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Still Waiting, Still Dreaming November 28, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“Nothing to be done.”
–Estragon in Beckett’s
“Waiting for Godot”

Was it a year ago or more that I found something comforting in New Orleans’ embrace of Samuel Beckett’s dark play “Waiting for Godot”. There was certainly something apt about it, to be embraced by those so many who stand in a barren landscape and wait, our frantic debates simply filling the time while we wait for some abstract Redemption.

If we wait, we will find ourselves like Beckett’s characters, left despondent by the news that Godot will not come today, and may or may not come tomorrow, debating how we might go about hanging ourselves and in what order. At least that’s the cheerful feeling I take away from reading the paper this week.

First there was the CNN One Crime at a Time special on crime and corruption in New Orleans. It was a sloppy piece in many ways, giving a complete pass to Mayor C. Ray Nagin on corruption and focusing on excessive use of city cars as its best example of dysfunctional government. Blogger Mominem of Tin Can Trailer Trash offered this better list in an email discussion of the city’s dysfunction, and called us a Failed State.

I don’t know about “broken windows” but “broken government” is certainly an thread. As far as I can tell there is not a single process in City Government that works up to the level of incompetence.
It takes 4-6 months to correct an error in property taxes.
It takes 2 years to get a property tax refund and you can’t apply over payments to future taxes.
The Sanitation Department doesn’t know what houses to tear down
The Police can’t keep track of evidence.
The DA can’t file motions to seize cash from drug dealers.
The Sanitation Department doesn’t know how many houses it’s being billed for, so it just pays the same amount every month.
The City has no idea how many cars it owns, who has them or who uses city gas credit cards.
The IT department can’t get crime cameras installed.
The IT department can’t get crime camera’s repaired.
It takes the city a year to get computers for the [Inspector General].

Our Chief of Police, Warren Riley, was also given free reign to rehearse his stock hand-wringing speech about poverty and bad schools, while offering no hope or relief for either his beleaguered officers or the citizens. It was a speech I would get to hear twice this week, which I will get to in a minute.

Then came the announcement that our Betters have come to a decision on building a new hospital complex downtown. Rather than take the advice of the citizens to rehab the historic Charity complex (and some some loot to boot), or perhaps to take the idle ruin of old Lindy Boggs/Mercy Hospital in my own neighborhood of Mid-City, they will instead demolish an entire neighborhood of hundreds of homes in lower Mid-City to build their bio-science field of dreams.

One ignored side effect of this is that the area where I worked for the last year-and-a-half, the north side of the Central Business District, will remain mostly a ghost town of abandoned commercial buildings. All that is needed to complete the hair-brained scheme to convert downtown into some sort of condominium time-share hell is the other bright idea of our recovery leaders to move the civil district courts into the criminal justice complex down Tulane Avenue (adjacent to the new Hospital World), leaving the city’s commercial center a whistling ghost town.

I could go on, but I think Karen of Squandered Heritage has said it all.

Then there was the joyous holiday news that New Orleans is once again Queen of the South, and perhaps of all America and much of the world, a true leader in the field of crimes committed in our streets. Riley predictably attacked the statistics (as City Hall will do when they hear bad news about the city), and gave again his standing spiel on poverty, bad schools and crime, but offered no vision for how to get out of the hell whole the city has found itself in.

Again, I defer to Jarvis DeBerry, who pretty much sums up my own reaction here.

There is no hope under Louisiana law of recalling Nagin and booting Riley or the rest of the band of buffoons who make up his administration. (Still, go sign the petitions anyway). So many opportunities we have missed, from squashing the culture of crime as the city slowly repopulated to turnig a city full of aging and dilapidated homes into a vibrant place again, to perhaps “shrink the footprint” of the city into a space more easily defending against flooding not by government fiat but my making the city core an attractive place to live again.

Nothing to be done, Estragon says. I don’t want to sink into that sort of lyrical dog philosopher cynicism. There is so much to be done. If we cannot drive out Nagin and his crony’s short of a touch-and-pitchfork assault on their castle, then there is a life to be lived here, to day-by-day prove the naysayers wrong. There are letters to write, calls to be made and petitions to be signed. There is a band to see tonight with old friends on Frenchman Street, and a meal to be eaten with my visiting father-in-law in one of our favorite restaurants.

There is the day to day battle of New Orleans: not a glorious moment like the defeat of the British in 1815 or an ignominious one like the uprising of the Klan against Reconstruction. This is the long campaign to make this city livable again by the act of living here against all odds and saving what we can. When Nagin and his crew are memories we will still be here.

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Comments»

1. Glenn - November 28, 2008

Regarding the “bio-science field of dreams”, an employee of the architecture firm designing this complex recently commented on another blog: “… the bottom line for our company comes down to [this:] ‘Is this the right thing to do?'”

That phrase is not any corporation’s “bottom line”.

Rather, it seemed to me to be on a par with those other immortal words, “The check is in the mail” and “I promise I won’t cum in your mouth”.

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2. alvastarr - November 28, 2008

I like thinking that we’ll still be here when Nagin is gone. When’s that again? The next mayoral election? Perhaps we should pick a candidate & start campaigning now.

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