No Ice In Orlando

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Hurricane Irma hit us last Sunday evening.  We heard transformers pop once, twice around 7, and then we lost power.  An outer band struck at 10:30 with long lashes of high speed wind and driving rain, and I winced as branches bashed my roof and skylight.  The monster weakened as it came near us, and the wind didn’t pick up much intensity. The eastern wall of the eye passed through downtown Orlando (five or six miles west of us) at 2:30 Monday morning.  I collapsed on my bed at 3:00 and slept through Irma’s parting shot, an outer band that ripped us one more time at 6 a.m.

I began to pick up downed branches and clumps of leaves Monday morning after the wind started to slow down.  I kept looking up to study the trees looming above me.  Folks get killed in the aftermath of a storm when a limb or a trunk suddenly give way.  My daughter and son-in-law joined me in the afternoon after they returned from an emergency veterinary clinic.  (One of their dogs had become ill shortly before the storm hit.)  The day was fairly cool and breezy (thanks Irma), and we got most of it done by four p.m.

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My daughter and her husband went out on a scavenging expedition on Monday evening and found a two pound bag of ice at a Walgreens near a hospital.  The store still had power as the electrical lines nearby had been buried.  Most of Winter Park sweltered in darkness.

I spent the next four days searching for ice.  My wife has a limited diet, and we had to keep certain foods edible.  No grocery, drug or liquor store had any ice, and one clerk told me that the local supplier couldn’t make any more as their plant had no power.  I began to visit 711s and quicky-marts to get ice from soda fountains.  They all charged fifty or 75 cents per cup, and I ended up shelling out a couple bucks a day.

On the last day on which I had to make an ice run, a clerk at a 711 handed me a small grocery bag and told me to fill it with ice.  She charged me a buck for an amount that normally would have cost two.  She smiled at me with compassion as she rang me up, and that went a long way to lifting my spirits.

I had been grateful on Monday that we had been mostly spared.  The rental house next to us had been struck by a fallen tree that grazed the roof, snapped off the power line and damaged an electrical meter, while we remained unscathed.  And we heard reports on our battery powered radios of massive destruction in the Keys, South Florida, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, St. Martin and Cuba.  Orlando had gotten whacked hard, but we hadn’t been plowed into the ground and washed away.  But after several days of 90 degree heat, falling asleep covered in sweat, and struggling to cook and refrigerate food, I felt weary and woozy.  And my neighbor in the rental unit acquired a generator on Wednesday that sounded like a growling motorcycle.  He set it up ten feet away from my bedroom window.  When he ran it, we had to choose between leaving the windows open to catch a stray breeze and going insane from the constant rumbling, burbling noise.

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I realized on Thursday that I had symptoms of heat exhaustion.  I felt listless, dizzy enough to slightly veer as I walked, irritable and impatient.  On Friday morning, I had difficulty teaching a drawing class.  My thoughts jumbled, and even when I felt more coherent, my tongue and mind refused to cooperate with each other.  I babbled a few times and had to carefully slow down my speech so that I could think about a concept, choose the right words to express it, make a few edits, and then speak.  Once class had progressed for a half hour, and once I enjoyed enough cool air (the school has the same power line as the hospital and Walgreens) to refresh mind and body, I began to feel good enough to function normally.

I’ve heard some folks criticize the toughness of Floridians following the storm.  We’ve been called whiners and babies who can’t take hardship.  My only response to that is to feel sorry for these compassionless schmucks and wonder what happened to their sense of humanity.  What compels them to attack folks while they suffer?  What makes them feel superior as they sit in comfort far away from downed power lines, roads blocked by fallen trees, tattered roofs and flooded homes?

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The clerk at the 711 still shines as an angel of mercy to me, as does the waiter who kept filling our glasses with ice water when my wife and I took refuge at an Outback after three days eating cold canned food.  And most people I met didn’t whine and complain about anything.  They simply went about their business of cleaning up, going back to work, finding ways of getting through some rough days and nights.

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All About After

I don’t care for the aftermath.  Taking action feels a lot more powerful, and living in the moment offers less time to consider one’s regrets.  After is an ugly guy who comes for a visit, sleeps on the couch, eats up all the food in the fridge, and won’t tell me when he’s leaving.  But After gives me an opportunity to arrange recent events in a framework that makes sense.  Then I can move on.  Then I can make peace with What Is.

My Daily After is the butt end of a day, and I’m the last two inches of a smoldering cigar.  While I’m in the middle of teaching a class I’m usually caught up in the process of communicating with students, evaluating their work, giving advice and planning ahead for the next exercise.  I sometimes teach Drawing I and II simultaneously and have little time for a breather.  When a class is over I answer follow up questions and tidy the studio before making my exit.  On the walk to the parking lot I download the emotions I’ve pushed aside in class.  (An instructor must create the illusion of self composure at all times.)  As I trudge to the car my adrenaline fades, and my books and equipment feel heavier the longer I carry them.  Then I discover how much effort I’ve expended.  My mood dips, and I relive each mistake just made in class.

My Rejection After varied during my dating years.  Sometimes a girlfriend dumped me long before I was ready to call it quits, and my feelings for her lingered painfully for a month or two.  Other break ups left nothing but a sense of relief and freedom.  Time and reflection sometimes gave the realization that I had been mercifully spared.  But in one case it took me three years to figure out that the object of my desire had treated me badly and always would.

The Grieving After:  My sister suffered a long decline as she died from ALS.  During a visit I presented an even tempered demeanor.  I reminded myself as I talked to my parents, brother and sister that my emotions were not the most important thing. Time spent with my family was not about me.  My true state of mind asserted itself on the plane ride home.  I took an upgrade to first class if the ticketing agent made an offer, and I ordered a complimentary whiskey before the plane took off.  I felt no shame as I gulped my drink even if the morning sun had just crossed the horizon.  As we flew south I stared out of the window at the passing clouds, and a heavy sensation filled my chest.  On the trip home from Orlando International my wife drove, and I sobbed.  I became functional after two or three days passed, but during the down time spoke little and kept to myself.  I found it difficult to adjust to the concrete realization, reinforced over and over during my visit, that dying is a process of losing everything.

My father in law died in 2008.  The kind and solicitous representatives from the funeral home drove us from the grave site to my mother in law’s house.  The man riding shotgun opened the door to let us out of the limo and quickly turned away without saying anything in farewell.  I realized that the funeral directors had finished their work, and any compassion shown at the viewing, service and interment had been part of a contract just ended.  We were on our own.  My mother in law drove us to her favorite local restaurant for lunch.  It had rained hard at the cemetery, but now the clouds scattered and weak sunlight brightened the wintry hills of eastern Pennsylvania.  The crowded dining room hummed with conversation, and the checkered table cloth and vase of artificial chrysanthemums made our table insistently cheerful.  Our group said little at first, but after the food arrived we chewed our salads, ate our bread, and told a few stories about the man we had buried an hour before.  We even laughed at a few jokes.