My Experience with Hurricanes


Last time I was in Florida, I spent a day on Sanibel Island, where the eye of Hurricane Irma came ashore yesterday. My sister J. lives about fifteen minutes from there in Ft. Myers. Luckily, she took her family up to Atlanta so they’ll be alright. Don’t know about her house.

I have been through three major hurricanes: Frances, Jeanne and Wilma. I talk about them in the novel I just wrote, Ramblin’ Fever, so I won’t say much here. Only that it’s true: people do come together in times of widespread catastrophe. You can almost feel the empathy in the air when it’s happening. It’s like the molecules have been changed, and for a moment you think maybe mankind has a chance. But then it’s over and everyone forgets and goes back to being the same shit they’d always been. Some are of course shits while everyone else is feeling benevolent, but that’s to be expected.

I feel like there is a battle going on all the time between light and dark, and I wonder sometimes if the dark has one more spear.” – Fred Gwynne.

Catastrophes also tend to bring out the absurd in people. Take a man’s electric away, the means to his TV, and you don’t know what he might do. One of my customers, a Hungarian named Bela who had a warehouse behind my shop, became so desperate after Hurricane Jeanne he walked out on his wife, picked up a prostitute and spent the night with her in my mechanic’s clutter-filled Winnebago. My mechanic said he woke up the next morning only to see Bela’s bare ass suspended above him in the bed up top. Later that morning, Bela came into my shop and sat down in my office, drunk. I’d never seen him drunk before. I’d only seen him in work-mode, laid-back, cheerful and polite. That day he sat down in the chair next to my desk and started telling me about the Hungarian mafia and how cold and brutal they were. He told me a few stories, but I can’t remember them. I only remember he kept telling me that if I ever were to encounter them, I’d shit my pants.

“Yewwd shit yo pants,” he kept saying.

Bela was probably the most mild, polite and reasonable customer I had, and then the hurricane came and he walked out on everything and ended up on the chair, drunk and fierce-eyed at 11 a.m., with more confidence in the control I had over my bowels than anyone I’ve ever met.

“Yewwd shit yo paaaaaants!”

I just got an email from my mom saying everyone in my family is fine.

“Can’t believe it!!” she wrote. “So happy! Quite an experience!!”

She said my brother D. didn’t even lose power.

Good thing. I don’t think he knows much about the Hungarian mafia, but he likes TV and I would hate for his bare ass to find itself suspended in someone’s clutter-filled Winnebago in the next few days.