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Buddy, Can You Spare Some Bootstraps? October 21, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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America is worried. What it will be like to lose your home and all your possessions, to see your job shipped off to another town, to be forced to pay out the mortgage on a house no longer yours while you try to make the rent? Will the government help me, or will all those hundreds of billions in aid they voted just evaporate into people’s pockets before it gets reaches the average person?

How, they worry, will they survive such a catastrophe?

I suggest they have a parade. It worked for New Orleans.

In your parade, America, you can celebrate that even in bankruptcy you will not be forced to live for years in a 280 square foot travel trailer, being slowly poisoned by formaldehyde. Moving in with relatives–for a year, or two–will test your virtue and bring your family closer together than you can image. The bankruptcy judge may make you pay out the balance of your mortgage after the auction, but at least you will not be forced to pay the full note plus rent if you won’t live in the trailer, while you fork out trebled prices for materials to build a new home with your own hands.

You can celebrate that your children will still have schools. With books. With any luck, they need not be completely uprooted from the family and friends who give them stability. You will still have things like your wedding and family and children’s pictures, the treasured family items no bankruptcy court would care about but which mean the world to you.

You may have to work two jobs to pay off that bankruptcy judgment under the new rules (while the people who bilked you walk away rich), but it can be done. At least you will not be forced to labor in a squalid flooded house, forced to choose between wearing a Class III respirator in a airless heat index of 120 or breathing in visible black mold.

You can celebrate the inner strengths you never knew you had, the ones most Americans only read about in books like “The Greatest Generation”, the hard resolve you fear you are not equal to. You are. If a bunch of indolent and dependent Orleanians could do more than any bankruptcy judge could ever impose on you, imagine what a lot of resourceful and self-reliant folks like yourself can manage.

If you are like many Americans, the one’s who don’t belong to church or club, the people who famously “bowl alone” as the book says, now is the time to reach out to your neighbors and organize yourselves. Don’t think that an angry vote in this election year will be enough. It won’t. Face up to the hard facts we’ve learned: 90% of “government aid” vanishes before it gets anywhere near you. You might not think you live in that sort of country, but you do.

You will need to organize as people down here did, in neighborhood associations and new groups to fight with the government, your bank, whoever. If you don’t, don’t expect the government or anyone else to reach out and help you. Those days are over. When the houses in your neighborhood are left empty for months or years, you’re going to have to get up and go mow that lawn if you don’t want to look at it (not to mention the snakes and rats).

Your neighbors–you know, the people you just wave to as you drive from home to wherever–will help you more than you can imagine. Tens of thousands of them have come to New Orleans to help people out of no other motive than pure altruism, some deeply Christian and some just plain goodness of heart. Until something happens to you and yours, you’ll probably never realize this. They’re not just your neighbors; they are people who share every aspect of your life, good and bad, and are willing to step up to help you when you’re down.

New Orleans has rehearsed the complete collapse of the American Dream for the last three years, and yet every day you can find us at the neighborhood bar sipping a cold one while discussing the Saints and the venality of politicians, or at that restaurant around the corner getting a po-boy. Life goes on. Come the Fourth of July, you’ll find Going Fourth on the River, a bit choked up as we watch the bright red, white and blue bombs bursting in air. No, we don’t believe in that old American Dream anymore, at least not in the way you still do, America. We have a clear-eyed take on what government has become, what insurance companies (for us) or banks (for the rest of you) are really about.

The campaign to subtly sabotage government in the name of lower taxes and less regulation has left an empty shell that cannot help you, not in the way it helped your grandparents out of the Great Depression, or your parents in the transition from WWII to the prosperous 1950s and 1960s. That government is gone. And the businesses you grew up learning to trust: don’t. With the end of regulation went any sense of civic responsibility. But then, the current criss has taught you that, hasn’t it?

Here’s what you do. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start going again. It will be hard. There will be tears, and there will be anger. Just remember that your spouse and kids didn’t do this to you. Neither did your best friend since grade school. There will be blank days when nothing much gets done, work or personal. You won’t remember what you did or why. And there will be days and nights when perhaps a bit too much drink is taken. The next day, pick up the empties, make yourself a big pot of very dark, strong coffee, and start over starting over. It’s the only way to make it.

You can and will get through this, even if it plays out in the worst way you can image, but you are going to have to help yourselves. Forget all that nonsense you’ve heard about New Orleans. They people who are home (and we are far more than the 200,000 I often wrote of in the past) did it themselves, with the help of friends and sometimes complete strangers, out of their own pockets.

The way the economy plays out may be the last straw for some–the ones with empty 401ks and maxed out credit cards and a house still not finished, but not for most. We’ve been tested and in spite of all the lies you’ve heard about shiftless Orleanians waiting for their government handout, it’s all bullshit: they’ve done it on their own. There is nobody in America alive today under the age of 80 who understands hard times better than New Orleans.

If you want a lesson on how to survive the next few years, I suggest you hop on a plane or gas up the car and come on down to New Orleans–before someone cuts up those credit-cards–and we’ll show you how it’s done, and throw in a good time to boot.

Hell, you might even decide to stay. We have lots of cheap, fixer-upper houses down here, if you don’t mind a little hard work. And as we’ve been reminded again and again and again since the levees failed, you’re all about hard work and self-reliance, America. At least that’s what you keep telling us. And we understand. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Well, here’s your chance. Show us Orleanians aren’t the only ones who can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

(Hat tip to Veda for this idea)

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Comments»

1. Judyb - October 21, 2008

As usual, excellent.
Couldn’t have said it better myself!
thank you.

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2. ole blue - October 21, 2008

Bootstraps are for the ones who work hard, get educated and have money.

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3. KamaAina - October 22, 2008

Sad to say, the home town has been “rehearsing the complete collapse of the American Dream” for a hell of a lot longer than just the last three years. Why do you think I’m typing this into a box from the middle of the freakin’ Pacific ocean, rather than telling it to your face over a Smithwick’s or something?

You yourself alluded to this in your recent description of walking to work down a deserted Union Street. The instant Sunbelt boomtowns don’t have deserted blocks like that, at least not until you get out to Foreclosure Acres on their outskirts. Union Street, by the way, is not “downtown”, i.e. below Canal, but in the Central Business District. We need a name for the CBD. I once thought “midtown”, like Manhattan, but it sounds too much like Mid-City…

Which reminds me, all those “cheap, fixer-upper homes” may not seem like such a great deal any more, what with Foreclosure Acres now just a few miles out the Interstate from, well, pretty much everywhere. I can well understand the schadenfreude that underlies your piece, but as so often happens with schadenfreude, it may come back to bite us in the, uh, back of our collective Mardi Gras outfit.

Still and all, the plentiful cheap fixer-uppers would be a good starting point to start rehearsing the dawn of a New Orleanian Dream…

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4. Wet Bank Guy - October 22, 2008

Schadenfreude was not the intent, but it was almost unavoidable. How else do I tell people: you know what, it could be worse. You could be from New Orleans? /I down play it as posted, but I truly worry about people who are maxed out, savings accounts empty, and all to get back in their houses. If they start to evict people in that condition down here, we need to make the farm foreclosure resistance movement look tame. No one in that state should lose their home. Period.

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5. KamaAina - October 22, 2008

You must be hungry. You just got me to open up the Parkway Half Bakery!

Today’s special: Let’s come up with a plan to get some of those U-Hauls presently headed away from Foreclosure Acres to get off I-10 and pull into the cheap fixer-uppers, with the proviso that, assuming they’re doubles, the other half be rented to one of the 150,000 or so people still (still!) displaced since the Federal Flood.

Jobs? No problemo! After all, these would be people from the pro-America part of America, not “a bunch of indolent and dependent Orleanians”, right? So jobs would presumably remateralize as if by magic all over town, kind of like taking a film of a light bulb exploding and then running it backwards.

I can’t even bear to think about what might happen if a new wave of foreclosures were to affect those who have rebuilt. Call it the Federal Financial Flood… ironically, real estate slang for those who owe more on their mortgages than the house is now worth is — are you ready? — “under water”!!

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6. Duff - October 27, 2008

Thank you for more articulately writing what I’ve been thinking for the last three months. I lived -and am living- that life, but with the evil contractor element thrown in to boot.

Anyway, it’s just good to see that someone else understands. People can critique it, and distinguish it, and find some reason that it’s not applicable to their understanding of their just world. Those of us who lived it know. Nothing they say is going to diminish or minimize my experience, and fuck them for trying.

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7. HumidCity » Blog Archive » Because It’s Where The Money Is - March 19, 2009

[…] memo, America, it is because you were not paying attention. I suggest you start looking for your bootstraps. Feel free to give us a call if you want some tips on how to deal with the loss of everything you […]

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