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  • In August of 2005 I had no relationship to New Orleans. I knew almost nothing about the city, and had never been nor met anyone from Louisiana. The Saints were bad, the Hornets were as bad as my Knicks, there wasn’t even a baseball team. Mardi Gras was associated with nothing but late-night Girls-Gone-Wild ads in between Howard Stern reruns on E!, and the tradition of jazz was as stuck in the mud as the city it struggled to lift. I thought.

    The truth is, I never really thought about New Orleans at all. I arrived at my freshman dorm room and met my neighbor, Hannah Chalew- a New Orleans Jew educated by the Benjamin Franklin and NOCCA high schools. We both liked the obscure freak folk band Cocorosie and instantly became best friends. I still knew nothing of her town.

    The day I arrived at college my dad went to the hospital because every organ in his body was quickly beginning to shut down, one by one. The day after I arrived at college Chalew told me that a hurricane hit her city and her family had evacuated to Tennessee. She had no idea that three feet of water were rising to sit in her house, or that her family wouldn’t return for over a year. I had no idea that my dad was in the hospital, because my family didn’t tell me. Three days later she found out that the hospital her dad worked at had turned into the site of a horror film, with patients and doctors and homeless alike searching for safety, or drinking water, or drugs. Three days later I found out that my dad was in the hospital, and stopped caring about any natural disaster happening somewhere I’d never been.

    Eight days after Hurricane Katrina, Chalew’s dad told her he was going back to her neighborhood in Broadmoor where he would tear up his entire first floor, throw out his refrigerator, and become a compulsive bread baker for the next nine months, living alone in a half destroyed home while his youngest son attempted to make the Varsity soccer team at some random high school in Baltimore. Eight days after Hurricane Katrina my dad died.

    I lived the next year after our storms getting closer to my best friend from New Orleans while never thinking once of New Orleans. Then in 2007, I went. My friends and I flew to Chalew’s house with no first floor or electricity. Her parents were away, the power went out, and eighteen months after the hurricane, no one was rushing to the scene. I spent my first week in this city living by flashlight, sleeping five to a bed, eating ‘I Survived Katrina’ labeled pantry items in a second-story kitchen, paying crackheads to pee behind Garden District homes off St. Charles, and taking minivan-driven ‘Disaster Tours’ led by my roommate.

    Witnessing no response to a blackout in a nice neighborhood makes no lighter the blow of seeing entire communities in pieces on the ground, with grass up to the water lines and empty street car tracks in the neutral ground. I captured these highs and lows with a disposable camera, more conservative with how and when I applied pressure to the shutter, relieved to have no immediate gratification to view and/or delete.

    I approached one of many piles of house, and from a bird’s eye view snapped this frame of a brilliant toy piano amidst rubble and weeds. I knew in that moment it would be my favorite picture of the trip. I knew it would bring my first tears onto the city. I knew I would move here.

    Now I live in New Orleans. Here I am playing a real piano in my and Chalew's house. My dad would love this place.

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