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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, September 02, 2005

I have been trying to think about what to say about New Orleans. Been there once, fell in love with it, knew I was going to. One of the great American Cities-- one of the Great Places In the World. Not a city where I could ever live-- I'd have lasted maybe five years, and you'd have buried me in a piano box, so it was never one of those places-- like Tokyo, or San Francisco, or Rotterdam, or Helsinki where I could have ever imagined myself living-- New Orleans has always been a place I wanted to be able to go to.

One thing that we can say about what has happened is that it sure as hell has flushed out the poverty that we take for granted in America. Man, you can't tell me that NOLA had more poor folk than anybody else, and now we see them all, more than anybody nearby has any reasonable expectation of absorbing. How's this for a metric? For a long time my office had season tickets to the Bills. The stadium the Bills play in holds 73,800 more or less. I have been there, fair weather and Buffalo weather and I am here to tell you that when the game is over, I want out of there so bad, words fail me. The poor bastards in the Superdome-- I cannot imagine. And those are the ones that had it good. My friends, every soul in New Orleans when the storm hit was someone who had no other place to go-- no other option-- nothing. There are people who have been displaced- a lot of people who are people like me-- but the people that nobody noticed until now-- and maybe still are noticing, except to the extent that they are cadavers, or filling the Astrodome-- are remarkable to me because they have been there all along. "With us always," is what the guy in the Big Black Book said-- now we throw them the change from our quick purchase of pretzels and Ben'n'Jerry's, but they've been there all along, the poor folk, and our spare change wouldn't have been enough then, and it isn't going to get it done now.

With us always. I hate most of what the Big Black Book has to say, but that part has always meant something to me. Mr. Christ was, I think, saying that the problem of poverty, and the obligation of charity, are ongoing conditions, and that there are no solutions to the one, or end to the other. I shake my head and wonder, sometimes, how I can get that out of the book that is full of so many things that I reject, while the people who profess to belief the same cartoon as an article of profound principle can somehow believe that saying "We are praying for you," counts as anything other than insulting. Pray for the poor bastards before the hurricane washes out their Chevy Novas, bastards! Better yet, do something so that the best option they have in life is better than joining the military to go fight in a pointless war.

I look over at the list of sites that I have blogrolled as places I regularly visit, and I am almost surprised at how many are New Orleans-connected, but then I am not. Why wouldn't that be a defining quality of the people I regularly want to hear from? People who are sensualists, people who value what a morsel of food means, or a dram, or a sincere word? In a way that I don't think a lot of Southerners understood, New Orleans was the capital of the South-- the way that Paris will always be the capital of France, or, maybe, New York the capital of the US. My America, anyway, and, I think the America that the rest of the world believes in. Not George Bush's America-- he hates my America.

Maybe it is just my US-- the United States that George Bush hates. New York, New Orleans-- we might make Boston the capitol. Welcome Philly! Well, hey! C'mon in Vermont! Connecticut, hiya!-- you didn't bring that putz, Lieberman, did you?

As I made my purchases last night at the convenience store around the corner from my house a guy was cashing in some bottles. Maybe it was just a look he likes, but he looked to me like the kind of guy we've been seeing in pictures pulling a float of everything he owns behind him-- and for sure he looked like the kind of guy that they are going to be finding washed up under stuff down in NOLA. I live in a nice neighborhood, but guys like this are not an uncommon sight, if you can see them. For just a moment we are seeing the guys like this-- the invisible people-- who occupied New Orleans. What do you think we are going to make of that?

Yeah, me too.

Something that I think may distiguish the US from a lot of other places is that our poor people occassionaly get it into their heads that they have the same rights as everyone else. Of course, as is well known, neither rich nor poor may sleep under the bridges of Paris, but from time to time a citizen has wandered into the citidal of our office nad talked us into tilting at City Hall. You'd think that we'd learn, but stare decisis is a poor argument when you are confronted with the genuine logic of poverty. I wish the argument worked as well with judges as it does with us, but at least it has given us the advantage of seeing the world as it exists. I doubt that most of the people who are watching the aftermath of this disaster are seeing what I'm seeing, and I envy them.

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