Helpless Americans

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the hurricane Katrina catastrophe, I remember seeing a television
interview of a woman who had lost her home to the storm. She was
screaming, "Where is my FEMA home? I want my FEMA home right
now!" I pondered a response for her that would have gone something
like, "Why don't you just look up into the sky and you will
soon see a huge helicopter bringing your home to you." No doubt,
a cynic such as myself has no business interviewing the public.
It took me a while to process my disgust for the lady who expected
a FEMA home to be dropped at her feet.

a child growing up in upstate New York, I recall a commercial for
a cereal product called Maypo. It was a maple-flavored cereal
that may have come from Canada. As I remember it, a TV commercial
hawked the cereal where an over-indulged child is offered a breakfast
but refuses it and cries out, "I want my Maypo!"
He continues screaming for his Maypo until his mother gives
it to him whereupon he calmly eats the product. The child was rewarded
for having a fit and the mother was rewarded for giving in to him
because it bought some peace in the home. I have no idea whether
Maypo is still around, but that "I want!" behavior
surely prevails.

Americans, by their birthright, entitled to a FEMA home? Are we
to expect such items following catastrophic events? I thought this
was a ridiculous notion and could not see where it came from until
hurricane Wilma tore apart my own neighborhood in Miami just a short
while ago. I have learned that there is a pervasive attitude that
people have which essentially has bent their hands out of the survive-and-recover
position and changed them into the gimme position. Gimme this, gimme
that. I want this done for me because I'm an American and the government
owes me everything I want.

following the end of Wilma's destructive winds, I was out of the
house assessing what needed to be done to get a huge tree off our
house. My wife would say it was maybe a bit too early when I went
out as some gusts were still knocking things around (like my 240
pound body). But I just could not wait to get started on the recovery.
Within minutes, my neighbor was by my side helping to turn the fallen
tree into a debris pile. Within a few hours, the tree was history;
our grandkids' swing set was reassembled, and some of the small
trees I had planted over the years were righted and tied in a vertical
position. I had our generator humming along keeping the essential
appliances alive.

am not claiming that I'm a super guy who has a need to rescue anyone
or anything. I do think I came from and probably belong in a different
era. I have a strong work ethic that was likely imprinted into my
DNA and reinforced by my upbringing. When snowstorms hit our hometown,
my friends took to the neighborhood with snow shovels and would
clear walkways just for the exercise. School would be closed following
the storms and since that was pre-video game, pre-computer times
we wanted to do something to break the boredom. Funny how times
have changed. While cutting up that big tree and stacking the pieces
into a pile, a number of neighborhood boys walked past my wife who
was helping with the cleanup, yet none offered to give any assistance.
I was not expecting any offers of help but I could not have seen
myself walking past a middle-aged woman and her gimpy husband without
offering to pitch in and help. It is obvious I am living in the
wrong century.

in the day, I did a bit of neighborhood assessment to see how bad
things were for the rest of the community. It became evident that
there are two kinds of people: The ones who get off their butts
and do whatever they can for themselves and the others who expect
someone to do it for them. Some streets were closed due to fallen
trees and many streets were barely passable. I called out to one
neighbor to ask if he wanted help clearing part of a tree that was
obstructing traffic. He answered that the tree in the street was
the county's problem and to leave it alone. Yeah, it was the county's
problem but the county's cleanup folks were likely a tad busy at
the moment.

following day I read articles in our newspaper detailing the damage
Wilma had wrought upon our region. And wouldn't you just know it?
There was the Maypo attitude again! People were quoted asking
when FEMA might be expected to provide housing, money, food, transportation;
you name it. I began to think I had missed the memo declaring that
all Americans were authorized to become a bunch of helpless nincompoops.
The cries of "I want, I want, I want!" became louder than
the noise of the chainsaws and generators.

I have found part of the reason for the helpless behavior. We are
now told that among other things, FEMA will reimburse victims of
the hurricane for the purchase of generators and chainsaws. Well,
that was a bit unexpected. So I looked into the requirements for
reimbursement. I decided that my taxes have been supporting this
boondoggle of a government long enough to deserve a generator and
a chainsaw myself! Had I not had a saw to get that tree off my house
I would have had to hire it done and my insurance or my Uncle (Sam)
would have been hit for a bill way more than the price of a saw.
And the generator I had running was keeping a few hundred bucks'
worth of refrigerated and frozen food from spoiling (not to mention
keeping a chill on another hurricane readiness item: a few beers).
Then the stinky stuff hit the fan. FEMA will only reimburse for
items purchased after the state was declared a disaster. If you
purchased it before the storm, you were making a preparedness investment
and FEMA does not want to encourage preparedness! Yeah, makes perfect
sense. Our government is encouraging helplessness and thumb-sucking
behavior of the citizens. If you prepare before the storm you get
financially punished. If you let the storm hit and then cry "Help!
Help! The sky has fallen!" Uncle FEMA will run to your aid.
I wonder if FEMA has any Maypo.

12, 2005

Woolley [send him mail]
is a disabled Vietnam veteran living in Miami, Florida. He served
with the 9th Infantry Division in The Mekong Delta in
a Ranger unit doing reconnaissance 1968–69 where he received
a gunshot wound to the head leaving one side severely paralyzed.
He is a father of four grown children and grandfather of seven,
including a set of triplets.

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