Thursday, September 29, 2005

Is this a case of too much or not enough?

For release in weekend editions, Oct. 1-2, and thereafter
Good intentions, money not necessarily enough; evacuee family departs Calif.
mountain home
Eds: Retransmitting to ADDA photo numbers
AP Photos of Sept. 29: NY440-449
EDITOR¹S NOTE ‹ This story follows up on a report about an evacuated New
Orleans family who, helped along by strangers and friends, reached
California and a warm welcome.
Associated Press Writer
PINON HILLS, Calif. (AP) ‹ Tears streamed down his face as Greyhound bus
1874 closed its doors and rolled off toward Dallas.
At 17, Jamie Ferrande dresses tough in slouching jeans, red sneakers and a
baseball cap cocked to one side. But he jammed his hands into his pockets
and refused to look up as his aunt and five cousins pressed their faces
against the glass and waved goodbye.
Jamie saved his family from Hurricane Katrina¹s floodwaters, but couldn¹t
help them adjust to the well-intentioned efforts of a California family
trying to do the right thing. It was through the kindness of these and other
strangers that Jamie, his aunt and her five children traveled 2,000 miles
from a New Orleans rooftop to a 50-acre ranch near a ski resort in Southern
But what may seem like a Shangri-La became too much to bear for a displaced
family who had lost everything.
Jamie¹s younger cousins were coping ‹ as children do. But his aunt, Troy
Marcelin, quickly shifted from wary to downright miserable in California.
She had grown up and raised her children in New Orleans, a city pulsing with
activity, crowded with neighbors, packed with all things reassuringly
familiar. There, she knew how to make her way. She spoke her mind.
In California, she was beholden to a family she¹d only just met, relying on
their kindness, their generosity. She felt her true self slipping away.
An almost inconceivable series of events had brought them to safety here.
Jamie and his cousin Kenneth had ripped the door off an abandoned
refrigerator and used it as a life raft, ferrying the younger children to
the safety of the Best Western motel where Marcelin worked. A helicopter
finally rescued them, and they landed at a shelter in San Antonio, Texas.
The odyssey continued when Mark Miller, a Californian who once ran a
bed-and-breakfast in New Orleans and hired Jamie for odd jobs, got a
desperate call from the teenager; Miller went to the Web for help and found
an offer that Gene and Susan Knight, a wealthy couple, had posted on
They offered refuge to a family fleeing the storm. They had space in the
house they had just sold in Arcadia, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, and
they would take the guests with them when they moved to their ranch in Pinon
Hills, near San Bernardino. Other strangers, linked by the Internet, pitched
in to get the family onto a plane for the West Coast.
The Knights were building an addition to their house, providing a total of
seven bedrooms and five bathrooms. It would be plenty of space to blend
their two families, thought Susan, who planned to pay Jamie¹s aunt to help
take care of the kids and house.
The Marcelins ‹ who had never left Louisiana before ‹ were coping with the
shock of losing everything they owned. Thanks to the Knights, they were
sheltered, fed and safe at last. But stresses soon began to show.
Nothing worked out quite as planned.
At 44, Troy is thin and attractive with delicate features and wide-set eyes.
But time and stress have taken their toll. She¹s missing several teeth and
her face is lined and weary. Wearing cast-offs from shelters and generous
strangers, she cried often during their first days in California, but was
beginning to relax.
Then the moving van arrived at the house in the Los Angeles suburbs. Another
journey to make, and this one was overwhelming for her.
The new house, in a canyon near a tiny rural mountain town, sat in a harshly
beautiful landscape of sagebrush, Joshua trees and scrub covering dry, rocky
soil ‹ opposite in every way from New Orleans.
It was miles to the nearest neighbor (Gene said he owns all the land visible
from the house), and the silence scared Troy, as did snakes and coyotes,
even the family dogs. She has never had a driver¹s license. Her worldly
possessions included $488 in food stamps, $1,500 from the Red Cross and
$1,000 from a Knight family friend.
She felt completely dependent on the Knights.
³It¹s beautiful here. My children love it. But I never pictured mountains
for my living,² she said last week, her eyes filling up with tears. ³And I¹m
just used to doing for myself. I don¹t want a handout.²
In New Orleans, the single mother earned $160 a week as a hotel housekeeper.
Her 21-year-old son worked as a hairdresser and contributed to the family¹s
income. They got by, but barely.
Here, it seemed she was left most days to care for the adopted infants, but
said she was not yet being paid. She said she felt stranded.
The Knights are wealthy by anyone¹s standards. Gene, who works as a software
engineer and inherited the ranch from his father, estimated their worth at
$2 million.
The couple showered their new family members with gifts, including a new
suit, shirt, tie and shoes so Jamie, who had been expelled in New Orleans,
could go to the homecoming dance at his new school. Also: a fully furnished
two-bedroom mobile home for him and Kenneth to live in, iPods for them and
clothes and toys for the younger kids.
Still, the stress in the ranch house became palpable. And it was about more
than the money.
³Susan is the best mom. ... She has a marvelous sense for the way things
should be,² said Gene Knight, who decided to marry Susan a week after he met
Susan is 51, short and stocky, a fireplug of energy. She knew at 8 years old
that she wanted six children, and divorced three husbands who didn¹t share
her desire for a big family. She¹s kind-hearted, but quick-tempered and
demanding. Crossing her seems unwise.
It¹s clear she meant well, hoping to give the Marcelin kids a chance at a
good education, a different way of life.
But Troy, for one, liked the life she had before Katrina. And perhaps
without realizing it, Susan trampled on her authority.
Troy worried that her youngest, an angel-faced girl nicknamed ³Butterfly²
who wears pink ribbons in her hair, was picking up bad habits.
³When she doesn¹t get what she wants, she goes to Auntie Sue,² Troy
complained two weeks after the families came together.
She was troubled by how the Knights disciplined their two teenage girls,
especially 14-year-old Katie, whose highlighted hair, makeup and tight jeans
make her appear older than a high school freshman. As Katie challenged her
mother, talking back and throwing tantrums, Troy winced and rolled her eyes.
Other contrasts between the families became apparent.
At one point, as the Marcelin boys slurped down Top Ramen, a cheap noodle
concoction Troy bought with her food stamps, Katie whined at the kitchen
counter wanting to rent a $1,500 stretch SUV for homecoming.
Another time, Susan Knight admonished the boys to wash their hands after
eating fried chicken as her girls trotted off, hands unwashed. The Marcelins
sat at the table, the Knights at the counter. The Marcelins cleared and
rinsed the dishes as Katie chatted on the phone.
Her resentment growing, Troy took refuge in the shower, where her children
were less likely to hear her weep. She was afraid to speak her mind, she
said, for fear of getting kicked out.
³It¹s like walking on glass,² she said.
Kenneth said he didn¹t recognize his mom.
³The first few days we really felt like family. Now reality has set in. ...
One day it just changed,² he said. He began to cry and shooed his
10-year-old brother, Tevin, out of his room in the mobile home.
Kenneth revealed that his mom wanted to go back east, to Texas, where her
brother and sister, nieces and nephews all landed after the storm.
Jamie remained silent. Once a talkative boy with a toothy grin that takes up
half his face, he also was crying more easily now.
Had he made a mistake leading his family here?
He couldn¹t answer, simply shaking his head, tears falling. He had been
having trouble sleeping and his transition back to high school hadn¹t been
easy. His teachers feared he was years behind.
³It¹s weird because I¹ve been on my own so long,² he said. ³I don¹t know how
to relax.²
Just three days after moving to the ranch, Troy made her decision.
She announced to the Knights that she and her children were leaving. Jamie
would stay behind and continue school.
³I can¹t make you understand,² she told Gene, wiping her eyes. ³I want you
to understand.²
She was grateful for all they¹d done, but needed to be in Dallas with her
family. Her younger sister, Shwanda, had found an apartment there and could
help Troy do the same. ³I¹m just looking forward to holding her, crying and
The Knights were stunned.
Gene¹s smile was stuck. He and Susan tried to change her mind ‹ they
reminded her of the better schools and financial support. Things would
improve once they¹ve all settled in, they said.
³This is chaos. This is a mess. But I can fix this,² Susan Knight said.
It was no use. Troy repeated her gratitude but also her determination that
she and her family needed their own place.
The house was a stew of emotions: anger, frustration, disappointment,
In the morning, the Knight girls headed off to school. The Marcelin kids and
Jamie stayed behind.
When they¹d arrived from New Orleans, they¹d had the clothes on their backs
and a few garbage bags filled with donations. Now, they easily filled eight
suitcases and backpacks Susan bought for them.
Susan said she realized California was ³completely foreign² to Troy, and
that she¹s ³going back to the only thing she knows, the only thing she has.
³I can¹t fault her for that,² Susan said.
Gene spent another $750 for the bus tickets. He looked bewildered.
³She¹ll be back. She and her kids want to be here,² he said optimistically.
The group was running late. Troy waited in the Knights¹ minivan while Susan
hugged and kissed each child, just as she did when they first arrived at the
airport two weeks earlier.
Gene drove them to the station for the 1:15 p.m. bus. He helped with the
luggage, and bought vending-machine snacks for the kids.
Troy wore blue pants and a white shirt, just like her boys. ³I hope those
shirts stay clean for a few hours,² she said.
Jamie said little. He stood by himself until the bus pulled away.
Five days passed before Mark Miller got phone calls from both Susan and
Jamie. It wasn¹t working out, they said.
They asked him to intervene again, to find someplace else for Jamie.
Driving up to Pinon Hills, he picked up the teen whose frantic call began
this complicated chapter, which was now running full circle. He bought a
ticket to Dallas for Jamie to rejoin Troy¹s family, staying at a motel with
money running low.
³I never dreamed,² Miller said, ³it would come to this.²

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Wise up

Some of you may not realize this but I live on a farm. I don't work this farm. I just live here and watch the action. I have all the benefits of farm life without any of the drudgery, unless you consider mowing 3 acres of lawn, maintaining the gardens, and chopping firewood drudgery. The gardens are pretty much self sustaining and the lack of rain allowed me to mow the lawn only a handful of times this year but chopping firewood is an annual thing, if you don't want to heat the house for well over 3 bucks a gallon. There were times when I was outside chopping firewood before sunrise in February wearing only a bathrobe and sandals, just to get enough heat to take a hot shower. And let me tell ya, February in Pennsylvania is goddamn cold and chopping firewood at the crack of dawn dressed like William Wallace will let you know the finite extremes of temperature a human can tolerate. Using 72 degrees Fahrenheit as an optimum temperature you can easily see a 100 degree change in either direction will either freeze you solid or cook you in your own juices. No wonder we're not colonizing space. We can't handle temps going from house to car, let alone leaving our three mile thick biosphere. Our color spectrum is woefully inadequate and our sense of hearing is just as bad, and most "lower life forms" can smell a hot dog underwater three miles down stream and our sense of taste is directly linked to our pitiful sense of smell.

Which brings me back to the events of this beautiful morning in Pennsylvania. It's potato harvest time and the fields in front of my house are active with humans and human machinery unearthing spuds of the perfect size for Wise Potato Chips. The very large spuds are left in the southern end of the field near the tree line and the small ones are dropped through the grates of the harvester to lay on top of the fields like golf balls on a dirt driving range.
There's a back to the earth feeling you get while strolling the fields at night, picking these golf ball size spuds under the light of the full moon, in the crisp, autumn air, with some people you care to share these moments with.

If you happen to be in the area, come on over for some free potatoes. It's cool. It's not theft. It's foraging and it's free and there's enough spuds to feed the IRA.

It's a shame that half the harvest goes to waste when so many people on this planet are starving but business doesn't allow food banks unless there's a profitable incentive involved.

If anyone out there has a better idea than to pick the leftovers for personal use I'm all ears.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Did we win the war on terror?

Every now and then the war on porn rears its ugly head. Ed Meese was the last big official to champion this crusade under Ronnie Reagan. Now, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is enlisting the FBI to form a porn squad.
I find it fascinating that Ron and G Dubya are the only presidents righteous enough to go after the porn industry for the sake of "Christian values."
Comparing these two giants of morality, you'll find some interesting similarities. Both had ranches before and during their presidency which served as great backgrounds for their down-home photo ops. Both wore military uniforms during wartime but never fought. Both men are honored and loved for their razor sharp economic theories. Both men made vast amounts of money for the government, thanks to their respective vice presidents utilizing the CIA to wheel and deal with drug lords around the world for cocaine and heroin which they sold to the American people and then arrested them, seized their assets and resold them to buy more cop equipment and forced them to pay for their stay in prison, rehabs, and countless other expenditures to keep them in the system so they can have an ever increasing source of revenue.

Well, the war on drugs was a success. So was the war on terror. With a track record like that it seems absolutely normal to have a war on porn for the sake of "Christian values", even though the government is eliminating Christianity from the American system.

What's with that pledge of allegiance thing?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

evolutionary carbuncle

Humans are a pretty strange lot. We like to think of ourselves as the great understanders of the planet. We can't fly, but very much want to, so we build contraptions that allow us to fly like a bird. We can't communicate telepathically so we invent radio. We can't levitate so we invent forklifts. We can't talk to the animals so we try to teach animals to communicate on our level and call them dumb because they can't articulate properly enough for us to understand them. So we teach chimps sign language and these trained primates communicate with us on our terms. Simple communication, but in our terms just the same. All this tells me is chimps can adapt to us far easier than we can talk chimp. All around us are animals and plants attempting to carry on conversations with us and all we can do is pick our noses and scratch our asses instead groking like an advanced primate should. Hell, we can't even understand ourselves but we expect and demand everything to instantly find meaning in our schizophrenic actions. I'm beginning to think humans are just egotistical, machine producing carbuncles of evolution.

Friday, September 16, 2005

double standard?

It's interesting how the black guy is a young man "looting" a grocery store while the white folks are residents "finding" bread and soda from a local grocery store.

I suppose when Haliburton extracts gold teeth from the dead in Louisiana they'll be finding it... tax free of course.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


As far as the problems with New Orleans goes, I think this guy says it about best.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

just looking for phrases

I was just surfing through blogdom looking for ideas. Just some random jumping into other peoples blog lifes and checking out the images they want to project to the world. I saw blogs on babies, blogs written by babies, blogs about work, blogs about politics, blogs about religion, and blogs about nothing at all. Well, I can't put them down. This stuff is very important to these people and each, in their own way, are trying to find that ever elusive "meaning of life." I guess that's why I surf... To find the unfindable, to tread on the undiscovered country, and to find the single phrase that will put the whole universe in perspective and make life come alive.

If you happen to find that phrase, let me know. I'm as eager to understand as you.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


A "critic" is a man who creates nothing and thereby, feels qualified to judge the work of creative men. There is logic to this; he is unbiased... He hates all creative people equally.

I tend to think of it this way... First, there was the birth of the artist, followed shortly by the afterbirth, the "critic."