Friday, May 07, 2010

Post-Diluvian Follies: Helping Hand Jive

Others offered assistance, an array of outsiders ranging from the genuinely helpful to the well-intentioned to the mercenary to the pathetic.

The genuinely helpful: I adored the old folks in the Salvation Army van that came by every afternoon, right when we were all most desperately in need of a break, to hand out ham sandwiches, hot lunches, water, Gatorade, and candy bars. They were uniformly gracious and kind and so absolutely loveable in their little red mesh baseball caps that I would have jumped through their window and hugged them if I hadn’t been so completely disgusting

The well-intentioned: A battered Food Not Bombs pickup made the rounds. It was painted with colorful child-like scrawls and “POWERED BY BIO-DIESEL” written across the back. A skinny shirtless guy with a scraggly beard and lank white-boy dreads offered me a free meal. But with the Salvation Army sandwich resting pleasantly in my belly, I politely declined his kind but dubious fare.

And each day, sometimes twice-daily, animal rescue crews stopped by, attempting to re-rescue our tenant’s cat (despite the large scrawl on our house indicating a fait accompli). When I told them they were too late, they rushed across the street to re-rescue the neighbor’s cat, and I again told them they were too late. I was tempted to surreptitiously plant kitties-in-distress just to validate their efforts.

The mercenary: The city swarmed with out-of-town workers of every variety, from big-time contracting outfits with shiny trucks and downtown hotel rooms to sketchy odd-jobbers with barely-roadworthy jalopies and tents pitched in vacant lots, all looking to get a lucrative early slice of the massive rebuilding pie.

Almost every vehicle on the road (besides the Humvees) seemed to be a pickup truck from Texas. And the rest were trucks from Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, even Michigan and beyond. A truck would roll down the block and slow to a stop. The driver would lean out the window and offer an eye-popping quote for his services.

The pathetic: And there were homegrown operations, quickly formed companies called “Big Easy”-this or “Crescent City”-that wearing their “504” area-codes like a badge of honor (though in truth, localness was a doubtful recommendation).

A raggedy old truck with Louisiana plates stopped in front of the house. The driver called to me out the window, “I’m local.” He told me where he lived. “I’m an electrician. I do good work. I’m not one of these fly-by-night fellas.” But his red eyes and thick speech gave the tell-tale signs of a long soaking in hard alcohol.

Mr. Flambé

I feared a stray spark might light him up like a flambĂ©. I didn’t hire him.

The looky-loos: Some didn’t come to help or profit. They just came to look.
As I muckily stumbled onto the porch in my slop-suit, a shiny car full of gawk-eyed strangers from God-knows-where rolled slowly down the street, staring in air-conditioned slack-jawed wonder.

I muttered unkind things into my respirator, “Fuck you, you fucking high-and-dry motherfuckers with your shiny fucking cars and your shiny fucking above-sea-level houses. I’m not a fucking zoo animal, fucking fucks...”

It wasn’t fair. (I later did my own share of disaster-touring.) But those were dark hours, and my disposition was less than charitable.


  1. Anonymous12:49 PM

    Your postings are so expressive. Thank you for helping us in the hinterlands understand this better.

  2. Thanks. I'm glad you find them so.