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City of the dead


Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from a weekly journal being written by Michael Tisserand, editor of Gambit Weekly, a New Orleans alternative paper that suspended publication after the hurricane. To read the complete journal each week, go to .

Tisserand and his family are currently living in Carencro, La., at the home of a former colleague.

I only know of one person who's still inside the city, who's defied all calls to evacuate. Roger Hahn, who like me once came to New Orleans to write about music and culture. He's single and, as far as I know, he's still in his house. I found this out from my friend Scott Jordan, who spent days trying to reach him. Then Scott tried calling Roger's phone. Not a cell phone. A line that led directly into Roger's New Orleans residence.



"Oh, hi Scott, what's up?"

Scott wanted to go in himself and rescue him. Then he arranged a fire truck to pick Roger up that afternoon.

Roger and I talked for about an hour. He was my first line into the city, and I had questions. What did it sound like when it struck? What did you see? I told him what I knew from the news, about those in the country who now seemed to want to cast off New Orleans like a used-up mistress. He reminded me that the courtesan metaphor dates to Faulkner.

Roger went out right after the storm and felt pretty happy about his running water and gas stove. He took in three tourists from a nearby guesthouse. Before the levee broke, they walked around the city together. Even strolled to the Superdome. He had groceries for a month.

At home, he listened constantly to the talk radio station WWL 870 AM. For days, the station served as a public 911 line, with DJs answering survival questions. Nagin would break in to talk about the 40,000 troops he's not seeing on the ground. Roger calls the whole thing genocide. "The largest black population in the South, it's the poorest, it's the most culturally rich, it's the most disposable."

Halfway through the conversation, Roger adds that every day around 2:30 in the afternoon, the heat overwhelms him and he has to lie down. When he needs water, he taps his upstairs water heater, opening the faucet with a flathead screwdriver and twisting his body just so, allowing him to fill teacups.

"I had a little episode of irrational exuberance," he says. "I finally figured out the water tank, I was carrying a three-quart sauce pot, I wasn't paying attention. A little water sloshed out, and my foot went out, I hit my hip, hit my back, my head snapped back. I may have cracked my rib, actually."

Roger gives tips for cleaning a refrigerator. He comes up with a hurricane joke: How do you tell if an unrefrigerated egg has gone bad? It starts looting.

It's around this time that I start thinking I might be talking to a dying man. He goes on, about the poor blacks who ran into downtown hotels at the last minute. "When I got down there, the managers were trying to get all those people out," he says. Then he's talking about the difference between New Orleans jazz and Dixieland. About how New Orleans makes money by things passing through it, how it really is Blanche DuBois, depending on strangers.

How he isn't really ready to take that fire truck out today, maybe tomorrow.

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