What set me off doesn't matter, because mine is a universal situation these days: one decent person can nullify institutional ill will -- but how often does that happen? It's an all-too-familiar situation these days.
Whenever someone in New Orleans or in the U.S.A, which is just New Orleans on a bigger scale, blames "the bureaucracy," the "rules," the "government" etc., they are hiding the fact that one or two hideous unfeeling humans who look just like you and me are guilty for the whole mess. A well-intentioned person, and there are some of them, doesn't need to hide behind "rules" -- they could fix your problem in a jiffy. The trouble is that most persons are angry and they take it out on you in the time-honored tradition of downward kicking. Somebody's got to be the dog. I won't get into cases here, but everyone knows, for instance, that Entergy is evil. They overcharge, they lie, they threaten, they use every legal slime clause to screw you over. Yet, for all that, the people who work for Entergy don't do anything about it and may actually be happy to see people victimized. Why? Because they are angry at credit card companies. And the people who "just make a living," like the Nazis used to, working for credit card companies, are secretly glad that they are causing pain because they are mad at HMOs. And the people working for HMOs are angry at (insert your favorite overlord here). The trouble is that all the corporations and bureaucratic entities that have transformed us into agents of evil are imbuing us with laziness and meanness and giving us permission to hide behind their mighty names. If your name is Entergy, not Dorothy, you don't have to do a thing for anyone else. In fact, you have permission to screw them. It doesn't take much for an individual to right things made wrong by the people who pay them to be unconscious: it only takes a bit of compassion, a modicum of attention, a smidgeon of sympathy. We are running out of this simple human virtue the way the world is running out of resources like oil and water. We have become lazy beyond belief, and there is a huge industry called "entertainment" that is in the business of keeping us that way. Lazy people are mean and inattentive. It's a vicious circle, or a slew of them, except for one chilly fact: individuals still possess decency in abundance, but something prevents them from exercising it. That "something" is the mega-entities that rule us. Our level of comfort has gone up at the expense of simple feelings of fellowship and sympathy for creatures like ourselves. People who wonder why there are so many churches in America and why so many more people go to church now need only look at their own complicity with corporate theft. The preachers won't tell you where your good qualities went, they'll only refer you to next week's meeting because they are corporations, too. I recommend just trying to look people in the eye for a week and not mentioning once the demon you work for. You'll be surprised what comes back.
Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).