Blow Me Down

Maybe the hurricane was just what we needed

The city sidewalk in front of my house rose up five feet from the ground like a cobra ready to strike. Then it shimmied like a voodoo dancer. It occurred to me that we might be in trouble.

I stood there watching that massive concrete sidewalk doing its jig and all I could think was that I'd picked the wrong hurricane not to put up shutters.

I told my ten-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to get away from the windows for the tenth time already, and it was only 8 a.m. Then I asked them to come to the protected doorway to see our amazing flying sidewalk.

It had come up because a massive black olive tree beside it was becoming uprooted. With the wind blowing at least 100 mph, the tree finally gave up and came down. I yelled something, maybe "Timber!" — maybe something unintelligible. I just know I yelled. We don't like to admit it, but there's a clean dose of exhilaration mixed with dread when things fall apart around us.

If the tree had fallen toward the house or had been something other than a messy, undesirable weed, I might have yelled in a wholly different way. And that was just the beginning.

The wind blew hard enough to send butterflies shooting through my stomach for the next four or five hours. If relatively mild Katrina knocked out power here for a few days, this time we'd be juiceless for at least a week. I kept waiting for something to crash through my windows.

Occasionally I'd think, the mayor was right. That wily and wacky Fort Lauderdale aficionado, Jim Naugle, called me pretty late the night before the storm hit. He was returning a call I'd made to him a couple days before about some story I couldn't even remember. Didn't this man have something more important to do than call me before the hurricane hit? You know, like prepare the city? Naugle was already prepared, though. He told me he thought this hurricane was going to be a major disaster, worse than anything in many years.

"I hope you're wrong, mayor," I said, thinking of my naked, naked windows.

But I knew he'd be right. Think what you will about Naugle, but don't doubt that he's a smart cookie. And he was also born here, so he's loaded with native knowledge.

Anyway, that damn wind finally stopped blowing, and I took a walk around with my two children and our dog (my wife, as it happened, was out of town until late that night). I surveyed my damage. A brand new PVC fence in my backyard had been knocked silly until it looked like a whorehouse piano. A fairly cheap Target-bought carport was crushed under fallen limbs. About seven good-sized trees were basically totaled. The rest were just stripped of 80 percent of their leaves and branches.

We walked around the neighborhood and saw trees everywhere — on roadways, on cars, on houses, in swimming pools, on lawn statues, on other trees. Plantation proudly calls itself "The Tree City." It'll need a new nickname after the clean-up. "It took 40 years to make this neighborhood beautiful and six hours to destroy," a neighbor remarked.

We walked on to find Killer outside his house. That would be Mike Kowalski. He goes by Killer Kowalski, which happens to be the nom de guerre of his great-uncle, the famous wrestler. Long before Stone Cold Steve Austin, there was Killer Kowalski, a giant showman who peaked in the 1950s. His most famous move was "The Claw," where he would get down on his knees and grab the stomach of his opponent and squeeze until the guy fell to the mat in horrible agony.

Mike is his uncle's nephew — and he's made for natural disasters. Pushing 50, he's a great big man who never bought a T-shirt with sleeves. He usually wears a visor over his blond flat-top, a throwback to his days in the Marines. Mike broke his nose during a barroom brawl while in the Corps, which has given him a bit of a bulldog look. He drives a green monster truck with a cab that sits about six feet off the ground and Dale Earnhardt stickers on the back.

His skin is always red from working in the sun. He owns a concrete company. His business logo, which he designed himself, is an illustration of a huge-breasted woman sitting topless on a skull and holding a sledgehammer. Oh, and she's got wings.

His business is successful as hell. These days, he lays all the concrete at Hawk's Landing, the exclusive Millionaire's Row being built behind giant walls in Plantation.

He's got two sons near my boy's age. We share a love of sports and barbecue and have become friends. Some days he'll pull up to my house in that monstrous truck, unleash an ungodly horn, and yell, "Let's go to the game — I'm getting a limo."

Then he'll let out some kind of guttural yawp, straight from the bowels of Red State, U.S. of A.

After the 'cane, he was standing on his driveway next to a running generator that was already juicing his fridge and other appliances. He offered me one of his extra generators and we took it back to my house on his custom-made golf cart, one of Mike's many toys.

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