Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Katrina and Old Jerks

I grew up in the South. Not just the South, but Deep South, where everything is fried, preferably in bacon fat, and where there's only one kind of tea. For the last 8 years, however, I've lived on the west coast of Florida, with lots of transplants from all over the country, and with a very different sort of atmosphere/attitude/society/mojo than in the real south. I guess it kind of grew on me, although (in the end) it is why I longed to move back home.

Just over a year ago, I relocated back into the Deep South. Small town. No real mall nearby. Except the old one with mostly dead stores whose only purpose is to have its parking lot cruised by teenagers in low-riders every Friday and Saturday night.

So far, I've maintained some standards. I haven't been to a mud boggin or tractor pull, although I did go to bull-riding last February. I've tried to maintain some of my healthy eating habits, although it's been tough. I've tried filling my children with some of those lofty sociological concepts about genetics, social justice, race, gender, and history that I learned in an anthropology class long ago. And I've never been in a fight with a toothless old man at Wal-Mart, until last week.

Ever since Hurricane Katrina hit, our local stores have had booths set up outside by "Hearts with Hands," a local aid organization collecting items to fill a tractor trailer that they will send to hurricane-devastated areas. They have shopping lists with the kinds of items that might be needed, and you may (if you like) pick up a few items while in the store to drop off on the way out.

As I was walking into Wal-Mart, I decided that today would be the day I pick up a few items on their list. I went to pick up a list, only to be slowed by a toothless old dude, repeatedly saying, "Huh?" quizzically, almost as if to annoy the lady staffing the booth. Finally, I collected my shopping list, and started to head inside the store.

The old man puttered through the doors with me, and then turned to me, as if he thought I would surely be in agreement with him, and said, "Well, I think I've just about heard enough about that damn hurricane."

Not usually one to let a snide comment go by without contributing one of my own (a fault, I'll admit), I turned to him and shot back, "Yeah-- I bet all those people who live there have just about heard enough about it, too!"

Not ready to give up, he snorted, "Well, they've got nobody to blame but THEMSELVES."

By now, my eyes were red and steam was rising off my cheeks. I wanted to shout obscenities and call him the meanest names I could come up with, even if it meant making up a name or two. Instead, I turned to him and snarled, "You know what, I hope it happens to you one day, SIR!"

I am officially becoming a redneck, I think, and I'm not sure what to think about it.

In any case, it made me realize how easy it is for us to judge someone we know nothing about. I grew up in a coastal region of South Carolina, and lived for a few years in a beach town in Florida. I survived Hugo in SC, and Charlie in FL, and helped with numerous other relief efforts along the years. I remember what hurricane evacuation alerts meant when we were kids. They meant that a couple of my friends whose parents were nerds evacuated, and everyone else stayed. They meant that my parents and all their friends got together in the home of whoever had the sturdiest house with a keg of beer, some candles (just in case), and some board games. They meant that we got a couple of days off of school, during which time we could row our pool floaty boats down the streets, or ride bikes in knee-deep water. They meant that some goofy government official had gotten his panties in a wad again, usually over nothing.

I remember, as an adult, living on the Florida coast during quite a few storms. Every time a storm alert was issued, the city was a buzz. I'd go to the store to pickup some dinner, and have to wait in line behind the horde of crazies that had cleaned out all the bread, water, and batteries in the Tampa Bay area. Then I'd go home, and watch the news as nothing happened. A little rain, some minor street flooding, and an occasional branch blown off a tree.

It's no wonder people find it difficult to take seriously the government that cries hurricane at every deep-bellied sneeze in the gulf.

Fast forward to Katrina. So much blame, so many people to lay it on... Still, EVEN IF the mayor had issued a mandatory evacuation days in advance, there's no guarantee they all would have (or could have) left. EVEN IF the governor had coaxed the National Guard out of their bunker at the Convention Center, there's no guarantee they could have established order. EVEN IF FEMA had been competently managed by someone whose experience extended beyond horsing around, and IF the president had laid his pretty little feet on New Orleans soil sometime BEFORE 12 days after the hurricane... there are no guarantees that these things would have fixed it. But one thing is for sure: I can never lay blame on someone who didn't, couldn't, or wouldn't leave at the first breath of a hurricane warning or evacuation. I've lived coastal too long.

Nobody deserves to have their home demolished, or their family members lost or killed, or their babies starved or poisoned by unclean water. Nobody deserves to have their daughters raped while they wait for help. Nobody deserves to be blamed at a time that they've been victimized by the ferocious power of nature and are at their weakest moment ever. They need our help, now, not our judgment. And the same people who would say that it is not the government's place to provide that help need to step up to the plate and support private efforts to take care of our nation's citizens.

Old dude, you done pissed me off. But I feel sorry for you and your sad, sick little way of thinking.


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bonni said...

Ah, but you see, if they believe that bad things happen to people, then they have to accept that bad things might happen to THEM, and that's too scary, so they just blame the people to whom bad things happened...

Wonderful blog, I'm glad I came across it. I'll be back to read more. :-)

Brave Eagle said...

This is my sisters Blog and she is awsome. I really liked this blog because I think the efforts to aid in the Katrina relief are amazingly inportanat. I think that anyone in a position to donate should because as it said what if this happened to you.