Disaster Baiting, or, Why Katrina Evacuees Love LA

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

My heart goes out to everyone in California who can't go home right now. At best I can offer a New Orleanean's short how-not-to along the lines of former George Bush adviser Peter Wehner calling this disaster response an attempt at "the "anti-Katrina."

Help is on the way.

At some point you're going to get a $265 check from the Red Cross, and a plastic bag filled with washcloths, razors, shaving cream and other grooming supplies, gender appropriate. If you had a roommate and lost your house, only one of you will qualify for FEMA aid, so you may want to work that out now unless that's changed along with the pet evacuation law.

The Salvation Army is the rock star of charities and will have warehouses of donated items you can replace your ruined clothes with, because you will never get the smell out of whatever survived. If you end up homeless for months, start a charity to help other survivors. It helps pass the time and it's nice to be nice.

Strangers will be kind.

Tennessee Williams called it. When you're halfway across the country buying a new blow drier, umbrella, the basics, and the clerk sees your California driver's license she will probably give you those supplies for free. Then you will think of what else you meant to pick out but didn't. There's no polite way to go back for it. Unless you're Don Johnson, chances are you didn't leave with a trunk full of gold bars, so enjoy the free round of drinks while it's still offered.

When staying with friends who have no television to watch your disaster on, enjoy the tranquility. Also at the next house without basic cable. You may turn into a bit of an ingrate because it takes a lifetime to arrange things the way you like them. Don't feel bad about this - you're a human being, not a houseplant. Larry David did a great service to evacuee awareness when he showed the fictional family he took in wanting their bread fully toasted and soft toilet paper. Now he's newly single Larry with the only evacuee cast I can think of.

Your leaders will act out.

"Everyone's getting their yoga classes. No one is complaining," Arnold Schwarzenegger said yesterday.

When an ABC reporter pointed out the Orange County Fire Chief's comment that "It is an absolute fact: Had we had more air resources, we would have been able to control this fire," the governor grabbed her hand and yanked it back and forth like he was trying to send her back into the future.

Then his wife described the president as "solicitous," which has slightly negative connotations so maybe her Kennedy is coming out.

You'll eventually be blamed for your disaster.

Glenn Beck has been on the air gloating over the fire headed to elite neighborhoods, not realizing it would burn down a Marine Base and possibly Mel Gibson's home. You don't want to know the charts we had to watch at my dad's house with Pat Robertson showing the evil in New Orleans and the wind forces that took it out.

Cable news is also showing split screens comparing Gulf Coast evacuees to the current ones in a bizarre case of disaster survivor baiting. Like we're going to get into a big fight over who had a harder time being homeless. Twenty years ago my newsroom was told to switch to a model of writing that was geared to a second grade level. It seems to have sunk to kindergarten. Anchors are practically mimes.

And the disaster comparison is a red herring. One sociopath has posted the comment that it's really not that hard to drown compared to burning. (Speaking of comments, mine haven't cleared for the last week so I'm responding to your comments, you just can't see it).

When disaster baiting happens to good people.

Since I was without television at the time, I don 't know whether Gulf Coast evacuees after the levees failed were shown in split screen comparisons with Tsunami victims and rated like a game show with comments like, "Unlike recent disasters, these refugees speak English."

Whatever the case, I hope the country evolves and that two years from now you don't wake up to a split screen where you are compared to new disaster survivors who had the foresight to have already packed and sold their houses before getting makeovers.

While their leaders say, ""The people are happy. They haaff everything here."

And Glenn Beck shows your devastated home with a laugh track.