During the AmeriCorps orientation our employer told us about the landlord for our business office. It's part of the Spiel. Anyone on the development team must be able to tell volunteers about how Mr. F was a fireman for 20 years, then a fisherman for another 20, retired and opened up an appliance repair shop so that he could spend his old age tinkering with things. He lived within five minutes of all his grandkids.
Katrina hit and his home - now our business office - flooded to the second floor. He was picked up by another local with a boat and taken to the roof of a bank where he and two hundred others awaited Rescue. It took five days for help to arrive in the form of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It's as much a depressing story about America as it is a sad story about one person's trial.
Meeting Mr. F was surprising. He's a heavy, crass, old man who loves to wander around the office, hassle us, hit on the women, and give us all nicknames (I'm Uncle Sam, or Mark, or Simon, I'm not sure which). He speaks with a thick New Orleanian accent that sounds more Bostonian than Southern. Backwards, a little racist, perpetually telling strange stories, and somehow amazingly endearing he reminds everyone of his or her grandfather. The man embodies some sort of platonic form of Grandfatherness. He reminds me of my grandfather and there is absolutely no resemblance. For one of the other AmeriCorops members, Leisl, the resemblance to her deceased grandfather is so strong that she told me when she first met Mr. F she nearly started crying.
Leisl told me recently how she spoke to another New Orleanian, M, about the future of the city. M told her, "New Orleans is dead," and that sooner or later another storm will come through, destroy the city again and no one will have the energy to come back. This is, evidently a common feeling among the natives.
But, Leisl asked, then why bother rebuilding? Why come back in the first place if it's just a lost cause?
"Because," M said. People have lived here for generations and generations. New Orleans has been a music and culture center for America for three hundred years. People have lived, loved, worked, and died on this land for centuries. There are so many bones and stories here. That's worth the effort. And it struck me, as Leisl told me this, that the people who come down here to rebuild, and those that came back, too, all talk about New Orleans like a Grandfather.