Tuesday, September 27, 2005

When xanax is not enough

I dreampt I walked into the Episcopalian Church I attended as a kid, and a group of workers were gutting it. My first concern was what they were going to do with the enormous bronze wall hanging of Jesus that rose above the altar, which had already been removed. "It's on the way," a woman said, "to another church who needs it more."

I loved that thing when I was younger. I spent many a sermon running my eyes up and down the intricate folds of the robes and memorizing every angle in the face. It was a very modern depiction of Christ, of a similar sensibility to Charles Umlauf. He had no beard, and was a studied extreme in Anglican features---square jawed, chisled features, closely cropped, curly hair. His face and posture radiated solemn serenity, rather than suffering. I adored him. As recent as four years ago, when I assisted my crippled mother to a service, I found my appreciation for the design of the sculpture had broadened rather than diminished. Despite its Caucasian-ness, it still managed to press deeply into that tender spot that wants Daddy to take care of me.I was distressed, in my dream, that the sculpture was gone, and that yet another image of my childhood had been dismantled. I was angry that "some other church needed it more" when it was mine, goddammit, and no one had asked me if I could spare it.

It is too easy, lately, how images of massive destruction evoke those of personal loss. It has left me dreaming of stolen icons and riddled my day with reminders of my own mother's slow, cruel battle with ALS. Grief is a long-lived bitch that never leaves you, but sometimes sleeps. You can tiptoe around her, try not to make noise, but inevitably some loud event jars her awake. Then you're in for a whole new round of anxieties, images, reminders, that hit you in the face from every angle. I have had to realize that my usual list of comforts, including rich red wine, dark chocolate cake, and xanax, won't stay the onslaught for long.

The solution: write and volunteer.

Goddammit, I knew I was gonna say that.

At least, I didn't say "yoga and abstinence". Cause that would have been rediculous.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Fema City

As FEMA continues to flounder around, The "President" is talking about putting refugees on federal owned land in exchange for either getting a low-kost mortgage from low-income loaners like Fannie Mae or having a house built by Habitat for Humanity. The participants will be chosen by lottery.

Why does everything smack of creating win-win situations between the people displaced and desperate, and some fucking industry? Scratch that, I'm sure we all know the answer.

Anyhoo, what really scared the shite outta me this morning was reading this article from washingtonpost.com, and realizing that there are still refugees from the last devastating Gulf Coast hurricane, unable to find permanent housing. Holy fuckaroo, people. Holy fuckaroo.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Donation etiquitte rant, part two

A fellow wino and I drove out to the Red Cross sponsored donation drop-off center here in Austin, responding to urgent requests to help in sorting out the mountains of donated clothing unloaded by Austin residents. While sorting clothes isn't as sought-after volunteerism as actually getting to hand out food and care kits directly to the evacuees, someone's gotta get it done.

Shortly after the announcement that a parking garage would serve as a donation drop-off for the Red Cross, the papers reported the line of cars waiting to hand over their carload was an hour long. The volume of donated goods was so overwhelming that the donation drop-off point had to close in order to process it all.

On our arrival, we first noticed rows of crutch handles peeking over the concrete wall of the four-storey garage where they'd been sorted away from the piles of walkers, canes, portable toilets, and other home health supplies taking up several parking spaces. Beyond them were pallets straining under bulging garbage bags, wrapped in plastic, lining the walls of the garage, all the way up into the next level. It was an encouraging sight, both because the majority of the donations had been wrapped up and were ready to go so quickly, and that the generosity of Austinites seemed so obvious.

But as always, mass donations are a mixed bag. As Steve and I joined the others in making sense of the remaining bags of clothes, we quickly got to the underbelly of generosity: while some people had thoughtfully sorted gently used, clean clothing by size or gender, others had stuffed paint-stained T-shirts and worn out, frayed, threadbare crap into garbage bags and called it a day.

Here's the deal, folks: fashion preferences aside, if you wouldn't pay a buck at a yard sale for it, it is garbage. If you've justified cleaning out your drawers of old, dingy clothing because you figure beggars can't be choosers, think again. One of the myriad losses among the survivors of Katrina or any disaster is dignity. Keep this in mind when choosing gently used clothing for donation. Tossing out your unwanteds is a lousy way to say you care.

Taj's Top Ten Things NOT To Donate, Ever:

1 ANYTHING STAINED. If you don't walk around in it, don't donate it. Cut it up and dust your entertainment system with it.

2. Torn or threadbare bedclothes and towels. Donate these to your local pet shelter to comfort animals.

3. White blouses or tee shirts with two-inch yellow sweat stains under the arms. I know this falls under 'anything stained' but people miss this one. They're gross. Toss 'em.

4. Unwashed clothes. Honestly, people.

5. USED UNDERWEAR. Buy a new pack of undies, for fuck's sake. No one wants your stained tighty-whiteys, laundered or not!

6. Off-season clothes. Yes, the seasons turn and these things will eventually be needed. But in situations of critical, immediate needs, please try to focus your donations on what people need right now. A thick, black wooly sweater is useless in Texas heat.

7. Broken toys. I watched this litte girl at the Berger Center try to navigate the parking lot on a Barbie scooter with a wickedly loose handlebar, and it was not a heartwarming sight. Either fix them or toss them.

8. Board games with pieces missing, or with unsecured boxes. The first is obvious. But it's also important to remember that a kid's board game with lots of little pieces and cards and such is going to end up in the trash if the box is torn or crushed. Put a bit of tape on the box to make it less vulnerable during rough transport.

9. Cheap, crumpled belts. God, these got on my nerves. You know those lame belts you get when you buy women's pants at the mall? They're made of cardboard, or something, bending and tearing at the slightest pressure. Toss 'em. They end up in huge piles beside the sorted clothes and are nothing but a pain in the ass.

10. Shit that you didn't need, either. Tea cozys. Leg warmers. Broken gagets. Soap dishes. Non-immediate need donations are idiotic in this situation, and are usually things people don't need until after they've settled in to their new lives. Save this stuff for the yard sale.

Most important of all, when a crisis strikes, pay attention to local news and notices to find out what is really needed. It's great that you found some decent, clean clothes to share, but don't stop there. Spend a little cash at the Dollar General and pick up items listed by organizations as immediate needs: clean socks and underwear, specific types of food, water, flashlights, over-the-counter meds, or whatever. Use your natural American Consumer impulses and shop!


Friday, September 02, 2005

Drunk, hurt, pissed, and at wit's end about New Orleans

President Bush,

I have never hated you as much as I do today. Today, you showed up to tour the devastation, then when you had the opportunity to be a leader, the way you were during 9/11, you chose to throw down a bunch of useless bullshit. You said something about the "devastation in this part of the world", and what little respect I might have had for you withered completely. You know why? Because New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast, are part of America, you stupid piece of incompetent shit! You've spent so much time regurgitating pre-written crap to say in response to tragedies outside of our shores, you fucked up. "This part of the world"?!? Did you not even remember where you were? How about, on the Southern shores of your own fucking country! You let us down, and you are the absolute shittiest American president ever to befoul the plush chair behind the desk in the Oval office, and I hope you wake up one day, having spent the night bathed in sweat, realizing how many people have suffered during your tenure, and exactly how long an eternity with your ass roasting over a spit in hell will last.

I am a ball of anger. And I don't give a drowned rat's ass, either. This is me, pissed, irrational, unable to access cleverness or urbane commentary. Fuck everyone responsible for screwing up the response to the devastation of Katrina. Fuck you all.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Refugees do NOT love piles of crap donations

I woke up needing to know what was happening in New Orleans and spent all morning with the online accounts of the devastation. Dr. A said it well, later during my session: when we feel like helpless witnesses to a catastrophic event, we want at least to bear witness to the stories. That's just precious and all, but why was I feeling so overwhelmed by it? I sure as shit didn't just lose everything I owned, my job, my family. The images that were hitting me the hardest were of the elderly and the infirm. An image of a woman weeping next to her husband's body, which was wrapped in a sheet. He had lung cancer, and when the family was cut off, he ran out of oxygen and died. He was going to die anyway, that's not the point. I hurt for her. It was her job to keep him comfortable, and she couldn't do it anymore. I knew that feeling very well. So well, it hasn't left me, and all day, I have scrambled around town, doing odd things to help local efforts, trying to get her out of my head.

There were a few refugees at the Berger Center in Austin Texas, where the Red Cross has set up an emergency station to catch any overflow from the Superdome. I was one of many people who just showed up, not knowing how best to help, to get an idea of where help was needed. I knew this wasn't necessarily the best way to go about helping, but I was in a bit of a daze. Being early into the thing, and with only a few families at the station to take care of, the Red Cross volunteers had little to offer in the way of advice, except stock answers: the Red Cross needs trained volunteers. Go help answer the phones at headquarters, make a monetary donation to the Capital Area Food Bank, there's nothing to do here.

There were a lot of "donated" clothes and food at the Berger center, well-meaning (and not so well meaning) people had come around and dumped off a bunch of old clothes at their doorstep. One of the volunteers, Theresa, told me that they were about to get in trouble with the AISD for having that big pile out in front. The plan was to take the clothes to the Goodwill centers; the refugees would be given vouchers to shop at Goodwill. She had been told that a Goodwill truck would be coming around to pick up the clothes, so I offered to come back around to help load them up.

I drove over to the HEB store and picked up some canned tuna, water, and diapers, because that's what the Capital Area Food Bank had asked for, and drove them over to the Bank itself. A big, burly Marine guy, who I'd noticed at the same store, pulled up behind me. There was no one free to tell us where things went, so I looked around and found that there were large, marked boxes to put donations in. Meanwhile, Marine guy is bitching up this guy who didn't even work at the food bank: why don't you people have someone to direct us out here? How the hell are we supposed to know where to take the food?

Clue for Mr. Marine man: the volunteers have their fucking hands full. Figure it out, just like I did, it wasn't that hard.

I went back to the Berger, and waited around for the truck to help load it, folding clothes in the meantime to make it easier for those who were trying to pick through the pile. It wasn't much to do, it just made me feel better. There were reporters and photographers trying to snag a story; one guy's just filming the shit out of me cramming clothes into trash bags. Give it a rest, dude.

I don't like feeling helpless. There was a lot of busy work that I did when I was taking care of my mother (who had ALS), that felt just like what I was doing: mostly busy work, not necessarily crucial. I hated that people had just dropped this shit off in trash bags, some of it worthless, and went home feeling like they'd done their good deed for the day. I hated that they expected the Red Cross to deal with it, or that the refugees inside would love nothing more than to dig through random piles of stained clothes.

Even the media was wondering why we were taking the clothes away to Goodwill, like there was something unsavory afoot. A reporter asked me suspiciously: "Where are you taking these clothes? Aren't they for the refugees?" I wanted to say: "actually, there to be sold to benefit the Kill Unwanted Children Fund," but I held my tongue.

So here's a clue for everyone: please do not dump off your trashbags full of broken toys, out-of-season, old, stained shitty clothes, and dirty, torn bedsheets at the Red Cross shelter. Or anywhere, for that matter. For one, donation boxes are not dumpsters. For two, if you want to really help, find out what's going on in your community, and respond to the needs listed by legitimate organizations. Otherwise, you're just creating extra work for those who are trying to get a job done.