The blog has been dark for the last two weeks, as has our house: Hurricane Wilma cut power to 2/3 of a million people in Palm Beach County alone, and our power was not restored until late last night. The photo shows the view from our front door, immediately post-Wilma. Some other post-storm notes:
So I’m still here; as is the house and the family. I cannot say the same for the trees. Hurricane Wilma was a brief, thankfully self-contained, and absolutely terrifying storm. The leading edge was about 2 1/2 hours of drenching rains and threatening winds. The eye was 45 minutes of relative calm; my neighbors walked their dogs, I stepped outside for a smoke. The trailing edge was apocalyptic: an hour and a half of 100+ mph winds (one neighbor claims a tornado touched down on his lawn) blowing down fences and shredding trees. I watched from an upstairs window as limb after limb – 12-, 18-inch limbs – shivered down onto the driveway. Watched, that is, until J hailed me from downstairs that the front door was giving way to the wind. A double door, it was bowing inwards with every gust. Like a character in a Chuck Jones cartoon, I piled whatever was at hand against the doors – a box full of mailorder catalogues, a sealed carton of books (thank god that one didn’t sell better!), a cute little Peavey Backstage 30 guitar amplifier – and lashed the doorhandles together with a stray computer power cable. The chimney – none too sturdy at the best of times – was groaning like my hypochondriac uncle with every gust, and water came out of the fireplace in a steady stream. The sound of treelimbs breaking was a steady popping from outside.
The hurricane’s wake has brought a lovely cold front: the weather now is approximately like Ithaca in May: and a good thing, since we haven’t had electricity since Monday. Reading has been desultory, mostly a break from the back-straining work of cleanup: finished Moby-Dick the other day, and embarked on the umpteenth reading of Ulysses. I am fast becoming the Julia Child of the propane grill: a first-rate vindaloo the other day (but alas no rice), a pretty decent pot-roast last night. This will be the end of complex meals, however, since we cleaned out the refrigerator today.
The lights went on tonight for perhaps an hour, after exactly 5 1/2 days of no electricity. Then, with the distant explosion of a transformer blowing, they went out again. Sigh. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything quite so disappointing since the 2004 general election. Sad how dependent one is on electricity, yet how primitive the power grid remains.
Our street was blocked by tree limbs after the storm, which subsided at about 1.30. By 2 pm, a chap driving a bulldozer appeared and opened it up. Not for us – it turns out the South African bazillionaire down the street, who’s himself in the construction business, had summoned laqueys to help get a gigantic ficus off the roof of his garage – garages, I should say. (The same fellow for whom a propane tanker truck shows up every few days to refill the tank of his generator. Who cares about power outages? We can hike down the street and watch his plasma screen TV through the front picture windows. When we aren’t making instant coffee on the burner of a camp stove, that is.)
Our driveway was another matter. About an hour later, an angel showed up in the form of another neighbor, a hulking brute of a fellow (6’ 1” or so, probably 275 lbs, and most of that muscle, ponytail, extraordinarily elaborate tattoos) who’s rumored to be an ex-wrestler and the manager of a “gentlemen’s club.” His hobby, it seems, is to roam the neighborhood wielding a chainsaw and disposing of the most immediately troublesome silvan disasters. (We saw him the next day: no chainsaw this time, just a rake, and in front of his own house: “I had a little accident,” he said, holding up a bandaged hand, “only about 110 stitches.”)
Ulysses, in the 1986 “Corrected” edition, is one of the most heavily marked books in my library, every page scored with the traces of multiple readings – underlinings, marginal strikes, notes in a variety of inks and even in a chronological progression of my own handwritings. It’s only one of a handful of my books thus marked: “A”, Prepositions, Bottom: on Shakespeare, The Cantos, Eliot’s Poetry and Plays, Tender Buttons, the Riverside Shakespeare, etc. Every Joycean I know has a similarly marked Ulysses (usually far more heavily than mine); the chap who taught my JJ seminar in grad school had a copy held together with rubber bands.
A scriptural reading, like the way a Jewish congregation will make its way through Torah on an annual basis, or the church in which I was raised would have public readings of five or ten verses apiece by the young boys of the congregation, making its way through the entire Bible over I guess a decade or two. A constantly re-read book, one which one is always at some point of making one’s way through. No substitute for that “by heart” knowledge of a book. With every reading the pages become softer, the corners more rounded – the dust jacket wears away a bit more (or, if it’s a paperback, the cover gets more and more worn – my old blue California paperback “A” used to have a dent in the cover where I’d thrown it across the room in frustration one time, but I can no longer find the specific spot, the volumes become so beaten up).
10th day of the blackout. I’m sitting on the back patio enjoying the last hours of juice from a charge maybe 2 weeks ago on the iPod, trying to drown out the constant rumble of the neighbors’ gas-powered generators. Gang of Four, Entertainment: a fine record, but bits of it really do sound dated twenty-odd years on (musically, that is). Right before the storm, I picked up 4 Mekons discs and ripped them onto the iPod, adding to the however many Mekons albums already there. I’ve listened to all of those previously ripped records, repeatedly, and have been listening to them for some time – but I can’t say I’ve ingested them the same way I did groups and oeuvres when I was in my teens. Listening to Bad Group X or Bad Group Y or Richard Thompson or John Cale back then, I could at any point identify the point in the band or artist’s history when the track was made, could chart the musicians’ evolving style, their maturing or senescence. I can’t do that now with a band like the Mekons, which I’ve gotten into over the last decade. It’s simply a matter of time: I just can’t devote the same amount of time to concentrated listening, to following along with the liner notes and lyric sheets. I guess it’s a kind of concentration I miss, tho at the same time I’m well aware that I probably have a far wider range of interests and commitments than I did back then.
Getting sick of takeout and changing D batteries out of the lanterns and flashlights. And the temperature’s climbing again, along with the humidity. Homicidal fantasies flash thru my mind, and panic attacks about the work that wants to be done on my stark-dead laptop (the battery’s only holding a charge for about an hour these days). Tired of cold shaves, tepid drinking water, takeout food.