Adventures of Larry Lorenz
Former Marquette journalism professor,
of late of New Orleans' Loyola University,
blogs his way through Hurricane Katrina
By LARRY LORENZ
Special to ShorewoodVillage.com
We are refugees, but we are safe.
And, thank God, we are much better off than most our fellow refugees: in a
house with running water, a stove, a washer and dryer, a computer,
telephone service and a pool (I am tempted to add, “none of
which we looted from the neighborhood Wal-Mart,” but I’ll resist.)
“We” are my wife, Kathy, and I; son Bob; daughter Abby; her husband, Neil;
and their five-week-old infant, Sullivan; Shadow, our faithful golden
retriever; and six cats, four belonging to Kathy and me and two belonging
to Neil and Abby. We are all bedding down in the Pensacola house of Neil’s
mother and her husband and their anti-social, deaf dachshund who considers
anything new on the floor a potential
Daughter Mary fled to Dallas with a college friend
and is staying at her parents’ house.
We know no more than anyone else who is following the New Orleans/Gulf
Coast story on CNN and MSNBC, except that the anchors and reporters don’t
seem to be concerned with pronunciations or geography. Back when I was a
crack broadcast writer with UPI, for example, we always put a “pronouncer”
on Biloxi (bih-luhk’-see). And we could trust that reporters knew
something about the communities they were reporting on; none of the
displaced New Orleanians in
this house can understand why today’s tele-visions have not bothered,
apparently, to look at a map of the city they are covering.
Complaining about such minor things, I guess, keeps us from sobbing about
the uncertainty of our future. We ask prayers for ourselves, but more for
those hundreds of thousands who are less fortunate.
I saw my house yesterday in a satellite photo posted by NOAA. It took some
doing to find our section of town, but the photos are good (though some
areas are hidden by cloud cover). My house is standing in some
water, but I don’t believe there was enough to reach the first floor. I
could not tell whether water had seeped into the two cars that I left in
the driveway, but at least they were still there. And I saw no one
partying in the backyard, so perhaps no one has yet found the beer in the
minifridge in the back shed.
Responding to my note on the reporting, our department chair’s husband,
Hank Henley, a former newspaper reporter, wrote:
“My mind has also been boggled by the obvious lack of local knowledge
displayed by the talking heads on CNN, Fox, etc. I guess I can forgive
“Orleans County” and the “9th District” or even the “North Bank,” but
yesterday I heard two whiz kids reporting from
Pass (mispronounced) and St. Louis
Bay and began screaming at
the television. I wonder why the national guys couldn’t hire or buddy with
a local reporter just to get this stuff correct.”
Hank wrote later of seeing Geraldo Rivera standing in the spotlight with
the city’s police superintendent and saying, “I am standing here with
Chief E. Compass of the Los Angeles Police Department.”
Is this solely an opportunity for the reporters (if you can call some
that) to get face time on the tube?
Looking at the likes of Jeanne Meserve, Rita Cosby and some newschick
named London, one would think so.
We have been tortured by what we have seen on television and what more is
to come that we don’t want to even imagine. From what I’ve been able to
piece together, what water there was in our immediate
neighborhood did not flood houses. But we and the neighbors whom we have
been in touch with are worried about looting and, now, the burning.
I have also struggled with the conflicting emotions of seeing poor blacks
the main actors in New Orleans. I despise the looters, and at one point I
shouted, “Shoot the bastards!” at a screen that showed police
standing by while looters sauntered out of a store with television sets.
On the other hand,
I can understand so much better how much the social, educational, economic
structure of New Orleans is at fault. If you have not yet read it, pick up
John Barry’s “Rising Tide,” the story of the 1927 flood. Conditions are no
better now, and perhaps even worse.
Will we learn any more from this than the residents of Mississippi and
Louisiana learned from the 1927 flood?
Here in Pensacola, we’ve been to the washer and dryer more than a few
times with the two changes of clothes we brought under the assumption
(echoing from some recess of the mind is the old editor’s harrumph: Don’t
ever assume, son . . . .) that we would be back by Tuesday or
We’ve been making telephone calls to State Farm and Wells Fargo and all
the other firms that hold our financial fate in their hands. All goes well
until the voice on the other end of the line says like “We are
all so sorry for your loss,” and a sob rises in the throat before we can
A Loyola vice president has established a blog where faculty and staff can
let others know where they are. Students and alumni have set up other
sites for making contacts. We are spread from coast to coast to coast and
border to border.
We are told that the university administration is gathering in Shreveport
to establish what one official called “Loyola in exile.” I gather we will
be paid on a regular basis — those of us on contract, at least.
What will happen to those who work for the auxiliary services that provide
food and maintenances may not be as fortunate.
The university sustained little damage, but the city’s infrastructure is
in such shambles that it will take months for basic services like water
and electricity and telephone to be back to normal. There will be no
school this semester—a lagniappe sabbatical for faculty and staff.
Students, however, are scrambling to get into universities around the
country, and some have written to ask about the relative merits of those
they are considering and what courses they might take. The
university certainly must be liberal in evaluating the transfer credits
and waive the usual prohibitions on credit for major and common curriculum
courses taken elsewhere.
In the email is a note from a Loyola colleague. She asks: “Did the Bush
administration finally screw up so badly and so brazenly that they will be
I’m hoping for impeachment and a trial for war crimes and murder.”
I seem to recall that Bush was going to put Cheney in charge of government
efforts. But he has been in some undisclosed location.
has the best comment on their response to the disaster.
Our hosts, Neil’s mother, Vicki, and her husband, Jon, have been gracious
and more than tolerant of their guests of both two and four feet. But we
worry about wearing out our welcome. One sign: the dachshund has become
less hostile. But human nerves fray.
We are talking about going to Chicago to stay for a time with Kathy’s
mother, and Mary told us she, too, would like to go there. Another
daughter, Kate, and son Patrick live in the city also, and Kate says she
may be able to get Mary a job with her firm, careerbuilder.com. Bob is
even open to the idea of working there and perhaps going to graduate
Who knows, but we may just all settle in as yankees again; blizzards don’t
look so bad in comparison to hurricanes.
But maybe I’ll feel differently after a morning swim under the Florida
sunshine in our host’s pool.
I finally located my friend and colleague Maurice Brungardt, a professor
of history. He lives on Front Street, at the end of Walnut, next to the
The house is on high ground, near the
Mississippi River levee, so
he does need to work about flooding. But the winds could be fierce.
He and his wife, Mariangela, left their Buick of a pre-energy-scare era in
the garage and drove their Geo Metro to Jackson. When they found gas, they
went on to Memphis, stayed the night with friends of friends,
found more gas, and drove on to Kansas City to stay with a sister and her
husband. In talking to him, I remembered our having lunch the week before,
when we had talked about the hurricane in the Gulf and
reassured each other that it was not going to hit New Orleans.
This afternoon I went to the Postal Service site and changed our address
to that of Kathy’s mother’s house in Chicago.
The good news: Geico told me that shifting our address to Chicago brought
our auto insurance down by $100 a month for the next six months.
Tonight we went to dinner at the Pensacola
Beach home of friends of longstanding of Neil and Abby. They were among the
fortunate few; their house was damaged, mostly by water, but not destroyed
in Hurricane Ivan last year—which also disrupted plans for their
friends’ wedding. Along the way, however, we saw the devastation left by
Ivan. Many skeletons of abandoned houses dot the beach. Trash is scattered
in a wide swath. For sale signs attract no buyers.
Is that what we will find in New
From Fr. Ray Schroth, S.J., a one-time Loyola journalism professor comes
this plea: “I realize that this letter is for the most part too late to
achieve its purpose. But my friend Peter Reichard, a New Orleans political
writer who was my student friend and editor of the Loyola U New Orleans
Maroon when I taught there, now safe in Chicago, left
a message on my phone which I have just received.
“Peter asks me to write or call all my friends in journalism and impress
upon you that ‘New Orleans has been hung out to dry by the Federal
government.’ His own brother, who volunteered to stay behind and help, was
now trapped in Charity Hospital with no
help in sight. The situation is a ‘national shame,’ he said, and ‘FEMA is
not doing squat!’ The ‘American can-do spirit,’ he said, has been
forgotten. He fears that
his brother might die. Meanwhile snipers are on the rooftops.
“I realize that you have already read many reports like that, and most
likely the crisis has abated. But I also figure you should know of Peter’s
trust in you.
It reminds me of the great scene in the old black and white film,
‘Deadline USA,’ where the old immigrant woman, mother of a girl murdered
by the mob, brings the incriminating evidence to Humphrey Bogart,
courageous managing editor of “The Day,” which has been sold to its
competitor and is in its last day of publication. Bogart asks Mrs. Schmidt
why she did not bring this evidence to the police. She replies: 'I no know
police. I know you. I know newspaper.’”
The New York Times today published a story about the Times-Picayune’s
efforts to continue publishing during the crisis. One person mentioned is
Mary Chauvin, a copy editor, who got her education in journalism at Loyola
and at The Maroon. The Times-Picayune is often
criticized, but it has been doing an extraordinary and excellent job of
reporting and publishing the news this week — even after its own building
was flooded, its presses under water, its employees and their families in
danger of losing their own lives. Today it published an open letter to
George W. Bush. It deserves to be printed in full:
Editorial: Not Acceptable
The Times-Picayune Editorial Board
A day after a normally easy-going Mayor Ray Nagin blasted federal
officials’ seeming indifference to the plight of New Orleanians who are
stranded and dying, President Bush stood on the lawn of the White House
and conceded the point: The federal government did not move quickly enough
or forcefully enough to help those people hit hardest by Hurricane
Katrina. “The results are not acceptable,” the president said before
boarding a helicopter to go survey the storm’s damage.
It’s good to hear the president admit his administration’s shortcomings,
and it’s even better to hear his promise to help all of us who are in
But the sad truth remains that the federal government’s slow start has
already proved fatal to some of the most vulnerable people in the New
Orleans area. Water has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people. A
lack of water to drink is exacting its toll on others.
“I don’t want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences,” the
mayor said during a WWL radio interview Thursday. “Put a moratorium on
press conferences. Don’t do another press conference until the resources
are in this city.”
The mayor had obviously become fed up with federal bureaucrats’ use of
future tense verbs. “Don’t tell me 40,000 people are coming here,” he
said. “They’re not here. It’s too doggone late. Now get off your asses
and do something, and let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history
of this country.”
We applaud the mayor for giving voice to an entire city’s frustration. How
could the most powerful and technologically advanced nation in the history
of the world have responded so feebly to this crisis?
The president’s admission of his administration’s mistakes will mean
nothing unless the promised help is deployed immediately. Each life is
precious, and there isn’t a second chance to save a single one of them. No
more talk of what’s going to happen. We only want to hear what is being
done. The lives of our people depend on it.
We leave for Chicago this morning. In a few hours we will load the car
with cat cages and what little luggage we have, kiss daughter, son-in-law
and grandson good-by, bid farewell to our hosts and be snarled at by the
dachshund one last time.
My feet are in
Chicago. We came here after being in Pensacola for a week and we are
living with my mother-in-law.
I’ve been treating this unexpected break as a lagniappe semester and
trying to get some research done.
Last week I went to the Chicago Public Library every day to read microfilm
of the Chicago Tribune
-- continuing reading the
“In the Wake of the News” sports column with the aim of
doing a history of it. I was also able to the public computers there.
That was not a very satisfying experience. The microfilm is in bad shape,
torn and twisted, and few machines function. The computers work, but one
has to reserve one for 60 minutes of use, and once I got on I found my
fellow users to be a crowd of nose pickers, coughers, homosexual porn
surfers, individuals who muttered to themselves non-stop, multitaskers
whose music spilled out from under their headsets, and one young fellow
who broke into a falsetto every few
minutes to accompany whatever he was listening to. Next week I’m going to
take advantage of the Newberry Library’s offer to refugee scholars of the
use of facilities there.
As you know, I worked here, for United Press International, almost 45
years ago, and I’ve found the experience of returning for an extend stay
to be somewhat disconcerting. One day I left the library in early
afternoon and took the Red Line north, across the river, to Grand Avenue,
where I used to exit when I took the subway to go to work at UPI. I hardly
knew where I was.
The old Corona restaurant was gone, replaced by a corner of a Michigan
Avenue hotel. One of the other newsmen called the joint the
‘stand-and-gulp.” At noon, it was an unadorned eatery with a
cafeteria-style steam table. Nothing classy about it.
The tables were raised on a pedestal, so the diners — no, eaters; diners
is too fancy a word for those of us who made up the noontime crowd --
after going through a cafeteria line, stood and washed down sandwiches
with steins of beer and got on their way.
At night, the Corona was Cinderella in reverse. At some point in the
afternoon, after the last draft had had been downed, the help locked the
doors, loosened set screws on pillars under the tables and lowered
them to sitting height. They flipped a freshly laundered and ironed white
tablecloth onto them, laid out the good silver and planted a vase with a
fresh rose in the middle of the table. Formally dressed waiters with menus
at the ready took places by the door to greet evening customers—now, they
were diners—who ate more leisurely and lingered over a dessert more
palatable than a handful of Tums.
I walked along Rush Street toward Hubbard. Off to the right I hoped to see
the St. Louis Browns Fan Club, but it, too, was gone, replaced by a
parking lot. I never hung out there, maybe because UPI’s broadcast
news manager did. He was at lunch there the day John F. Kennedy was
assassinated, and while we in the office two blocks away scrambled to
cover the story, he lingered over lunch and drinks, then sauntered back to
the office to second-guess what we did.
Half a block further on, on the left, once stood the Radio Grill, a
somewhat seedy bar that had taken over the first floor of what had been an
elegant Chicago brownstone when it went up in the rebuilding after the
great fire. The Radio Grill was a regular hangout for the group I ran
with. It was a comfortable place to sit around after work and second-guess
ourselves, the coverage we gave to stories, and to talk about good writers
and writing. Hemingway was a favorite of the
seasoned newsmen, and I gained a greater appreciation for him there than I
did in the 20th century lit course I took in college.
Two Radio Grill nights have stayed in memory. One night, after closing the
place, we went out to the street and someone produced a football, and we
started a game of drunken touch. Playing end was Dave
Smothers, the Chicago news editor and one of the finest among that host of
fine writers UPI boasted.
One of Dave’s legs was two or three inches shorter than the other, and
when he went out for one pass, he planted the gimpy leg down as if it were
full length and went tumbling over himself. I’d like to say he
caught the ball, but I cannot remember.
The other night that sticks with me was the night of Kennedy’s
assassination. After handling the story all day, four of us went to the
Radio Grill, and we drank until closing. One was the young woman who ran
the UPI switchboard. She drank only soft drinks, and she had
her car. At two or three a.m., she took all of us out to out Elk Grove
Village, where one of the men lived, followed his directions to a bar, and
called his wife to pick him up there. When he was safe in her arms,
literally, she took the other two of us back to our apartments on the
north side. I cannot remember whether the football game came before or
after the assassination, but I do know that we--I,
certainly--spent more time that winter and spring at the Radio Grill than
At Hubbard, I turned the corner and there was Billy Goat’s Tavern, still
there after all these years. UPI and Billy Goat’s were two of the first
tenants in what 43 years ago was the new Uptown Savings building. The
building was not only home to UPI, but just across
Michigan Avenue from the “Tribune” and the “American” and a
short walk from the “Sun-Times” and “Daily News,” and it was
a favorite of reporters, editors and the pressmen, who came in ink-stained
wearing those squared-off printers’ hats they made of a sheet of
newspaper. Billy decorated the walls with their photos, including one of
the switchboard girl and the man who lived in Elk Grove Village.
That one may have been taken the night of a UPI Christmas party in Billy
Goat’s -- in 1963, I think. I was editor on the nightside that night, and
each of us on the crew took turns taking aback elevator down and
having a drink or two, then going back to put together the hourly
broadcasts we wrote. After a couple of hours we were incapable of writing
or editing, and we simply took the scissors to broadcasts sent out earlier
in the day, rearranged the items, and sent them out to the clients. No one
noticed, apparently, because no one ever said anything. Some 30years
later, I was having dinner with one of our supervising
editors and told him about the incident. In his tough-guy New York accent,
he said, “You think you were the only UPI guy who ever pulled that trick?”
Billy and his heir, Sam Sianis, have honored the most famous of Chicago
journalists with individual portrait shots, and when one dies, someone
tacks a tiny brass plate engraved with ‘30” onto the bottom of the frame.
The walls also hold
enlarged by-lines of Chicago columnists and columns with mention of Billy.
Billy always made good copy; it was he who put the hex on the Cubs after
they refused his goat admission to the 1945 World Series. Still hanging,
too, are some of Billy’s goofy signs, though my favorite, “Our assets
under $30,000,000,” appropriate when the savings and loan was upstairs, is
gone. All have taken on a patina of grease from what now must be millions
that have been cooked on the grill. Dave Condon’s comment that Billy
Goat’s was the home of the meatless hamburger was wittier than Saturday
Night Live’s “cheesebooger, cheesebooger, cheesebooger” routine, but
you know which one lives in popular history.
I stood in line for one of those cheeseburgers, piled it high with pickle
slices and chopped onion and yellow mustard, took it to the bar and downed
it with the help of a Heileman’s Old Style. On the television
set in the corner flickered MSNBC’s images of preparations in Houston and
New Orleans for Hurricane Rita. For just a moment I thought of how it
would have been upstairs writing that story, were the broadcast
news department still there. It was better writing about disasters than
being part of one.
I don’t know how long we’re going to be here, but I do hope to get up to
Milwaukee during our stay.
Displaced, but not discalced