Cry Me a New Year - Powerful Story from New Orleans Times-Picayune
My brother, who lives and works in New Orleans, has been sending me articles and photographs from the local area since the destruction of the city by Hurricane Katrina, or rather the failures of the levees. Today he sent me a photograph of the overtopping of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (locally known as the "Mr. Go") in Saint Bernard Parish and an op-ed piece by Times-Picayune reporter Chris Rose.
As he wrote to me about the photograph: "This picture is scary as hell and I won't be surprised it shows up in few nightmares."
He recently sent an in-depth article about a St. Bernard Parish school that reopened a month ago and how the local people were rebuilding their shattered lives without the help of FEMA and other government officials.
The mainstream national media seems to have forgotten that a major American city has been nearly destroyed, not by a natural disaster but by the incompetence and corruption of local, state and national officials. This article is a powerful reminder that people in New Orleans (and the rest of the Gulf Coast) are suffering mercilessly in the aftermath of the storms.
The content of the two articles follows:
Cry me a New Year
Whether you're looking back on 2005 or ahead to 2006, the advice is the same: Keep a tissue handy. And keep the faith.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
When I look back on the year 2005, nothing comes to mind more than the opening line of Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities."
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Except for that "best of times" part, it describes New Orleans perfectly.
How did we get here? What happened to my tough-lovin', hard-luck, good-timin' town?
I have cowered in fear this year from the real and the imagined. The fear of injury, the fear of disease, the fear of death, the fear of abandonment, isolation and insanity.
I have had seared into my olfactory lockbox the smell of gasoline and dead people. And your leftovers.
I have feared the phantom notions of sharks swimming in our streets and bands of armed men coming for me in the night to steal my generator and water and then maybe rape me or cut my throat just for the hell of it.
I have wept, for hours on end, days on end.
The crying jags. I guess they're therapeutic, but give me a break.
The first time I went to the Winn-Dixie after it reopened, I had all my purchases on the conveyer belt, plus a bottle of mouthwash. During the Days of Horror following the decimation of this city, I had gone into the foul and darkened store and lifted a bottle.
I was operating under the "take only what you need" clause that the strays who remained behind in this godforsaken place invoked in the early days.
My thinking was that it was in everyone's best interest if I had a bottle of mouthwash.
When the cashier rang up my groceries all those weeks later, I tried, as subtly as possible, to hand her the bottle and ask her if she could see that it was put back on the shelf. She was confused by my action and offered to void the purchase if I didn't want the bottle.
I told her it's not that I didn't want it, but that I wished to pay for it and could she please see that it was put back on the shelf. More confusion ensued and the line behind me got longer and it felt very hot and crowded all of a sudden and I tried to tell her: "Look, when the store was closed . . . you know . . . after the thing . . . I took . . ."
The words wouldn't come. Only the tears.
The people in line behind me stood stoic and patient, public meltdowns being as common as discarded kitchen appliances in this town.
What's that over there? Oh, it's just some dude crying his butt off. Nothing new here. Show's over people, move along.
The cashier, an older woman, finally grasped my pathetic gesture, my lowly attempt to make amends, my fulfillment to a promise I made to myself to repay anyone I had stolen from.
"I get it, baby," she said, and she gently took the bottle from my hands and I gathered my groceries and walked sobbing from the store.
She was kind to me. I probably will never see her again, but I will never forget her. That bottle. That store. All the fury that prevailed. The fear.
A friend of mine, a photojournalist, recently went to a funeral to take pictures. There had been an elderly couple trapped in a house. He had a heart attack and slipped into the water. She held onto a gutter for two days before being rescued.
It was seven weeks before the man's body was found in the house, then another six weeks before the remains were released from the St. Gabriel morgue for burial.
"Tell me a story I haven't heard," I told my friend. Go ahead. Shock me.
When my father and I were trading dark humor one night and he was offering advice on how to begin my year in review, he cracked himself up, proposing: "It was a dark and stormy night."
That's close, but not quite it. "It was a dark and stormy morning" would be closer to the truth.
What a morning it was.
I was in Vicksburg. I had just left the miserable hotel crackhouse to which my family had evacuated -- it must have been the last vacant room in the South -- and was looking for breakfast for my kids.
But the streets and businesses were abandoned and a slight but stinging rain was falling, the wind surging and warm, and while my kids played on a little riverfront playground, I got through on my cell phone to The Times-Picayune newsroom, where scores of TP families had taken refuge, and I remember saying to the clerk who answered the phone:
"Man, that was a close one, huh? Looks like we dodged another bullet."
I suppose around a million people were saying exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. What I would have given to be right. Just that one time.
I was trying to get through to my editor to ask: "What's the plan?"
By late afternoon, that's what everyone in the Gulf region was asking.
Of course, it turns out there wasn't a plan. Anywhere. Who could have known?
The newspaper was just like everyone else at that point: As a legion of employees and their families piled into delivery trucks and fled the newspaper building as the waters rose around them, we shifted into the same operational mode as everyone else:
Survive. Wing it. Do good work. Save someone or something. And call your mother and tell her you're all right.
Unless, of course, your mother was in Lakeview or the Lower 9th or Chalmette or . . . well, I've had enough of those horror stories for now. I don't even want to visit that place today.
This was the year that defines our city, our lives, our destiny. Nothing comparable has ever happened in modern times in America, and there is no blueprint for how we do this.
We just wing it. Do good work. Save someone or something.
You'd have to be crazy to want to live here. You'd have to be plumb out of reasonable options elsewhere.
Then again, I have discovered that the only thing worse than being in New Orleans these days is not being in New Orleans.
It's a siren calling us home. It cannot be explained.
"They don't get us," is the common refrain you hear from frustrated residents who think the government and the nation have turned a blind eye to us in our time of need. Then again, if they did get us, if we were easily boxed and labeled, I suppose we'd be just Anyplace, USA.
And that won't do.
We have a job to do here, and that is to entertain the masses and I don't mean the tourists. They're part of it, of course, but what we do best down here -- have done for decades -- is create a lifestyle that others out there in the Great Elsewhere envy and emulate.
Our music, our food, yada, yada, yada. It's a tale so often told that it borders on platitude but it is also the searing truth: We are the music. We are the food. We are the dance. We are the tolerance. We are the spirit.
And one day, they'll get it.
As a woman named Judy Deck e-mailed to me, in a moment of inspiration: "If there was no New Orleans, America would just be a bunch of free people dying of boredom."
Yeah, you rite.
That, people, is the final word on 2005.
. . . . . . .
Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or at (504) 352-2535 or (504) 826-3309.
SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
link to www.nola.com
In the aftermath of Katrina, St. Bernard Superintendent Doris Voitier knew that if a school didn't reopen quickly, her community would die. Faced with federal inertia, Voitier said, 'We'll do it ourselves.'
Saturday, December 31, 2005
By Brian Thevenot
As seventh-grader Elizabeth Rush walked through the halls of the newly created St. Bernard Unified School, giggling and gossiping with friends, she passed the crayon drawings of younger children telling tales of the flood, reminders of the devastation that encircled the school for miles around, including her own ruined home.
"Help! I'm going to drown!" read one caption, scrawled over a stick figure of a student standing on a roof to escape the water. "I'm saved!" read another, over a drawing of a helicopter pulling him from his roof.
In Elizabeth's homeroom a few minutes later, Phyllis Diecidue, one of many teachers living in a trailer park across the street, plowed into a lesson about colonial settlers in early America, pressing the class to define the term "New World." She stopped to make a comparison, one she has repeated to give her students perspective on their catastrophic losses.
"We're in a New World in a sense," she told them. "We are the new pioneers. . . . Years later, when you're a maw-maw or a paw-paw, and you've got a kid on your knee, you'll say, 'I was there when that happened,' and they'll say, 'Nah-ah,' and you'll say, 'Yes, I was, and I was one of the first students to come back to school there.' "
Elizabeth and her brother Larry, a ninth-grader, know the pioneer struggle all too well, having bounced for the previous month between the family's flood-damaged mobile home, a tent in the front yard and the back of a borrowed truck. Just the night before, their parents finally had secured a small donated camper -- not the trailer FEMA had promised for more than a month, but a damaged castoff that had taken on a foot or two of water in the flood.
St. Bernard Unified School, operating in tents, trailers and the second floor of the flooded Chalmette High School, allowed the family to reunite and return from exile. For Larry and Elizabeth, as for most of the 640 students, the school -- a single campus for preschool through high school -- has become an oasis of calm in their shattered lives. Neither they nor their parents had expected St. Bernard Parish, where almost no home or business escaped floodwaters, would have a school for months, if not years.
St. Bernard School Superintendent Doris Voitier, who before the storm oversaw 14 schools and 8,800 students, has fought a similar battle on a grander scale, having spent the system deep into debt to reopen the school in the heart of a disaster zone. After more than a month of frustrating and fruitless negotiations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has yet to deliver the first dollar of aid to the school system, Voitier and her minuscule staff designed and opened the school in just three weeks. FEMA officials could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
The tales of the Rush family and the St. Bernard school leaders have moved on parallel tracks: Both have returned to rebuild amid unprecedented devastation, taking a huge gamble that their community will return. Both are driven by a love for St. Bernard Parish, even in its current sorry state. And both are essentially broke, surviving on loans, charity, sweat equity and blind faith.
The school opened Nov. 14 to 320 students, an enrollment that doubled by late December. At least 200 or 300 additional students are expected when school resumes in January.
Like the Rush family, almost every student in the school has overcome severe hardships for the prize of reuniting with friends and educators from their pre-Katrina lives. Some show up sleeping in the backs of cars after commutes of more than two hours; some live in the few FEMA trailers now in the parish; some live out of the backs of trucks and tents. Their classes are taught by teachers who have accepted pay cuts.
Each night after dark, students who stay for the after-school program gather under a harsh generator-powered light, waiting for buses to drive them down pitch-black, debris-ridden streets. The first week, the transportation director had to guide a bus to one house in Arabi on foot with a flashlight.
Inside Diecidue's classroom, Elizabeth Rush, 13, sat across from a wall of essays rich with memories of the flood. One eighth-grader wrote of riding out the storm at the Domino Sugar plant in Arabi.
All I remember is before all that water came in it was calm, the sun was out and we walked outside thinking it was all over and we could all go home again. But then the water came and all you could think about was never being able to go home again. . . . There is never one night when I don't think about that horrible day.
At lunch, Elizabeth and her classmates gathered in front of the cafeteria tent as a stream of tiny preschoolers passed by. One of them jumped up and down and waved at Elizabeth's friend Erika Guidroz, who reached down to hug her.
The child, Erika's cousin, wasn't satisfied.
"Gimme a kiss!" she shouted, and Erika complied with a giggle and peck on the cheek.
Elizabeth's friend Alecia Weaver smiled as she watched.
"I like it a lot better going to school with the little kids," she said. "They're so cute!"
The girls agreed. Then the conversation turned more serious.
"Erika was here for the storm," Elizabeth said.
With the girls in a circle listening, Erika told about how she'd ridden in a boat with her father, how he'd accidentally knocked her out of it and into the rancid floodwater, about saving people and leaving behind the bodies of relatives.
"There was one old lady, her husband, their son and their son's son," she said as Elizabeth and her friends listened. "They went up into the attic, but the husband and her son drowned. There was just the little boy and the mom. We pulled up and saw a man trying to break through the metal roof, but he couldn't. So my dad tied his boat to the roof and peeled it back, and there they were. There was natural gas all in there . . . "
Just then a boy sneaked up behind Karen Cuccia, one of Elizabeth's seventh-grade classmates, and broke up the story circle.
"Ah! He poured Cheetos in my hair!" she shrieked, sending the pack of girls running after him through the crowd, giggling like schoolchildren did before the flood, before stories of rescues and death became lunch hour banter.
On a walk through the school, Voitier strolled past the bustling high school students on the second floor of what had been Chalmette High School, down a stairwell leading to the construction site on the flood-damaged first floor.
Alongside walked Principal Wayne Warner, who stopped her at a window, staring out at a plastic yellow chair sitting on a metal roof.
"I just haven't been able move it," Warner said. "It's a memory."
"Yeah, a memory," Voitier concurred quietly.
Voitier and Warner had used the chair to lift scores of flood refugees through that window just four months ago, as they managed a scene of Superdome-like conditions in the school-turned-shelter. The memories rushed back: rationed water and Fruit Loops; lifting disabled teenagers, their ventilators in tow, up the stairs on cafeteria carts to escape rising water; yelling out orders for life-saving oxygen from volunteer boat captains and sending them away with dialysis patients.
In those terrifying three days after the storm, before 1,200 or so people escaped by walking through waist-high water to the levee and two others died, Voitier found herself thinking, over and over, when is somebody coming to get us? Yet not one bottle of water, not one packet of food, arrived from anywhere outside the completely flooded parish, which could be reached only by boat or helicopter.
The first rescue team from outside the parish were police officers from Canada, who came from New Orleans by boat down the Mississippi River.
Even as Voitier and her staff have filled the campus with students, little has changed in the way of federal aid. To date, FEMA hasn't contributed one dime or one hour of labor to the project beyond endless administrative meetings, Voitier and her staffers said.
"I find it almost comical that we've started a school here while the federal government, with all its resources, still can't get a post office running," said Lyall Barwick, an information technology administrator and baseball coach whom Voitier pressed into service to coordinate cleanup and construction of the campus.
In the days after the storm, the system's staff of 1,200 employees was reduced to just Voitier and her top assistant, Bev Lawrason, who initially found themselves inundated with tasks more urgent than opening a school. They needed to run payrolls for financially stretched employees, find a way to cover their $1 million-a-month health insurance premiums, and somehow find a way to get in touch with employees.
Before long the big picture set in: With no tax-paying residents or businesses, the system's local revenue, about half of its $60 million annual budget, would soon be nothing. State revenue, which is based on enrollment, would be almost nothing. St. Bernard schools would have to rely on FEMA and a few federal grants.
At the time, Voitier had faith in the federal government, figuring they would send people experienced in handling disasters, along with truckloads of money. When FEMA officials called her and Lawrason to a "kickoff" meeting, they looked forward to getting to work.
But at the meeting, in a third-floor office at the Chalmette Refinery, they got their first taste of the impenetrable FEMA bureaucracy
More than two dozen people sat around the table in a windowless room without air conditioning, sweat dripping off their noses as the bureaucrats handed out books of FEMA regulations.
Lawrason recalled wondering why they'd called the meeting in the parish, when everyone had driven nearly two hours from relatively comfortable temporary offices in Baton Rouge. "There were 27 people there," Voitier said. "They had an educational 'strike team,' architects, engineers, auditors, historical restoration people, environmental people to watch out for endangered species and whatever else . . . something called a '404 mitigation team' and a '406 mitigation team' . . . everything you could think of."
Voitier and Lawrason would never see most of the people at that meeting again, as a series of transfers, new hires and power struggles would result in six or seven different FEMA project leaders, each of whom offered different answers to multimillion-dollar questions.
After the meeting, Voitier and Lawrason took a tour of every school in the parish, an experience that drove home the preposterous challenge that lay ahead. As they pulled up to Arabi Elementary School, Lawrason saw nothing but blue sky where the school's gym had been. She tugged at Voitier's arm.
"Doris -- where's the school?" A series of grim realizations hit Voitier as she got out of the car and stared at the demolished elementary school: Where will we ever get the money to fix all of this? Will we even need a school here? Will anyone come back? Will they even let us build a school here?
Back at their Baton Rouge offices, taking calls and e-mails from employees, parents and students with needs that could not be met, a feeling of helplessness set in. Voitier, who took over as the system's chief just last year, turned to Lawrason and asked, "Why did this have to happen when I became superintendent?"
Voitier intended the comment as a light moment in a hopeless situation, but Lawrason
gave her a serious response.
"Because you can handle it," she told her.
Charlotte Rush sought to comfort her children Larry and Elizabeth with similar advice, telling them to look at the storm as just another experience in a long life, a challenge to be conquered. But at times she had a hard time believing that herself, and she knew her children, while they rarely complained, harbored their own doubts.
As Larry Rush, 15, ate a hot Sunday meal at the FEMA tent city on the site of the old Kaiser Aluminum plant the week before school let out for Christmas, he pondered the meaning of it all.
"Everybody keeps telling me it's a lesson," he said. "Well, I'm tired of the lesson."
Outside, his mother made another exasperating call to FEMA, asking about the promised trailer they had said would arrive a month ago. She hung up with no satisfaction, struggling to hold back tears.
The next morning before school, Larry looked over two one-page essays he had been assigned for homework. For one titled, "Something I Worry About," he'd written:
I really don't know where I'll be on the next day and the next, because my family and I have been going from place to place to stay or sleep at night. . . . I been a little worried about school, because what I don't know is how I'm going to be able to keep up my work and everything else.
Larry was assigned another essay titled, "Something I'm Happy About."
He managed only one sentence.
I'm happiest when I'm with friends and family, when everything is forgotten about what happened with the storm.
"How do you write that you're happy when you're living in the cold in a truck?" his sister said.
Even after their mother procured the flood-damaged camper -- heat, at last -- they had little room to live. Their older brother, Donald Jr., and his girlfriend, Brooklyn, had come to spend the night, a total of six people sleeping in a 15-by-8-foot space, made smaller by a kitchen, a table and beds jutting into the room.
With Mom and Dad and Donald and Brooklyn all smoking in the small trailer, Elizabeth started fanning her face, not so much complaining as wanting to tease Donald.
"I don't smoke -- I don't want to stunt my growth like you, midget," she told him, poking fun at his short stature, which runs in the family.
"I didn't start smoking until I was 38," said her mother, a heavy smoker just two years later. "When my son went to war, I started smoking."
John, her oldest, joined the Marines and went to Iraq after graduating from St. Bernard High School, which all her older children attended. He recently returned, safe.
But now Elizabeth and Larry have military ambitions, and that is unsettling to their mother.
"I want to be a Green Beret, but my mom doesn't want me going to war," Elizabeth said, as she readied her things for another school day. "So I'm going to sign up for college for four years and then try to be a pediatrician on a base."
Larry, not to be outdone, outlined his life plan.
"I'm going to be a Navy Seal. I been training and learning about it since I was 7," he said. "The first four years, I'm just going to learn to be a killing machine. The next four, I'll be a medic. The next four, I'll learn electronics and machinery. That way when I get out, I'll have three careers to choose from."
Donald Jr. didn't know about all that, but one thing's for sure: Everyone in the Rush family graduates high school.
"None of us ever failed at school -- we all got held back -- but we all graduated," Donald said. "That's one thing my parents were hard on."
Their father nodded in agreement.
"I wanted you to have something I didn't have," he said. "I ain't got no degree but 'electrician.' "
In a 30-year career before the storm, Voitier worked her way up through the St. Bernard school system from math teacher to department chair to financial chief to assistant superintendent, becoming superintendent in 2004. A classic i-dotter and t-crosser, Voitier grew into a whiz at navigating arcane education laws, a financial guru whose chest swelled with pride over clean audits and accounting awards.
But as the FEMA meetings grinded on with more promises and no progress, her reverence of policy and procedure began to melt, replaced by the growing realization that if she didn't open at least one school and quickly her community might die. Who would bring a family back without a school?
Nothing else mattered.
The revolving door of FEMA managers had initially recommended a plan Voitier enthusiastically endorsed. She could "mission assign," in federal parlance, the building of two schools to the Army Corps of Engineers, which would build them at their cost. But her faith steadily faded as she worked through a succession of project managers and the delays piled up. There was FEMA Bob and FEMA Brett and FEMA Jerry and FEMA Jim and FEMA Susan, and another whose name Voitier can't remember. She had always been a big believer in a "Let me talk to your boss" approach, but with FEMA, she could never locate the person truly in charge.
"We never could seem to find 'Mr. FEMA' -- the one who could make a decision," Lawrason said.
Sitting alone on the telephone on a Saturday morning in Baton Rouge, Voitier listened as yet another FEMA contact told her the best hope for completion of a corps-built school would be March, which she took to mean this: Not before the end of the school year.
She blew up.
"That's ridiculous. We'll do it ourselves," Voitier recalled saying. "We'll send you the bill."
Voitier took out a $17.8 million federal disaster loan, hired an environmental cleanup company to clean out every campus at a cost of $53 million, and for $1.3 million bought 22 trailers to house a new school. She spent another $900,000 for 60 residential trailers to house her administration and staff, almost all of whom lost their homes and couldn't seem to get trailers from FEMA.
Meanwhile, the system is renovating Chalmette High, at a cost of about $11 million, to prepare for more students expected in January.
Along the way, Voitier bent or ignored many of the federal guidelines requiring layers upon layers of design and procurement procedures, which would have pushed the opening of school back for months. She said she broke more rules in three weeks than she's broken in her life.
"I'm going to jail," she said, with a sharp, nervous laugh. On Nov. 14, St. Bernard Parish opened a public school in a community suffering some of the worst damage in American history two weeks before New Orleans officials opened their first public school in the dry environs of Uptown.
Students poured in that morning, many arriving from temporary homes more than an hour away, hugging and screaming at the sight of one another.
"This is the first time since the storm I've had a reason to smile," one father told Warner that morning.
Another student, at lunch that first day in the white tent now serving as a cafeteria, seemed thrilled at the prospect of a school lunch.
"Oh look! Real food!" he exclaimed when he got his plate.
Sitting in that same tent three weeks later, Voitier beamed with pride over the happy children that now filled the school's campus, but wondered aloud how she would pay for it all.
Under the best-case scenario, FEMA will reimburse 90 percent of most of her emergency spending, but Voitier concedes she can't even come up with the remaining 10 percent.
"We're in a severe -- I mean severe -- cash-flow crisis," she said. "I've fronted all the money I can. Contractors aren't getting paid, and FEMA hasn't paid us."
Asked why she did it -- why she pushed herself so far out of her comfort zone, her school system so far into the red; why she thinks her community can rise from the dead when so many have already held its wake -- Voitier's eyes reddened and her voice cracked.
She knows what they say outside of St. Bernard, that the parish is too destroyed to save, too unsafe to live, that no one should have built there in the first place and another flood will come and wipe out whatever she might rebuild.
She doesn't care.
"I've been with this school system for 35 years," she said, wiping back tears. "It's my life. I can't just walk away."
As the 25-day semester neared a close last week, Larry Rush milled around in the hallway after physical science class, wearing a multicolored scarf and hat pulled down over his head to his eyebrows. He walked into the hallway to stand under the makeshift heater, a long clear tube of plastic with slits cut in it that hung from the ceiling.
He'd hadn't complained to his teachers, but he'd been sniffling all day. He felt cold, even bundled up as he was, and the headache that been bothering him for a couple of days wouldn't go away.
"I don't know what it is," he said. "I just don't feel good today. It's not helping much walking out in the rain to clean everything out before the FEMA trailer comes. I think my whole family's getting sick."
At least the school, if not home, was starting to feel like Christmas. Larry picked up his second donated pair of shiny Ecko tennis shoes at lunch that day. Donations had started to pour into the school that week before Christmas, and on most days, Larry and Elizabeth collected several small gifts. Elizabeth had been giving much of it to her mother. When the students were offered piles of donated clothes one day, she picked out sizes that would fit her parents.
The next day, the last day of school, a secret that teachers had tried to keep from their students filtered through the school in a hundred different gossip circles, including at Elizabeth's lunch table. They'd heard they would get two fancy gifts each -- a bicycle and an Apple iPod -- but the students hesitated to believe the school or its donors could be that generous.
"I don't really care about the bike -- but I want the iPod so bad," Anna Evans told Elizabeth.
"I care about the bike -- that's my transportation," Elizabeth said.
As the girls finished lunch, Elizabeth pondered what her Christmas vacation would be like, back at home in the trailer. "I'm happy because I'm back in the parish and I can see friends when I get out of school, but then I'm sad because I like school, and I need to get my education," she said.
Soon the girls filed off into another new and bigger white tent at the edge of the football field. From another side of the campus, Larry walked with his high school friends.
Inside the tent -- itself a generous donation from a Canadian businessman -- Voitier took the microphone. "Just three months ago," Voitier started her speech, "we all thought it would be a very, very long time before we'd all be back here."
Then she started recognizing everyone in the room who'd played a part in the parish's still-fledgling renewal. Then almost as afterthought, she recognized some FEMA people in the audience.
"There's FEMA Mike, right there in the back," she said.
The necks on hundreds of kids swiveled around as a restrained groan moved through the crowd -- not quite a boo, they were too polite for that -- but their disdain was nonetheless clear. Moments later, the suspense about the gifts for students ended in shrieks of delight as a parade of teachers came through a back door and strolled on stage, carrying bicycles of various sizes. They'd been donated by a TV station in South Florida, which baffled Larry even as it made his Christmas.
"Wow. I'm surprised they did that -- South Florida? -- didn't they get hit by beaucoup storms?" he said.
Then out came the iPods for high-schoolers and DVD players for younger kids, both donated by the Meraux Foundation of St. Bernard, prompting an even louder scream of thanks from the crowd.
They weren't just any iPods, but top-of-the-line models, with the 2-inch video screen and a sticker price of about $300.
"Woo! Do you know how much these things cost?!" yipped the boy standing next to Larry.
"Yep -- It pays to go to school," Larry said. "I really like school now -- I love it!"
. . . . . . .
Brian Thevenot can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3482.
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