Monday, October 24, 2005

Predicting Hurricane Wilma

After a week of dire warnings, Hurricane Wilma is finally blowing around Sebring a bit. Piffle.
I’m not saying it didn’t slam Cancun. I’m not forgetting how Hurricane Charley ripped my roof last year. I’m just bemused about living in a media-mad world where we’re bombarded with forecasts, super-saturated with news.

Survival requires memory,
but also more than a pinch of forgetting.

Neither am I forgetting how much I’ve loved hurricanes all my life. We had a few good ones on Long Island in the 1940s. When I was three my family moved into a house in Rockville Centre that had five nice trees. A year or two later we had two battered trees: and three ugly stumps. But kids roll with punches like that. We all do. Survival requires memory, but also more than a pinch of forgetting.
I’ll never forget how I chose the height of one hurricane to bicycle my newspapers around my lengthy route. Sometimes I went sideways. The whole time I wobbled. Huge trees branches cratered the lawns, pulverized against asphalt ... No one expected their paper that day, and all they would have found later, swept among the shrubs, would have been a soggy, inky mess. But, boy, did I love hurling my tomahawk-folded National-Review Stars against the gale.

As teens we went body surfing right after the brunt of one mid-1950s storm. No fatalities, but it was close. Thirty seconds among the Jones Beach waves and everyone of us was tangled among rusted hooks, salt-rimed fishing line ... A huge sea-black ships beam loomed within inches of Al’s head ...

Last year I got to live a nightmare. The palm was banging against my bedroom wall. I thought I might get more peace down the road at my studio. It was a kick slaloming the mountain bike among fallen pine branches on the cave-dark road. No electricity of course. A half-hour into a sleep the studio shook under a ferocious kick from something steel. I went outside to look. And my circus tent car port attacked me from the oak tree.

rampant tent, tied downtrampling tent, becalmed

I’d had it staked down, but obviously not strongly enough. In the dark, those steel legs came at me like elephant feet.

But I’m talking about news and prediction. If you own a shipping fleet, if all your capital and then some is at sea, you definitely want to hear weather forecasts, you want them to be more accurate than possible. But why should the rest of us care? If I want to know what kind of a day (or night) it is, I just look out the window: or open the door and step outside. If I’m out in my boat and the lake turns upside down, I learn about it soon enough: just in time to duck. If the doctor thinks I’ve got two hours to live, I’d prefer him to keep it to himself.

I recall one time when I did want a weather forecast. I was driving from upstate to down state: the Apple and home. Passing a ski resort, I parked and napped, thinking I’d catch a couple of runs before hurrying the remaining hundred-odd miles to my desk. What awakened me more than daylight was torrential rain. Hmm. Should I hope it passes quickly? Catch at least one run? Or just head home? I drove up to the poor guy stationed by the entrance in a heavy rain slicker to direct traffic that wasn’t arriving.
I rolled the window a crack. "Have you heard a weather report?" I called through the gale. Bundled like Marge Gunderson in Fargo, he answered me: "It’s raining."

The guy looked like the stump in my childhood yard. The guy was about as bright. But at the same time as I insult him, I applaud him: the guy wasn’t polluted by a sense of FOREcasting. He was living like a skunk, like a raccoon ... moment to moment. Ah.

Freud wrote about media as core to our discontent with civilization.

PS There are a couple of things I’d intended in the weave that got left out. For the moment I’ll just tack on a couple of finger strings, weave them later:

Hurricane Wilma reminded me of my fictional Comet Beroena. My first novel (link temp. down) imagined Beroena’s ephemeris as confounding the experts. So we clobbered it, unknowingly burning the alien who was hot rodding it alive. Later, his friends didn’t care that the murder was unwitting.

I love hurricanes, but I did not love being without electricity for a week last year, Catherine ailing, the temperature in the shade over one hundred: stifling, not a fresh breath: part of what killed her: at ninety-six.

I am much less fond of tornadoes. One ripped through here in 1990, gouging a swath just over half a mile.
I was at the Toshiba, write, write, writing. Paused while the disk drive groaned away, saving my work, I realized that I was missing a bodacious storm. As I opened the door I was yanked horizontal, my right foot just barely catching the door frame. As I hovered, twisting in the gale, my gaze was arrested by the extension ladder, lifted from its hooks on the side of the wash room and cart wheeling through the air, sixty feet overhead.
That particular gust passed, face down on the steps, I managed to crawl backwards, back inside. I struggled the door closed.
Yes, I enjoyed the rest of that storm from inside: till the worst of it was passed. Then I went out and walked around: amid THE most spectacular sustained lightning display I have ever seen. The entire dome of the sky, from the zenith to all horizons was networked in electric blue-white violence.
But then this part of Florida regularly has fabulous lightning.

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