Backing Up the Evacuees
Step into their world: I can understand your frustration, especially regarding your desire to "get a story" ["Faded Love," by Josh Harkinson, October 27], but try to understand this.
What makes you think these people were so bad because they didn't contact you? Do you know how many people they probably had to contact, like lost family members, friends, co-workers and the people who offered assistance before you? Where did they store your number? In their Rolodexes or PDAs, perhaps? I am a professional, and on a good day I have a hard time keeping up with cards and loose papers with numbers scribbled on them. What makes you think your agenda was so important to these people -- or to anybody, for that matter? Did you reveal to these evacuees that you were a member of the press? The same press that twists every story they report to fit the culture of their paper (conservative or liberal)? The same press that did not give a shit about the conditions of one soul in New Orleans pre-Katrina? Step into their world. Some of these people can't even remember the days of the week.
And yes, someone was drinking Mad Dog 20/20, but before you make it seem like a carnal sin by the poor blacks in the Astrodome, tell me you don't know one white, white-collar professional who grabs a drink after a hard day's work. Granted, they may grab a higher-priced drink, but nonetheless it's a drink. Hell, after Hurricane Katrina, I'm surprised that was all he was drinking.
Other things on their minds: I found Harkinson's "Faded Love" so interesting I decided to compose an abbreviated version: "All New Orleans evacuees are ungrateful blacks who don't want to work and talk like Amos and Andy."
There's a big difference between wanting to help and making a "deal" for an interview. I can personally relate to Sequoia's confusion over her clothes. But I can't understand why a supposedly intelligent journalist really thought he could retrieve clothing that had been under 14 feet of toxic muck for a week. It doesn't make sense. And to quote Judge Judy, "If it doesn't make sense, it isn't true."
I also question the accuracy of the quotes from those resource-hogging ingrates Mr. Harkinson suffered. Why would Darren Clark say "We got enemies in here" but in the next sentence use correct grammar and say "but right now we are standing together"? It doesn't make sense.
Having experienced the mind-numbing horror of the biggest natural disaster in American history, I can tell you the last thing I'd want in my face would be a reporter daring me to go to an employment agency. Again, there's a big difference between wanting to help and wanting an interview subject.
Harkinson's article paints these evacuees as "mostly deadbeats" despite his claim he was reluctant to think so. The good deeds he chronicles are somewhat tainted by his indignation that despite getting thank-you calls from Cornell Ridgley, he never got that Creole meal Cornell's wife promised.
Trust me that the majority of evacuees are mentally overwhelmed with such minor details as jobs, bills, houses, toxic mold, clothes, that call from FEMA, paying mortgages on concrete slabs, insurance companies and driving or walking around Houston without getting killed. When and where they're supposed to meet or call that reporter guy isn't on the list.
I would call Harkinson's reporting self-serving, but I'm sure David Duke loved it, too.
Michael R. Smith
New Orleans (temporarily relocated to Houston)
Josh, Josh, Josh, grow up! Halfway through Josh Harkinson's "Faded Love" article, I was laughing. By the time I finished I was, as usual, pissed. The No. 1 rule when volunteering to help others: Do not volunteer to feel good about yourself, because you will be let down. If that's what you need, then tutor kids, help with the Special Olympics or teach Sunday school.
So you thought you were going to help a bunch of people who live every day in a complicated type of intergenerational poverty dating back to Reconstruction and get a thank-you from them? They lost all their shit in the hellhole they lived in, and you were going to help them and they would thank you? Who the fuck do you think you are? Do you think no one has come before you to help? Why do you think social-service employees burn out so quickly? For every 1,000 you try to save, you're lucky if you save one.
Promise after promise has been made decade after decade. White people, black people, whoever -- always promising. Promises that won't and can't be delivered. Worse than the broken promises are the people and businesses who exploit the poor to make a buck -- or to win a prize for journalism. And the poor know this. Either you want to feel good about yourself or you're trying to make money, and either way, you won't be around tomorrow, but they will.
These people have been forgotten, and they will be forgotten after this blows over. Poverty and racism are ugly facts of life in the United States, and we don't want to think about it because if we think about it, what does it say about us?
Fuck the do-gooders. They're worse than the conservative assholes. All these liberal jackasses who sit in their fucking feng shui Uptown, downtown, Midtown town homes with degrees and money coming out of their asses talking about how to approach and help with these types of problems just fuck up things even more. They want to volunteer and get a thank-you and feel good about themselves. Then when that doesn't happen, they get pissed, give up and turn into conservative assholes.
You want to tell a story that has been told over and over. How many journalists have won praise and awards for stories about the disenfranchised? Is there no longer poverty? Has racism gone away? Do the poor all have college degrees and good jobs? Will they not have to go hungry, homeless or cold again? Will they suddenly start managing their money and get out of the ghetto?
You need to grow up and learn the cold, hard facts of life. It is hopeless, and it's not about you. Accept that, and then you can help. You may actually help someone, but not on the terms you want. You won't feel better about yourself, but you might feel hope, and that can be pretty damn good.
Dead on: As a White Sox fan living in Houston (who considers himself an Astros fan during the 99 percent of the year when the 'Stros and Sox aren't playing; any enemy of the Cubs is a friend of mine), I applaud your World Series coverage ["Ready to Rumble," by Richard Connelly, October 27].
Nice dig on the Chronicle's sadly pathetic "Shoeless Joe" hand puppet. As a Chicagoan (fourth generation), and as a White Sox fan (fourth generation), I think that fourth-graders on the North Side of Chicago can flip insults at the Sox and their fans better than the Chronicle's hand puppet.
Sportswriters tried to turn Chicago into Boston with all this talk of the "curse" and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Look, my grandpa was five years old when those bums threw the game in 1919 to the Reds, and my reading about it has led me to believe it came down to money. Players felt owner/tightwad Charles Comiskey wasn't giving them their due. A few of them, led by Chick Gandil and leading pitcher Eddie Cicotte, decided to double their salaries (in those days, about $6,000, I believe) by throwing games to the Reds so that the gamblers could turn a hefty profit.
Of course, some players dropped the games, the gamblers never paid the promised money, feelings were hurt, and John Sayles made a classic film with David Strathairn and John Cusack, Eight Men Out. But honestly, no one in Chicago considers the South Side or the team "cursed."
Anyone who knows anything about Chicago White Sox baseball knows that your graphic on page 24 was dead on! On "the glamorous Cubs": Wrigley is an overglorified frat party with a few baseball games on the side.
On "Pabst Blue Ribbon": My grandpa, who is 91 years old, used to own a tavern on the west side of the city in the '60s, and I know he served Pabst Blue Ribbon.
On White Sox fans "screaming about an opponent's mom": Usually I save that vitriol for Cub fans. Or Yankee fans. Or Boston. Everyone else's mom is off-limits.
On what's "under all that team-logo gear": You're right -- great insecurity, great fear that we could get smoked at any time by the Indians, Red Sox, Angels or 'Stros. Even during Game Four in the ninth inning, I was terrified that a Boston-like comeback was en route. Assume the worst, as White Sox fans. Assume the worst, hope for the best.
Keep up the good work.
Give him a better shake: A man who confesses his crime and sin to his family and to the state, accepts his penalty and then pays it above and beyond all fairness, while reconciling with the victim (his stepdaughter), deserves a better, more civilized shake ["No Redemption," by Margaret Downing, October 6]. To imply that he should forever burn in hell is exactly the cruel type of ignorance that your writer is crusading against. Kudos for printing the story, and the letters that illuminate the small-minded, hard-heartedness that underlie a case such as this.
Name withheld by request
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In an item titled "Out and About" in the November 3 Hair Balls column, we reported that we tried to reach Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith but a Fox spokesperson didn't return messages.
Actually, we didn't do a very good job of trying to reach someone from Fox. Instead of telephoning, we sent e-mail messages with requests for a contact and information to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. As was explained to us after publication, these lines operate as a service to Fox viewers and get as many as 100,000 e-mails a day.
So our request for information never got to the right person in time.
The Houston Press regrets its reliance on e-mails in this case and promises to pick up the phone in the future.