Once upon a time there was a lovely little truck that rolled through the neighborhood each day. Its driver was an old farmer of a man, who sang-song on a megaphone a list of his wares: "I got oranges and bananas! I got grapefruit! I got me-lons!" It was my morning alarm, and a sweet one at that. It made me roll around and stretch and yawn and smile to myself; it was that charming, the fruit man's truck. One time (and only one time,) I was awake when he drove by, and so I quickly got dressed and ran out to get some fruit, but he'd gone already. I ran four blocks to find him. I bought lemons. A strange choice, yes, but highly useful in one's cooking.
Now it is the American Red Cross truck that trolls the neighborhood every day, and it is a charmless, annoying thing to hear. I know I've mentioned this truck before, but you must know that this wretched vehicle accosts me daily. Its horn is identical to a cop's horn, and it stops just two houses down to announce over a loud speaker,(BRANK-BRAANNK!!) "THE AMERICAN RED CROSS HAS HOT MEALS AND WATER!" to contractors and workers and folks who, as far as I can tell, are just fine, thank you; perfectly okay.
The ARC truck had its charm once, too, but that was months ago, when we had first returned--when stores weren't open and there was only one place on town to get gas; when everyone's refrigerator contained a fermented potion of eight weeks' worth of rot; when there was no gas to cook with, and often no electricity. Yes, even though we had money with which to feed outselves, one day, Simon ran out and got us a couple of ARC meals: formed chicken-part patties and canned peas floating in a puddle of green water; a hard roll; a sachet of mayonnaise. We were disappointed. When we'd worked as case workers at the ARC headquarters in Atlanta, the meals had been enormous catered affairs: one day a Mexican feast, the next, an elaborate BBQ spread. The meals the trucks here serve seem only to remind you that things here are far from normal. And now, so, too, do the trucks, themselves. Each day I hear that horn, that announcement over the loudspeaker, and I remember that this is a hurricane-ravaged city we're living in, folks!
I know that these meals are helping people in need, and that it is easy to criticize from a position of (relative) privilege, but I do wonder what the ARC volunteers think--feel--when they drive through our neighborhood: the beautiful (and intact) houses painted shades of Easter eggs; the residents with laptops using the local coffee shops' (all three of them) WiFi; the gay homeowners out sweeping the sidewalk to music piped from their remodeled homes; the "free living" punks cruising on their vintage bicycles to the next protest--do we seem to be in need? Do the volunteers feel, as I do, that their efforts are being misspent in our neighborhood, that we might, in fact, be better off if they left for areas that really were hard hit, or, in fact, if they left, altogether?
What we need is housing, jobs, and education, as a woman in charge of the Central City Community Council said the other night. We needed the food a long time ago, in those days immediately following the storm when the Red Cross was staying away, protecting its own. Now, it seems like a colossal waste of money--money given by the American people, who would, surely, agree that it should go to the areas of greatest need. The Marigny/Bywater is not one of those areas, and the trucks, these days, do little more than feed the otherwise well-fed, serve up a degree of Post-K novelty.
I have mentioned this before, but if you would like to give money to an organization (and we do, in fact, badly need your help,) please consider giving to another organization that is serving our current needs. Habitat's Operation Home Delivery is a good one. So is Common Ground. Or, you can check out a list of non-government organizations helping in the Katrina recovery effort. Most importantly, perhaps, is that you write letters and stay interested in what's happening here. You can start by signing a petition for levee board reform. Whatever you do, please, please DO it. I mean, I hope you find the blog, um, fun to read, and all, but I'm telling you what it's like to live here because I need you to help make it a more livable city.