I’ve been feeling funky, and not in a good way, since the Katrina disaster.
It’s none of my business, really. We all have our disasters to cope with – hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, suicide attacks, not to mention our personal tragedies. Most of the time we are simply aware that shit happens, and we grieve, we deal, we move on. That’s what I do.
But there are facets of this particular mess that linger and sting past the usual spoil date, and as I go through my daily motions I have this nagging heaviness that makes everything seem off, somehow. I am too scattered to make a lot of sense of my feelings. I don’t get paid to make sense. So here’s a list of thoughts:
- A beautiful, atmospheric, historic city has been so heavily damaged that the pain has shot through our entire national nervous system, jolting even the jaded Californian, the preoccupied New Yorker and the usually sanguine midwesterner. I have not wanted to say this in public, but for therapeutic reasons I think I have to: I believe that New Orleans can never be the same. Something will be rebuilt there, for political and economic reasons, and feisty residents as well as outsiders will give it a go, but it won’t be the city of my dreams, the one I never got to see in person.
- The administration that scared the shit out of everybody and then sold itself as the only possible protector of America in the event of another huge disaster seems to be exactly as unprepared for Katrina as it was for the attacks of September 11, 2001, even though this time they were warned days in advance. Four years later they still can’t read the signs, they still have no coordinated plan, rescue personnel are still talking on different radio frequencies (that is, they are not talking to each other), and the best they can muster is a lame duck figurehead with nothing to lose “taking responsibility.”
- Twenty-eight percent of the population of New Orleans was living below the poverty line, a line the right wing cannot lower fast enough to keep people above it. Yeah, they were mostly black, but black or white, they have had to leave. I’m a middle-class guy, and I figure I could hold out maybe three months in another city before I would have to restart my life. New Orleans won’t be ready for a year, which is about 51 weeks longer than those lower-income folks can afford to wait. They will make homes and lives wherever they happen to be, and they will never return. On so many levels, that will kill the spirit of the city.
- Forgive me for focusing on New Orleans. It’s just that the city is the icon, not the Gulf coast. I am aware that this tragedy extends for many miles along that coast, and that only compounds my depression.
- Are we all criminals? People were stealing televisions.
- Wherever you go in this country, for all of our self-satisfied posturing, the black people are the poor people. But don’t worry: Soon the whackjob Right will control all the branches of government, and they will begin to create a whole bunch of poor white people, too, a new world order in which 85% of us live in poverty, 14% are unthinkably rich and one percent are untouchable.
- And speaking of controlling the entire government, could John Roberts please answer one question about how he intends to act when he is the fucking Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court for life? Any question, instead of this mannered dance he is doing with the Judiciary Committee. Based on what he has told us so far, I wouldn’t hire him to flip burgers. And yet he is a lock to be put in charge of the Court until your childrens’ 20th high school reunion. He will have no boss, he will answer to no one, and he can’t be removed except by impeachment, and yeah, that’s going to happen. For those not paying attention, he seems to want to reverse abortion rights, the Endangered Species Act, protection against the government taking your property and giving it to a corporation. He thought it was funny when he worked for the Reagan Administartion to call undocumented aliens “illegal amigos.” If anyone doubts whose pocket he is in, consider this: He was in secret meetings with the White House this summer about being nominated to the Supreme Court at the same time he was sitting in judgment on a case that named George W. Bush as a defendant, and he failed to disclose this or recuse himself.
- All the politicians touched by Katrina are acting like, well, politicians. They are all taking full blame except for the things they can’t be blamed for, which turns out to be everything. So they can’t be blamed for anything. How dare they try to score points with something like this? Is there no end to their venality? Even the new FEMA guy, despite his decades of emergency management experience, has turned into a brown-nosing toady overnight, cuddling up to the President on his recent tour of the disaster.
- Hospital patients and old people in a nursing home died because they weren’t evacuated. Hey Doc: First, do no harm, remember?
I don’t know if this is all out of my system yet. I hope it is. I want to move on. Life is precious, and so damned short. If you clicked on the “play” button at the top of this (and if your computer is capable), you’ve been listening to Paul Simon’s “Take Me to the Mardi Gras:”
Câ€™mon take me to the mardi gras
Where the people sing and play
Where the dancing is elite
And thereâ€™s music in the street
Both night and day
Hurry take me to the mardi gras
In the city of my dreams
You can legalize your lows
You can wear your summer clothes
In New Orleans
And I will lay my burden down
Rest my head upon that shore
And when I wear that starry crown
I wonâ€™t be wanting anymore
Take your burdens to the mardi gras
Let the music wash your soul
You can mingle in the street
You can jingle to the beat of the jelly roll
As always, my heart beats only for you, the things we have lost, and those we still seek.