Fucked New Orleans, Four Years On in Purgatory:
If you knew New Orleans before Katrina and then go visit since the storm, you know the feeling. No matter where you are in the city, it doesn't feel quite right. You don't have to be in the Lower 9th Ward, the poorest area of the city where rubble and moldy, abandoned houses still dominate the neighborhood, dotted as it is with the occasional home that's been restored. No, you can be in the untouched Garden District or the French Quarter, and there's a weight in the air, beyond the stifling humidity and the stale stench of being between a big ass lake and a big ass river. You've felt it if you're a visitor. Imagine if you're a resident. The people the Rude Pundit knows in New Orleans are unanimous in their assessment of their hometown in 2009: "It's better, but..."
And that's what the Rude Pundit thought when he was in New Orleans back in July. The brutal heat of this goddamned summer had inflicted a gray haze over the city like a sheet made of an old man's pubic hair. Everywhere he went, there was a pervasive sense of rot, of the aching entropy of unfulfilled promises, of the imminence of collapse, and of the tenuous, halting steps forward. It is a space of overwhelming insecurity, like being in a ward of people with severe germophobia and only one sink. And the Rude Pundit stayed in the "good areas" this time, since his time was short and his visit was packed.
People still talk about doing things as if they are existing in opposition to some unnamed entity. Going out to dinner is treated as a kind of triumph, a "fuck you" to forces that want to stop you from doing so. Moving back to the city after leaving is like winning a marathon. Rebuilding a home that was wrecked? Fireworks and blow jobs, man, fireworks and blow jobs. The Rude Pundit felt like he was staying with people who had been abandoned as children.
And why not, huh? 36% of the city's housing is unoccupied. Only one new school has been built. Rents have gone up 40% since Katrina. Sure, unemployment is low compared to the rest of the country, but the jobs are shit temporary and low-paid positions, Louisiana being one of those charming "right-to-work" states. And the unemployment rate has jumped nearly 3% in a year. Crime is still high, murders too frequent. The sewer system is still held together by duct tape and hope.
The new administration has only on this anniversary begun to take notice of New Orleans (or the entire Gulf Coast). President Obama has promised to visit New Orleans, which he should have done before he went to any of the other health care town halls around the country, considering the still fucked up state of the city's hospital system. He has promised to streamline the bureaucracy that has slowed recovery. And now that a report has demonstrated that the Army Corps of Engineers wasted $430 million on worthless flood control pumps (another little fuck-you from the Bush administration's bungling of everything to do with Katrina), Obama has knocked the Corps down a peg by putting in an oversight panel that'll coordinate recovery efforts. "It's about time" doesn't even scratch the surface of the rage that ought to be there.
Remember: to acknowledge the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is not to remember the damage done by a storm. It is to remember the damage done by us to ourselves. It was decades of incompetence, fraud, and cruelty of governments and contractors that have left New Orleans, truly, no better off than it was four years ago. The place feels different because to be there is to realize that all the things you hoped would protect you and the city have failed, and that to be there, especially during hurricane season, is to understand that it could so easily happen again when it shouldn't and when it shouldn't have in the first place.
Of course it's better. Anything is better than flood and abandonment and chaos. And of course the city feels different than before. Purgatory's always better than Hell.