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    It would have been considered normal if it were any other Labor Day Weekend. But it wasn’t. It was the Labor Day weekend that Katrina threatened to make landfall. New Orleans had just awakened from her summer reptilian sleep. Her heartbeat slowly cooled off and returned to an ordinary speed.
   I had been through some minor hurricanes before, but this time it was different. The city felt strange, the air smelled more brackish than usual, and you could feel the anxiety on the street.
    The heat and humidity were so untenable in that summer that it felt like everything was in slow motion except for the few hearty partiers imbibing in her dark side. By day New Orleans is a majestic southern town; by night, she became, come hither for any fantasy you might desire. When the city awoke from her summer slumber, so did some of Nola's largest employers. The Universities began to bustle with faculty, and the students populated the dorms and apartments all over town. 
Over the years of building my Interior Design firm Solaris Arteca, I have had many interns that have passed through my doors. They brought me a particular energy of naivety and wanderlust. But they have also helped me keep up with technology and introduced me to the society of Uptown, New Orleans.
Although I had traveled and lived worldwide, the idea of “Society” had never been very prevalent to me. We had “society” in New York, and my parents shared in some of that, but fitting in is a very different animal in New Orleans. The first rule of New Orleans Society is you must have been born there. Your mother must have gone to the “right” High School, which was generational, dating back to the Napoleonic era. It was clear to me that anywhere I went when they would echo those words, “You’re not from around here, are ya?” I knew I was out of luck. No matter how hard I tried, I was always an outsider. And believe me, I tried.
I was never sure what I wanted to be, nor did I think of it that way. My parents always pressured me to do more and to be better. They wanted so much more for me than they had themselves. My mom was of that generation when women couldn’t go to college. Only the men in their families could attend, more out of financial constraints rather than abilities. So, it was pre-determined at birth that I would attend college. They wanted me in a professional school, but I always swerved more towards the arts. 
<P>Because of those things they afforded me, I went to all the best schools. I graduated with an MFA in interior design and was immediately hired into a high-profile New York design firm. I tried unsuccessfully to fit in, but the backstabbing, office politics, and fast pace triggered my irritable bowel syndrome into high gear. I had been traveling to South America and Europe for the firm, and I decided that moving to another country might be the solution. My parents made it clear that if they were alive, I needed to live in the contiguous United States. I sort of saw their point in that I am an only child. They suggested I try someplace a little closer to home.
After much soul-searching, I decided that New Orleans would be a happy compromise. I’d been there for trade shows and thought its European flair could soothe my soul, ameliorate my irritated bowel, and with the bonus of a slower pace and a more moderate temperature differential, what could possibly go wrong?
Building my design firm here was like going against the ocean’s currents. If I were smart, I would have landed somewhere else. But clearly, I wasn’t, and I felt I could overcome this outsider annoyance and cast it off like a fly buzzing around my head. 
Transitioning from the Big Apple to the Big Easy was very difficult. I set up housekeeping in a lovely Condo not far from Julia Street, the fashionable art district in town. My two therapy cats, Amy and Lotus constantly at my side.  Early on, I met what would become my best friend, Lori Hebert (hay bear). It was ten years ago when I first arrived. Lori had gone to Fordham in New York for Law School, although we never knew each other then. We immediately connected on shopping, favorite restaurants, and the fact that neither of us wanted to get married and have the traditional lives our mothers constantly tried to inflict on us.
Lori was a lawyer at Peartree and Partridge, and I was a subcontracting designer under Manning and Associates' architectural firm.  Upon my arrival at Peartree, Lori was having a torrid affair with this very high-powered seer-suckered, self-aggrandizing southern gentleman Jeb Barker. To this day, I never saw what she saw in him.
After Lori broke up with Jeb, we had sworn off men. We both decided life would be so much easier without them. While we women have physical needs and reasons for a man’s company, overall, we move much more freely about the cabin without them. Building my design firm here in Nola has been challenging. That I remain focused on it and keep my nose to the grindstone was my only chance at becoming a successful businesswoman.
On this day, on this weekend, several days before Katrina, Lori suggested I get over to my showroom on Julia Street and make sure everything was battened down, and we’d meet at her condo and get out of Dodge. I decided to walk because the traffic was ridiculous as everyone was trying to leave ahead of the storm. I closed my showroom door, tipped my head, said a little prayer, and began walking through the Quarter in case all of this got blown away.
A silly idea because the French Quarter was built on an earthen berm and had survived even the extremely deadliest of hurricanes. As I walked, I was trying to investigate the faces of other folks. On any other day, when passing another stranger, you would gesture and evoke, “Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good day.” But today, none of that. People were walking purposefully, and there was no eye contact. 
As I continued up Bourbon, I thought I saw two young students who looked familiar. The closer I got, the more I was positive, so I nodded, “Hey.”
They tried to negate my motion and looked away, but we were heading for one another, and it became unavoidable. 
David finally looked up and said, “Hey, Miss. Hirsch, shouldn’t you be leaving? It looks like Katrina is gonna get rough.”
“David, that is so sweet of you to ask. Yes, I’m heading to a friend’s now, and we are getting on the road immediately.”
David’s friend Michael kept staring at the ground and would not acknowledge me. A chill of death came over me. Call it female intuition, which seemed to go into overdrive, or call it the ghostly spirituality of New Orleans, something sent a chill up my spine. Perhaps it was the foreboding of Katrina. But I had other things on my mind, so I shook off that eerie feeling and headed toward Lori’s.
Looking back on it now, if you had told me all these years later that Lori and I would have survived Hurricane Katrina, a false murder accusation and the foolishness of strangers, and sometimes the kindness, I would have told you, you were crazy.

I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and my parents wanted more for me, as parents of that era did. They knew the sky was the limit when I got accepted to Fordham. I enjoyed the Big Apple, don’t get me wrong. It was a fantastic place, and my education was excellent.
When I was a little girl, I fantasized about being a corporate lawyah. Maybe it was watching too many episodes of LA Law or somethin like that. These very strong female images in gorgeous suits winin cases against other high-powered male attorneys in Los Angeles what could be sexier? Fordham was a fantastic opportunity because not only was I at a great school, but New York had so many high-end law firms with branches all over the world. My parents were more than willin to seed this venture at all costs instead of their own financial well-bein. For that, I was eternally grateful.  I passed the bar on my first try and stayed thay’re in New York for a few more years. But like so many people with deep southern roots, my home and my family kept calling me back. 
I returned to New Ahlins to pursue my passion. It was the late 1990s, and believe it or not, many local law firms were still all male shops. After living in New York and clerkin in some great firms and judge’s chambers, this was truly shocking that mah hometown was still so far behind the times. I set my sights on a few key firms and, after much determination, was hired at Peartree and Partridge, an all-male firm. I had the honah, if you will, to be the first female attorney there.
After six months, having returned to the Big Easy. I got involved with one of the head partners; his grandfather was the founder of the firm, none other than the seer-sucking, suspender-driven Jeb Barker. A rookie mistake I have lived to regret.
This was a bad idea from the get-go, but I got to experience things I could never have dreamt. I learned that corporate law was not all the career path I envisioned. And during my tenure at the firm, I met my best friend, Roni Hirsch.
Roni and I were an unlikely pair, I’ll tell ya. She was from New York, and I’m from down here. Let’s face it; it doesn’t get any more southern than New Orleans, the next stop south of here is the Gulf of Mexico.
Yes, it’s true, Roni and I have been through a lot together. The last ten years felt like twenty. But we learnt that each adversary that had come our way had made us both leaner, meaner, and stronga on the other side. New Ahlins can be rather cruel to an outsider, always with the refrain, “Y’all not from around here, are ya?” I always felt bad for Roni because she was so sophisticated and world-traveled that she’d never experienced this mindset anywhere else. To this day, I’m not sure if that is a southern thin or a New Ahlins thin. And with each obstacle, we ova came just cemented our friendship. 
I learned that fighting with corporate titans was not my idea of changing the world. It only seemed to inspire more corporate greed. Working at Peartree gave me a front-row seat to the spectacle of an all-male workplace. It is that ugliness that inspired me to do bigger and better things.

    Our escape that fateful Labor Day Weekend in August of 2005 was not fun, and it wasn’t pretty. Lori and I met some friends in Nashville and rode out the storm. All the New Orleanians who had left cheered when we heard Katrina made landfall in the east closer to Chalmette. We had stayed up all night watching CNN, sighed a huge relief, and went to bed.
Later that day, we all met for a celebratory dinner in the hotel nearby. Our jovial demeanor was matched at every table that was bustling with wine and smelled of steaks being barbecued. 
At our table, we were planning our return to New Orleans.
“When will ya’ll head home?” Lori asked some of the folks at our table.
Our friends said, “A good night’s sleep tonight and hit the road in the morning, and we’ll be home by seven or eight, dependin on traffic and everyone going back.”
Lori and I nodded. Yup, that’s what we are thinking, too.”
A man came to our table, dressed chiefly grey and rather somber. “Are y’all from New Orleans?”
We all shook our heads in agreeance. “I have some rather bad news.”
We all stopped moving, put down our forks and whatever cutlery might have been in our hands, and looked up in rapt attention. 
He looked at us and said, “I am a police officer back home, and I just found out that sometime this afternoon, the levees were breached.”
I’m thinking to myself, what the fuck is a levee? I remember the word from Don McLean’s song American Pie, but I had no clue. Everyone at the table went from jovial to sullen instantaneously. 
He said, “There are two breaches, one on the 17th Street Canal and another almost opposite of it in the east. The city is filling up with water.”
I could feel the food and wine rising in my belly, so I drank some water to tamp it down. I would have been mortified if I had barfed in front of everyone. In almost unison, we asked for our food to be wrapped up. People were forlorn and in disbelief. We made our way over to the business center of the hotel. On the computer screens were live streams of New Orleans.
One woman in the crowd began screaming, “Oh my God, that’s my street.” We all watched the houses and debris drifting along with the current.
On one screen, I noticed our gas station. The water was up above the pumps. I whispered to Lori, “that’s our gas station over there.”
Lori grabbed my hand and moved toward the elevators and our room in synchronicity. We sat down on our beds and began crying. Time passed of massive sobbing, Lori, the ever practical, said, “Darlin’, we’ve got to come up with a plan.”

    I started pacing around the hotel room. I didn’t know what to do. My parents always lamented Hurricane Betsy, but that was either before I was born or too little to remember.  And besides, Baton Rouge was far away from that mess's epicenter.
How on earth do you make plans when you don’t know what’s happenin? At this point, the news on CNN was our lifeline and only showed the devastation. There was nothing rational or practical that we could pin a plan on or move forward. 
We did the only thing two rational grown-up women could do. We went out on the streets of Nashville, listened to great country music, and drank our sorrows away.  It didn’t help us move one step forward, but it did take the edge off our sorrow and pain. 
In the morning, we regretted our choices while drinking coffee and getting serious about what to do next. We were sitting outside in delicious morning sunlight when my phone chirped. I flipped it open, and it was my mom. 
“Lori, is that you? I’ve been trying to call you since yesterday. Are you and Roni, alright?”
“Hi Mom, yes, it’s me. Probably the cell towers are messed up from the storm.”
“Are you guys still in Nashville? Do you want to come here? They say it will take at least six months to pump out the city.”
“Six months, Momma, are you kidding me? We can’t stay here or with you for six months. Yeah, well, Roni and I need to think. Let me get back to you when we figure out our next moves.” As I hung up the phone, Roni’s began chirping. 
Roni picked up her cell phone from the table and unfolded it. Her mom was freaking out, too. Her dad got on the other line in their apartment and told us he’d fly us up to New York and we could stay with them. 
Although the idea of an all-expense paid vacation in New York was appealing, Roni and I quickly nixed that idea. Crawling back to mom and dad at our age was not an option.
Outpourings from all over the world helped to drain poor soggy New Orleans, and we were able to make our return in November.

On a sunny November day of 2005, the mayor finally announced that the city would be open, and we could return home. He warned that we should come slowly and prepare ourselves for what we were about to see. It was our turn to return to New Orleans, and we decided the best way to go home was to cross the Causeway. While the Twin Span would have been the logical choice, it was destroyed, so that was not an option.
With our mouths agape, the closer we got, we could not believe the devastation. Piles and piles of trees, some organized, some befallen this way and that! Huge root balls twenty or thirty feet wide of trees laying on their sides like this was the natural order of a tree. But it wasn't.
As we came off the Causeway into Metairie, things got even worse. The levee broke not far from here, so the worst damage was right in front of our eyes; a muddy brown film two inches thick and more covered everything.
There were no stoplights, and nothing was where it was supposed to be. Houses picked up off their foundations and rested against other homes. Clothes were strewn all over the streets and people's personal effects—cars up in trees, trees where houses were. It felt like we had landed somewhere else, this could not possibly be New Orleans, and this could not possibly be the planet Earth.
As we got closer to the 17th St; canal levee breach, we were compelled to look closer. We were astonished to find no parking and people with cameras as if we were at Mount Rushmore. None of us uttered a word as the shock was more than we could externalize; it was too surreal.
We parked, and we cracked the windows for Amy and Lotus. We walked silently to the levee breach and tried with grave difficulty to make sense of what was before our eyes. Truthfully it was like science fiction. 
While we watched the news on CNN, every chance we got, nothing could prepare us for the scene unfolding in front of our eyes. People looked at us, and we looked at them. The shock was overly apparent in everyone's eyes. On any typical day in Nola, greetings would be exchanged between two strangers but today, nothing. Just a blank graveness in the eyes each other and a knowing glance.
"Oh My God, Ron, I can’t believe it, Lori exclaimed; that's Mrs. Gagliano's house. I pray to God they evacuated."
"Wait, you know these people?" I quivered.
"Yes, I do, or did," and the sobbing amongst us started again.
The scene again was beyond phantasmagoric down the street where the actual breach was. How incrementally stupid it was to think that some walls, known as levees, pinned down many feet into the Earth, could hold back the power of water? As one of my friends once said, beware, when the water comes, the water comes fast!
The Army Corps of Engineers was founded during the Revolutionary War, and its sole purpose was to build military fortifications for battle. Later, the engineers were also employed when government agencies-built projects during peacetime. The levee system in New Orleans dates to the early seventeen hundreds. It has been revised and reworked over the centuries and made modern. The crew in charge of the levees regularly checked how much pressure the walls could withstand. As more investigations came to the forefront, there were lapses in the structure that the engineers were not keeping track of and tales of cocktail lunches. These proved fatal to the City of New Orleans on that day in 2005. 
At the 17th Street Canal, there was a gap 450 feet wide from which water came with tremendous pressure and created mayhem, destroying hundreds of homes. CNN showed the Corps furiously trying to drop sandbags onto the breach to stop the water from entering the area. More than thirty bodies were recovered from the breached wall, and the property damage was estimated to be in the millions. 
Lori said, "let's head back to the car. I think we've seen enough."
As we drifted back to the car, a once beautiful, now grimy ball gown blew down the street in front of us. Looking at it, you wondered who the fine lady was who wore this stunning gown. Was she alive? Had she drowned in her yard? Which Mardi Gras did she wear that dress?
"Well, if that just doesn't say it all," I pointed to Lori.
We got back into the car, and somehow the car moved forward. The smell that hung over the city was mold, briny air, rotting garbage, and intrepid mosquitoes. But that scent, the odor even now, as I tell you this story, is something I can smell even today. Just the mere mention of it, whenever I tell people about Katrina, and it becomes present in my mind, I can smell it right now!
Piles of debris began popping up in front of the homes. The only thing people could rescue were those things that were hard with little or no porosity, like dishes and glass. Women with buckets of bleach, sitting on lawn chairs, toothbrush in hand, cleaning what little they could save, became a familiar scene from Metairie to Chalmette. 
We pulled in front of my Condo first. A sign on my door showed that a search and rescue team had been to my home. In the painted circle was a cross with zeroes in every quadrant. I was blessed to be on the second floor, so my house was safe and clean. Other doors expressed a completely different picture, saying dead dog or how many dead people were found dead in that home. It became excruciating to drive through town. When you saw one of those doors, you could only feel the pain and heartache that must have occurred there. On one street, the entire front of the house was missing. It looked like a dollhouse, only in real life. I imagine the woman who lived there, padding up and down the hallway trying to get her baby to sleep. Where were they now? Were they safe?
"Maybe I should drop off Amy and Lotus and come with you? In case you need my help?" I started crying.
Lori hugged me and said, "This is the first vestiges of survivor's guilt, honey. There's gonna be a lot more."
"Survivor's guilt? What on Earth?"
"It happens to the people that have survived unscathed, feeling guilty for those who did not," Lori explained. "There will be lots of this because your home is safe. You will meet someone whose house is gone or incrementally destroyed, and after commiserating with them, you will walk away feeling tremendously guilty."
"Oh my God, do you think your place is gone?" I started crying again.
"We have been checking on google maps satellite pictures for days now. Those maps still show our places, like yours, Roni," Lori replied. The quarter and the area around Canal Street were spared because of the earthen berms. My Condo, like yours, is on a higher floor.
"We've been in each other's faces and spaces since August. I, for one, need my OWN bathtub and some desperately quiet ME time. We both do." We probably need to clear our heads," Lori explained.
"Yes, your wisdom is why I love you," I said, getting the last of my things out of the car and placing everything onto my steps and into the Condo. We hugged.
"We have been through an ordeal, girl, haven't we?" 
"Novel worthy, right?"
As Lori drove off, I waved and watched the car fade towards her condo.
Hallelujah, air conditioning! I noticed this weird clicking noise when I came back inside. I started opening the curtains and shades and was about to open the windows when I realized the clicking noise was my electricity.

    As things became more and more back to a new normal, we all realized that things would be different. You couldn’t just go to the store around the corner, and sometimes you had to go to the suburbs where stores were open. We New Orleanians don’t like to drive furtha than fifteen minutes, so this was a huge adjustment. I decided to make groceries and take care of some errands out in Harahan, where life looked and seemed like it used to be.
I went to the gated lot where my car was parked and zapped my card through the electronic eye. After pulling the gate behind me, I used my key to open my car. A whole lot of zapping going on. I got into the car, which felt like four thousand degrees, turned on the AC, and lowered the windows. I drove out of the parking lot and began adjusting the windows so no one could jump in my car or steal my purse from the front seat. I set the radio on and started listening to NPR. By ten of six, it became apparent that the discussion was about the war in Iraq, which made me crazy because the more money we spend on Iraq, the less money we have for New Orleans. As I got to the entrance to I-10, I changed the station to the end of the national news. That last-minute fluff piece allowed me to angle my way through the traffic—six o'clock on I-10 in rush hour in New Orleans. The good news is it only lasts for about fifteen minutes, especially post-Katrina with our dwindling population. The familiar voices of the newscasters came on WWL-TV, and they ran over the agenda for the nightly news, top stories, weather, sports, Etc. A commercial came on, allowing me to switch lanes and try and move around the traffic. I was getting close to Causeway Blvd to exit for Veterans Blvd.  
The news came on again, and suddenly I heard, "This just in; to Eyewitness News."
I thought, great, not another murder.
"Out to Harahan, and what have you got for us, Dave?"
"Thanks. I am standing outside 4714 Citrus Blvd, where a strange smell has been reported. The neighbors are baffled by what it could be because it is some sort of furniture warehouse. They say a woman owns the warehouse and stores things in it, but her place of business is either in the quarter or Julia Street."
"Oh my God, did he say 4714 Citrus Blvd? I shouted to no one in particular in my car?" Just then, my cell phone went off. I pulled over to the side of the road.
"Lori, it's Ron. Where the hell are you? I am watching Eyewitness News. I could swear that that is my warehouse. It looks like it in the picture."
"Good thing I am on I-10 headed out to Vets guess I'll just go out to Clearview and see what this is all about. It must be a mistake."
"Listen, I’m going to hop in the car and come out there."
"Yeah, probably you better."
I disconnected the phone, and I veered to the right of traffic as soon as I could get through, made my way up Clearview, and got over to Citrus Blvd as quickly as possible. As I approached the warehouse, several cop cars and news reporters crowded the entrance. I threw the car in park and ran up to the crowd. “What seems to be going on here?”
"Excuse me, Ma'am, you can't come through here. This scene is an official police investigation."
"It's my friend's building; she’s on her way up here; I happened to be heading up this way to make groceries and got here first.”
Just then, Roni’s neighbors began to call out to me, " Is Roni in there? Something sure does stank. Did Roni pass out in there, God forbid?”
What seemed to be an hour later, but probably was only twenty minutes, Roni showed up and screeched into a parking space. I screamed, “Roni, over here.”
Roni’s neighbors all began screaming, “Thank God you're all right. We were afraid you were in there and got ya some heatstroke or something."
" Officer, this is Roni Hirsch. It’s her storage unit."
"All right, let the lady through and allow her to open the door."
Roni broke through the crowd, and a police officer escorted her to the garage door. He put out his hand and asked if he could assist her in opening the door. The closer we got, the more intense the smell became, and I almost puked.  
Roni explained, "I don't understand, officer; I have nothing in there that could rot like that. It's furniture, lamps, rugs, wood, and accents. What the hell could have happened?"
"A pretty lady like you shouldn't use such foul language. Let me just, agh agh, that smell is awful. Let's just open her up and see what we got."
The garage door swung open, and there were three big crates that Roni claimed she had never seen before. A horrible liquid smell was oozing out of one of them. We both looked and each other trying not to puke. Unbeknownst to us, somebody had fooled with the temperature control in the warehouse, and everything was getting massive amounts of humidity.
The police officer examined the three crates, moved towards me, and looked at me. "Since you are here, do you have any objections to me, and the boys took a look-see inside? By the way, how should I call you?"
"I'm sorry, officer, my name is Roni Hirsch, and I rent this warehouse from Latter and Blum Realty."
I grabbed Roni, and we both started crying and choking from the foul odor.
"What could that smell be, Roni?"
The officer looked at us both and said, "that's what we were just fixin to find out when y'all interrupted."
I looked at the officer and said, "Sorry, Sir, you go right ahead."
A crowbar appeared from one of the corners of the warehouse. Since Roni received crates all the time, there were several around. It took several rocks with the crowbar to open the crate, and the smell worsened. 
"Well, lookie at what we got here," the officer said.
The other officer told us to back up. Like a copious owner, Roni had to go over and see what was in the crate. She turned white as she looked in. She passed out cold, and the next thing I knew, she was outside the warehouse, prone on the sidewalk, a blanket underneath her and a cold rag on her head. I was over a trashcan puking from the odor.
The officer took Roni’s hand and said, "Welcome back, Miss. Hirsch."
"Please call me Roni. How long was I out for? Was that a dead body in that crate?"
"Not too long, Miss Roni. I'm afraid we have a dead body, and God Knows What else we might find here. This is officially a crime scene, now!"
"Are you shitting me? How the hell did they get in my warehouse?"
"I'm afraid it's gonna be a long night, Miss. Roni, so let's get you up and feeling better, and then we'd like to have a word with you and your friend Lori. By the way, my name is Officer Lloyd, and my partner's name is Officer Rankin. There will be a detective here in short order, and his name is Detective Fritz. I'll be sure to give you a card when y'all leave in case you need something later."
I pulled Roni over to me and put my arm around her. Both of our bodies were shaking, and we were gasping for some air that didn’t smell foul and like rotting corpses. “Whatever you do, don’t say anything, don’t admit anything, simple yes and no answers, till we get an attorney to represent you. I am not a criminal lawyer, which is what you need.”
“What the fuck, Lori, you think I did this?”
“Calm down, no, of course not, but they do” I nodded towards the officers hovering around the crates.
Officer Rankin came forward and looked at the two of us. “That’s quite a foul mouth you’ve got there, Miss. Roni.”
I pipped up, “She doesn’t mean it, officer; she does that when she gets nervous. Like a person with terrets syndrome only with curses.”
Officer Rankin grinned the pearly white straight teeth and looked over at Roni, “A lady as pretty as you shouldn’t talk like that.” 
    Roni tipped her head, embarrassed, “I’ll try to control myself, officer.”
Inside, I was laughing; yeah, not likely, officer. She can cuss with a sailor and make him blush. Outside I was thinking, now what are we going to do?


I apologize for the formatting  - somehow the text file isn't working either - to see correct format please read the word document. Thank you

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