The power is finally back on. Phone service and DSL have also been restored. Going on line, I find that since early Monday, I have collected over 150 emails -- many from friends wanting to know if we survived Wilma. I am happy -- deliriously happy -- to report that everyone in our house -- of both the two- and four-legged variety, is in fine fettle. I wish I could say the same for the house, the pool, the trees and assorted windows, screens and the like, but I cannot. For those of you who have yet to encounter a category-two or three hurricane, count your blessings. You have absolutely no idea of just how powerful and other-worldly such a storm can be. How to explain it for the fortunately uninitiated? I guess in the words of the 17th century Dutch/Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza: The power of nature is the power of God. Amen!
Its truly amazing how much the world can change when you're hunkered down in a safe-room and then away from the Internet, television and newspapers for the better part of a week. I mean, just prior to Wilma, when I was last "plugged in":
- W was ready to go through the fires of hell for Harriet Miers.
- Scooter Libby was gainfully employed in Vice President Cheney's office,
- Patrick Fitzgerald was not a household name, and
- The Chicago White Sox hadn't won the World Series in nearly 80 years.
Ah well, stuff happens whether we're there to absorb it or not.
I'll tell you, the past five days have been a real eye-opener in a number of ways. Some random thoughts:
- Natural disasters can bring out both the best and the worst in people. Take our neighbors. On one side of us is a family that hasn't spoken to us since the first time they saw me wearing my yarmulke -- that is, the first day we moved in some 7 years ago. Today, a gang of tree-cutters came canvassing in our neighborhood, looking to cut down the massive trees that have landed on our roofs, blasted through our walls, and made driving down the street all but impossible. One tree, which sits on this particular neighbor's property, landed on my roof. I went over to his home, with an offer to split the cost (about $900.00) of cutting it down. I could barely get this proposal out of my mouth before he slammed the door in my face. End of discussion. What a horrible excuse for a homo sapiens. Then again, on the other side live a family of Sikhs from New Delhi. On the second day after the devastation, just as I was Jonesing for my morning pot of Harney's Lavender Earl Grey Tea [the Platonic Absolute of Tea!], who should appear at our back door but Deepak with the extraordinarily wonderful news that she has access to a pot of boiling water! I don't know if it's proper to use a Yiddish expression when raving about a Sikh neighbor, but I shall: fun himmel a matoneh -- i.e. "A gift from heaven."
- The Federal Government Hasn't a Clue: So what has FEMA been up to in South Florida? As Grandpa Doc would say, Vell, I'll tell 'ya. They've magnanimously set up stations in local parks where tired, unwashed, frightened, frustrated people can expect to stand in line for up to seven hours in order to receive three (count 'em three) bottles of tepid water and a five-pound bag of melting ice. Those of us fortunate enough to have had access to a working cell phone (three cheers for Cingular wireless!) called the local 800 number for FEMA, in the hopes of perhaps getting some of the paperwork underway. Imagine our surprise to learn that first, they suggested we go on line (!), and second, that they wished us to know that by answering their questions (annual income, social security number, etc.), we were also giving them carte blanche to give out that information to whomsoever they wish. About the only thing FEMA has been able to do is tell the people of South Florida that they care. Well isn't that special?
- Jeb's really no better than George: Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who, living in the Governor's mansion up in Tallahassee has been spared all of the trauma, decreed that he was establishing a "blame-free zone." How's that? Well, it seems that Jeb is attempting to spare his older brother another round of well-deserved grief by mandating an embargo on blame. That's his contribution to the post-Wilma frenzy.
- There's a lot to be said for simplicity: Its simply amazing how many more stars you can see in the heavens than when they are forced to compete with 340 million incandescent lights. Its also rather amazing just how dark it gets when the only light comes from the moon. Then again, being bereft of electricity meant no television, no DVDs, no entertainment. So what did we do? Believe it or not, we actually sat in our candle-lit family room and listened while Abba (that's me) read wonderfully droll stories by the Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem. I also managed to read two remarkable books -- Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, and Justin Franks' Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. Its wonderful how a power outage can bring back the good old days. I highly recommend these two books -- even if the forecast in your neck of the woods doesn't include a hurricane, tornado or smog alert.
Today we spent more than eight hours hacking, raking, bundling and aching. It seemed that every time we gathered a substantial pile of leaves, branches and pine cones, a breeze would arise, thereby making the pile a lot less substantial. Along about the forth hour of hacking, raking and bundling (the aching wouldn't reach its apex for another 3 hours), I began feeling a kinship with Sisyphus, the sly and evil son of Aeolus and Enarte. He's the schnook who, in the realm of the dead, is forced to roll a block of stone against a steep hill, which then tumbles back down when he reaches the top. Then he starts the process all over again -- throughout eternity. That's how I was feeling at hour four.
By hour seven I'd forgotten all about Sisyphus, and started flashing on good old Charlie Allnut -- the character played by Bogie in The African Queen. Specifically, I was remembering the look on Charlie's face when he realized that he had to get back into the grimy, leech-infested Ulonga and continue the super-human task of pulling his boat through the swamp. Fortunately, it dawned on me that Charlie eventually succeeded, and along with his beloved Rosie Thayer, lived happily ever after.
And so shall we all.
Thanks Wilma, you've taught at least one frail human an awful lot about reality.