When the Bad Times Roll

By Frank Van Riper
Special to Camera Works
Tuesday, September 20, 2005; 4:32 PM

Unlike some, I have no emotional attachment to New Orleans--nor to Mardi Gras, Brennan's, beignets, cajun cooking, dixieland jazz, nor to coffee laced with chicory.

I have been to the Big Easy only once: during a brief presidential campaign stop in 1980. Long enough to bend my boss' expense account at Brennan's and to listen to some jazz in the French Quarter and, for a brief while, to listen to and later report on a campaign speech by Jimmy Carter.

I have no friends or family in New Orleans, nor any that I can number in Louisiana or Mississippi, and for this I am grateful. Because, given the depth of my sadness now over the death, destruction, terror and pain that has befallen that area in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I hate to imagine how much worse I could feel with loved ones among the missing or dead.

I am writing this column as an appeal, a way perhaps to magnify an individual effort to do something to help.

The biggest need for the short term, so I gather from news reports, is money: simple, cold hard cash. I hope that many of you already have picked up the phone to any of the legitimate aid groups that are trying to bring help and succor to so many.

I chose the Red Cross. You may choose from a host of others.

But I also propose something else.

Most recently I wrote about the perennial appeals made to artists to give their work away to charitable auctions, with precious little given them in return, save the dubious promise of publicity. I wrote back then that artists should be selective in their largesse, and support only those causes to which they feel a personal bond, lest they fall victim to compassion fatigue.

Looking at the horrible pictures from the south I feel no such fatigue today -- only the same kind of dread and malaise I felt in the first awful days after September 11th.

And the same feeling of a need to do something more.

Four years ago I augmented the money donations that my wife and I made to 9/11 relief with my words -- a succession of columns and essays that tried to put parameters around the unthinkable.

Four years ago I wrote of "the invisible dead," and how the grotesque horror that befell us from the sky literally vaporized hundreds and hundreds of victims and rendered unnecessary the long lines of ambulances, and later morgue trucks, that lined the streets of lower Manhattan, waiting to lend assistance.

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