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Notes From a Soggy Notebook



As I was swimming naked through the living room ...

You might say that lead is a dirty little trick, a deliberately distorted view of things worded like the start of a Lewis Carroll chapter.

The only thing arguing against the "dirty little trick" label is the mere and pitiful truth. I was swimming naked through the living room, here on the forenoon after the hurricane had left. Left but left behind the effects, with the time to ponder them, fear them, curse them. Here are some floating by now, a purple candle escaped from its candlestick, a Jean Harlow video, a wooden Javanese deity, a coffee table book, a coffee table.

All looked out of place, of course, like the illustration of a child's book of the fantastic or absurd. All except the Javanese deity. It must have a role here, a role explaining the ways of God to man. In Greek tragedy, the audience was always being warned of the danger of self-security and forgetting the existence of powers who trump correctness and justice.

It would be hard to forget them today. They are everywhere up and down Hidalgo Street and as far as the eye can see. ...

The hurricane officially began the night before, when the electricity went out. The house shuddered without light and moaned its fear. Branches slashed the walls, and from time to time things heard but not seen crashed into them. The winds would flex out the sound of a Wurlitzer organ for a half-minute at a time.

As dawn seeps into the world, everywhere is evidence to back the devoutest gambler's faith in fate. Here the gasping taproots of the overturned shade tree, once the neighborhood's pride and joy, and there its upright tiny neighbor. Here a peeled-back roof and wall showing the furniture inside like a dollhouse, and next door a bungalow serene in its intactness. Such unpredictability is why people bother to pray. ...

You don't dare take the time to think of Death once he actually steps onto the stage with you. You do your best to push him offstage or get on with your role in the play. That way his presence can be set aside another day, while you make yourself readier.

But later, lying in bed, I stared out the window into electric-free darkness made even more complete by the regular flash of white light every half-minute or so, like a final holdout against the void.

Now there is the time and place to think about anything that troubles you. Yet all this leisure yields only this: Death is the certain loss that validates all your wins. And this storm with the silly-sounding name? The uncertain loss to better prepare you for the certain one. ...

From here you can only see the tops of trees -- here a camphor, there a pecan -- and they are all badly pocked. Nature can be a horrific pruner of city foliage; block after block of treetops that seemed visited by the cutting crews of the high-wire public utilities. Boys with horrible haircuts. ...

The saviors are named Eric and Johnny and they wait in their boat while clothes are grabbed. Your worldly possessions look surrealistically picturesque as they float by, one last appraisal before they are soaked and sad and shoveled out of your life forever. It was nice having you around. Maybe I should have paid more attention when I had the chance.

Outside, the water-shaped city will be part of the public memory, the collective recall of images. But these few, these sad, beautiful few will be mine alone. ...

A couple of rescue rides and a stupor-walk later, and all around Causeway and I-10 is the churning of people who look like colorized newsreels of those fleeing the guns of war.

We like to think, even those of us who have received or given great harm, that there is a sliver of innocence that remains, a hidden part of us that believes that although we are aware of even greater evil in the world, we won't be called to witness or promote it.

After this -- this wide circle where minute by minute planes and boats and trucks vomit up the ragged and the ruined -- after this, it will be much, much harder to believe in all that.

After an unruly ride to refugeehood, the yellow school buses disgorged us at a basketball gym. After midnight some generators were located and the lights uncovered people lined against retractable bleachers like gulls on a seawall. In the gym's too-bright lights, everyone looked like figures from a wax museum, things pale and obsolete. Yesterday they might have looked at the world right in the face, with their shoulders back and their back straight, but now and here, there is only sadness in this place of play, and everyone looks like lost ephemera in the white light.

There will be a great deal of healing due when all this is over. I hope to be around for some of it.


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