Blow Me Down

Maybe the hurricane was just what we needed

For the rest of the day, I worked harder than I have since I was a kid making five bucks an hour on a tobacco farm. And it felt good. I must have pulled a ton of brush onto the swale for the city to come and pick up.

Kurt Vonnegut, on some PBS show the other week, was talking his usual brilliant and sometimes absurd shit about mankind. He decried technology, saying that computers and air conditioners were basically making slaves out of us, keeping us imprisoned indoors. Not exactly original, but absolutely true in a way. Vonnegut said it's not natural to sit around all day in front of a computer.

"We're dancing animals," he said.

Bob ponders doing some actual work, for once.
Bob Norman
Bob ponders doing some actual work, for once.

Yes, and the dancing animal came out of me in the yard. All that dancing in the yard made me wonder if I shouldn't be working for a living. But after a few hours, I was ready for a break. I washed my hands in the feeble flow of bacteria-ridden water coming through my pipes and headed back over to see Mike, who was chain-sawing his toppled shadowbox fence and hauling sections out to the swale. I helped him for a while before we decided it was about to time to get ready for a feast.

I brought over some steaks and burgers from my freezer. We sat down with a bunch of kids — our own and their friends — and ate outside on a cool night.

"Wow! Look up there!" one of the kids said.

It was amazing. With the power out across South Florida, some of the kids really saw the stars for the first time.

The next day, I moved another ton of brush and then helped Mike move the rest of his ruined fence. We also helped an older guy get a tree off his house. Later Mike helped me take out a huge and dangerous 25-foot-high leaning fir tree on my property. A gouging tree guy told me he'd charge $850 for what monster Mike did in an hour with a chain saw, his truck, some strong rope, and a six-foot-long, 25-pound iron post called a wrecking bar.

At some point, I noticed cars backed up for many blocks on Broward. The cars then led 10 blocks through my neighborhood to Heritage Park. Somebody told me they were giving away ice there. The only way I'd sit in a line like that was if they were giving away blood and I needed a transfusion. So I rode a bicycle.

The cars were stopped dead on the road. I heard a couple of people asking for jumper cables because their batteries had run out. They'd been sitting there for as long as three hours. Machine-gun-toting National Guard troops walked in between the rows of traffic. Finally, I made it to the park and there were about 10 cops there.

No ice, though.

"What are they going to do with those machine guns?" asked a woman standing beside us. "Are they going to shoot us for taking an extra bag of ice?"

She assumed a Rambo pose and said, "Drop that ice or I'll shoot!"

I waited for a half-hour before riding off. I don't know if the ice ever got there. The only people more incompetent than the bureaucrats were those in line. What kind of fool is so desperate for ice one day after a hurricane hits? I didn't need it. The truth is I really didn't need much of anything. The nice weather made being without power mighty tolerable. Yes, that generator came in handy, but those things are loud as hell and they eat up gas, so we only had it on maybe six hours a day to keep the refrigerator cool, watch a DVD at night, and write this thing.

We could have easily done without it. All we really needed to keep cold was milk for the kids and we had enough ice for that. Other than that, cereal, peanut butter, bread, bottled water, charcoal, instant coffee, and meat that we roasted from our freezer did the trick.

We're calling this thing a disaster and, yes, for a couple thousand people — especially those in mobile homes — it was. But the truth is that the vast majority of us only flirted with disaster. We lost money, we lost some aesthetic beauty, and some of us might have even lost a bit of our sanity at times. But if you want to see what disaster really looks like, drive to Mississippi and New Orleans right now or look at some pictures of Homestead circa 1992 or Punta Gorda just last year.

This storm was a nuisance or an enema, depending on how you look at it. I think of it as the latter, and this town needed it. The hurricane got rid of a few screened pool enclosures and cheap aluminum sheds. It exposed old roofs, shoddy workmanship, and our government's idiocy. It might prompt the school board and banks to invest in some hurricane-proof windows for their high-rises. And we really didn't need all those fences, did we?

It left every muscle in my body a little sore. Like Mike, I now have scratches all over my legs and a huge welt on my leg and fell off my ladder to only narrowly miss being gored by a sharp branch.

But who said dancing couldn't be a little bit dangerous?

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