One good thing I've discovered about FEMA: it's a great icebreaker.
Mention FEMA in any social situation and the resulting conversation can go on for hours!
People in New Orleans have always been friendly and talkative. Standing in line at the po-boy shop, riding the streetcar or bus, watching your children at the playground, people here are almost always ready and willing to talk.
But if you really want to get into a hot and heavy gab fest, all you need to say is something like, "How about that FEMA!"
EVERYBODY has a story to tell: with passion, with fire and with great enthusiasm.
And unfortunately for FEMA, everybody's story is about ineptness, incongruity, and insanity.
My own FEMA story includes those themes, too.
A little over a month ago, I blogged about the fun I was having filling out paperwork and groping through the dark forest of FEMA.
Luckily for us, my Darling Wife joined me in the fight. I warned her that no man could slay the dreaded FEMA beast. And she replied in Eowyn-fashion, "I am no man!"
She took the battle straight to the source. I gave her all the files and paperwork I have been accumulating, explained to her the secrets I had learned along the way, and wished her much luck.
FEMA representatives have been keeping hours at the Jewish Community Center on St. Charles Avenue here, and my Darling Wife had heard that speaking to FEMA in person was much more effective than speaking to them on the phone.
Once again, she was right.
The FEMA rep looked up our application on the computer, furrowed his brow and said, "Everything seems to be in order. I have no idea why we haven't sent you any rental assistance yet."
Just to be certain, the FEMA rep called over a colleague, and my Darling Wife told me it was almost comical to watch their puzzled looks from where she sat on the other side of the computer screen.
"We'll tag your file for review," they finally said. "It looks complete, but nobody has taken it to the next step."
One day later, my cell phone buzzed.
"This is an automated message from the Federal Emergency Management Agency," a friendly female voice said. "You will be receiving an electronic fund transfer in the next few days."
Wow! She did it! My Darling Wife had slain the beast! She made the glacier move!
Almost. How much money? The recording did not say. For how many months? The recording did not say.
What the recording did tell me is that FEMA is also sending me important forms that I must quickly fill out and return or risk loosing the benefits I had only seconds before been granted.
More paperwork. How about that FEMA!