televisions with FM radios in stereo.  I went to the front high roller suites which had the best views and I could watch for anyone coming both ways.   First day there headed straight to the administrative offices and casinos and then where I spent most of my time in the back in the laundry and Maintenance offices.    The only damage was the very front pool area and hotels rooms facing the beach.  The President Boat was directly across the street at the back of the Marina full of yachts now a few laying everywhere.  The riverboat itself unmarred came ashore down the beach on top of a Denny's.  For some reason people believed that the beach was contaminated and for nearly two months anyone and everyone was banned....except me and I never seen another soul the entire two weeks I roamed the halls of wealth and opulence four hundred count sheets and giant bath towels and read the book Deuteronomy to keep my my mind right.....


                 AND THEN in the middle of the night, just like a Stephen King's unreal horror story reality was a dull knocking and thumping far away like another section of the hotel and the knocking and pounding was added groaning labor and a metal pipe ringing off a concrete floor in the bottom of the hotel all sounding like it was coming out of the back walls, and then the sounds of footsteps getting a little close each night.....



        
                THE STRANGEST thing happened too me I have to tell you about before I finish the bump in the night story.  I had left for a few days and the beach was officially opened or at least most of it so I headed straight back because I knew there was money literally laying on the ground everywhere you went down there in copper and aluminum and who knows what else.  Right around the second week of October the sun sets early and it was just getting dark when I got let out right where I-110 empties onto Highway 90 heading West back towards New Orleans always a spectacular sunset.  Very little traffic and nothing was open I began walking looking for a place to sleep.  I had a backpack and sleeping bag and everything I needed, I walked maybe mile and an old historic cemetery behind a wrought iron fence on old red brick had collapsed and part of a headstone and mausoleum lay all over the sidewalk almost in the road.  My first instinct was to start picking it up but I didn't, but I did notice the name: Stern as in Howard Stern and Stern means "Star," according to Howard in German.   He had my birthday April 27 and died on October 12 a hundred years ago, tomorrow...
          I DON'T KNOW why but it really spooked me walking into the unknown, no street lights just the moon and the stars and an occasional car lights.  Much of the sidewalk was broken and I knew I had to find somewhere to sleep before I broke my neck.  I finally come on this stretch of beach that used to be old antebellum homes with wrought iron along the sidewalk and the homes set up high and mighty off the road except now there was just a slab there and nothing else.  I turned into one at random, I walked up the few steps to the perfectly manicured front lawn at a turn in the road where I had a perfect view of both directions.  I stretched out right there up high where I couldn't be seen from the road on plush St. Augustine grass under beautiful old oak trees blown to bits but still standing with a beat up plastic grey shopping bag in shreds for leaves.   The next morning I set on the front steps to the house that was completely gone except the red brick steps and the bare slab and I notice the ornamental mailbox was bent all the way over and level with the ground from the direct hit and two-hundred and thirty mile per hour winds.  Ancient black wrought iron and on it said, "Stern.".....
           IT'S EXACTLY three miles from Biloxi to West Biloxi highway 90 tracks the coast line in one of America's Greatest Drives.  Twenty-six miles of combed by giant machines white sandy beach and patches of motels or old homes and large apartment complexes.  The main gate of Keesler Air Force Base is just off the beach right where the Biloxi Lighthouse is.  Along the beach in that section are a handful of nice homes where one would be a slab and the next barely damaged.  One minute your life is going along like you always known it and the next your looking at your entire house gone and everything you ever owned and now a muddy torn black and white sepia photograph of your mother when she was a little girl on her first bicycle looking up into the camera at her daddy and the whole world ends right here, right now.....
           WHEN I GOT to West Biloxi it was gone.  Just the front of the beach was wiped out, and sucked back out and then blown back in and shit was everywhere.  When the tides out you can see for a mile and the early morning hours the fog provides a horror movie setting for the grave yard scene.  When I was the only one down there I developed a sudden urge or fascination with linen and expensive terrycloth bath towels and made my way a bee line to housekeeping.  Because they were always in the back they were nearly always never touched.
    I KNEW I needed to find the highest ground so I could assess what was where and that just happened to be the Wet & Wild Slip and Slide a good seventy or eighty feet up.  When I got half way up there I discovered a maintenance room for pumps and water work's, etc.  Had a beautiful 360 view with a wrap around or peninsula porch and a entrance in the back so I turned it into my temporary command post and hauled up all the stuff you find in a motel room along the beach into my maintenance room in the sky....
         REMEMBER I TOLD you when I first got down to the beach how spooky it was with no birds or bugs or squirrels?  Now all the fish are gone and the entire beach was now littered with all that tourist crap found in the dozen's of tshirt and sovenere shops.  It was like being in a dream in broad daylight and everything you would ever need would appear before you as you needed it.  Brand new bottle of expensive Tropicana Banana Boat Sun Tan Lotion?  Flip flops?  Sunglasses?  Snack food?  How  about a Miller Lite?  Right across from my new command post seventy feet above the fray used to be one of Southern Invention's finest;  the #BEERBARN where you drive right into the barn and point at what you want and are served right in your car...  They were know for fifteen foot high stacks of beer and now that stuff was all over and everywhere..
       I KNEW this place would be crawling with people/scavengers searching for copper and cast aluminum and it was everywhere.  Every one of the thousands of motel rooms had individual air conditioning units and every restaurant had huge refrigeration and freezer units made of all copper and everything was everywhere.  I made a another bee line for that giant barge casino The President made up to look like a  old Mississippi Paddle Boat they had tied to pillars at the end of the Broad water Beach and Resort, Marina.  Sure enough, in a straight line from where it was to where it came ashore on top of Denny's, probably one thousand yards West, the beach was littered with the floatsom of capitalism.   Took months to dismantle piece by piece under 24 hour security to keep the metal scavengers away.  First thing I noticed was that all the marine life was still gone.  Usually smells of sun tan oil, boiled shrimp and an occasional dead fish.  Everything looked the same absent the smell and any sign there were ever any fish even there...very spooky.  To make it even stranger, the water was sparkling clean.  


    THE CASINOS had several days to prepare for #HURRICANEKATRINA so I didn't expect to see money everywhere but I did find dice.  Found six or seven all told but gave them away over the years.  I still got one though.  Do you know how well they guard their dice?  If one comes up missing during any given shift, someone will be fired.  You can see mine the nicks and mars in this one I have left that it's been through a Hurricane and says "The President," right on it.  I might put it on ebay just for the hell of it...

          BEFORE I ABANDONED my luxury accommodations at the Presidential Suite at the Broadwater Beach and Resort I manhandled a giant mattress next door into the middle of a huge vacant lot with three hundred feet of beach view, that was completely overgrown with bushes and trees over your head.  Smack in the middle was a huge oak tree with branches in every direction I set up a wall tent with the big mattress on the bottom and began looking for work.  Everywhere you looked once the recovery was in full swing you would see Fireman size water hoses used to keep the dust down as motels and apartment buildings and restaurants, all were scooped up into buckets of front end loaders and hauled off at a thousand dollars a pop for every truck you seen heading to the dump way out across the Back Bay Biloxi, to landfills fifteen or twenty miles inland.  With the government footing the bill money was being made hand over fist.  One job site I was on actually had a women, and you would see people just sitting in their car all day logging the coming and going of the trucks and if this lady didn't give you here stamp of approval, you didn't get paid.  First time I talked to her she asked me if I knew where she could score pain killers...
    I WALKED up to a job site on a side street right by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum that was rearing down and hauling off everything in  site.  The only thing left when we left was a slab and we tore a couple of them up and hauled them off.  They were hell on you equipment and why do that when you got paid by the "yard," not the "weight," or "gross."  You could have a 72 yard trailer slap full of hotel mattress and TV stands or concrete and rebar.... and got paid more for the TV's and TV stands...
First guy I talked to standing around in the middle of the street watching everybody else so I  figured he was in charge.  Turned out to be Wild Willy Something and he was the boss man's longtime right hand man and hired me on the spot.
    WE WERE SURROUNDED by devastation in various stages of recovery and basically looked like a war zone and the place had taken sustained direct hit's with cars on top of houses, it was completely bizarre and something I never thought I would see in America.  They had two huge John Deere 770 Front end Loaders smashing down what was standing and scooping up and dumping in waiting trucks and away it went.
    I showed him my Montana Identification Card that I'm sure he thought was a License and asked me what qualification I had.  I looked around a moment at all the destruction and just said;
    "I'm pretty good a tearing shit up...."    

             WHAT A LOT OF PEOPLE don't know that on the ground floor of the two hundred room motels have a cable of solid high grade copper about the size of a big man's wrist and there's usually six or seven of then running the length of the building, say one hundred feet at three or four dollars a pound;  that's a lot of money just laying there...but getting it out needs a specialist.  Somebody that can turn this ten thousand pound machine on a dime and take several hundred pound tong and grab onto them just so and then just start backing up.  Looks like black gold snaking out of the earth  the operator took off down a side road and dragged them into a area already cleaned but out of sight.  Like they were we'd get two-grand for it, but if we got the black rubber coating off it, it was worth ten grand and that's where I come in...
            WILD WILLY told me he'd give me $500 if I got that rubber off nearly a thousand feet of copper cable.  How do I get it off?  Said he didn't know, most people burnt it... Boss was back in Mobile an hour or so away, he'd pay me for the afternoon and five-hundred.... I had that shit off there forty-five minutes and spent the rest of the afternoon two blocks away laying on the beach and trying to burn the house down.  I stretched them all out side by side and just bent over them with my Leatherman and slit'em open all the way down and they popped right out... It was like the Wild west immediately after the storm and you knew because all the fast food joints suddenly didn't have any dollar menu items, anywhere.  The _____ looked like a trap house with the cops on vacation 24/7.  You never seen so much sheet rock in your life.  Anything that got wet in the South humid viral atmosphere immediately began to mold.  That's why they had the water hoses keeping everything wet to keep the mold down....
    I FINALLY FOUND my calling and busted out of bed every morning and hopping over the fence to get to work to smash shit up, break things up into little pieces and stomp on them before throwing them away.  All my life things broke right in my hands because I was to rough with them and now I get to break shit up and get paid for it.  You know that scene in Analyze This? Where he shoot's into the pillow and the analyst ask him if he feels better and with a big smile he say's "Yes, I do!"  Imagine that times ten everyday, that's how good it felt, I ain't kidding you.  After I walked into a dozen or so apartment house or hotel rooms and even big nice houses before smashing them to the ground, scooping them up and dumped them into waiting seventy-two yard dump trucks, I quit caring about all the stuff.  One twenty four hour storage facility where people pay to keep their stuff I shoveled soaking wet family albums and boxes of people's personal lives into the trash like an undertaker.  I stopped to look thru one when the boss wasn't watching me like a hawk so I wasn't sucking the clock, and vowed to never to do that again....it was heartbreaking...
    I WAS DOING the stomping.  After the truck was loaded I would have to jump up there and make sure nothing was going to fly off when it went over the back bay bridge.  A sheet of plywood thru your front windshield can't be good.  I usually stood around with giant water-hoses keeping everything soaked to keep the mold inactive and tried to figure out a way to be an "Operator," the guy who is wheeling them giant machines around that pick up a full size van and or smash it to pieces, that's where the real fun's at...
          IN EVERY WALK of Life Aristotle said there is The Best, Not So Good and Bad.  Aim High but settle for the middle.  In the World of Destroyers reigns the Don of Destruction.  I'm talking about a guy who will pull up in front of your fenced house and have it in rubble in an hour and a half and halve it gone to a slab fort-five minutes later....with all your stuff in it.  You could always tell a rookie because they would have the half the house on the side walk and all over the street but this guy you wouldn't find nae a misplace brick;  the place completely collapsed in on itself is a lot easier to haul away.  Were 'Fools Fear to Tread they called, "Where's Bode?"
    I heard that twenty times a day before I met him and ten times a day after I met him; the World's Most Destructive Man was a one hundred and twenty pound black recidivist probably thirty something crackhead.  He had worked for the company longer than all of them except the Son and this son of a bitch could slap get it done.  He drove this ten thousand pound behemoth like it was a Go-Kart!!!  When Diesel engines reach a certain temperature you don't have to keep revving it like a chainsaw or a minibike....  Not this idiot..... and when I told him that he said, "Fuck that!  Watch this!"  Off he went just like he always did....  I know we tore down several one hundred plus motel rooms along the beach, a couple of trailer courts, a bunch of apartment houses.  I went in some and it looked like people left their dinner on the table and took off leaving everything....  Anyway, the hopped up out of his mind crack head took out a half a dozen power lines, gas lines and water and even the Trifecta taking out a complete trailer park right on Pass Road.  He backed into a power pole and the transformers popped he jolted forward knocking a trailer that wasn't scheduled for demolition off it's foundation, hence to water and gas lines ruptured.  Less than an hour later the power company's there asking questions but we didn't see anything...
          THE HOUSE was forty or fifty years old and took three months to build and the Tax Assessor in 2004 said it was worth $186,374 and Bode had som bitch smashed to pieces that would fit in a big 72 square yards truck and on the way to the dump in an hour an a half.  He found a shady spot nearby and called someone to serve him and they'd be there in under twenty minutes.  Whenever he wasn't dismantling someones whole world with the focus of drone pilot firing laser weapons he looked like he was bent over the wheel talking on the phone or fiddling with something under the seat.  As soon as the dark sedan with a large black women would pull off it wouldn't be long and the phone in the pocket of the Willy standing next to me would ring and he'd say, "What's next boss?"
              THIS ONE MAN wrecking crew could tear down six or eight house down a day to a bare slab where most guys would be happy if the done one.  It was amazing to watch.  Would you trust your hundred and seventy thousand dollar machine of destruction over to a crackhead?
            BACK BAY BILOXI Bode was leveling some lawyer or doctor or politicians beautiful home that took a direct hit while I ransacked all the surrounding properties.  When we get done the Loader has to be taken to our staging area at Edgewater Mall right on the beach near the Colosseum but he doesn't have a license is on parole and won't drive on public streets.  Everyone's left and before he leaves with his dealer I get up in the driver seat and he says, "You see this?"  "You do this if you want to do that?"  You got it?  Leave it in fourth gear, I'll see you tomorrow."  Jumps in the car and leaves me way the hell across the Biloxi Bay, probably ten or so miles.  I didn't have a drivers license much less a CDL or Commercial Drivers License you need to operate this on surface streets but I ain't never set behind nothing I couldn't operate and one day when the World's Most Destructive Man didn't show up for work the real party started when I got to smash up entire apartment houses, motels you name it...

It looked just like this not as green.

           FIRST THING I notices when I got on the surface streets in this giant machines is people tend to get out of your way and the more reckless I drove the less traffic I encountered... Oh, and you can't drive real fast because it will start bouncing around and won't stay on the road, and had  a tendency to pull sharply to the right for mailboxes...

12:37 PM 9/16/2015

              MY TENT was in the middle of a large overgrown lot probably three hundred yards from the beach, had a seven-hundred dollar hotel suite mattress nearly covered the entire floor, and I slept like a baby, every night.  Completely surrounded by debris mainly from the Broadwater Beach Resort right next door, I never bothered to pick any of it up because at night walking around anywhere near there you would break your neck or step on something to smack you in the face.  Stuff like four or five feet of copper tubing you would see behind every shower wall.  Anything you would find in a hotel was in that field.  It was better than having a sentry posted outside my tent while I slept.  If they got within shouting distance of me all you would hear is "Oh shit!  Owe!" every few minutes before they ever got to me... I was sleeping in a tent with twenty-three hundred dollars on me and there wasn't a motel room within a hundred miles.... The staging area at Edgewater Mall was less than a mile away and I had a bicycle.  That's what they called me at work, either "Bicycle Man, or usually just "Montana."

          I WAS directly underneath a ancient Southern Oak tree probably thirty, forty feet wide and a good sixty or seventy feet high with not a single leaf on it.  At night against only moonlight with just tattered plastic shopping bags making any noise at all, it provided a haunting reminder that something bad happened here.  Something bad enough to blow every leaf and moss off the trees and level entire buildings and four or five weeks later, not a bird or a bee not a squirrel, nothing.  It was truly eerie.  The one thing that made it all all right even after crushing peoples entire world like so much trash, was the surf.  Every couple of days when the tide was high you would hear the gentle slapping of the waves on the pristine beach and the water itself had not been this clean since before all the drilling rigs just miles off the coast, you can see them at night.  Some how that sparkling clean water and surf on the wind before I fell asleep at night, I just knew everything would be alright....
1:10 PM 9/16/2015

To be continued...

#MYKATRINA #KATRINA #MARKANTHONYGIVEN #REALLIFEHEIST #THEKINGOFMONTANA #HOMELESSINHEAVEN #AUTHOR #STORY #WRITER #NOLA #GAMBIT #TELLYOURSTORY   #MARKANTHONYGIVEN @MYKATRINA #HOMELESSINHEAAVEN #THEKINGOFMONTANA #REALLIFEHESIT #DOPESICKANGEL  #HURRICANEKATRINASTORIES #KATRINASTORIES #ESPN
#NEWORLEANS #DISASTERSTORIES #LIFECONTINUES #FROMNEWORLEANS
#LOVENEWORLEANS #BILOXIBEACH #WRITER #WRITERS #AUTHOR #NEWSTORIES #KATRINAACTUALLY

To be continued....


Copyright 2015 My Katrina by Mark Anthony Given
6:10 PM 9/1/2015

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_Casino_Broadwater_Resort