After the video hit TV, like corporate execs everywhere, the folks running the show in New Orleans scurry around to hide the Dead Guy and send a convoy of 15 vans and people in special suits and all kinda flunkies to make the bad story go away.
And the guy paid to haul New Orleans trash says something pretty profound. He says "they coulda just sent one van to pick up this one Dead Guy and the other 14 coulda gotten other Dead Guys."
Now that's not an exact quote, though I'd be pleased if someone pointed me to it, cause I've had a cold all weekend and I'm not sure if this is a dream I made up in my own head or a story from the radio that was playing as I drifted in a fever doze.
You see New Orleans is full of Dead Guys.
When I was in the local news business we had affectionate names for them: floaters, flyers, the vic, peanut butter. I was forever making sure that the young news hounds didn't actually put the pictures of the floaters still in the water on the air, and I made it a personal rule that no one shot peanut butter ever. Even if there was a new intern learning to edit tape. Not even then.
We didn't call them Dead Guys, but I recognise the moniker. If it's a Dead Guy, it doesn't have anything to do with you. It's just something unpleasant that is someone else's problem, and potentially, if the shot is just right and the producer approves, the lead story. Like if some great big dog gets hit by the side of the road and the maggots come and it bloats and every day for a week you pass it on your way to work and think "where the hell is the city, that stinks." Cause that dog ain't your dog, and that Dead Guy ain't your uncle or brother or nobody special at all. It's just a Dead Guy. And they happen. Mostly on the Sopranos where you don't have to smell them, or in car accidents where you want to crane your neck to see, but not really.
Dead Guys are even funny to take out for a drink like Weekend at Bernie's if you just step back from it a little. And that's exactly where Bush & Co. want us. Back a little. Afraid to find out the real answer. They don't want us to think too hard about all those Dead Guys.
Not the granny Dead Guys in 53 old folks homes that didn't evacuate. Not them. And certainly not the ICU dead guys that got stacked like cordwood in the stairwell at Charity Hospital. Not them either. And they don't want us to think about the Dead Guys laying (or is it lieing) in a pool of they-must-have-been-alive-when-they-were-shot blood in the Superdome, where they got put in a freezer because at least then they could shut the damn door.
If you look at today's news stories, the authorities are parsing pretty fine when it comes to counting all those aunts and uncles and bitty baby Dead Guys. They say there's only 154 so far. But they also say this , and this is what has me worried:
"Although body-recovery operations were still under way, the death toll represents the number of bodies that have been counted where the deaths were a result of Katrina's winds, rains or floodwaters, or those who died as a result of medical equipment that became inoperable during the hurricane."
I was in the media for 8 years and I know the sound of weasel words when I hear them. I want to make sure that these Dead Guys are counted, in their wheelchairs and their mother's arms, and on the buses and on the rooftops and in the back bedroom where their asthma got them if the water didn't. I want to make sure that each and every last one of them is counted.
I want their names written down on a big list, and read off on anniversaries and remembered as people who were loved and who loved and who struggled and lost that fight to Katrina and to time and to bureaucratic bungling.
And I want us all to remember that if we don't see those names, if we know about a Dead Guy whose story has not been told, we have to do just like the guy paid to bulldoze New Orleans trash. We have to tell the story. And if the authorities don't listen, we have to tell the media. And we have to give them a date and a place and a time and a story. And when they show up, we have to make sure that when the convoy of cars trying to clean up the mess they made arrives that we don't let it go unremarked. Not even one Dead Guy. Not in New Orleans. Not in Mississippi, not in Houston, not in Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. Not one.
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