The power of names: There’s a little hurricane in all of us

Thursday. A day strange, anxious, hot and sunny. Coming up with “Andrew.” That’s what the folks who Charley collided with can look forward to—every threat of hurricane is like a lottery ticket you’re hoping won’t scratch the same name.

Ten years after the Category 5 storm hit Miami-Dade, what sticks is the memory of long, slow days afterward. I tell this to my wife, who looks at me like I’m crazy.

Miami Beach was breezy. Surfers, starved the long summer for waves, dove through waves to ride the chop. Not yet swell. Mostly paddling against the rip current like gulls pointing into the wind. My 14-year-old is out there, earning credibility. Standing on the beach, I’m drawing down whatever I managed to sock away.

Gazing to the southeast, the horizon is darkening where Frances will come from. Overhead, low white tufts of cloud scud quickly from the northeast. Native Americans, in the Everglades, knew how to read the wind. Must have. A hot, humid wind from the northeast on a sunny day in August or September meant pack the papoose and head for the shell mounds.

Try to find a can of propane, a battery or piece of plywood in South Florida. We’re in lockdown. Streets are quiet. Water managers are dumping the canals and Lake Okeechobee like there is no tomorrow.

From the surfers’ corner of the beach, ocean tankers glide out the Port of Miami eerily disembodied by the jetty to Government Cut, as though only the upper decks were steaming out to deep water. In the distance, freighters are heading due south to safety.

Spent the late afternoon fastening rotten plywood to the windows on my house, stored in a backyard corner the past several years—wondering if all I’m doing is drilling termites into our house.

Boarded up, our house is a cave. Watching the late news, frustrated travelers are trying unsuccessfully to leave Florida from Miami International Airport in the middle of a hurricane panic. Don’t they know, a normal day is a hurricane at MIA?

Went to sleep feeling comforted, all buttoned up.

Friday. Woke up claustrophic, feeling like one of a couple of million bowling ball pins set in the lane, with a big ball arcing our way. Turned on TV.

A slow hurricane taxes the ability of weather forecasters to endure. After the first 24 hours, gravitas fits weather reporters like ether. Stores of energy are rapidly dwindling.

You can imagine the news producers, just like in vaudeville’s bygone days when the next act was found dead drunk in the dressing room, urging the performers on stage to look alive. Minds are being polished smooth by the same information, 1,304 times. But who is counting? Even the Bush White House is starting to look rational. It is all falling apart. War has its purpose.

Which reminds me of a question my friend Bob asked, by e-mail from California. Why are the costs of hurricanes so quickly reflected in higher insurance rates—indicating attentiveness by the nation’s largest corporations—but not the costs of global climate change?

I had a friend named Frances. Actually he was known as Frank. He spelled his name Frances. Frank Taylor was a gem of a man. He produced The Misfits, one of the last films of Marilyn Monroe—whose life was a hurricane.

There is a little hurricane in all of us. Of this, the less said the better—which is, perhaps, why amid all the reporting these days there is so little news.

Somewhere it is blowing like crazy—not here. We are just spinning around, waiting. It just started to rain.

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