- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

Notes from Norman

Paul A. Greenberg, a former newspaperman with the Times-Picayune and professor at Tulane University — that is, until Hurricane Katrina reared her ugly head — is one of thousands of “refugees” driven from New Orleans homes with only the clothes on his back.

We’re happy to report that Mr. Greenberg has not only found refuge — “in the suburbs of Oklahoma,” as he calls it — but somehow he’s retained his sense of humor.

“Okay, today it’s been a little over two weeks since Katrina canceled my life,” he writes in his diary, portions of which he gives Inside the Beltway permission to reprint. “And every day I just try to find a real purpose, you know. So, today I’m going shopping.”

For this Bourbon Street transplant, shopping in the fruited plains of America is quite the experience.

“First, I mean you say the words ‘New Orleans’ to them and they give you the look: you know the look — it’s kind of a combination of sympathy, empathy, and please don’t get too comfortable in Oklahoma,” says Mr. Greenberg, adding that the Red Cross gave him a voucher worth $360 to spend at Wal-Mart.

“Did you know there are stores called Super Wal-Mart or Wal-Mart Superstore or something? Under the same roof they sell like all the toilet paper and mops and DVDs, but they also have a pharmacy, a McDonald’s hamburger restaurant, a lawn and garden center, a tire center and even a full grocery store.

“So while you’re shopping for your gallon-size cottage cheese and four dozen glazed donuts, you can have your tires rotated, your Paxil refilled and buy a fake diamond engagement ring.”

In addition, Mr. Greenberg says the “Human Services Department” in his sanctuary of Norman, Okla., issued him food stamps.

“So, I’m assuming that makes me the only Jew in America on food stamps. And the lady at the food stamp office gave me this real serious speech about not trying to buy cigarettes or beer with my food stamps,” he says. “And in the waiting room, where there were like 100 chairs, there was, and I swear this is true, just one magazine. It was called American Hunter. For all of us outdoorsmen, you know.”

Mr. Greenberg over the course of several days records his shopping experience at Albertson’s grocery store, his exchange with a down-home waitress at Applebee’s, and then on Wednesday of this week, he wrote about ducking into Norman’s one liquor store to buy some wine.

“Listen, a guy has to have a decent Merlot even when he doesn’t have any underwear. So I go to check out and I start chatting up the young guy who runs the register: ‘That’s a nice selection of Australian wines you guys have here. Where I come from, the prices are a bit higher on wines.’

” ‘Oh, where are you from?’ he says. (Okay, see, this is my ‘in’ right there. As soon as they say ‘Where are you from?’ you can shift into full victim mode). ‘I’m from New Orleans.’ (All right, now listen: When you say this, you have to sort of let your eyes fall down, and even slump your shoulders a bit. Run your fingers through your hair just once in a sort of semi-desperate way).

“He gives me the look (combo sympathy, empathy and you’re not going to stay in Norman too long or anything, are you?). ‘Oh gosh almighty, are you one of the evacuees?’

” ‘Well, yes I am. It’s been a nightmare.’ (You see how I did that? I’m playing it.) ‘Oh my gosh almighty, I’m going to give you a discount. Let’s see, your total is $22.73. So, let me just do some quick figuring here. Okay, that should come to exactly $22.50.’

“What? Okay, this is why people from New Orleans can’t go anywhere successfully. Because people in other places think 23 cents is a discount. … So, I’ve been getting these sort of victim gifts from people. One friend of mine sent me 12 pints of Graeter’s Ice Cream via UPS. Did you know UPS can transport ice cream and it arrives totally frozen solid?

“Another friend sent me some kind of puzzle book called Su Doku: The Officially Utterly Addictive Number Placing Puzzle. Somebody else sent me Silly Putty. And then somebody sent me a T-shirt that says: ‘Suppose You Are an Idiot and Suppose You are a Member of Congress — But I Repeat Myself.’ ”

Yesterday, when Inside the Beltway tracked down Mr. Greenberg, he was sitting “in a big cushy chair wearing just this T-shirt and eating a whole pint of Graeter’s double-chocolate-chip while I watch ‘The Young and the Restless.’ Don’t close your eyes, because you may be forced into seeing that image and you don’t deserve that.”

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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