The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away – Randy Newman, “Louisiana 1927”
Like most kids in South Louisiana, I was raised on hurricanes; we never worried much about them. Oh, we prepared for them, but we didn’t actually worry. And for me that even remained true after a civil engineering major boyfriend explained (around 1985) what would happen if the “perfect hurricane” ever hit the city; he showed me where the water level would reach on my rented house. Certainly the authorities knew everything he knew, which is why sometime in the late ‘90s they started to cry “wolf” with monotonous regularity. Every time a tropical storm looked as though it was headed toward New Orleans, they would start screaming “Evacuate, evacuate!” and the interstates would turn into nightmare parking lots which would’ve become vast cemeteries had any of those storms ever amounted to anything. So whenever I’m asked why so many stayed when Katrina hit, I explain that most people had grown tired of over a decade of wolf-crying and “evacuations” organized roughly as well as ten cans of Tinkertoys dumped on a floor.
I had never in my life evacuated and had no intention of doing so for Katrina, but the Saturday before it hit I found myself unaccountably nervous and anxious. I barely slept at all, and on Sunday morning I awoke about 5 AM to find my cat running around the house like a mad thing. I knew that something was very wrong; my intuition was telling me that we needed to go. My husband was quickly convinced by my pointing out that if the power went out we’d be sitting around doing nothing for a week or more anyhow, so why not just go up to our country place far from the coast and take a short holiday? Besides, he is a wise man; he doesn’t understand premonitions, but neither does he discount them. So we packed up the few valuables and perishables we had (most of our stuff was at our country place anyway) and left. Though the roads were packed solid, I know every short-cut and back way in South Louisiana so we only had to sit through three traffic jams at various bottleneck points, adding perhaps 50% to the duration of our entire trip.
Well, I don’t need to tell you about the mess that storm caused; at first we weren’t sure if we were ever going back. But within weeks my operator Gilda was telling me that the phone was ringing off of the hook; there were plenty of rescue workers, government officials, doctors and survivors of the wealthier sort looking for working girls, and not one in town to answer the demand. So my husband used his connections to find out if the house we were renting had survived intact, and when we found it had (the water had come up to the top step, but not inside) we decided to return. There was no electricity for the first week and no gas for two months (in fact, we got it back the Monday before Thanksgiving) and since my husband’s work wanted him at their temporary office in Dallas for a while that meant I would be alone for the first few weeks (when his boss asked if I wouldn’t be afraid to be alone he replied, “Sir, I married Lara Croft”). Needless to say I carried a loaded automatic with me everywhere, and I don’t mind telling you that I felt a lot more comfortable every night after I had locked up tight and checked the house from end to end with my kerosene lamp. Every morning I went to the emergency center to stock up on MREs and other supplies they were giving away; the volunteers were so happy to see a pretty face (the city was at that time roughly 95% male) that they always gave me extra and carried it to my car for me. I worked all afternoon and evening, dodging curfew where possible and sweet-talking my way through when not, and because I was the only girl working for the only three agencies open I was kept quite busy as you might imagine.
Mine was the first to reopen, but I had kept in touch with Doug and he followed me down within a week; the third owner, whom I’ll call “Luke”, was a friend of Doug’s and came down immediately after. Luke had been a gay escort himself until he was forced to retire by major legal difficulties, and I had never worked for him before because I was pretty skittish about working for men; the only reason I had ever called Doug was that he came highly recommended. But Luke called and literally begged me to work for him after Katrina; he did it in such a cute, funny and sincere way that I really couldn’t say no. So though there were three agencies, there was only one escort between then, namely yours truly, and this created some amusing situations when the customers were picky.
Let’s say a man called my agency first, looking for a blonde (or an 18-year-old, or something else I’m not); I tell him that we don’t have such a girl right now, and that I’m the only call girl in town. So he might then ring off and call Doug, who immediately called me and I had to tell him that I had already spoken to the guy. Often they went through all three, and sometimes just for laughs I would call this hard-to-please person three times to tell him “I did tell you I was the only girl in town; don’t you believe me?” Obviously, many men don’t expect honesty from whores, but at least Doug and Luke knew better; they had faith that I would honestly give the fee to the first agency which gave me the call, even if I eventually got it from all three. It became a running joke with us; Luke, Doug or my operator Gilda would greet me with “Have you talked to Mr. So-and-so yet?” rather than the usual “I have a call for you.”
Another change necessitated by Katrina was in my criteria for accepting hotels. In normal times I was very wary of cheap motels, and there were certain areas to which I would not go under any circumstances. But after Katrina, the federal government had lodged many hundreds of survivors in what had formerly been very good hotels; I quickly learned that some three-star properties in the Canal Street zone had degenerated into projects whose lobbies and halls were packed at all hours of the day and night with dirty, low-class people who dropped garbage and even human waste on the floors. I can’t even imagine what it cost to restore those facilities to normal afterward. Fortunately, other corporations had more wisdom than to make a devil’s bargain just to fill rooms, and they stayed as clean and safe as before; most of these were occupied by FEMA officials, consultants and the like. But what this meant was that hotel rooms were at a premium, so many good clients who would formerly never have dreamed of staying in some dump on Airline Highway (a strip running from the airport to downtown which is famous for nasty, cheap hotels) were forced to do so because there was nothing else, and I in turn was forced to adapt if I wanted their business. Most of these men were embarrassed even to ask me to these places, and said so when calling; more than once when I told a client I didn’t know where his hotel was he replied with “I’m not surprised.”
Going to residences wasn’t much better; I might travel to a house in an expensive neighborhood only to find the interior gutted and the bed sitting on bare concrete, or else I might have to entertain my client in a government-issued trailer parked in his yard. I got rather used to working in such trailers; most of the engineers and contractors lived in them, often parked in vast labyrinthine camps. None of these gentlemen were cheap or low-class; they were of my usual level of customer, but conditions had forced them to adapt and me with them. And oh, were they grateful; as I mentioned earlier the population was at that time so overwhelmingly male that many of these men hadn’t as much as seen a pretty face in weeks, much less enjoyed the company of a beautiful woman. By mid-October a large number of streetwalkers had appeared (I’m sure some of them never left), and while these answered the needs of the huge number of laborers involved in damage control they were not what businessmen, professional men, government officials and most homeowners were looking for.
What most of these men needed most was stress relief, and I don’t just mean that as a euphemism for sex. No one who was not there can have any idea what it was like; the closest comparison I can think of would be pictures and film I’ve seen of bombed-out cities in war zones. Even large streets had mountains of debris at first, and though these were mostly removed by mid-October the side streets were often hazardous or impassable for many months; I had to have tires repaired at least once a week. The stench in some places was unimaginable, and the infrastructure in the city proper nonexistent (though one could find a few grocery stores and restaurants open in the suburbs). Many of my clients could only be called shell-shocked; they had seen corpses of people and carcasses of innumerable animals, been forced to wade through filth in Wellington boots and gas masks (or even in hazardous material suits), and spent every day looking at the wreckage of a formerly great city. Homeowners were forced to clean up debris which had been treasured memories, and contractors had to deal with the formidable task of navigating the maze of government paperwork required to get paid for the work they were doing.
I honestly think I gave more back rubs in the autumn of 2005 than in any normal year; many men only wanted that, and I was the only masseuse available. Some wanted to talk about what they had seen, others had fallen so deeply into despair or existential crisis that they required spiritual advice, and still others just wanted a woman to hold them while they cried, or to see something lovely as an antidote to all the ugliness they were forced to endure daily. One man hired me for his brother, who was a young lawyer whose firm had him working on its share of the mountain of litigation Katrina left beside the mountains of garbage; this poor soul was so upset by all the horrors he had been forced to read about that he had gotten himself blind drunk and started wailing for his wife, who was still evacuated in another state. There was no way he could function sexually, nor did he want to; his brother had hired me to play the part of his wife so he could hold “her” and incoherently unburden himself to “her” and tell “her” how much he loved her.
In short, I was truly a sacred prostitute during that time, as much priestess as whore, but I’m afraid the distinction was lost on certain busybody control freaks whom one would have thought would have more important things to do during that period. That story, however, will have to wait until tomorrow.