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Mr. New Jangles, Street Performer in the French Quarter 06/11/06

Interviewer: Jessica Moist
Location: New Orleans, LA

Hello, how we doing? My name is George. I'm a resident of New Orleans, but most people don't know me by George. They know me by Mr. New Jangles, Ya'll remember Mr. Bo Jangles? I take after him.

During the storm, our house suffered minor damage, not too much, just the floor got pretty much wet up, then the mold crept up the walls. So therefore, I had to creep out for a while, go wherever I could stay, which was in the car, and a couple nights on the street. But things got pretty much better. As living conditions is concerned, I managed to meet up with a few friends and I was OK.

I was fortunate when the flood hit to get out of the area, quickly. The experience is beyond belief. It's something you couldn't even dream of. You couldn't even write a story about it. When I did come back, there was still bodies in the street... skeletal remains of animals still in the street. I mean, the was worse than death. Bodies in places where you couldn't find them. To this day, nine months, later, they're still finding bodies. That's unbelievable, and on top of that, the Coast Guard, the FEMA, the Marines, they were going to each home—this was last year, all through September—when they were supposed to go in the homes to mark it with an X to say what's inside, what's to be saved. To this day they're walking into homes with the markings on it, and finding dead bodies and more skeletal remains. Once every two weeks, there's people popping up. They had to slow down the demolitions...

They got homes that's in the middle of the streets floated off their foundations, they moved in certain areas, and it's gotten to the point now where demolition crews have to tear those houses down. But before they do that, they have to send the dog teams to go in there to see if there's any dead bodies left over. And sure as hell, they find those bodies. And it's gonna be, it's gonna be an ongoing thing, and, to be honest with you, they're not gonna find all those bodies. Dogs, skeletal remains and the bulldozers going in there... I mean, you cannot save every square inch. So you honestly can't do it, so there's gonna be a lot of MIAs with this situation.

But, let's talk post-Katrina. Now, one thing I want everybody to understand: The government wants everyone to know that New Orleans is doing fantastic, it's doing great. You know what they do? You look on the television, you see the French Quarter, you see Canal Street with the electricity’s on, people’s going by. You get a little business. They want that economical boom. They want people to come in and spend their money. But, the reality: you could walk five blocks west, east, north, or south and, you'll see destruction. You'll see houses that are not fit to live in, you'll see houses that are completely wiped out... There is parts of the city where there is actually no law. You can go into the Ninth Ward, say 8, 7 o'clock, and you will never see a cop. We're lucky we got street lights now. 'Bout the only thing we got, outside the main area.

What we need is a lot of help here in New Orleans. New Orleans is years away from being the city it used to be and, to be honest with you, it will never be the way it used to be. You have families, friends, neighborhoods... that are totally torn apart. There are people that I have not seen and probably will not see for the rest of my life. The population was over at least a half a million before the storm. Right now, we're barely touching 240,000 people. Overall, just for an example, you got one city block: on that one city block, you might have two people living on that block. This goes for miles. You can literally get on the highway, get on I-10 to East New Orleans, and drive 55 miles an hour and see nothing but devastation, and this is nine months later. Nothing but, and I mean everything is totally wiped out.

I mean, what else can I say? There's the water, or actually, there's no water. Plus, you wouldn't wanna drink the water in the first place, I tell you that, ok? This place is really, really devastated. For example, I'm having this interview here in this place here which has been renovated by a group called Common Ground. There's a Burger King right next door. I was one of the unlucky chosen few to go in there and gut Burger King out. Refrigerators is one thing. I went inside refrigerators the size of this room and it was nothing but decayed food, meats, you name it, inside that refrigerator. I went in there suited up, gas mask...I mean, you couldn't breathe in that thing to clear that place out. Me and my co-workers, we walked out and went to the store to buy some lunch. Everybody walked out the store. That's how bad we smelled! I mean, we smelled totally off the hook. And there's still a lot of places that need to be done, I mean, business-wise, in certain areas like New Orleans East, you can drive 3 miles, 4 miles and you might see a store there.

As for the market place, the work force, there was a point where Burger King was so desperate for workers, they was giving workers $5,000 bonuses just to work there, and it's totally amazing. The unemployment rate here is—well, it's kind of funny cause the work force is very slim right now. We got a lot of evacuees that have moved out to Houston, Mississippi, Baton Rouge. New Orleans residents are widespread across America right now. There's nobody here to work. That's why they got the buses commuting people here from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. As of right now, New Orleans still does not have enough people to work. It's unbelievable. You open up a Sunday newspaper here in New Orleans, you get page after page after page, job after job after job. The problem is, the jobs are kind of scattered, and if they're not here in the Central City area, here in New Orleans, then it's hard for people without transportation to get to those jobs.

Another problem with that is it's so much paperwork. They want you to go back and get your high school transcript. How the heck am I gonna get my high school transcript when the place got flooded? Even the court system just opened up last week. All the records, everything they had, washed away. They can't prove anything. So where the heck is a guy gonna get a high school transcript? And that’s a major problem, the paperwork. This piece of paper, that piece of paper... those papers are all gone. A lot of court cases have been dismissed because all the evidence is gone. Completely molded up. Can't even read the piece of paper.

And then, one of the other problems we have is that a lot of New Orleans home owners have been here since... since America started to be actual. I mean, when Andrew Jackson came in here and held the fort down to keep the Spanish or the French from taking over Louisiana... the black folks have been here since then. On the whole, people don't have insurance, because the houses have been in the families for generation after generation after generation. There was no reason to put insurance on it. So you got a good couple thousand homes, more than a couple thousand, that don't have insurance. People don't have the money to fix it up. And that's another major problem. We need a lot of help: Moneys to come in for these generations of people whose homes have been there for years, to help them fix their homes up. So that way, they can keep passing them down to their nephews, to their grandchildren, whatever the case might be.

And there's another good problem with HANO (Housing Authority of New Orleans). Public housing, so to say, all the projects, so to say, are shut down. They don't want the folks back in now. Those projects suffered only minor damage. They only got flooded in the basement with their electrical systems. But as far as the kitchens, the bathrooms, the living rooms... everything is perfect. Down by the St. Bernard Parish….they got the St. Bernard Housing Project enclosed in with a gate. And people that been living there for years, they will not let them in their homes. Why? Because they don't want th influx.

Even a couple of weeks ago, they said they don't want people to come back to New Orleans unless they are productive workers, and that's a big fight going on around here right now. And, right now, the people, the residents of St. Bernard Parish have said, "If we cannot— if you don't take this fence down by July 3rd, we're gonna knock that fence down and go into our apartments so we can get our belongings. We have our family pictures in there, we have our beds, our clothes, we have everything in there.” And everything is fine. But they will not let the people back in there, so we gonna see what happens July 3rd. And of course, we gonna knock that dog-gone fence down! Gonna go in there and get our belongings. Why keep us from going into a place where we be living our whole life? Reason why? To be honest with you, they don't want the black folk back in the area. That's all it boils down to. They wanna try and wipe the place out and put up some middle-income housing and you know we can't afford it. We cannot afford to live, and even now, the rent! Oh my god, let me tell you about the rent !

My rent was $350 per month for a 1-bedroom apartment. Post-Katrina, the rent now is $800 to live in that same apartment. You got 2-bedrooms, 3-bedrooms is $1,200 dollars. People cannot afford to live with the rent gouging that's going on. The landlords are actually taking advantage of the situation because there are no homes. All the homes are devastated. On the whole, let's say, pre-Katrina, there was, say, 95% housing, now, 25%. So what are you gonna do? Go through law of supply and demand. You got all these people saying, "Let's make them pay for it!" Where we gonna get the money from? FEMA's not gonna give it up. State's not gonna give it up so we're dead as thinking.

You got people now been here for nine months living in their cars, people still living in their gutted homes ‘cause FEMA was supposed to give trailers to people with homes. You know what they do in a lot of cases? They'll come by, the contractors, they'll hook the trailers up and forget to give you the key to get in! So, what are you gonna do?

Just last week, you got a man at 75 years old. He went through Hurricane Betsy years ago. They gave him a trailer, but they didn't give him a key. He had to set up a tent inside his gutted home, and live there until he called up a news station to get the key to get inside his trailer, which is ridiculous. I mean, the man actually cried when he got that key, just to lay in a bed. The man did his time, he worked all his life, and that's like one story, one story out of a thousand.

There are thousands right now that are living like that, still waiting on trailers, right down the street in the Ninth Ward. People are gutting their homes out, with no trailers. They're still waiting on their trailers and it's what, nine months later? Where they living? Inside their gutted home. Mold-infested, rodent-infested... I mean, my gosh, how long is it gonna take for this city of New Orleans in the United States of America to get the help that they need? Once the storm hit, oh! America was right behind everybody. Oh! Donations here, donations there... That was nine months ago. It's nine months later. It's still the same. It's absolutely the same.

The police force is only at one-third its capacity. They cannot, I mean, to be honest with you, they need to bring the military police back in there to police the areas where they cannot police. You call 911, you might as well forget about it. There's no point to call 911 here. I mean, you can scream for mercy, you can be standing on the street right now in front of this place, call 911, the guy's got a gun, ready to shoot you and rob you.. .you won't see a cop. They won't come. Just the other day, you had three muggings, right there on the corner, nothing happens. The police force and even the fire department is so weak.

FEMA is vacating New Orleans June 30th. After June 30th, our transit system will go way down because they're paying for it and we cannot sustain it ourselves right now. After June 30th, the bus lines will be limited, to probably 1 or 2 or 3 buses going from here to there, to trolley cars...they're gonna lay off a lot of workers. Luckily, FEMA has provided helicopters that go inside the Mississippi River and pick up water and dump it on the homes that's on fire. But that's gonna end June 30th. The fire department, they're not gonna have the helicopters with the water basins.

After June 30th, I see many problems coming along. So I plead to whoever's listening to this, that New Orleans is in a state of emergency, nine months later.


Well, we had Mardi Gras... a lot of people were against Mardi Gras in February. I went along with it. Mardi Gras was a success. I mean, as far as the population was concerned, it was quite minimal. It wasn't as many as it should be. But it was fantastic. And it brought in a lot of money, and it, oh wow! Speaking about Mardi Gras, there was a time when a lot of the residents were living in the hotels before Mardi Gras, because they had nowhere else to go. Lo and behold, as soon as Mardi Gras comes up, all the hotel owners was trying to shuffle them out, get them out. They were throwing them on the street, left and right, just to get the people to come in and pay the fees, to get into the hotel. That story has long past.

But as far as the cultural aspect of New Orleans, it has changed. As we all know, Mayor Ray Nagin did refer to New Orleans as Chocolate City. It's not chocolate city no more. They all gone. I'd say, about a good 60 percent of them. They can't afford to come back. Who's gonna come back when you got four kids and you got to a pay $1200 to live in an apartment where you used to pay four, five hundred prior? You can't do it. So a lot of residents are... their option is they just can't afford it so they're staying in Houston, Texas, Mississippi... you got residents in Nebraska, New York, you name it. But we still have that pride. As me, as an entertainer, I go out there and I do my thing.

New Orleans is the home of music, the home of entertainment, the home of jazz, the home of dance, it's the home of good times and fun times. And that's what I do. I go out there and give them the best time they have or ever seen in their life. I mean, I got people, they come up to me and they're just so happy to see me doing my thing. They're like, "Oh my gosh, this is what I've been looking for! I didn't think this was still going on.” But I am one of only a chosen few that still do it because a lot of entertainers have yet to come back. And so as time goes on, things will get better as long as the community as a whole comes back, if we get our trailers.

That's the whole thing, the trailers. There's nowhere to live. Soon as we get our trailers back, I mean, it might take two years for everybody to get a trailer but by that time, you know, you give up. You already getting yourself settled somewhere else. "Hell, why am I gonna go back there for? I got a place here now." And that’s gonna really disrupt the makeup of New Orleans. New Orleans is based on the African Americans in this community. That's what made New Orleans and without them, there won't be no original New Orleans anymore.


Oh no! I'm not leaving New Orleans! This is a place that is unlike any place in the world. I mean, it's... its just the music. This is the type of city where there's a parade everyday. There's dancing everyday in the street. There's music. I don't care what state you live in America, you will never hear the music that goes on here in New Orleans. It's just so unique and what I love about it so much... like, I'm from the old school and Gospel music. What they did was they take the Gospel music from the Bygone era and they turned the Gospel music into sort of like a second-line type of music. It's just so fantastic. It's just music you will never hear, ever, in your life. The clothes, the style, the freedom, there's a lot of freedom here as far as expressing yourself. Dance in the way you want to dance, dress the way you want to dress. Right now, if I just take this cane and my derby I got, and I start a line and just start singing a beat, people will follow me and just go down the street. You can't do that nowhere else. I will never leave New Orleans. I will die here.


Well, as far as right now, this (Common Ground) group is doing a very good job of gutting out the homes for the people that can't afford to do it. That is absolutely wonderful, fantastic! I mean, the contractors come up in here and they ripping people off. But then there's groups like Common Ground, they coming in, and they doing it for free. Oh my gosh, I've seen grown men, grown women just cry, just so grateful that this is being done to their homes. It's one little stepping stone they don't have to worry about. And as far as continuing, oh boy, that’s a tough question! There's just so much you know, and we can't concentrate on a certain priority. It's just, you know, reaching out, helping, wherever you can. I mean, doing anything, just by even checking up on people. Knocking on trailer doors just to say “Hi, hello, how you doing?” People enjoy that so much because the place is so barren. I mean, you got one trailer here, and your neighbor, the closest person living to you, might be two, three blocks away.

A lot of people here are lonely. They're not used to that. I mean, you could go down the block, and there'd be hundreds of people driving by, constant people. But now you hear crickets. Just to knock on their door, say “Hello, how you doing;?” I mean, people sit on their porch all day and they witness this. They just wait and wait for someone to come by just to say hello. And that gives them so much joy. So don’t go by, walk up to them. Give them a little conversation. Make them feel like, “Hey, I'm not by myself.” That means a lot. And if you ask me, that's the most important thing grassroots efforts can do. But you know, just to help them, ok?

So I hope everyone comes to New Orleans and, whatever you can do, just come, help out, lend your encouragement through whatever organization you feel you're comfortable with. You know what'd be great? What we should do as grassroots is try to reach out to the residents here, and somebody adopt a family sort of like, that type of thing, where they can refer you to another family that's going through problems and to help them and direct them to getting them back here. Get the people to come back. Mayor Ray Nagin, when he got elected to office, made a little mistake, and was telling everyone, "Oh! Come back! Come back!" To what? High rent? Living in your gutted house, or living in your car? They need to get these homes back up and working first.

And this is Mr. New Jangles, and I bid you adieu. Tally ho!  

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