THERE GROWS the NEIGHBORHOOD
CITY-WIDE CAR ALARM TEST DEEMED SUCCESS
I was walking down 9th Street today, and passed our old apartment. I caught the most delightful herbal scent in the breeze, which was a departure from the normal stench of urine I've grown to expect when walking through the South of Market area. I looked up and noticed that the little store-front shop, which had previously been a designer boutique for drag queens, has a new occupant: Hope Net. It's a pot - I mean, a medical marijuana club.
As you can see, our old apartment is still available.
Larger image here.
The sign reads "Helping Patients Find Hope Through the Compassionate Use Act." And I must admit, the establishment looks much more medicinal than "Mr. Nice Guy's Cannabis Dispensary," which is just a block up the street from our current domicile.
MONSTERS in the WEATHER
(AREA PETS CALL FOR BOYCOTT OF LOCAL RADIO STATION)
San Francisco, CA - Seven tons of explosives ignited in an area the size of a football field just south of the Bay Bridge Saturday night. And I caught it on video. It wasn't a terrorist attack, it was the annual KFOG KABOOM fireworks display, one of the best fireworks displays in the country.
The fireworks lasted twenty minutes. Here's a link to my video of the finale. Yes, I know it's sideways. I didn't realize that it wasn't possible to rotate video. But it's fireworks
- they'd look the same even upside-down, right?
MAKE SURE YOUR SOUND IS ON!SHOW ME THE FINALE!
P.S. When I first loaded the site, the picture disappeared - so I had to click "reload" - and then it came back instantly - so if that happens to you, give that a try.
IN MEMORIAM – LITTLE RED (a.k.a. "O’ GROWLER")
(June, 2005) The following editorial piece was featured in the Grand Island Daily Independent,
my hometown paper, in commemoration of the disaster that struck the city on June 3, 1980. The following is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives, and to those who survived and helped rebuild.
The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done.
So, in a month's time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one that wasn't going to happen, does.
Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos
My hometown was destroyed by the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, twenty-five years ago today. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would prove to be my first lesson in Chaos Theory.
Mount St. Helens is in Washington State. My hometown is Grand Island, Nebraska, more than a thousand miles away.
It would be two weeks before the butterfly effect of one natural disaster, the largest volcanic eruption ever experienced in the United States, would culminate into another, the freak storm
that swept seven tornadoes through my hometown in a single evening (three of them anti-cyclonic, and one speculated to be "one of the strongest tornadoes ever"
by the meteorologist team Wakimoto and Fujita, who developed the Fujita scale
of tornadic intensity), leveling more than one-fifth of the city of 35,000 people. In the interim, we watched the sun burn through an atmosphere laden with volcanic ash each night, igniting the sky with molten-red sunsets. Red is a warning color, but it sure was pretty.A DOOMED PLACE
On June 3rd, we didn't get to see the sun set in Grand Island. The memories start getting vivid right around suppertime. I can’t say for sure that they are accurate – I was eleven-and-a-half years old – but they are vivid.
I remember it was a Tuesday. I remember my dad was working the 4-Midnight shift at the Ordinance Plant that evening and the rest of my family ate at Valentino’s with my mom’s sister and her two kids. I remember sitting in the car while mom paid the bill and noticing the tallest, thinnest thunderhead towering so high in the north that it looked almost like it was tipping over. I wondered if it might rain.
After supper, we took a drive through Riverside to look at the houses. We each pointed out our favorite house. Each of us had a different favorite. In just a few hours, many of them would be gone. And I remember in those final moments how everything seemed draped in a grayish haze, like a fog of dead calm had settled in over us – over the entire city. I now know that this is what a doomed place looks like. But as breathless as I remember those final moments of calm being, we were oblivious. I remember thinking, in the days that followed, how we didn’t know. None of us knew that an ending was coming.
Then, by the slightest whisper of a breeze, that breathless calm dissolved away and the ending commenced. By the time we got back to our house, the breeze had become a stiff wind – not blowing from the south, but sucking from the north. We watched the clouds speeding by over our heads. I remember thinking that I had never seen clouds move so fast. My aunt wisely loaded my cousins into her car and scurried them back to Hastings.
By now, it was darker in the north, and we turned on the television to check the weather report. Cable TV hadn’t reached our neighborhood yet and there was no such thing as The Weather Channel. With only an antenna, we received three broadcast stations. They were broadcasting a tornado warning: Howard County, to our north, heading northeast, away from us. Satisfied, Mom busied herself with other things. I watched the sky darken, and said, “It’s coming this way.”In the SHADOW of a MONSTER
Mom looked out the window, unconvinced. “No it’s not,” she said. But moments later, the tornado warning was revised to include Hall County and the city of Grand Island. I remember saying, “See?
” And it got darker and darker. Still, we had no clue a monster was hovering over us, even though we were sitting right in its shadow.
I remember it being black as midnight long before sunset. I remember the tornado warning being revised and extended for Grand Island, over and over. Each time the warning was due to expire, it was extended for another half hour or forty-five minutes. And the storm wouldn’t pass.
We lived on the southwest side of town, just outside the city limits. When the entire city blacked out, we still had electricity. So we sat in the basement that night, watching TV, watching the reporters repeat the warnings, then extend them. I ran upstairs at one point to look. Through the lightning flashes and torrents of rain, I saw the wind blowing straight down from above, pressing the tree branches into the grass of our lawn. There was a steady roar. Heart racing, I ran back to the basement and stayed there.
We listened as the radio stations went dead. The meteorologists on TV persisted, but when they lost contact with the National Weather Service office in Grand Island, words began to fail even them. With all communications down, and roads impassable, I remember one reporter finally admitting candidly something like, “We’ve lost Grand Island. We don’t know what’s happened.” We had been under constant tornado warnings for over three hours.
As midnight approached, the storm finally drifted off to the southeast. But the night was blacker than ever. I remember my mom on the phone with tears in her eyes, trying to get through to my grandparents. They lived on Pleasant View Drive, seven blocks east of South Locust Street, and four blocks south of Bismark Road. Their phones were out. Mom sent me to bed. My dad would be home soon.DAWNING
Sometime during the night, I got up. I found my grammy lying on the couch in our living room. She lifted her head and said, “Hi.” I can still hear that simple syllable, as if she’s saying it right this moment. It was such a good thing to hear.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her. She told me the tornado went right through their back yard and knocked down their fence and some trees. After my dad had come home from work, he’d driven in to check on them. There were rumors of damage in the business district on South Locust Street, the normal route to my grandparents’ house, so he chose an alternate route and was able to reach their house despite the power outage and downed power lines. A strong smell of gas made them decide to ride back to our house with him for the remainder of the night.
And we still had no idea.
I remember when it finally dawned on us, suddenly like an unexpected dip in a country road. It was just after sunrise, while watching footage from a helicopter on the morning news. Just as I wondered, “What war-torn city is that?”
it was revealed. We were seeing a ruined Grand Island. It was my
hometown – my
war-torn city. I was so instantly thrust into an entirely new reality, I might as well have traveled light years through a worm hole. Things I had never questioned were shaken at their very foundation. Things I had thought to be permanent had been effortlessly snuffed out. Whoosh. Just like that. Overnight. A snap of the fingers, a crackle of thunder, and my entire world had changed. From that day on, I knew there were monsters in the weather.
Moments later we were in the car, on our way to Grammy and Grandpa’s house on Pleasant View Drive. We had to pass through military checkpoints and show ID that proved where we lived.
When we reached South Locust Street, we encountered our first hint of what had happened the night before. A tornado had leveled the entire two-mile stretch of the business district and its surrounding neighborhoods, including Riverside, where just yesterday we’d picked out our favorite houses. As we drove through the intersection, I looked up the street and saw it strewn with debris, pieces of buildings, and battered cars.
We drove on, retracing the path my dad had taken in the dark. We passed lakes where my grandpa and I fished, now flanked with the skeletons of cottonwood trees and full of black, angry water, shingles, broken lumber, and trash. When we reached my grandparents house, we saw their uprooted tree and the destroyed fence in their back yard. We also realized they would likely need a new roof. To their west and southwest, towards South Locust Street and the path of the tornado that destroyed it, the houses had suffered much greater damage.
Across the street to their east, their neighbor was rummaging through a demolished garage. And beyond that, to the north and for roughly three miles east, not a single house was standing. All the way to the horizon, nothing remained. A tornado had followed a four-mile stretch of Bismark Road, obliterating everything for several blocks on either side. Just one house
stood between my grandparents and miles of total destruction.
After following Bismark Road for three miles, the tornado had veered south for another three miles, demolishing South Locust Street. All the destruction we had seen thus far had been caused by just one
of the seven tornadoes that hit Grand Island that night.SHOCK and AWE
I wandered up Pleasant View Drive in a daze. The rubble of former homes was still being searched. There could have been people trapped beneath the debris I was looking at. And there were other people wandering like I was, with blank faces and wide eyes. Some had matted hair. Others were covered in scratches. I saw a woman walking barefoot, wearing turquoise shorts and a white pajama top, with dried blood on her cheek. I worried she would step on a nail, but her look scared me. They all appeared to be looking for something far away.
I passed a Red Cross truck, and a volunteer offered me a sandwich. I shook my head no. I was hungry, but felt guilty. I didn’t think I was a victim, though I’m sure I looked like one. I looked shocked. The volunteer encouraged me to take it, so I did and continued to walk towards Bismark Road.
At the center of the tornado's path, Bismark appeared to have been a clean sweep. I remember seeing a lawn, perfectly green and freshly cut, with cement steps and a cinderblock foundation in the center, and nothing else. Not a splinter of wood, not a scrap of paper or even a torn photograph had been left behind by the winds.
And here, standing at Bismark Road, I began to cry. I cried for these families who didn’t even have any rubble to sift through or pieces to pick up. And then I cried for the people who had dug themselves out of their broken homes, and for the people who’d been pulled out of the wreckage. I cried for the rescuers who were searching for survivors and for the dogs who were sniffing for bodies. I cried for the volunteer who gave me the sandwich, and the lady in her turquoise shorts. I cried for my grammy and grandpa, who had been so lucky. I cried for what I could have lost, but didn’t. And I cried for what I would never have again – for what all of us who lived in Grand Island had lost. Finally, I cried for us not knowing yesterday what was about to end.A PEOPLE TRANSFORMED
A transformative experience is an event that affects us so deeply, we are changed at the core. We come through such an experience transformed, a different person than we were before. A transformative experience expands our world-view, broadens our universe, and gives us wholly new perspectives. They are our gateways to wisdom. They may increase our potential, help us recognize it, and even push us to reach it. They can be pleasant and enlightening. But because they often involve change, they can be painful as well. A great tragedy is such an experience.
In times of tragedy, we must find within ourselves the wisdom to recognize it for what it is, and the strength of character to bear the pain. The support of friends, family, and a strong community make it possible to carry on. And those who persevere come through the experience transformed: stronger, wiser, and perhaps with new understanding of the world. A community can be transformed too, becoming more closely knit, more neighborly, and more compassionate. There’s no such thing as a stranger in a time of tragedy.
The people of Grand Island were transformed, as individuals and as a community, when their world was changed on the Night of the Twisters.
I lost some innocence that night. My illusions of stability and permanence were exposed. My size was put into new perspective. As was the power of those who took care of me. Our fragility was revealed, our hearts were torn open, and our strength was tested.
The people of Grand Island are a haunted people, who will forever be tormented by the monsters in the weather. We were transformed by that night, each in our own way. And though we are haunted, we are wiser and stronger for it.
Little Red is dead.
She came into our lives several years ago. Even before we officially made her a part of our family, she was our faithful Escort on many weekend outings. More than once, she drove us up north to the hippie-ranch where Jay and I first met. And we took her on winding coastal drives, down many a Sonoma wine-country road, and through wooded, twisting mountain trails high in the Sierras on nearly every occasion we had to get out of the City.
About a year ago, we noticed she was getting tired. Her treads were wearing thin, and she would sometimes cough and wheeze when we were climbing a hill. It became apparent that she didn’t like backing up, and about the time her transmission started slipping, she lost her muffler. She’s been O’ Growler ever since. We didn’t get a new muffler for her, because we didn’t think she was going to be with us much longer. But she surprised us.
And so, for the past year she’s growled on every trip we’ve taken, drawing stares from pedestrians, sometimes provoking laughter and even annoyed curses. But she kept going – she just did it very loudly. And nothing else changed. She always started right up the instant I turned her key. Every time we checked her oil, it was as full and clear as the day it was changed. We bought her for $500, and in the years we had her, she required roughly $100 total for repairs (new brakes and new spark plugs). She was a good car - the most dependable, trouble-free car I've ever owned. And the loudest, until last Tuesday night, when she fell silent.
It was laundry night. It had been laundry night for two weeks. But there was no more avoiding it. We made two trips each out to our Little Red Growler, loaded her down, and drove to our regular laundry-haunt. We did seventeen
loads of laundry (a triple-loader, a quadruple-loader, and two quintuple-loaders - full) and didn’t even get it all folded before we needed to vacate the premises. “You guys have been folding a long
time,” said one patron at a folding table next to ours. (“Don’t touch my towels!”
I screamed at her…)
So we loaded our seventeen loads of downy-scented clothing back into our trusty Escort, and headed for home. We were famished, since we’d had no time for dinner and it was now nearing 11 O’Clock, so we made a stop at Kentucky Fried Taco for some take-away. After getting our food, we got back into the car and drove her home. Of course, at 11p.m. there were no parking spaces, so I double parked right in front and we hauled two-trips of laundry and fried-tacoey-goodness back up to the apartment. Then, I ran back out to find a place to park.
I turned her key, and she growled to life like she always did. But this time, it was only to take her last breath, for then she died. I smelled a funny smell, and when I turned her key again, there was no starting her. She had had enough, and she was finished. A spot had opened up on the alley, so Jay and I pushed her into it, so oddly silent now. I noticed the sound of the pavement grinding under her well-worn treads.
I’m surprised by the things that pop into my head sometimes. As we backed her into the parking space, I thought of my grandpa. When he died, I wrote of him, “My grandpa was a loud man.”
And now I thought, “but he wasn’t as loud as my car.”
It made me chuckle, but I felt a little ashamed for a moment that I was comparing the death of my grandpa to the death of my car. Then it dawned on me that Little Red had always
made me think of my grandpa.
My grandpa drove a little red car too. His was a Pontiac station wagon, but it was nearly the same shade of red as our little Escort. Little Red’s windshield had a leaky seal that let the rain in, keeping the passenger-side floor either damp or wet for most of the winter. On sunny days especially, we were always greeted with a robust, organic aroma every time we opened her doors. Once, there was even a little green clover growing up out of the carpet. Until we bought the Air Spencer,
our smelly car always reminded me of Grandpa. Grandpa’s car stank.
He made his own catfish bait that was a stew of fermenting cheese, sour milk, and who-knows-what. We’d drive out to the river together with a bucket of that stuff in the back, and I insisted we leave the back window open the whole way. I preferred the risk of asphyxiation to that horrible stench. And still, I held my head out the side-window as we sped down the highway, hardly able to wait ‘til we were parked beneath the sparkling cottonwoods to get a breath of fresh air.
Once she became O’ Growler, I thought of Grandpa even more often. “We’re trolling!” I’d say to Jay as we rumbled down the street, thinking of how Grandpa and I would pull our fishing lines behind us in the little motor-boat.
Nearly every time I drove her, I thought of him. And when we took her camping, I’d think of both Grammy and Grandpa while taking in the scenery from the driver’s seat, remembering all the camping trips and Sunday drives I enjoyed with them. These are just about the most special memories I have. I was their first grandkid, and for a number of reasons, I spent a lot more time with my Grammy and Grandpa than most kids. Every child should be so lucky.
We're getting our next car from Jay's grandma. It's a 1987 Olds Delta 88. I hope it will bring Jay as many fond memories as Little Red did me.
So, Little Red, thank you. Thank you for being such a good car. Thank you for bringing us home with all that laundry. Thank you for all the years, all the miles, and all the memories – especially the memories of my grandpa. For those, I am very grateful.
Alison Krauss had a hit with her song “You say it best when you say nothing at all.” For this log entry, I am changing the words to “You say it best when you have nothing to say.” I aim to eradicate any notions you may have that a person should have a lot to say if they are going to write a lot down. Piffle!
Do you know how many “important” works of literature already exist in this world? Of course you don’t. No one could possibly count them all. Too many
, that is for certain. Writing something "important" has already been done - more than once. It's yesterday's news. And, moreover, it's not a requirement.
I propose that to write at length
about things that don’t matter
is truly an act of courage. To commit those words to paper (or pixels, as the case may be), fully aware that doing so will result in the wasted time of every poor sucker who reads them, requires a bit of nerve. Some would even say that such writers have a lot
of nerve. Yet to ruminate proliferously on topics ridiculous and/or pointless is to exercise your most basic right as an American. You're free! You don't need
to have anything to say.
The realization that you can write even if you have nothing to say may surprise you. It may even liberate you. But I have even better
news. You see, the truth is: you don’t even have to care that much about your subject matter.
The passionate, dedicated writers you envision hunkered over smith-coronas in the wee hours are but quaint Rockwellian conjurings. Sure, they exist. But it’s not a requirement,
Now, if you’ve read this far and you’re wondering what my point is, then you haven’t been paying attention. Thus far, there is no point. And I promise
I'm not going to get one. Look down – you have a lot more reading to do!
As hard as it may be to believe, faithful readers, I have come this far - all the way to this sentence - with little or no point to speak of. I am writing, (courageously, but not passionately
) and so doing, blazing a trail of sorts for other writers, like me, who have nothing to say and don’t really care all that much, and who – until today – allowed that to prevent them from writing. If these words help just one
person realize their potential to say nothing at great length, then I will rest knowing that this was (most likely still not) worthwhile, after all.
I realize that in stating this purpose, I run the risk of giving my writing purpose
, which could be mistaken for merit or value, and would not only completely negate everything I just said, but would also defeat my purpose. But the most important quality of this log entry remains, and shall remain, true: it’s totally unimportant.
And even if a smidge of importance somehow managed to infiltrate these lines of text, rendering all my claims false (and discrediting me, the author), it would only diminish the importance of this log entry even further
, and in turn, strengthen
my point (if I had one).
One small aside, (while I’m thinking of it): A few paragraphs back, I used the word proliferously
. In the interest of full disclosure, I just want to note for the record that I made that word up. YES,
my friends, it is OK to make up words!
So anyway, moving on, I would like the thoughts that follow to be a little delirious, partially surreal, and at least mildly amusing – which would be apt for an author, like myself, who is very tired, lying in bed, and doomed to fall asleep at some point in the near future. I do not want this log entry to be angsty.
(I shouldn’t even have brought it up, but my mind’s thoughts are laced with traces of angst, and the challenge will be to avoid selecting those thoughts as I select the thoughts to write. To assist me, I am listening to a mix of music that I put together. I titled this particular mix “Songs of blissful love and/or unbearable heartbreak,” because, by complete coincidence, almost every song I put on the mix was either a happy love song or a bitter, woeful ballad of love lost.
For example, the Brad Paisley/Alison Krauss song “Whiskey Lullaby” is playing as I type this. This song is so tragic, it’s almost comical. I would think it a farce, except it’s a country-western song, and I don’t think it’s joking. But with lyrics like, “She put him out like the burnin’ end of a midnight cigarette” and “We found him with his face down in the pillow with a note that said, ‘I’ll love her ‘til I die,’” it truly pushes the envelope of country music themes. In fact, I would have to call it “Extreme Country” – a new category of country-western for the younger generation of shit-kickers for whom traditional country music does not deliver a deep enough
sense of loss, loneliness, hopelessness, or sorrow.
Speaking of which, the next song (playing now) in the playlist is Dolly Parton singing “You left me, just when I needed you most.” Do you see what I mean? That’s hardly tragic enough for today’s cowboy. “So, you got jilted – big whoop. At least you’re not dead, lying face down in a pillow in some trailer somewhere, rotting in the Summer heat and stinking of decomposing flesh because you’ve been there for three weeks and nobody’s discovered you or even stopped to check in on you since you drove away all your friends with your heavy drinking and constant heaving sobs of despair. So you’re alone now – get yourself a cat.”
You see what I mean.
And now the song playing is “The Water is Wide.” I can’t quite figure this song out. Is it joyful? Hopeful? Or hopeless? It’s confusing. On the one hand, you have the lyrics “The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er, and neither have I wings to fly, give me a boat that carries two, we both shall row, my love and I.” So this seems kinda hopeful, I suppose – there are obstacles, but together we’ll overcome them. Then in the next verse, “Love is gentle, love is kind, the sweetest flower when first it’s new.” Singing praises to love would lead one to believe this is joyous, but it continues “But love grows old, it waxes cold, and fades away like morning dew.” Those aren’t the words of someone in love, but of someone who has some experience loving and has borne the pain of losing it. So I guess the gist of this song is, “Well, you’re my love, and I love you (for what it’s worth – nothing lasts forever, after all) and we have each other, which is something, but let’s not kid ourselves, we still have a lot of shit to face, and even though we’re facing it together, it’s going to be hard for both of us.”
And now it’s time for the trivia question for today’s blog entry. A correct answer is worth fifteen points. The question involves the next song in my love/heartbreak music mix. It’s a duet, Alison Krauss singing with James Taylor. They’re performing a cover of a well-known folk song by a world-famous performer. “I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles – such are promises” is a line from the song. Without Googling the lyric, can you name what song they are singing? Gee, I think it’s too easy, but hey, if it’ll make you feel smart, so be it. (And because I'm feeling generous, I'll award an extra bonus star if you can name the play that is referenced in the title of this entry). You can post your answer in the comment
area for this blog entry. But don't look at other people's answers - that's cheating.
After the trivia song is – and I swear this is the truth – Olivia Newton John singing “Country Roads.” Now, if you’re like me, you’re thinking “Why on Earth
would Olivia Newton John try to sing “Country Roads?” It makes absolutely no sense. Country roads might take her home to Adelaide, but West Virginia is not the place she belongs, and she can’t convince me that it is.
How quickly the songs go by as one types. Now, Dusty Springfield is singing “Son of a Preacher Man,” which you may think does not fit the “love/heartbreak” theme, in which case I will gently correct you, because it is a nostalgic love song about a preacher’s son (I think, unless there’s a hidden meaning). If you know the hidden meaning of "Son of a Preacher Man," post it to the comment area, below, for twenty points.
There’s no hidden meaning in the next song of the playlist. It’s Claudine Longet singing “Love is Blue” (in French, except the spoken word portion, which is in English and goes “Yesterday we were together and life was sweet. Today you’re gone, life is sad, and love is blue.”) What a poet – and marksman. I would have to classify this as a song of bearable
heartbreak, but that makes for a nice transition into a happier, more blissful and lovey-dovey portion of the mix (you were correct in noting that the songs up to this point have all been in the “heartbreak” category), which starts off with Ella Fitzgerald singing “Blue Skies,” followed by “I Won’t Last A Day Without You,” sung, of course, by that singer of happy songs, Karen Carpenter, whose haunting voice can send a shiver through even the happiest of ditties.
How does she achieve this? Perhaps it’s because the maturity in her voice belies the bubble-gummy subject matter, creating a feeling of bittersweet nostalgia for the days when we were naïve enough to actually believe we were on top of the world, looking down on creation. Or, maybe it’s all the vomit.)
But as I was saying before I got off on the music tangent, I don’t want this log entry to be angsty.
Angst carries with it the stench of importance, and I will have none of that here. Which reminds me, if you’re an average reader (speed-wise), I have, as of this moment, just wasted about seven minutes of your time (give or take).