Nothin’ Federal Happened Here January 9, 2009Posted by Mark Folse in 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, Ninth Ward, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Frontline, Herbert Gettridge, June Cross, PBS, The Old Man and The Storm
“Nothin’ Federal happened here.”
— Herbert Gettridge, in the PBS Frontline
documentary “The Old Man and the Storm”
Yes, Mr. Gettridge, something Federal did happen. Not the relief we were promised, not the levees we were promised. Just what we call the Federal Flood.
It has been a long time since I wanted to cry. There were times, late at night sitting in the basement of a house in Fargo, N.D. with my family asleep, times past midnight when I knew I had to get up and go to work the next day and still I could not tear myself away from what I read about my home town and the compulsion to write about it, and I could not help myself.
Those timesfeel so distant and delirious as to seem not like memory but instead like dreams remembered, something that hints at the remnants of another lifetime lived, separate from this one. Sometimes it is like the experience of someone else. Maybe it is something I read once, or saw in a movie, a disaster film like “The Day After” with characters walking the ruins of an American city. Or maybe that sense of distance and delirium is not a disturbance but a kind of healing.
I haven’t see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, those moments in the final scene that leaves New Orleans theaters in tears. If you are reading this and have seen that movie and do not understand what I am talking about, why people might cry at scenes of the inundation of New Orleans, then you must see this: The Old Man and the Storm.
This PBS Frontline episode was worth waiting three years for. It is the single best thing done since 8-29 on the subject of New Orleans and the Federal Flood, and every American should watch it. It captures the whole story, both the broad sweep of the failure of government and the details of a single man and his family, the mote like a tear in the eye of Mr. Gettridge and the great, splintery beam in the eye of the nation that left him alone to rebuild his house.
At the end, the interviewer/narrator June Cross, asks Mr. Gettridge “if you had to do it over again, would you do it?”
The aged man who rebuilt his house alone in the Ninth Ward, against odds that would break most men, looks away from the interviewer and the camera. The last we see of him is looking down, and away, and shaking his head.
“I’m kind of skeptical about that now. Once upon a time I could
answer that question in a split second for you. I can’t do that no more.”
I don’t want to just ask America to watch this show, I want to grab it by the hair and hold its head before the television and make the country watch the story of his man and his family, make them watch that final moment.
Two years ago I wrote these words, tonight they still ring true.
If we want a city that resembles the one of memory and desire, perhaps it is best if we are left to ourselves to build it. Give me enough people like [this]… and I believe we can do it: ourselves alone; Sinn Fein, as Ashley says. Going it alone, without fair compensation from the government for the damage they caused, will be painful. Some will try and not make it, risk everything to return and rebuild or reopen, only to loose everything. If we must go it alone, this will certainly be a smaller city, and some will leave ruined and broken by the effort. Whether we are recalled as heroes or fools only history will tell, but I think know the measure of those who have chosen to come home and try. There is no finer place to be an American today than in their company.
An afterthought: If June Cross does not win the Pulitzer and the Peabody for this, then those awards are not worth a bucket of warm shit.