Saturday, September 10, 2005

Words from Chris Rose

From, one of my former colleagues writes a personal essay:

In city of melted clocks, scribes paint Dali scenes
By Chris Rose

You hear the word “surreal” in every report from this city now. There is no better word for it.

If Salvador Dali showed up here, he wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of it. Nobody could paint this.

He did that famous painting of the melting clock and our clocks melted at 6:45 the morning of Aug. 29. That’s what the clocks in the French Quarter still say. That’s when time stood still.

The Quarter survived all this; you’ve probably heard that much. Most of what remains unscathed – and I’m using a very relative term here - is a swath of dry land from the Riverbend through Audubon Park, down St. Charles and Tchoupitoulas to the Quarter and into the Bywater.

It’s like a land mass the size of Bermuda, maybe, but with not so many golf courses.

There are other dry outposts in the great beyond – little Key Wests across the city – but I haven’t seen them.

The weather is beautiful, I don’t mind telling you. But if I wrote you a post card, it wouldn’t say Wish You Were Here.

There are still hearty rose bushes blooming on front porches and there are still birds singing in the park. But the park is a huge National Guard encampment.

There are men and women from other towns living there in tents and who have left their families to come help us and they are in the park clearing out the fallen timber. My fellow Americans.

Every damn one of them tells you they’re happy to be here (despite what you’ve heard, it still beats the hell out of Fallujah) and every time I try to thank them – on behalf of all of us - I just lose it. I absolutely melt down.

There is nothing quite as ignominious as weeping in front of a soldier.

This is no environment for a wuss like me. We reporters go to other places to cover wars and disasters and pestilence and famine. There’s no manual to tell you how to do this when it’s your own city.

And I’m telling you: It’s hard.

It’s hard not to get crispy around the edges. It’s hard not to cry. It’s hard not to be very, very afraid.

My colleagues who are down here are warriors. There are a half-dozen of us living in a small house on a side street Uptown. Everyone else has been cleared out.

We have a generator and water and military C-rations and Doritos and smokes and booze. After deadline, the call goes out: “Anyone for some warm brown liquor?” and we sit on the porch in the very, very still of the night and we try to laugh.

Some of these guys lost their houses – everything in them. But they’re here, telling our city’s story.

And they stink. We all stink. We stink together.

We have a bunch of guns but it’s not clear to me if anyone in this “news bureau” knows how to use them.

The California National Guard came by a wanted an accounting of every weapon in the building and they wrote the serial numbers down and apparently our guns are pretty rad because they were all cooing over the .38s.

I guess that’s good to know.

The Guard wanted to know exactly what we had so they would be able to identify – apparently by sound – what guns were in whose hands if anything “went down” after dark here at this house.

That’s not so good to know.

They took all our information and bid us a good day and then sauntered off to retrieve a dead guy on a front porch down the street.

Then the California Highway Patrol – the CHiPs! – came and demanded we turn over our weapons.

What are you going to do? We were certainly outnumbered so we turned over the guns. Then, an hour later, they brought them back. With no explanation.

Whatev. So here we are. Just another day at the office.

Maybe you’ve seen that Times-Picayune advertising slogan before: “News, Sports and More.”

More indeed. You’re getting your money’s worth today.

Chris Rose can be reached at


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