Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Nov 17, 2012

Union Beach: When Sandy Met Jersey

                   'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
                   From the fiends, that plague thee thus!
                   -- Why look'st thou so?'

                                      Samuel Coleridge, 1798
                              The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

              I know this development is unexpected. I intend to get right to the point, though that is 
not my standard m.o. -- I wish to announce that the Big Monster Blog is back in business.  The blockade has been disrupted. My blank slate is being writ large again. How and why exactly I do not know. But as with a nimble late show by a practiced prestidigitator in a crowded, smoky night club, I'm willing to just observe, flow with the tide, feel the mirth of irony, and not demand the insider's 411 about the unexpected goings-on.
Everything, my fiction, my new poem, even my modest little blog, went in a hush to ground almost two months ago faster than a leaky decommissioned sea vessel that suddenly lost its safe-to-cruise certificate.  Turns out it was not, and I was not, yet willing to go into the permanent decline of drydock. Certain things had transpired way too coincidentally, too conveniently, during late September, in the Year of our Lord 2012. What stifling effects such occurences had. Disbelieve that? Well just sample some of my meticulously DVR'ed footage a la Cantore grabbed during those windblown and messy days of late September off  The Weather Channel -- TWC episodes that recount the mighty clash of a mystifying tropical tempest named Isaac into subtropical Gulf states  (and how he resembled, like a magical reincarnation, his older and robust tropical sister, Katrina).
Why so much prolonged unmotion from me I ask myself.  The question prods and pokes my insides with sharp little fingers. In my head a slightly angry voice sings Set me free, don't you delay. In the primeval, coastal swamp as thick and dark as blackest India ink on the morning of September 29 (2012), a venging creation of Nature bloated and ready to burst,  named Isaac, stormed ashore with abandon onto the doomed and disappearing fertile delta of southern Louisiana. It was an  highwire act even for unbridled and furious, and much abused, Nature: because Isaac in biblical history was a son of Abraham but forever a Canaanite (so he hailed from a cursed land), and his name with a dastardly turn of the comically etymologic screw means He laughs. Not in any manner amusing, cursed Isaac blew onto the exact same geographical nexus of latitude and longitude, at almost the identical hour, on the same calendar date seven years after the contentious killer Katrina started ripping Gulf Coast lives and material goods apart -- like the shrieking giant vengeance, Godzilla, all fiery and focused, traipsing over vulnerable Japanese cityscapes in vintage black and white -- onto the oozing, sinking, perishing Southern delta and far beyond, causing some human beings and their treasured possession to forever disappear without the tiniest of we were here once  traces at an early hour of that gray, roiling day, September 29, 2005.
Great -- even not so great -- investigators will often say, In the real world, there are no true coincidences. While churning away at what I do best, hunched over my keyboard, on 28 September, I anxiously sought a climax to an original story that kept eluding my imagination.  In the backdrop, the never fatigued Weather Channel related without pause the fearsomely coincidental journey of Isaac toward modern Canaanite villages  (sorry, New Orleans and Biloxi) now marked by opulent coastal edifices, vanishing barrier islands and wetland ecologies, gambling casinos, spawning residents, the homes and shops of thousands, and massive cell towers. Issac was rolling up to strike on coastal Louisiana in darkness. Coincidence? Sometime on September 29, which was Katrina Day + exactly 7 years, a biblical number indicating completion, my modest gift of imaginative abruptly receded, washed out to sea, and left me alone. Like a large, do as I please tide that  pulled away from the sandy shore, my energy to create went to hide somewhere over a hazy, curved horizon and out into the hidden and uncharted reaches of the ocean. Did you read, as I did, that one of the first businesses that took the full brunt of Isaac's landfall fury was a bar and seafood grill near a flooding little fishing bayou in Buras?  Since rebuilding after Katrina, the proprietors had  called it The Comeback Inn.
So it went. Some casually might label this experience writer’s block. But once you 've met talked at any knowing length with one's very own PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) it's pretty easy to see when she’s come back, a haughty gymnast in the mind , to your cortical neighborhood. Every time I looked at a certain picture of furious destruction, with the collapsed Buras water tower in its center, the demolished inn crunched down next door, I had to look away.

I would say to myself upon waking restlessly, 'Hello, stress. You jerk, lingering sneaky ass. I see you have crawled over my way again.'
But now I am creating again. In honesty, I give credit to the freakish appearance of what has been named in the mainstream media Superstorm Sandy. Once Isaac was done but still a sour memory, the Western world endured another ferocious blow who rolled up the eastern United States coast above a way too warmed-over Atlantic. She was named Sandy. As she barreled northward, she performed a freakish and hard left turn, to the west, nearly an impossible gymnastic manuever abetted by a thundering Pennsylvania low front. Sandy plucked up her surging waves, searched through her tropical banks for a vulnerable east coast, and grabbed for Jersey. Perilous weeks have passed; once again bedraggled Americans are tested severely by the frosting-over clime, oddly close to the where Washington and his charges clung tenuously to life and limb in the numbing winter's retreat of Valley Forge, scrabbling for sustenance and fending off insanity, each sunrise and sunset, unprotected from Nature's weather season that can kill. (Perhaps you recall a pungent Blue Ribbon margarine commercial from years ago that featured the sardonic punch line, ‘But it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.’)

Instead of Katrina's crushing legacy of  breathtaking, 24/7 humidity and torrid temperatures across late Summer Gulf lands, with people marooned outside (no inn to repair to) fried slowly and mercilessly by searing sunlight each day,  the brigade of Sandy residents in eastern states, like New York and New Jersey, are accosted by frigid winds, sleet and snow showers, and subsist in their detritus strewn yards, on cracked icy driveways, huddled together, stamping and clapping extremities to keep warm, powerless in the electrical sense, gasoline-fueled generators grinding away loudly.  2005 and 2012: so much alike and yet so different.  When one looks at pictures from those scenes, like I do, Louisiana  and New Jersey are forever united and demand one's response.

As the November general election arrived, a driving snowstorm, a new turmoil and frozen tempest, followed briskly over the track left by the Superstorm.  It materialized from the heavens but one week after Sandy's devil may care and freakish tropical blasts -- which huffed and puffed away so many hopes and dreams.
There is an old bible-style maxim – 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.' there are no coincidences. As a consequence of what humans have wrought with what is called climate change, it feels often like we have slipped and slid into a modern Canaan.
Turns out the story I had in mind was a tough nut. Actually, it was made up of three fragmentary ideas, or so I just realized a day ago. Three is another biblical number that represents completion or fullnesslike the trinity. The common theme in the trio of storylines was the raw, awful reality of  inexplicable, untraceable  disappearance of people. Twisted truth, yet somewhat amusing. And by the way, there is no such thing in official meteorlogical terms as a Superstorm. It's an interesting media fiction. But the weather genus does not exist.
A few well-meaning friends counsel me to title my unfulfilled story “Lives Unmoored, Or When Jersey Met Sandy.” But before  I get there I have a temptation to write a fictitious letter called “Dear Stephan.” Or maybe I will choose to entangle my fictitious Stephan amidst the disappearance story. Stephan is a guy who shared ( . . . had) a nice house and yard with his family in a coastal area of New Jersey.  I do notg know him personally, yet I sense that I do. Sandy, a raging tropical storm hit, all hard, very hard. My own experiences with storms past help me empathize with his plight. Stephan e-mailed a polite response yesterday, using a charged laptop on his jittering knees, on a cloudy cold New Jersey bad dream kind of day, tingling hands chilly, perhaps in gloves, knit cap hugging the crown of his head, as he perched on an overturned wooden fruit case on his driveway littered with some crusty, salvaged belongings and damp keepsakes. (Imaginatively, he had borrowed a jolt of electrical juice for his little Dell in the middle of the sleepless night before in the one townhouse two blocks down that miraculously had a working power socket on its second floor.) The e-mail went to an office with which I have had inside dealings. Someone who works there told me Steve had been sent an electronic notice that his subscription to the organization had lapsed, so would he please send a check to get things back to normal and he could get a quarterly newsletter safely? Free market capitalism thus ebbs and flows in rhythm like the steady tides, no matter what. Steve replied like a gentleman whom you would never know was encamped on a little patch of his snowy driveway in crisis. He noted politely by return e-message that he is from the New Jersey shore, that his family’s home and everything had been vanquished by Hurricane Sandy, then the flood waters that cascaded in, and of course there was all that snow that made its coincidental appearance, a gift from our used and abused climate. So, Steve indicated with a nice economy of words that he wasn’t going to be making that payment anytime soon, so very sorry.
Now, simply put, that’s funny too, a sobering echo of what violence powerful Nature wreaks on unwitting and unsuspecting targets, and the fallouts that ensue. The surprised office manager who had e-mailed Steve ruminated a bit on the tragic outcomes of Sandy and her superstorm forebears. Then graciously the office manager awarded Stephan a one-year’s free renewal subscription. This just adds to the improbable witty climax to this slice of life amidst the changing wilds of Western civ.

Thankfully, the subscription will be for a computer-based publication, not a hardcopy printed page periodical. Steve will now have a chance to enjoy all of that heady professional reading on a quarterly basis after all. Meanwhile he will anxiously cling to his storm-tossed family members and his waterlogged little collection of belongings heaped in front of the gaping maw that once held his elaborate garage door.  Later, Stephan will also be eligible to attend an annual Spring conference, at a discounted  fee, for a rollicking blowout out West. The myth of Manifest Destiny pushes forward. That’s if Stephan and his family members survive, of course, and if they ever find two dimes somewhere to rub together again.  By God’s grace Stephan still possesses a working but weary little pc.

The Ancient Mariner

He has not yet replied to the e-gift of the one-year complimentary renewal. But his tidy and correct suburbanite’s mailbox -- once adorned decoratively with his former five-digit street number -- got snapped off in Sandy's swirling storm surge then literally flown across state lines, like a jagged-toothed play shark boomed from a circus cannon under a cloak of pre-dawn darkness, to a place uncharted, by  some of the headiest gusts of change ever registered on the eastern U.S. shore. Better not to rely on yesterday's snail mail after all? Don’t you think? . . . . –

Now that, that is kind of funny.
(I hope that you will check back soon for the blog entry “Dear Steve” letter. It will require a spiritual mindset and it will drip with drama and empathy. Promise.)

1 comment:

  1. So, you have returned! My counter cultural nemesis. (I don't know what that means, but it sounds very kool). At last, we meet again!