Dodging the Falling Anvil

falling anvil

Many Floridians feel that they dodged that old falling anvil in the wake of Hurricane Irma, and I know the sense of relief of my own family members in that area is immense.  Anyone lucky enough not to be flattened by the falling anvil,

or the falling safe,

falling safe.jpg

or the falling piano…

falling piano

…is bound to feel relief, though sometimes there is guilt too, or at least a heightened compassion for the folks who were not so lucky.

I’m thinking of the people of Cuba, of St. Martin/St. Maarten and Barbuda and Antigua. I’m thinking of the people of St. Thomas and St. John – any of these places where things are very bad indeed right now, with no power and scant food and structures that look as though a gaggle of elementary school kids just walked away from a giant game of Pick-up-Sticks. The New York Times described things most vividly in their lead story yesterday: “The wind whipped the tops of palm trees around like pompoms in the hands of a cheerleader,” it said in part. “The flooding in Key Largo had small boats bobbing in the streets next to furniture and refrigerators like rubber toys in a bathtub. Shingles were kidnapped from roofs; swimming pools dissolved into the ocean….”

Here’s a picture I took a couple of winters ago when, due to promised financial inducements, we got talked into staying at the Ritz Carlton in St. Thomas, a hotel the likes of which I have not been a guest at before or since. (I posted about it back then if you’d care to take the detour.) Until last week, this was their pool. That’s the ocean in the background of course, but the whole foreground is pool. I had never seen a swimming pool this lovely where, on the ocean side, the water brimmed up clear to the rim, as on a spillway, and did in fact trickle gently over.

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I don’t know what this pool looks like now. I only know the hotel’s website advises the world that the hotel is closed until further notice.

I can only think that the vast cleanup effort to get back to where folks were before the storm must be keeping them in that unhealthy-over-time state where the stress hormone cortisol just keeps pumping and pumping.

I felt stress myself this past summer, though in a very minor key by comparison. Back in the first part of the summer while we were on a ship in Russia for two weeks, our hot water heater died, peed all over the cellar floor and left us, on our return, with a waist-high pile of travel clothes in such a state of UNcleanliness that it was practically steaming, like grass clippings in a compost pile. Lucky for us in the modern world of detergents, you can also wash in cold water.

Then, some weeks later, we came home one day to find that the handle-slash-control panel of our dishwasher broken. Just broken and hanging off, so that for 15 days we were washing glasses, china and cutlery by hand until the repair guys could get the part shipped here from Louisville and they could come install it. That finally happened yesterday.

The point is, we lived. We were fine.

The real falling anvil that we dodged, we dodged at the end of August when, in their regularly scheduled walkabout, our local utility discovered a major leak in the gas going into our house.

As it happened, we were away that day too, but a close, near-family member had offered to look after things for us.  When he walked up our street from the train station after work, he was greeted by the sight of a big white truck, a team of workers busily moving about our property and a trench two feet deep and three feet wide running in a wide gash from the far side of our street, over our lawn and clear over to the house’s foundation.

“Are you the homeowner?” they asked our kind caretaking friend.

“No, but I can call them.”

He did that and ten seconds later I was on the phone with the job’s boss.

“The pipe from the street is very, very old and very narrow!” he said with what seemed like genuine surprise.  It’s leaking,” he said, “and we need to stay right here and fix it. Will that be all right?

“More than all right!” I yelped, “and thank you SO much! I’ve been smelling gas outside my house since 2008! I called then and when you guys came you said it was just minor.”

“It probably was back then, but it isn’t minor now,” he said. “Can we get inside and fix it? Will somebody be here?”

Our friend agreed to stay, though he was just home from work and mighty hungry. He stayed until they were done some three hours later, a little bit after 8pm.

So our house did not blow up which is what happens with a gas leak and we felt relief. My Florida-based sister and her husband did not see their home on the bayou destroyed, either by the winds or by that predicted  storm surge. Their kids’ home was fine too, as they learned yesterday from the place where they sheltered after their mandatory evacuation last week. Miraculously, they none of them even lost power and maybe all that was because of prudent building, and strict codes, and careful planning.

But prudent foresight will only take you so far in this world. At the height of Irma’s fury on Sunday, when the winds were so strong they sucked the water right out of the Tampa Bay, that city’s mayor Bob Buckhorn said it best:  “Everybody’s got a plan ’til they get punched in the face.” He was quoting Mike Tyson.

Look more closely now at the sign in that cartoon of the falling safe here at the top. It does  “Warning,” yes, but it also says “This is a Safe Area.” As IF there could be such place on this old earth!

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Purse Panic

Last weekend I went by train to a conference in New York City and was forced to call on that sense of what I’ll call willed calm. “We have a sold-out train, people!” the conductor bellowed. “Keep your belongings in your own area!” Obediently I stowed my suitcase overhead, my purse under my seat and my backpack under the seat in front of me.

And sure enough at the very next stop there was someone at my elbow. “Do you mind if I sit here?” asked this boy in a baseball cap. “Not at all,” I said back.

We exchanged not a word more but traveled in companionable silence, he constantly probing the flat little belly of his iPhone like some old-time family doc on a house call.

So calm did I in fact feel that I somehow came to assume our two fates were actually linked and we would both be exiting the train together. We were docked at Penn Station for a full 90 seconds before I blurted “You’re not going to New York?!”

“Nope. D.C.”

I shot out of my seat, flung my backpack on, clambered over him, grabbed my suitcase down and was carried by the mass of humanity all the way to the top of the two-story escalator before realizing, uh oh—my purse was still under my seat.

I hurried over to an Amtrak official who said, “Go to Customer Service.” Customer service said “Get back downstairs before it leaves again! RUN!”

I ran all right. The train was there still, but which car of the 15 cars had been mine? I knew it was near an ‘Up’ escalator but now all the escalators were ‘Down’ ones, all bearing fresh masses of people eager to board. Where was my seatmate? I ran past twelve 85-foot-long cars, but with the lights so bright in the station I couldn’t see really inside them.

I ran again in the opposite direction, still frantically looking. “My purse!” was all I could think—before remembering: my purse didn’t have my money or my credit cards, which were hidden inside my ingeniously fashioned belt.

What it held instead was my food: carrots and almonds, cereal, fruit and powdered milk. I ‘e been doing Weight Watchers Points Plus© Program since late November and I was darned if I was going to go three days without my fresh healthful food. Plus the purse itself was pretty nice.

I took a deep breath and slowed to a walk. I went up to one window in every single car, cupped my hands around my face and peered in, until, finally, finally, finally I saw the boy. He looked up when I rapped on the glass. With a tragic face straight out of Ancient Greek theatre I pointed downward. He instantly swooped up the purse, ran to the rail-car’s door and with a big smile tossed me the bag just as the train began pulling from the station—leaving me with less faith in my own mental acuity, yes, but a much-increased faith in those angels of travel journeying right beside us.



On Staying Dressed

I taped a TV show yesterday and managed to stay dressed the whole time, which was a great relief to me. I went through a period where there was nothing I liked better than getting the cameramen on the set to laugh right out loud. In a spot I did once on a noontime magazine show, I stood up at the climax of my story and whipped off my suit-jacket to reveal the fact that I had my blouse on inside-out, something that was immediately evident in that great age of shoulder pads. 

It was a story my sister Nan had told me, from the hard first year of her untimely widowhood.

It seems that at long last she had been able to drag herself to a social event  and found herself actually chatting with a very nice man – only her teenage daughter kept darting by to say she needed to talk to her.

“Later!” Nan hissed to her. “In a minute!” she said a second time and yet the girl kept swooping in to say “Mom I need to talk to you!”

Finally Nan made her apologies to the nice man and stepped aside with her daughter.  “This better be good!” she said.

“It’s good all right. You have your dress on inside-out.”  

She looked down and sure enough: here were the little foam epaulets of the shoulder pads, the exposed seams, the pockets like little dead fish dangling down from the waistband…. 

That’s all I was doing that time: showing everyone in TV-land how funny she must have looked. And sure enough the cameramen chortled audibly.

So I guess it was a victory all right. Back then I would do just about anything to get a laugh. Probably the only reason I’m not like that now is that half the time I really do have my clothes on inside-out. Or backwards. Or else my earrings don’t match.

So I was dignified yesterday instead of fearless. Maybe fearlessness is behind me for good now (but gosh I sure hope not!) 


Pearl of an Earl

We’re back just enough from the ocean so Earl didn’t touch us but still, it had its effect: Amtrak service from New York to Boston was suspended and the Sox got postponed – and just about every window on the Cape and the Islands had a sheet of plywood nailed over its eyes. My wind chimes started banging around in early afternoon and were still at it when I went to bed at midnight. Also the cooler that I left upended on the screened-in porch ’til I could give it a good scrubbing began talking to itself, meaning its lid kept opening and shutting, banging in ghostly fashion. The birds really shut up too I noticed and where do birds go when a hurricane is due? Have they got school gyms and cafeterias and relatives in other counties?

What I really noticed though is that I was as restless as a caged tiger. I couldn’t sit still. I sorted nails, pencils, packets of lemonade tossed in the drawer. I tried on clothes that haven’t been out of the closet since the year 2000 because I was afraid of how I’d look like in them. (Not so bad as it turned out – kind of like Roseanne Barr would look if she’d done an episode where she couldn’t get any of her zippers to zip.)

The big question is why we don’t feel an antsy apprehension all the time living as we do on this wobbly planet with its wild winds and rains and Nature sending comets and asteroids whizzing past day and night, just biding Her time ‘til she can give us a good smack.