Since Hurricane Katrina, no other writer has tapped into the emotions of storm-weary Louisianans like Rose. His first post-hurricane column, "Who We Are," introduced the rest of the world to displaced south Louisiana residents with a mix of sincerity, humor and gratitude that resonated so deeply it sparked more than 3,000 e-mails to Rose.
And the avalanche of reader response hasn't slowed down. As a result of the 50-plus columns he's written since Aug. 29, Rose has received more than 10,000 e-mails from around the world. "It's uncomfortable for me to talk about, because I entered a realm I did not seek," Rose says via cell phone while taking a break from painting his house in New Orleans. "In the early days [after the hurricane], I just got on my bike and started riding around Uptown through the Garden district, the French Quarter and [Faubourg] Marigny, and I fell into this surrealistic chronicle. And everybody here had a story. I just sort of became the emotional flashpoint for everyone's stories. There's the sensory overload of it and then the emotional fallout of this thing."
For longtime readers of The Times-Picayune, reading Rose's recent work is akin to witnessing a remarkable artistic transformation. In the last decade, Rose had settled into a comfortable groove as the paper's gossip/entertainment columnist. He covered Britney Spears relentlessly, interviewed visiting celebrities in a "Sixty-Second Interview" format, and chronicled the boom of Hollywood films using New Orleans as a prime shooting location. His columns were mostly light, with plenty of one-liners, and whenever a superstar like Jamie Foxx got into trouble while carousing in the Crescent City, Rose provided all the tabloid details.
But Rose was part of a remarkable team of Times-Picayune reporters who provided some of the most important and compelling journalism in the wake of the hurricane. As Editor Jim Amoss temporarily moved the paper's base of operations to Houma and Baton Rouge in the immediate wake of the storm, Rose huddled in New Orleans with an unlikely group of colleagues that included New Orleans Saints beat writer Jeff Duncan, art critic Doug MacCash, music writer Keith Spera and restaurant critic Brett Anderson to provide a ground-level view of the chaos in the city. That exhausted crew of sports and arts-and-entertainment writers helped catalog some of the horrors at sites like the Convention Center and Lakeview.
When the immediate danger subsided, Rose was left to ponder the emotional blackness that filled so much of New Orleans. And he did it alone, as his wife and three children had evacuated to Maryland. In one stretch, he wrote a number of columns that painfully captured the psyche of the city with searing details. "The Storm that Keeps on Killing" detailed the suicide of a new neighbor he'd just met a few weeks before the man killed himself; "1 Dead in Attic" was a harrowing travelogue of sorts that found Rose driving through the Ninth Ward, unable to escape the questions and images that plagued his mind when he saw FEMA markings such as "1 Dead in Attic" on houses.
"As time went on, I became a little unglued there," remembers Rose. "That dark stretch there, I started getting e-mails from strangers asking, 'Are you OK?' I just hit an emotional note over and over and over. People were reading about levees and looting and reconstruction and FEMA, and in the end a lot of them seemed to be getting a visceral feel for what's going on in my columns. The whole process gave me a deep and profound understanding and respect for mental illnesses. I spent a lot of November and December with shaking hands and curled into a fetal position. I couldn't will myself out of it. When my kids came back [to New Orleans], I got cured. I needed to have something to hang onto.
"What kept me going is the response from the stories," he continues. "The stories were getting out there, not only here in town, and I felt like I was part of the lifeline for folks out of town. Those e-mails make me feel like I'm doing something important."
As numerous Louisiana political and editorial writers experienced a renewed sense of civic engagement and took on politicians and politics-as-usual with fury and emotion, Rose also headed into new personal and professional territory. In another one of his memorable columns, "Lurch Lessons," he described an unexpected confrontation in a drugstore parking lot:
"I was at my local Circle K the other day, sitting in my car in a borderline catatonic state when I witnessed a guy in a truck in the parking lot wadding up a ball of trash and throwing it out his window," he wrote. "I have silently witnessed this sight a million times over the past 20 years. On Broad Street, on Magazine Street, in the French Quarter, everywhere. It's almost like litter is a part of our heritage.
"Well, I snapped. I got out of my car and approached the offending vehicle and I tapped on the guy's window. During my walk to said vehicle, a very loud voice inside my head said to me: Don't do this. You are not well. It's none of your business. But there are lots of voices in my head these days â?¦
"We looked at each other. And then I said ' or maybe I screamed: 'You can't do this anymore!' â?¦ The guy was frozen in his seat. He was no doubt wishing he had gone to Winn-Dixie or the Stop-and-Go or anyplace else but this Circle K. But here we were. I laid it out on this poor sap. I said, 'We've got to change. We can't go back to the way we were and the way we were was people just throwing crap in the streets like it doesn't matter. We need to do better. We need to change.' â?¦
"There is no lesson here," wrote Rose. "No moral. Other than we have to erase all the bad things we used to do around here ' big and small ' if we want to survive. We need to be civil. We need to be clean. We need to change. We need to respect ourselves and our city."
While Rose half-jokes that he "got a little preachy there for a while" in some of his columns, he knows that old journalism models won't cut it in post-Katrina New Orleans. "This whole thing has tossed out the notion of objective journalism," he says. "We're fighting for the survival of our jobs and our city."
As New Orleans and Louisiana tries to keep that message alive in Washington, D.C., Rose will help beat the drum with the release of his new book, 1 Dead in Attic, a collection of his finest post-Katrina columns. The first printing of the book is 7,500 copies and will be available at Rose's Web site (www.chrisrosebooks.com) and his book signings. "There have already have been [Katrina] books, but I think what I've got here is something others don't, which is immediacy," he says. "It wasn't ruminated over. I went out, did it, and wrote it. It has an emotional edge that no one else is going to capture and I thought it was a worthy literary component to this whole ordeal. Historically, it tells a small story, but it's emotional, and I think people want to have and remember that."
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Black Friday shopping begins; Pope visiting Turkey; oil prices decline and more national and international news for Friday, November 28, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Casual cool for Thanksgiving
Shop Lafayette goes strong
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
A divided 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a Lafayette district judge’s ruling absolving the co-owner of a New Iberia accounting firm of liability in an embezzlement case.
Our View: It’s reasonable, temporary and invests in Lafayette’s future.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
Three bedroom in Port Barre or two bedroom in Opelousas
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
“I am only getting a little nervous about two projects — the proposed Sasol GTL facility [not the new ethylene plant] and the proposed G2X facility — both in Lake Charles. They need a hefty difference between oil and natural gas prices to make sense.”
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Lower oil prices also might slow the growth of oil production in parts of the U.S., Canada and elsewhere because it will no longer be so profitable.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
A Lafayette woman faces up to 20 years in prison for running up more than $1 million in unauthorized charges to her company credit card.
Signs that our state’s banking industry is undergoing a downsizing in 2014 were further confirmed today with the FDIC’s latest figures showing a third straight quarter in which Louisiana lost more banks and earned less money.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
State police say a 47-year-old Lafayette man, who collected more than $83,000 in disability benefits, is accused of operating two businesses out of his home at a time when he claimed he had no income.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.