I would think that years from now One Dead in Attic will be but a footnote to the Hurricane Katrina story. Someone important will write the “authoritative” account – which will, itself, be to most of the world little more than a footnote to Bush’s failed presidency.
But for the people living in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina, Chris Rose’s columns in the Times Picayune have served as a kind of public diary for the city’s representative observations and reactions, the almost universal hope and despair.
Perhaps in this 21st Century world of blogs and posts and so-forth, people are more willing to embrace this sort of journalism.
I, personally, don’t care for it much. But Rose has his high points. And my own personal tastes or visions aside, there is almost no one I know who doesn’t read his column religiously.
“One Dead in Attic” was spray-painted on the front of Thomas Coleman’s house on St. Roch Avenue in New Orleans. A retired longshoreman who loved to tell stories, Coleman was 80 years old when he died with a can of juice and a bedspread at his side. The book, whose proceeds go to ARTDOCS and the Tipitina’s Foundation, is dedicated to him.
The first column I remember striking a cord with all of us appears at page 67 and is entitled “Despair”. It is about a young couple who couldn’t make it. He committed suicide. We were fairly insulated, living in Destin, Florida, and, for some reason, this column really struck a cord.
I seem to also remember reading somewhere something from an earlier column (may have been in Harper’s):
I saw Anderson Cooper interviewing Dr. Phil. And while Cooper’s CNN’s camera crew filmed Dr. Phil, Dr. Phil’s camera crew filmed Cooper, and about five or six other camera crews from other shows and networks stood to the side and filmed all of that.
By reporting this scene, I have become the media covering the media covering the media.
It all has the surrealistic air of a Big Event, what with Koppel and Geraldo and all those guys wandering around in their Eddie Bauer hunting vests, and impossibly tall and thin anchorwomen from around the region powdering their faces and teasing their hair so they look good when they file their report from hell. “And today in New Orleans … blah, blah, blah.”
Which raises an interesting question about Rose, who seems a little overly melodramatic about what he refers to as “The Thing”, namely: Hasn’t Katrina, professionally speaking, been far and away the best thing that’s ever happened to him?
(Of course, they always say something similar about lawyers; that we find success in others’ despair.) (It’s interesting that people don’t say the same thing about doctors; although it would seem to generally be true in their case as well.)
Those issues aside, Rose seems to provide people with a surrogate voice. Readers apparently don’t mind that he is in the center of his pieces. Deeply affected, yet cool, with it, down, politically correct or appropriately incorrect as the case may be. They identify with him.
Someone kicked in the window at Shoefly, a high-end show boutique amd what a good pair of Manolo Blahnik stilettos is going to do you right now, I don’t know.
I myself was escorted out of the local Winn Dixie by narcotices officers from Rusk County, Texas.
I told them I thought it was OK to take what we need.”And what do you need?” the supervisor asked me. I reached into my bag and held up a bottle of mouthwash.
I told him that I will come back to this Winn Dixie one day and pay for this bottle and I will. I swear it.
Right by the entrance of the store, there is a huge pile of unsold newspapers stacked upfrom the last day they were delivered: Aug. 28.
The Times-Picayune headline screams: KATRINA TAKES AIM.
Ain’t that the truth? Funny, though: The people you see here – and there are many who stayed behind – they never speak her name. She is the woman who done us wrong.
To me, Rose is best as a reporter. He wrote a great column, just last week, about the old Desire Street bus line. Sure, he was right in the middle of things, riding around on his bicycle and dishing out quarters to the bums. But he has an eye for things. An ear, too. If you like the other stuff, great. If you don’t, then it’s still worth panning for gold. There’s a few nuggets, if you know how to sift for them.