On July 9, nearly one year later and well into Hurricane Season, FEMA was advertising in the New Orleans newspaper for the following jobs: Chief of Staff, Finance Director, and Emergency Management Specialist! I have to say this again because I still can't believe it: FEMA, our national disaster-relief agency is advertising, let me repeat, for a Chief of Staff, Finance Director, and Emergency Management Specialist! At this point, I think that those jobs could be filled by any three people passing by on the street with go-cups. It wouldn't take but a few minutes to train anybody in New Orleans for those FEMA jobs. The Chief of Staff parks on high ground and goes golfing, the Finance Director steals all the money and hands it to his friends, and the Emergency Management Specialist tells everybody to scram.
The Commander-in-Chief, whose brain is on slo-mo, has evolved meanwhile from a fly-over disaster observer to a profligate dispenser of cash hurled at incompetent local officials, and intended to shut up his critics. The only thing wrong with the vast billions of dollars that are supposedly heading our way is that they are actually being handed out in the form of checks instead of being thrown down from helicopters so that the groveling masses can wrestle for them like a proper Mardi Gras crowd. Hurling cash into the streets would, in fact, be a much more equitable way of dispensing the treasure than handing it over to people like Congressman Bill Jefferson or Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt or Eddie Sapir or officials at NORD or a mayor who should have been run out of town with a fool's cap on his head instead of being re-elected.
The inhabitants of New Orleans, who were foolish enough to come back to the city after being screwed in myriad ways by their local, state, and federal government, have now taken refuge in mental illness while continuing to be screwed in more and more imaginative ways. Many are the people I hear talking to themselves without cell phones these days. I hear people praying out loud for Huey Long, Roosevelt, or even Stalin and Mussolini, to give us some leadership. I see people staring at their feet and saying, "Marshall Plan!" or people deeply immersed in their third drink and second Xanax, speaking in tongues. One guy said, "What's the big deal about Jefferson? I have $90,000 in my freezer, too! And I'm giving away cars donated to the city to all my friends, too, just like Gill Pratt! What the hell is the city anyway? My friends, that's who!"
In all fairness, New Orleans is making progress in one area: artistic material. Never have there been so many rich and rewarding metaphors taking place in order to provide artists with absurdities. FEMA (yes, the same people) threatens to take away Voodoo 1 and Voodoo 2, the fire-fighting helicopters the agency rented to the city. We are now in the middle of a drought with arson fires raging, low water pressure due to busted mains and our choppers are about to be yanked by our National Disaster Relief Agency. The question is: were Voodoo 1 and Voodoo 2 these choppers' birth names? I don't see them going over big in Richmond, Va., let's say, after being yanked from New Orleans.
One fire that either Voodoo 1 or Voodoo 2 never got to destroyed a local motel. The hostelry went up in a blaze because, according to the motel manager, a romantic rendezvous went awry. A woman prepared the love-nest by lighting candles and draping a pretty covering over a lamp in expectation of her lover's release from jail. It is unclear whether the lovers were able to consummate any of their precious reunion before the flames consumed the establishment, but they were the first to vanish. Happily, all the residents were able to flee their rooms and escape unharmed. What a lovely metaphor for your poet/social observer! The motel was the City of New Orleans. The lovers were FEMA and Louisiana. The motel manager was George W. Bush. The people who escaped were us. Or whatever. You can change the elements to suit your own fable.
Meanwhile, other facts belie the madness of crowds. Real estate all over New Orleans is selling for more than it fetched before the storm. In the French Quarter, sales prices are up 86 percent. Either carpetbaggers are swarming all over the city armed with the motto "When blood runs in the streets, buy property," from Spike Lee's movie Inside Man, or somebody's using statistics to make up reality. Stats are funny: a small number of sales can make it seem like it's a riot, when it might just be three guys playing a shell-game. Whatever it is, I find it hard to believe that in a city owned by liars and thieves, with every business about to fail, without a health-care infrastructure, lacking a skilled work force, two thirds destroyed, with less than half the population back from exile, some people (aliens?) are rushing to buy Creole cottages and antebellum mansions at three times what they were worth before Katrina showed us who we really are.
And one more note to FEMA: hire a Homeland Security chief, too, because there is a low-level insurgency going on in the city now. What the papers call "crime," which is way up, is really a kind of insurrectionary resistance. A year ago, we were treated like Baghdad by the federal government, which filled our empty city with troops. That time, the government got ahead of itself. This time, we may be mini-Baghdadding under the radar.
Another silver lining in the gathering human disaster that is New Orleans pre-K2, is that the vice-riddled of the nation may safely gather here now and indulge. Anyone who might have considered, pre-K, giving up drugs, drink, smoke, sex or whatever, should head this way immediately. We are overflowing with the excess bounty of the nation's quickly disappearing skid rows. We no longer need to fear, as an editorialist once did, that Katrina destroyed America's "only party city." The party's still on and it's about 3 a.m. all the time.