Essayist Chris Rose Answers Question About New Orleans

August 23, 2006 at 6:45 PM EDT

CHRIS ROSE, New Orleans Times-Picayune: If you live here,
the recurring question from family and friends is: How is New Orleans doing these days?

It gives you pause. I mean, how much time do you have? Do
you really want to get into this?

This whole thing is so big and so complicated that you
generally fall into the habit of deflecting the question, putting on a game
face, and saying something like, “We’re getting there.” Let me try to
paint a picture for you, just a small slice of life here.

Have you ever had close friends who do a major home
renovation and all they ever talk about — all they ever talk about — are the
hassles of dealing with contractors, roofers, permits, et cetera? Well, imagine
if everyone you talked to every day — everyone — was going through that.

Do you know anyone who is ever satisfied with an insurance
settlement they got for property damage? Imagine if everyone you knew felt like
they were getting screwed over.

This stuff is all we talk about. We’ve probably become the
most annoying people in the world.

Did you ever have a friend who lost his or her job and then,
like a house of cards, their marriage collapsed, and then came the booze or the
drugs, and then the depression? And then you watched this happen, and there
wasn’t a damned thing in the world you could do to help? Imagine if that was
almost everyone on your block.

So what you really need is to sit with your best friend over
a cup of coffee and vent about all this, but your best friend has moved
somewhere else.

The prevailing senses of frustration, loss and despair could
kill a man here. And, in fact, they have. Many, in fact.

If you walked as far as you could down this street I’m
standing on and asked everyone you met along the way if they knew anyone who
had committed suicide in the past year, I bet you’d get to the state line
before you found someone who said no, unless of course that state line was Mississippi. Then you’d
have to keep on walking.

I don’t mean to be overly melodramatic here, but it really
is tough here in the summer of our discontent. People are cracking up left and
right. More than 80 percent of our psychiatrists have left town. And it
sometimes feels as if this whole town is being propped up by the miracles of
modern pharmacology.

Now, I realize this makes us sound pitiful, weak and
joyless, and you’d probably know that’s not us. But a year after the visceral
shock of death and physical destruction everywhere, we deal now with the
insidious toll this all takes on the mind.

But we’re not going to lay down and give up.

The commonality of experience here has created an intense
bond among the folks who are determined to live through this, physically and
emotionally. And in the end, New Orleans
will rise on the triumph of the human spirit. Don’t ask me how, but we will.

We’re not going to let a little wind and water and those
frigging insurance companies — and don’t even get me started on the government
— put a stop to that.

So what was the question again? Oh, yes: How is New Orleans doing these
days? We’re getting there.

I’m Chris Rose.