We’ll never know the real story of Sebastian’s first few months. All we know for certain is that he was found on the side of a road in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, unconscious, dehydrated, and debilitated by disease.
Under normal circumstances, we might guess that he escaped from someone’s back yard. But Sebastian is deaf, and that opens up the far crueler likelihood that he was abandoned.
* * * * *
Pit bulls are popular dogs in New Orleans. Breeders often use the pit bull’s unwarranted reputation for aggression to sell them for fighting and protection. It’s a reasonable guess that Sebastian was born to a breeder, and if all had gone according to plan, he might’ve spent much of his life in a cage — or worse.
When the breeder learned that Sebastian was deaf, though, the pup’s path changed. Who’s going to buy a deaf pit bull to guard her house? Who’s going to buy a deaf pit bull to fight in a ring, unable to hear his master’s commands?
* * * * *
That’s all conjecture, though. All we know for certain is that Sebastian wasn’t willing to go down without a fight. We also know that the person who found him had heard of Ken Foster. Through his Sula Foundation, Ken treated Sebastian’s various ills, made him whole again, and then Ken began looking for folks who could provide a good home for the young pup.
When I moved to New Orleans several lifetimes ago, Cheryl became my boss and one of my closest friends. I didn’t think anything of it.
Looking back, maybe I should’ve.
I’d come from Mississippi, where there was (and still is) plenty of homophobia to go around. I knew that New Orleans had (and still has) plenty of bigots, but compared to my former home, it felt like a completely different universe. In that bizarro-world, it seemed totally normal that a bubbly, blonde, middle-aged straight woman would befriend so many gay men.
But in fact, that was kind of unusual, and as I recently learned, Cheryl took a good bit of flack for it — not just because some of her family and friends were homophobic, but also because, back then, in the early 90s, there was a lot of AIDS-phobia, too. Then, as now, AIDS was considered by many to be a gay man’s disease, so hanging out with gay men was something that “normal” people weren’t encouraged to do.
I’ve said many times that there’s an important link between being gay and being vegan. I’m still not entirely sure about the nature of that link — I need to do a little more soul-searching before I put forward a cogent theory — but I have a hunch it comes down to empathy.
In junior high and high school, I was teased relentlessly for being effeminate. As a middle-class white male — one who grew up in the American South — I’m hesitant to say that I’ve ever been “oppressed”, but I certainly know what it’s like to be an outsider.
I also know how to put myself in other peoples’ shoes. Maybe that’s some of my adoptive mother rubbing off, maybe its some of my biological uncle I inherited (he was an accomplished actor). But for whatever reason, I can see things from multiple points of view.
In other words, I have an ability to empathize, and I’m especially drawn to those on the margins, including animals.
I don’t think that’s a unique talent. In fact, I think it’s pretty common, particularly among LGBT folks who’ve grown up in the straight world (i.e. most of us). For better or worse, many don’t use it, though.
The mini-doc embedded above doesn’t dig nearly deep enough into the connection between the fight for LGBT rights and the fight for animal rights, but it scratches the surface. And maybe it shows that I’m not crazy for believing that the connection is there, too.
In The Phaedrus, Socrates bemoans the use of written language by describing an imaginary dialogue between the Egyptian gods Theuth, who had invented the alphabet, and Thamus, who wasn’t happy about it. Said Thamus:
“This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”
I think about that shit all the time.
Time flies, doesn’t it? Ten years ago today — ten years ago tonight, if we want to get technical — my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I loaded up the car and left.
We didn’t think we’d do it. We never had before. But when we woke up on Saturday, August 27, 2005, and we saw that the hurricane we’d been joking about on Friday was heading straight for New Orleans — as a category 5? — we thought again.
It’s a curious thing, instinct. Everywhere you look, people encourage us to trust our instincts, to go with them them. But go where, exactly? As Katrina churned in the Gulf, our own instincts failed us. They told us stay and fight, while logic said, “Don’t be fools. Just flee.” Thankfully, logic won out, our stubbornness melted, our bravado deflated. Hours before we made a decision, I quietly filled up the tank.
And then we came to you. We left at 12:10am on August 28 and got to Lafayette three hours later. Obviously, 3:00am is a terrible time to arrive anywhere — work, an airport, Taco Bell, anywhere. No one who gets anywhere at 3:00am really wants to be there. No one who greets anyone who’s arriving at 3:00am is happy about it, either. But at 3:00am on August 28, 2005, we were greeted by one your own, a man who would soon become a dear friend. Don was waiting for us in the driveway, making sure we found the right house. He hugged us all, ushered us quietly to our room, dogs and luggage and everything, and we collapsed.
Over the following days and weeks, that scene was repeated dozens of times. Not at 3:00am, thankfully, but at respectable hours and in every imaginable place. At restaurants, at shopping malls, at the gym. At drug stores and garages and banks. Lots of cities pride themselves on being hospitable. Lafayette, you lived up to it.
We have not lived up to our end of the bargain, though. We said we’d visit. We said we’d stay in touch. And we failed. At first, we were distracted by rebuilding our city, then we were distracted by the same things that distract everyone: the daily routine of work, bills, parties, grief, movies. Minutiae.
So, you’ll just have to believe me when I say that you’ve been in our hearts and on our minds the whole time. We’ve never taken your kindness for granted. We’ve always known that we’ll never be able to repay you. Or at least, we hope we won’t. We would never want to put you through that.
Anyway, the thing I wanted to say is: thank you.
Thank you to Drew, who pestered us that Saturday every hour, on the hour, urging us to leave, insisting that we ride out the storm with him. Without his persistence we never would’ve headed west.
Thank you to Don, who met us that hot, humid morning — and not just us, many more, too. He flung open the doors of the house he shared with Drew and found a place for everyone to sleep: friends, acquaintances, and more than a few strangers. And also: four rambunctious dogs, and later, one scrawny cat.
Thank you to Jackie, who put me to work right away, planning events and writing grant applications and preventing me from focusing on all the ifs and hows and what-the-motherlovin’-hells. She forced my head down to keep me from being overwhelmed by a landscape I wouldn’t have recognized.
Thanks to Vickie and Buddy and Todd for giving us a place to work and plan. Thanks to the staff at Red’s for allowing us to keep the “Katrina 15” from turning into the “Katrina 30”, despite the best efforts of the cooks at the Cedar Deli.
Thanks to all of you.
I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but if someone held a hurricane to my head and forced me to, I’d want to do it with you.
Tuesday night was weird. Enjoyable, but weird.
For starters, the launch party/reading was packed. When I arrived, I assumed that most of the people in the room had contributed to the book, but no, after a show of hands, it became clear that many simply wanted to relive their decade-old memories of losing friends, homes, photo albums, jobs, of living in a wounded city.
I didn’t get it. I don’t get it. I’ve been studiously avoiding most of the Katrina reminiscences, all the anniversary blah-blah that’s been going on for weeks. I mean, I’m sure Anderson Cooper is a nice man, but I already know the story he’s going to run on CNN. I know what all of them are going to say. In 2005, the narrative was pain, despair, loss. Now, it’s resilience, struggle, determination. I got it. I get it.
What I’m saying is, if Cynthia hadn’t asked me to read at the event, I doubt I’d have come on my own.
The other weird thing was that I began choking up in front of all those people. I read the “Home, Briefly” piece — the one about finding our cat, Lola. I’d spent an hour Tuesday afternoon whittling it down a bit, taking out some of the obscure references of the time, making it shorter and more understandable to an audience who may not have been around. I didn’t feel anything particularly profound then. I was just editing.
But saying the words aloud was strange. As they tumbled out of my mouth, I vividly remembered the hesitation of approaching our abandoned house, the joy of believing that Lola had been rescued, the shock of discovering her lifeless body in the study, the anger and sadness I felt while digging her shallow grave in the heat of a mid-September day.
I didn’t cry when I wrote those words, but I almost did when I spoke them ten years later. I’m not sure whether I was crying for me or for Lola or for the city or for the losses of everyone else in the room, which Lola represented at that precise moment in time. Maybe it was all of that.
I don’t update this website nearly as often as I used to. Mostly, that’s because I write for other people now, which doesn’t leave much time for me to get my own thoughts down on virtual paper. Also, a lot of my thoughts are frivolous and better suited to Facebook or Twitter than a full-on blog post.
Ten years ago, it was a different story. Ten years ago, I wasn’t writing for other people. Ten years ago, we didn’t have access to Facebook or Twitter — or Tumblr, Instagram, or a bajillion other micro-photo-social-network-blogging thingamajigs that would have allowed me to Let It All Out.
But what we did have ten years ago was a hurricane. A big one.
I don’t draw or knit or paint, I don’t do well with things that require visualization of space. (Even though I loved geometry in school. Go figure.) When I need to express something, I’ve always relied on words. After Katrina, I relied on them heavily. Words helped keep me sane-ish. I could put my head down and write, and every once in a while, I’d look up, and things would be a little bit better. Blogging wasn’t just a means for venting, or a talking cure. It was a way to pass the time and get from What The Hell Just Happened to New Orleans’ New Normal.
Even so, I’m not a very good writer. But what I lack in quality, I can make up for in quantity. Ten years ago, on this here website, I posted a lot. Most of it was crap, little of it has resonance today. But two of the posts that remain readable are included in a new book called Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina.
I’m still not sure if I want to dredge up all the muck of life post-K. But because I’m a polite Southern gentleman, I agreed to read one of my two entries next week at the book’s launch party. Fingers crossed, I’ll get through it. If you’re in New Orleans, please stop by.
Please Forward book launch
Tuesday, August 18 at 7pm
Press Street, 3718 St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans