Projects or bust

Projects or bust…

So you want to move back to the projects.

I’ve been mulling over this one since last Thursday or Friday when local network news channels first started showing footage of the folks who have set up a “tent city” on the median in front of the St. Bernard Housing Projects, which are still under lockdown, no visitors allowed.

Tent city. Tell me that’s not a quaint little post-Katrina phrase. Power companies intend to set up tent cities this year if another major storm hits. Nothing good can come from tent cities.

Didn’t anyone see Scarface?

Al Pacino coked out of his mind, brandishing the machine gun screaming, “I’ll take you all to fucking hell.”

He, well his character, Tony Montana, started out in a tent city, during one of the more deplorable moments in U.S. history (maybe only rivaled by the scenes from the “bowl” aka N’awlins, between August 29 up to, well, now), the Mariel Boatlift, during the Cuban exodus.

I warn you, no good can come from this.

With that said, the good folks, the ex-tenants of the St. Bernard Housing Projects don’t give a rats ass. They have as much as said that they will storm the gates and take back what is rightfully theirs, laws, government and cops be damned.

In a strange way, I can feel their pain. I know what it’s like to lose a home. Two places I lived in during my college years no longer exist. The first place, an on-campus apartment that I shared with my then college sweetheart, was ploughed to the ground and, in its place, a huge recreation complex was erected.

I know this is a little different than the situation at the St. Bernard Housing Projects, but my points here are kind of (at least for now) in defense of why the former tenants feel like they do. I moved out of those apartments of my own free will, I didn’t have them taken from me by a Cat 3 hurricane. Later, another apartment complex I lived in, but had also moved out of, caught on fire and burned to the ground.

The latter was hard for me to deal with because, although again I had moved out of there, my stay at that particular apartment complex was during a very a complicated time in my life – I was learning for the first time, to live life single (without that college sweetheart), I was also rehabilitating from a total hip replacement that, at least at one point, almost made me decide to drop out of college.

But I picked my ass up from my bootstraps, and with the hip immobilizer still wrapped around my waist and leg, I moved the few possessions I had into that apartment, signed back up in school, graduated and lived there at least two or three years after I entered the grown-up world of work, responsibility and a career.

Although I had moved out and moved on, that apartment complex was still a place I liked to go visit sometimes. During the course of a particularly crappy or challenging day, I’d drive over, go out and sit by the pool and just recollect myself. The place was a dump but hey, I had attachments there. Memories. It was a place I could go to, to feel good about myself. Because it was a place where I overcame a lot of challenges in my life, it was also, later, a place of power for me.

Needless to say, that all changed after it burned to the ground. I didn’t have that place any more. I couldn’t go look at my old porch stoop. The place where I laughed, cried, and overcame was gone. Rubble.

Not unlike my mother’s house in Slidell, my childhood home, which took on eight feet of water during Katrina. No, I didn’t live there, but it was the place I grew up in. I had stuff in storage there – my book case, a ton of books, plastic topes full of old notebooks filled with my writings, poetry, fiction, old journalism stuff and a copy of the first newspaper I ever had a by-line in.

All of that is gone. My mom plans to rebuild but there are things that Katrina took which can never be replaced. It was the place I always called home, and even if it is re-built, I know it is never going to be the same again.

Eerily enough, it was only about a week or two before Katrina when I had to renew my driver’s license. That renewal was the first time that I ever actually bothered to change my address on it to the address I’m at now. I moved out of my mom’s house in the early 90’s, but still, for all those years when I was living at the dumpy apartment that burned to the ground, all the way until last August, I always kept Mom’s address on my driver’s license.

The point of all of this is yes, I understand how badly those folks want to get back in. I’m sure, for many of them, it is the only home they’ve ever known.

But I’m still not sure it makes it right. They are, after all, housing projects. True, my old apartment complex, the one that burned down, wasn’t a real huge step up from projects. Low-income housing is still low-income housing no matter how it’s dressed up and presented.

I guess what differentiates me from some of my fellow N’awlins-area natives is that I’m not willing to accept mediocrity, or inferiority for that matter, any more. I want better. I want better for my family than what I had.

Yes, our economy sucks.

True, there are a bazillion jobs out there today but you have to look at the high-water mark; yes the fucking pun is intended.

When thirty grand a year is considered by most to be “good wages”; when most of the jobs available are in the retail or hospitality fields (hey waiters and strippers may make a killing in tips but do they have medical insurance? A 401 K plan? Whose your baby’s daddy?); when you’re a young professional and work your ass off but still look at your paycheck and wonder, like that kid on the Skippy peanut butter commercial, are they mad at me?

It’s not good. But don’t just accept it. We’ve accepted mediocrity, we’ve accepted crap, we’ve have accepted crooked politicians and cops…Shit, we’re so fucked up we even root for them. We’re proud to have dropped out of school and going to work in the oil field when we were sixteen. How fucked up is that?

And then we have the nerve, the audacity to be angry, to have our sensitive little feelings hurt when the national media looks at us in judgment like we’re a third-world country.

Fuck that. Demand better. Demand better from yourself and for yourself. Demand better from others. Take action. Don’t sit passively in your fucking tents on the median and tell people, “We’re gonna go back in no matter what they say.”

Fuck that. Put on a suit and tie, call your city council members, march your ass down to the next planning and zoning meeting and tell them to raze those fucking oppressive-looking, ugly, brick projects and replace them with “low income” garden homes.

You’ve got to want it for yourself though. No one else is going to do it for you.

Just remember this, the next time you find yourself looking at the high-water mark.


Posted on June 8, 2006, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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