Oct/Nov 2005 Salon

Dispatches 15 (Katrina)

by Stanley Jenkins


MR. BROUSSARD: I'm telling you most importantly I want to thank my public employees...

MR. RUSSERT: All right.

MR. BROUSSARD: ...that have worked 24/7. They're burned out, the doctors, the nurses. And I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, ‘Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday.' And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President...

MR. BROUSSARD: Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody.

--Tim Russert and Jefferson Parish President, Aaron Broussard, "Meet the Press," 9/4/2005


Almost everyone I've talked to says we're going to move to Houston. What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them. --Barbara Bush, 9/5/2005


This has been a bad time to be a Christian. It's been a bad time to be American. I came from a people, grim, gaunt and bony, who clawed their way up from dirt farms and broken Homestead Act dreams to demand a place for themselves. They called it the MIDDLE CLASS. (Man, you should hear my Dad say that phrase, it's just like going home in some old Gospel tune when you see all the old folks again).

That's what they called it--MIDDLE CLASS--but what they really meant was the place that they could be free of the shame of subsistence and the fear of ending up like one of those fat cats who build pleasure palaces on the backs of decent folks like your big mama and big daddy who may not have been rich but damn sure were clean. (Don't you never think you are better than me.) And they clawed their way up with Psalms and Baptisms and the still, quiet voice that told them that they mattered no matter what the WORLD said (OH DON'T YOU BE WORLDLY NOW!), no matter how many times in nineteen and twenty seven they burst the levees in New Orleans to save the homes of the rich and flooded your not so important homes and your communities and the places you fell in love with the girl with the pretty eyes, telling you that you would be compensated and that it was for the best, and take one for the team and greater love hath no man but that he layeth his life down for his friends and they never ever once bothered to pretend to live up to any promise. Nothing was delivered. NO SIR.

My people crawled up on the Jacob's Ladder of nobodyknowsthetroubleI'veseenbutJesus. And they fought our wars. And my people defended their country. And they didn't so much as whine or bellyache about it because they were Americans. And they were tough. And because they had seen things and done things that they needed so badly to dissolve in the balm of honor and service and patriotism. And because... And so they built the bridges and the highways and the fucking Grand Coulee Dam. These were my people. And I am proud of them.

And I don't know what has become of them. Grandma and Pappy are dead. And Big Daddy who used to be big, shrunk and was reduced to picking fights with old men in the VA and peeing his pants and accusing doctors of stealing his tools....well, he's dead too. And Big Mama. She doesn't know any of us. She talks about the old days and all-day hymn sings. All the men with bootleg whiskey out in the woods. She doesn't recognize us. Her eyes don't work here.

I came from a people who gave me a foundation and an American future. Something you could take pride in. Mother and Father walked into new worlds, bold as you please, like they fucking owned the place. Out of trailer parks and small towns in Idaho. Into the Promisedland of subdivisions and a blank slate. They found the Frontier in suburbs and taught us the old stories and the burning faith that is never never old, cuz it burns and does not consume and leaves you dry until it comes again. Burnt over district. And the bush was not consumed. We're building the New Jerusalem. What a friend we have in Jesus. Oh blessed assurance. And we walked bright shining as the sun among the strip malls and fast food restaurants. And we supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and we cheered with Martin. And knew the heady days of justice--Go down Moses!--and the crowning of thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

Sing it Brother Ray, sing it!

My people are Christian and American. Self-identified. Proud. Defiant. Mediocre. (Don't you never think you are better than us. Man, crawdads in a bucket. Pulling each other back in. Envy is a sin. Don't get uppity, son).

And then we got fat.

It's a bad time to be Christian. And American. Cuz the really scary thing is that all those refugees from the Big Easy--don't that tell you all you got to know?--are gonna wanna stay here. And see, most of them are UNDERPRIVILEGED and (chuckles slightly) this is working very well for them. And Brownie, you're doing a great job. Heh heh. Heh heh.

The Christians and the Americans. Turned their back on the poor. Left the wounded on the field of battle. My people are like a ghost to me. My eyes don't work here. Anymore.


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