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Bills mount, as does the rage of the powerless
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A few mornings ago I woke up to a ticket tucked under my car’s windshield wipers. And it wasn’t even street-sweeping night. That everyone else on the street also had a ticket did not make me feel any better.

The ticket was for facing my car in the wrong direction. For some reason the city likes everyone to line up single-file like third-graders. I got used to this when I lived downtown with the frequent sight of the meter maids searching for something to do.

So when I moved to midtown I delighted in parking my car any which way I wished, the same way I rejoiced in being able to paint my house any colors I wanted without the approval of a historic urban review board.

Besides, in this part of town maybe ten cars are parked on both sides of the street at any given moment, so it’s not as if there’s a safety issue. In this part of town -- as elsewhere, I’m sure -- there are other things for police officers to be doing than writing out parking tickets.

According to the citation, the tickets were issued at 1:30 a.m. -- and by a police officer, not a meter maid. Maybe he or she was trying to stay awake. Maybe there was a monthly quota to meet. I don’t know.

The morning I got the ticket I only knew one thing to do, and that was to head down to the office of parking services and protest. I told them the least they could have done was to give us a warning, since this is the way we’ve always parked.

Half listening to me, the clerk looked down at the ticket and said, “Oh, him,” as if she had seen the name before.

Oh, great, I thought.

In the end, she dismissed the ticket -- writing “warning” at the bottom -- so I was pleased about that. But I couldn’t help but think about the other people on my street and if they would know how or where to go downtown to complain, and if they didn’t pay the ticket how quickly the fees would escalate. Which is what I started telling her despite the line forming behind me.

“That’s up to them,” she said, coldly.

If I hadn’t just talked to a friend in Fort Lauderdale who had been without electrical power nearly three weeks after Hurricane Wilma -- and was told by Florida Power and Light that despite the inconvenience the company would be estimating his bill, then reducing it by a quarter -- I might have let it go. But I couldn’t.

In minutes I become a woman on the edge of madness. I am Virginia Woolf, Kate Millet, Sylvia Plath. Between the disconnect and the disconnected it’s getting harder to find a balance and/or to believe this is happening.

I’m flooded with the same emotions every time I read a story or hear a piece on New Orleans. Then again, we could substitute Iraq. Without the car-bombs, the suicide bombs or the sniper attacks, we could be talking about Louisiana and Mississippi.

In New Orleans, there’s of course the issue of the levees. No one wants to rebuild or reinvest if they can’t be sure their property is secure. Another issue is housing, which includes public housing, something no one likes to talk about.

After spending a few days recently in Pascagoula, Miss., with a local church group, I can hardly drive down the street without seeing the debris that is still emerging from people’s homes. I can hardly go through a day without recalling conversations with people about their attempts to sort out insurance problems and mortgage commitments.

Three months after Hurricane Katrina, whole stretches of New Orleans are still without electrical power. Are they going to be charging those people, too? The best the electric company can promise is “maybe by year’s end we’ll have it operating in 80 percent of the homes.” It’s sounding more and more like Baghdad.

The situation is just as bad for natural gas. Almost half the city of New Orleans is still without enough gas for cooking or heating. The 80 percent figure was given here too -- except not until mid-January. Or mid-winter.

In a weekend story in the New York Times I read that toilets in half the homes of New Orleans are still not connected to the city’s sewer system and about a quarter of the city is still without drinkable water.

This is New Orleans we talking about, a jewel of a city everyone loves to visit when times are good, a city with an important port, a city with soul. I feel as if we’re turning our back on them while spending billions each week in Iraq.

Somehow I don’t think this would be happening if it were San Francisco or New York or Seattle. I know this comes as no surprise to the powerless from Louisiana and Mississippi who are scattered across the globe, but for once it’s the privileged who are experiencing the same inconveniences.

But what I want to know is: If I’m so on edge from a mere parking ticket, what must they be feeling and when are we going to start hearing from them?

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