Miracle at Gainesville
How a poet and a resurrected dead man saved a Katrina evacuee.
This article is part of an ongoing series by Blake Bailey, a New Orleans resident who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Click here to read more of his dispatches.
Recently I began to feel neglected as a hurricane evacuee. The CARE packages had become more sporadic, and my friends seemed less engaged by the odd allusion to our predicament. Also, as far as I can tell, there are very few evacuees in Gainesville, Fla.—where my wife and baby and I have been living these past few weeks—much less in this particular apartment complex, Windmeadows, where the residents don't strike me as the commiserating type. The media, too, has moved on, what with the distractive buffoonery of the present administration, which likewise has its mind (so to speak) on other matters. FEMA has entered a dormant phase. For the past two months—ever since receiving those first promising checks for Emergency Lodging and Rental Assistance—our online application status has remained unchanged, though the FEMA booklet promises an inspection within 10 days of a given disaster.
Finally I decided to give FEMA a call, and at length a human voice came on the line. During our conversation this woman seemed to be playing a vexing game of solitaire, or perhaps painting her nails a color she didn't much like.
"Can I help you?" she asked, after the dead air that followed my greeting.
I told her I was an evacuee from New Orleans, and gave her my ZIP code and FEMA number. An interval passed.
"Can I help you?" she asked, not unfamiliarly.
"Yes, you may." I tried to sound friendly—not one of those whiny refugees, don't you know, but rather a chap who was weathering his little bad patch with a smile. "I was wondering if you could tell me when FEMA will be inspecting my house? See, I don't have flood insurance, so it's sort of import—"
"No ... sir. I don't know when your inspection will be scheduled."
Blake Bailey is the author of Cheever: A Life.