Southeast of Disorder

In the beginning, there was the word
September 30, 2008, 3:08 pm
Filed under: hurricane, Writing

I’ve decided that in-between fits of Ike-inspired cleaning, I’m going to relax by taking a page from Nina Katchadourian’s book, so to speak. Katchadourian is the mastermind behind the Sorted Books Project, which has captured my imagination quite completely. The concept entreats both halves of my brain to play. If there’s one thing I have a surfeit of — besides Ike’s detritus — it’s books, and this seems like a thoroughly engaging way to use them in ways other than they were intended to be used. (The best things in our lives always have more than one purpose.)

Here’s one of my favorites among Katchadourian’s creations. Read the book spines from top to bottom.

I’m not a poet by any stretch of the imagination, but I think the books on my shelves (and my nightstand and my coffee table and my mantel and my bathroom counter and almost every other horizontal space in my house) will do the heavy lifting for me. Can you imagine what fun it would be to walk into someone’s home and find little “Easter eggs” like this scattered about?

I’m going to stack books strategically in various spots and see how long it takes someone to notice what’s up.


Living and Dying in Three-Quarter Time
September 23, 2008, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Dog, Galveston, hurricane

There are going to be some good, hardworking people who’ll never recover from Ike. You can recognize them on the street: They’re the ones with the hollow eyes of war survivors.

I just spoke to one while I was walking my dog outside the Holiday Inn in Seguin, Texas. She’s a single woman, middle-aged, and an evacuee from Gilchrist, a small town on the Bolivar Penninsula between Galveston Island and Port Arthur. Gilchrist wasn’t one of the Texas Riviera’s trendy beach communities. It was a country town populated by salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar working folks and farmers. The sum total of Gilchrist’s commercial development comprised a True Value hardware store, a couple of country-and-western bars and a handful of mom-and-pop diners, feed stores and groceries. Ike took almost everything, leaving only a few building shells standing.

Angie, my new friend, lost everything except her dog to Ike. Her house. Her car. Her clothes and furniture. Her job. It’s not like she had a lot to begin with, but she worked hard for what she did have, even after an auto accident last year severed the lower portion of her right leg. Surgeons reattached the leg, but it will never be normal. Through it all, Sophia Loren, Angie’s sweet Rottweiler-Blue Heeler mix, has been her steadfast companion.

Angie and Sophie were separated briefly after they were bussed to a San Antonio shelter when their aging van was washed away by Ike’s rising water. After Katrina and Rita, Texas law was changed to allow people to take their pets with them during mandatory evacuations. Sadly, legislators didn’t deal with what would become of the pets once evacuees reached shelters. A San Antonio animal welfare organization collected all the sheltered evacuees’ pets so they could be cared for properly, but the form the evacuees were required to sign gave the organization the right to place the animals in new homes if the evacuees didn’t reclaim them within 10 days.

When Angie’s head quit spinning, she read the fine print. She left the shelter, got a rental car through her auto insurance company, and headed for a motel that accepted pets. The expense, she said, is about to kill her, but she’ll manage as long as she has Sophie.

FEMA still has not approved Angie for temporary housing assistance. They need her to fax them proof she actually rented the now-destroyed “cabin” (her term) she occupied before Ike vented his fury all over the upper Texas Gulf Coast. She didn’t think to take utility bills with her when she left, and now she’s sure they’re scattered all over a narrow strip of land that’s still soggy nearly two weeks after a 15-foot wall of water wiped most life from its surface.

Someone from Texas Governor Rick Perry’s office called Angie’s room this morning, she said. They wanted to know what they could do to help. “I didn’t even know what to tell them,” she told me, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “Where was I supposed to start? I told them about my dog. I’m not giving up my dog.”

Sophie jumped up and licked my face. I wouldn’t give her up, either.