I sat down at the coffee house to write my column. I'd just read a long confession by St. Augustine that he was depressed until he met God. Actually, I'd just heard from a friend that he was depressed until he met the right drug. I was pretty depressed myself about having to write this thing without a thought in my head, when an acquaintance stopped by to tell me that she was still fixing her house, with money borrowed from the bank, that she hadn't gotten any money from insurance, and that her chief source of income was being ruined by Section E.
While my coffee got cold, she told me that she'd rented this apartment she owned to a woman who got a rent voucher for nearly $1,000 under Section E. That wasn't bad for an apartment that used to rent pre-K for $600. The only trouble was that the Section E renter had moved five people in with her, either relatives or people who paid her section E money. After a few months of Section E, there wasn't much left of the apartment, which would eventually have to be renovated with borrowed money if the renters were ever going to move out.
I don't know why this reminded me of Cuba. In Havana, after the revolution, the communists gave peasants city apartments. There isn't much left of the fine pre-Castro apartments of bourgeois Havana. The peasants burned the furniture and put holes in the ceiling to let out the smoke. New Orleans is a lot like Havana, and George Bush is a lot like Fidel Castro. That's depressing, and the only cure for it is the rescinding of Section E and the removal of George Bush. But that would depress the hell out of the peasants. I thought about the Newsweek reporter who'd called me earlier to ask what I thought about the near-cannibalism in the murder-suicide that took place in my neighborhood. "Pretty depressing," I said, "because we are a small neighborhood where everyone knows everybody else and we've all seen these people and knew them at least slightly." But that's not what he wanted to know. He wanted to know if the fact that the guy had cooked his girlfriend was somehow a New Orleans thing having to do with voodoo and post-Katrina depression. "Absolutely not," I said, "the guy caught some demon in Iraq, brought it over here and did this mainstream, Midwestern American thing that you can see on network TV every night." "Midwestern, how is that?" I reminded him of Jeffrey Dahmer from Milwaukee and the slew of psycho killers from Wisconsin. People mostly cook their significant others in cold climes. He wasn't too pleased with this shifting of horror from New Orleans to Milwaukee, but it lifted my depression for a second.
If you really think about it, everybody is depressed, and you can't blame that on catastrophe and history. The majority of unhappy people live in the suburbs. I was born with a rather dark view of the progress of human life because we were horribly poor in a small town at the edge of nowhere. For all that, I'd be a lot more depressed if I lived in a brand-new shopping mall. The truth is pretty subjective. Only depression is real. There was an old slogan in the '70s: "Reality is for people who can't face drugs." Looks like now it's back to the other way around.
Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).