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You’ve Had Your Death By Fire, Now Comes the Hard Part

At the end of a storm There’s a golden sky… (Yeah, Right)

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart…

— Recessional by Rudyard Kipling

Those of us who return to the foldout FEMA tables under the stucco pillars and inside the clay-colored walls of the once-deserted Sears store are old hands at being evacuees. The adrenaline rush of the rides through the flame tunnels is over and the adrenaline jag is fading.

The town we lived in is gone; reduced to pale drifts of an off-white filth that pervades every “official” photo of every incinerated house. The incidence of finding human remains has diminished from a dozen a day to one or two here and there. The list of the “missing” has shrunk from over one thousand to a few hundred. Everyone talks about this as if it is “a good thing” and I suppose it is… for all but those few hundred. Every day they become more distant and more dead.

Those of us from Paradise who are still standing have survived the fire this time. The rains have put paid to the flames that devoured our town and our lives and then rambled on southeast like some overstuffed ogre. After the burning, we’ve had a couple of weeks of organization and logistics and then the grace of Thanksgiving to salve our souls.

“Nothing like a good disaster to sort things out.”

And now, as it must, the attention of the world has moved elsewhere; moved towards our brushfire wars and our poisoned politics and our boring blather about the “you-better believe-they’re-beautiful” genderjumpers and their ludicrous lives; all the buffo bonfires and pooh-pooh cushions of life in this inverted epoch. The groove, as they say, must move.

The groove has moved but Chico is where it was. This week, on the faces of those who have passed through the fire, you are starting to see a wan resignation. You see people becoming aware that they will be living life in the Yellow Zone from now until further notice. You see that the waiting lines at the FEMA tables have grown used to the volunteer with his bullhorn shouting out the numbers from theTake-A-Number Machine. Down mall from FEMA, you walk into the Xfinity store and you see people packed into the lounging couches in front of the big screen not even following the game. Here too they’ve been assigned their places in one of a hundred waiting rooms they know they’ll visit in the next month, year, years, decade.

The whole epic scenario of this catastrophe has now reached the phase where the people whose lives have been destroyed come to know a new thing: The beginning has ended, the fire has been killed, and now comes the hard part.

Welcome to “The Grind.”

Everyone displaced from Paradise has come to know in the first two days of this week that the rebuilding of their lives, no matter where it will be done, is going to be a long, hard, and debilitating march through the institutions.

The institutions along our line of march involve the federal government, the state government, the county government, the city government, and the Paradise Town Council In Exile. Dealing with each of these, in turn, will involve multiple visits, multiple repetitions of work already complete, piles of paperwork, and then more visits to places with a Take-A-Number Machine. Then there are the insurance companies, the various services and utilities one has to work with. On and on and we haven’t even gotten to the point where you actually secure housing and have to set it up.

Securing housing is the Holy Grail in and around Chico now; the Holy Grail and the Pearl of Great Price all in one. It’s the one thing you have to have. Last night I saw what happens when you cannot be “housed.”

When tenting began on the first night of the fire spontaneous tent towns began to grow up at WalMart and the East Avenue Church. There were others as well. In the main, these camps of folks from the Camp Fire have faded and dwindled naturally as the onset of the cold and the rain makes the tents untenable. But some of the hardcore homeless, the desperately poor and unsocial, the tweakers, and the junkies gaming the system have persisted in their tents. Removing the remnants of the tent towns by any sort of edict or force is, of course, politically impossible. And those in the tent towns know this and work it.

One particularly medieval tent town has sprung up around large dumpsters in front of the closed out Toys R Us store. Here there are scatted tents of different sizes adding up to a reasonable Bedouin camp in the Sahara… except this is in a parking lot.

Across from the tents is a bank of porta-potties brought in by the city to control the shitification of the Toys R Us Parking lot.

I drove by that set up in the parking lot after dark and the tent people were out. You could see them in the dark shadows pawing over the piles of old clothing people keep dropping in the dumpsters to no purpose. As I drove past the tents a large one’s flap was thrown back and a big and portly man in a lumberjack flannel shirt and what appeared to be Leiderhosen emerged into the yellow tinted and dim “Earth Friendly” streetlights. He was heading towards the line of Porta-potties across the road. I looked at him and then looked again. Hard.

As God is my witness this man was heading towards the porta potties with a live raccoon riding on his shoulder, waving one of his or her paws like royalty passing in review on the way to the can.

As noted above, after a fire takes your town in its paws and plays with it, housing becomes the most critical long-term need. Not everyone gets housing. Those that show up with a live raccoon on their shoulder probably have a long long long long long grind ahead.

Then again, we all do.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • JoeDaddy November 28, 2018, 3:17 AM

    The chemtrailing never stops….and it had a hand in the mess.

  • David November 28, 2018, 6:16 AM

    Excellent Gerald, thank you. Keep as well as possible.

  • David November 28, 2018, 6:19 AM

    Gerard, please excuse my typo.

  • Terry November 28, 2018, 7:59 AM

    Wondering. Was it the man or the racoon who was going to use the can. I have a story about the FEMA clown show from a flood in Nevada. Best left for a later date.

  • John Condon November 28, 2018, 8:05 AM

    “Welcome to “The Grind.”

    The price for peace is boredom. The day-in/day-out of putting food on the table and maintaining the creature comforts acquired is incredibly boring.


    The World War II vets seemed immune to this unbearable monotony of sameness, but they experienced a kind of terror and horror that most of us living in the US have not experienced.

    So how does one deal with The Grind and not completely lose their minds?

    Seperate completely that which is in the category of work and that which is in the category of play so that when you are ‘peeling the potatoes’ of life you know it is work (Focus on the goal, and keep it steady) and when you are playing you know you are playing and follow the far off sounding pipes of your muse.

    “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” ~ Cicero

  • bluebird November 28, 2018, 8:45 AM

    38 years ago I returned from taking my two young girls to see the Ringling Circus in Spokane and walked up to the hot pile of coal and ash that had been our little two story cabin north of Priest River. The Grind got intense. All we had was in the car and pickup. but we were alive and our animals and barn survived. Local friends and family and the Red Cross helped us back on our feet with the essentials of life in the mountains, all given freely. Spent the winter with friends across the creek and built a new home the next summer. It still stands unfinished above the creek, abandoned within the year due to a failing marriage. I still visit every year or two to consult with my forester and I can still see that hot pile as clearly as I did that day so long ago. As Coach Lombardi said, it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down as long as you keep getting up. You have your family, your friends and your life. You will be fine my friend, just keep getting up. Via Con Dios!

  • David Spence November 28, 2018, 9:46 AM

    Not really a grind-it seems to me more like torture for you to be able to see through it all and not liking the view.
    I saw it here in coastal NC on a much, much smaller scale with Hurricane Florence. Simply having power out for a week here exposed many of my “community-minded” neighbors as selfish, paranoid scoundrels. At least I now know that when the SHTF, who it is I can count on.
    Faith, family and tried-and-true friends are really all we have despite what we would like to believe. Your faith and your tribe will keep you as safe and sane as possible.

  • theduchessofkitty November 28, 2018, 9:54 AM

    A man with a live raccoon on his shoulder… Are you sure this was not Gravity Falls?

    (My kids watch this cartoon. Weird stuff. Conspiracy-weird stuff.)

  • Dawn-Michelle November 28, 2018, 12:13 PM

    I just wanted to let you know that I heard that Eli Grove Ford is offering vehicles with the employee discount to people who lost their autos to the Camp Fire. It’s the lowest price available. I just wanted to pass it along.

  • ghostsniper November 28, 2018, 1:12 PM

    coon’z gotta squirt n skweez too ya know
    hey buddy, can ya spare a square?

  • Webutante November 28, 2018, 4:23 PM

    Gerard, don’t want to interrupt the focus and flow here, but I’ve been thinking for a while that you should join a class action law suit against the state of California and the Department of Agriculture (Forestry) for the complete mismanagement of these big public forests.

    Back in 1988, I nearly lost my cabin in the great Yellowstone fires—and would have had fire fighters from all over the country not dropped napalm bombs to hold the fire lines and create a back burn which miraculously worked as a last ditch effort. Even back then everyone was talking about how the federal government was mismanaging the forests by letting too much fuel build up and not taking enough dead and dying timber out because of radical environmentalists.

    This has got to stop. So I hope some deep pocketed conservatives will file such a suit and people like you will join it.j There’s no question you all have a strong case.

    These public lands should be multiple use and there’s nothing wrong with timber companies cutting some of these big stands.

  • Gun Bangly November 28, 2018, 5:19 PM

    Keep writing. Short Attention Span Theatre is playing on our local TV in Stockton/Sacramento.

  • Richard G. November 28, 2018, 6:48 PM

    Gerard, this cataclysm strikes to close to home and heart. It takes me back to wandering and sifting through the ashes and memories of my parents home of 43 years , my childhood home, lost in the conflagration of the Berkeley/ Oakland Hills Tunnel Fire. It knocks the wind out when you see the still smoking ruins. It send the elderly reeling. It sends the young and hearty reeling.

    The Muse visited today and left this acrostic message for you.

    Phoenix Rising
    Gone are the corporeal shapes of memory
    Echoing through the ashes of disembodied things
    Raw emotions, jangled dissonance, shocking finality
    Anguished losses surrounding each epicentric point of memory
    Random kindness blunts the blows humanity suffers
    Deconstructed things give rise to rebirthed spirits.

  • Hangtown Bob November 29, 2018, 7:16 AM

    These photos remind me of the hundreds of photos of “missing” individuals that were posted all around New York City after 9-11.

    I suspect that you might have posted some of them on the early days of American Digest.

  • Vanderleun November 30, 2018, 9:30 AM

    You’re right Bob. May have to do it again.

  • Snakepit Kansas November 30, 2019, 7:30 AM

    Last night my wife and I watched a documentary on Netflix about the Camp Fire at Paradise. Forgive me Vanderleun, but even after all you have written, some of that video footage told a story that words cannot. The long line of cars in a traffic jam trying to leave the area and the sheriff drives by and tells everyone to get out of their cars and make way on foot. Pure terror. Video of people who had burned to death while in their cars.