You get word that the storm’s coming. You’ve heard the warnings before, though. Evacuate. Stock up on supplies if you intend to stay. If you choose to stay, nobody will be able to help you. That’s all old news. You won’t turn a blind eye to the warnings, but you’re not going to go into panic mode because you’ve been through this before and you know nothing ever happens. You buy a few gallons of water, some batteries for a flashlight the whereabouts of which is unknown, and a few cans of peas. Peas seem like they’d be a smart food to eat in the face of the apocalypse that’s heading your way but won’t arrive because none of the other ones have.
Two days later and you really know the meaning of the s**t hitting the fan.
It’s hot and humid. The smell is a combination of sewage, rotting meat, fetid water and a chemical odor you can’t quite place. You’re on the roof of your house, afraid that if the water gets any higher you’ll have to hit the chimney, and you’re not sure it will hold your weight. You think about making a swim for safety, making your way into the city proper where you can see columns of smoke rising into the sky, but that water looks deadly. It’s got … stuff … floating in it. Black, oily shapes, as if it were the embryonic fluid of some Lovecraft creation. You’ve seen one alligator and at least two human bodies, both bloated beyond recognition. You’re not swimming through that because help will come. You’ve heard helicopters, but haven’t seen any. No. You’ll wait. Help will come.
Sometime later (you don’t know how many days at this point because you’re hungry and the fumes are overwhelming — the days have all run together), you get a gift from God. A small rowboat smacks up against the side of your roof. There’s a man in an awkward position at the bottom of the vessel. You look closer and see the hole in the back of his head. You had been hearing the distant sound of gun shots since the storm stopped. This guy appears to have been on the bad end of a bullet. No matter. You are hungry. You are scared. You’ll never take an evacuation warning so lightly again … assuming you make it out this time.
You get in the boat and use the one oar that’s left to steer toward the city. You remember hearing something ages ago about the Superdome being part of New Orleans’ gathering point in case of some major f**k up like this hurricane. That’s where you’re going.
At some point the water level gets so low that you can no longer ride in the boat. You climb out, legs shaky as your feet disappear into the murky filth to touch hidden pavement below. There’s a cop car on dry land ahead of you with two uniformed men sitting in it. They see you, casually get out of their patrol vehicle, and make their way toward you. You hope they don’t accuse you of murdering the man in the boat, and you want to say you’re innocent, but you take a few steps out of the water and fall down instead.
A strong, slightly pudgy hand reaches down to you. Your eyes are playing tricks on you. Could it be? No. You’re hallucinating because of fumes and hunger. It can’t be.
“I’m here to help,” the cop says. “I’m Steven Seagal.”
Suddenly, your roof seems to be the safest place on the planet …
Celebrity Watchdog George Anthony Watson handed me the stack of photocopied pages. “I think you can get a column out of this,” he said.
I looked down at the paper. The cover of the June 2006 issue of “Vanity Fair” with Anderson Cooper on it stared back at me. Watson had photocopied an excerpt of the CNN reporter’s memoir that ran in the magazine, and he highlighted a few paragraphs dealing with the celebrity sightings in the aftermath of Katrina. (It seems that alligators, vultures and rats aren’t the only ones who love to gnaw on the dead.)
Dr. Phil. Kirstie Alley and John Travolta (though no sign of a baby with Bruce Willis’ voice). Steven Seagal. That’s the one who caught Cooper’s attention.
“I saw him late one night dressed in a cop uniform,” Cooper wrote, “out on patrol with some deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. He’s been going out with their SWAT team.” Cooper and the “star” chatted and then Seagal left, but not before putting “his palms together in front of his face” and bowing briefly. That’s so Seagal.
A cop tells Cooper that Seagal is “tight with the sheriff in Jefferson.” He informs Cooper of a bar where “a lot of cops hang out.” It seems that a few years ago Seagal came into the bar with some of the cops and put an eight-by-ten framed photo of himself on the wall. “As soon as he left,” the cop explains, “a couple of us took out our pistols and shot it. Blew the f*****g thing off the wall. One bullet actually went right through and hit a car rental place next door.” Knowing what I know of Seagal, his actions don’t surprise me. Based on my experiences with the New Orleans police (and not a single one of those experiences being good), some of them opening fire in a bar also doesn’t surprise me. (And for the record, neither did their looting and failure to show up to protect the public they were sworn to serve.)
I’ve seen accounts of other celebrities showing up after Katrina took the piss out of the Big Easy. Richard Simmons’ appearance was especially touching. Nothing says you sympathize more than short shorts and a black tank top with some sequined design on it. Steven Seagal, however, really takes the cake. He’s a guy known for playing characters whose business is kicking a*s. He was once the next big thing in action movies, but then they lost popularity. He found some weird, iffy spiritual stuff, however, and started associating with weird, iffy criminals, and his life became a joke. The punchline of this joke was his 2005 album titled “Songs From the Crystal Cave.” A hurricane destroys a city, and he appears on the scene playing dress up. It all makes some kind of sick sense.
I can picture him arriving in town, driving his own SUV, which needed a tune up about eight thousand miles ago. New Age music is playing quietly on the stereo, and the vehicle’s interior smells of crappy cologne and odd herbs that he has placed in small pouches around the back seat to “cleanse the energy.” He stops the vehicle, gets out and looks around at the damage, his eyes doing that squinty Seagal thing.
“I can fix this. I’m Steven Seagal. Brother Buddha give me your strength. I’m going to save these poor bastards.”
And then, New Orleans cops give him a f*****g uniform and take him on patrol. I bet they even had him “keep an eye out for our fellow cops who may need us” as they looted ATMs.
Anderson Cooper is no saint. He got big because he shed a few tears and seemed pissed about what was happening. Guess what? Everyone was pissed about it. Not all of us were as surprised as Cooper, however, at the government’s lack of finesse in dealing with the situation. After all, these were mainly poor people … and black. If Cooper really expected the government to hop in and save these suckers, well he’s been watching too much of his own network’s news. And while he is no saint, he’s also no Seagal. At least you can believe Cooper had good intentions and not ratings in mind when he went to New Orleans. Seagal? I believe his intentions were good, but in a Seagal as a messiah way.
Does Seagal sit in his Crystal Cave waiting for disasters to strike? Did he start this mad-on for destruction after seeing the space shuttle blow up and thinking he could have saved them if he “had just been there”? Does he monitor police scanners and watch secret web cams he has hidden all over various cities? Does he have some kind of signal watch he’s given out to police departments across the land? (“Just press five, and I’ll be there right after prayer.”) Does Seagal believe he is Superman with a pony tail?
Maybe not, but people let him believe he was a cop. Can you picture anything scarier than that? (Okay, maybe a shirtless Sean Penn, smelling of sweat and feces, showing up in your house to pull you to safety.) When I first saw celebrities at the disaster sight, I wondered what it was that made them feel like they had to get their feet wet. After learning that Seagal showed up, the answer to my question became clear.
As a star, you would have to show up to a disaster if Seagal made an appearance. You can’t have survivors and media saying, “Actor Steven Seagal seems to be the only celebrity who cares.” How bad does that make you look? Of course, people like Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks don’t have to show up. They don’t really have to do anything. But if Seagal is there helping out, Kirstie Alley damn well better get her a*s in gear because people will be asking questions otherwise. I mean, even Oprah’s old lapdog showed up. The power of Seagal compels you! The power of Seagal compels you!
As I write the first draft of this, hurricane season is just starting up again. News crews are out in full force covering all the Southern states. Seagal, in his cave, is hunched over three laptops while casting glances at eight different televisions tuned to news from around the world. He is ready, his SUV “cleansed,” his New Orleans badge shined and ready to roll. Incense smoke curls around his inquisitive face as he cracks his knuckles in an advance warning to Mother Nature. He is Seagal. There is no problem too big, or natural disaster too … disastrous … for him to solve.
Action hero. The most spiritual man to come out of Lansing, Michigan. Wanna-be cop. Fighter of nature. Seagal. It makes me wonder one thing: After all the people of New Orleans suffered through, why would the good lord, who is obviously a comedian, saddle them with that of all things?
The real answer is not with God, but with Seagal’s Forrest Taft character from “On Deadly Ground.” “For 350,000 dollars,” he says, “I’d f**k anything once.” There you go. He’s a Messiah-complex w***e for money … and attention.
Folks, if you see him at your next natural disaster, cover your a*s and run the other way. The last thing you want is to be on the receiving end of that screw. And for those of you in New Orleans — get out the next time. Not because you’ll lose your house or possibly even your life, but because you don’t want Seagal showing up on your lawn with a gun and a badge.
If you thought Katrina was bad, just image that.