Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Sitting here in Limbo (Slight Return)
It's hard not to say my wife came home, but I know that my home is again in New Orleans, in the house my wife will return to Monday and prepare for the unpacking and our arrival
She has become one with the post-K lifestyle--living at Lowes on Elysian Fields, trundling off to the post office to try to convince them to deliver her mail, chasing down a carpenter who will make our double a single..
She also has one thing that she finds lacking in many New Orleanians now: anger. At the government (all of them), at the post office, and the Sewerage & Water Board. Everyone, she says, must be on meds or they would all be raving in the street. It's not just the Deep South-meets-the Carribean lifestyle. It is the half-million people, about a quarter of whom live in or around New Orleans still, who are in deep post-traumatic stress disorder, either too shell-shocked or medicated to be as angry as they should be.
If the federal government doesn't step completely up to the plate and help us, the entire population would become the largest population of homeless and destitute people suffering PTSD we've seen since the end of the Vietnam War, itself a debacle of government mis- and malfeasence that left behind tens of thousands of its citizens the traumatized forgotten, and a landscape where one can after decades still uncovers the remains of the dead.
The only think we're lacking in this analogy is old land mines, but there are plenty of potholes in NOLA that could take out an unarmored HumVee and all its occupants if you hit it at speed.
While my wife was in Fargo we talked not about whether crime would return, but about the suicides, and the murder/suicides. As an H.R. professional with some training in post-trauma counseling, she wonders when will people start to lose it, to "go postal". We spoke about the hidden death toll: not just the unreported missing, but all of those who are dying after the storm, especially the elderly. The stress of dislocation and disaster has shortened what should have been their retirement years. We talked about how clear it is that for virtually everyone in the city not a contractor, We Are Not Ok, and that most of America has no clue just how bad things remain.
And that makes her angry, as angry as I've been in these postings.
She's one of the lucky ones. Like people in the Island uptown, she didn't lose everything to the Flood. She arrived in town in January, as power returned and the city began to move from the Nagasaki stage into the plain old disaster scene phase of life some are calling Debrisville. We have a house that took no water, a line on a carpenter to cut a walkway between the sides of our new shotgun double, new counter tops in the garage in Fargo the movers will deliver for them to install. The children, our biggest worry, seem taken care of. My daughter has been accepted to Ben Franklin and NOCCA, my son to Lusher.
If I try to tell my wife she's in the gravy in the best joint on easy street, I'm liable to require emergency room care, which is not something you want to go looking for in NOLA right now. But truly, she is among the luckiest in the city.
There are so many challenges facing us, facing the city. Sunday's Picayune discusses the mayoral hopefuls plans for the city's finances, including bankruptcy; how small business that are trying to return will likely fail without direct grants of assistance from the government. There's no news from Washington, where Congress has adjourned for the Passover/Easter break. There might be more money for Community Development Block Grants, and for levee armoring. Or not. We'll find out in May, we're told. The money, if it's coming, likely won't arrive until Fall.
Before I could post this, Tuesday rolled around and New Orleans Metroblogger Craig Ciesecke talks about the travails of small business in the city, and the Second Wind movement to try to get grants in aid to keep local small business alive. He worries (as many do) that the small businesses that are a linchpin of the local economy will not survive the summer, and end up being replaced by generic big box realtailers. Truth is, the big retailers aren't rushing back. The only stores open in Riverwalk are local stores. The big national chains base their decisions on traffic counts, and the counts aren't there. The real danger isn't Gap on Jackson Square--it's having to shop in Baton Rouge.
The biggest news story is the government's plan to abandon effectively east Plaquemines. If they start basing storm protection on population density, we're all going to be eating a lot more South American farm-raised crawfish and canned Korean oysters. It just wouldn't be the same town if the best seafood in town comes out of a freezer at Bubba Gump's.
Everyone talks about the need for money and help and how they're just holding on, but there's only so much the people in the street (literally for the trailer townies), there is only so much they can do. For now, everyone is sitting in limbo, taking their meds, and thinking about (or trying not to think about) the start of hurricane season on June 1, the day I hope to arrive home.
In an earlier posting from the end of December, I found some inspiration in the remembered sound of Jimmy Cliff signing "Sitting Here in Limbo", and from the closing title song of the same movie, "You Can Make It If You Really Want."
"I think we can make it" says the first song by Allen Toussaint on the Our New Orleans CD. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be coming. Those of us who are returning, or who lived on the sliver by the river and haven't lost everything, we have to take a lead in making things happen. People who struggle through days at work and nights working on still-ruined homes, who sleep in tiny trailers by night, washing down Xanax with beer, these folks aren't going to be able to do it alone.
If your a survivor or an ex-pat and you know you're not coming home, that's OK, or at least its not cause for people to judge you. Everyone needs to get on with their lives as best they can, and for some people that will mean somewhere else. I left myself almost 20 years ago for reasons of my own, because at the time it was the best choice, for all the pain it caused me.
Don't let anyone tell you that you have abandoned New Orleans. We know you haven't. All we ask is that you do everything you can to help: to bend the ears of your new neighbors and co-workers and make sure they know We Are Not Ok, that it's all about the negligence of the Corps. We need you to Flood Washington and harass your new congress critters to insist on compensation, protection and restoration.
All of us who can count ourselves in some way lucky have a special obligation, a species of noblesse oblige. We must take the lead to fight for those who are just barely making it, who are sitting her in limbo.
Katrina NOLA New Orleans Hurricane Katrina Think New Orleans Louisiana FEMA leveesflooding Corps of Engineers We Are Not OK
If people simply stew in unrelieved anger, then they will explode. I don't to see people falling down on the street cluctching their chests left and right, or have people stalk into the Entergy office with an assault rifle.
Somewhere between ennui and eruption, there must be a constructive sense of outrage at all levels of governent, and to some extent at ourselves.
a) people just want to go back to the same ol', things as usual past to which they are accustomed. Things aren't the same, though, and this is the time to vent that passionate frustration into fighting for a better city. This I cannot abide.
b) I think a lot of us are simply happy to be back home and looking forward to the time we get to spend in this city before next hurricane season rolls in. This I understand because that's how I keep going.
No matter how lackadaisical things seem in this city and you just want to smack some collective sense into it, my heart breaks in the love I feel when I simply look out the window at the beauty of the Mississippi curving into the distance.
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie LordeAny copyrighted material presented here is done so for the purposes of news reporting and comment consistent with USC 17 Chapter 1 Title 107.