Puerto Rico

matthew

I’ve sat through four category 1 hurricanes.  Some folks can sleep during these (Hurricanes Irma and Charlie came early in the morning), but the sounds of debris hitting the side of my house and branches bouncing off my roof kept me wide awake and cringing.  The adrenaline rush kicked into gear again the next morning when I went outside and surveyed the aftermath.  We’ve been luck in that both storms shredded leaves off the trees surrounding my house and dropped branches, but we suffered no significant property damage.

It took several days using hand tools (and with the help of my wife and kids) to clear the yard after Charlie.  I was 45 at the time, and the heat exhausted but didn’t sicken me.  The ten days spent without power were mostly bearable even though the temperatures were in the low to mid 90s during the day.  I did have to be pulled aside by my wife on a few occasions to drink water and eat a bit of food as I began to show signs of heat exhaustion.  Cooking and refrigeration required a lot of extra effort (ice remained scarce until we found a Publix on a buried power line a few miles down the road; coffee water had to be heated up on a grill), and bathing meant cold showers.  And we were fairly lucky in that we had safe water.  Friends of ours scooped water flowing from a water main break to fill their toilet tanks.  Our neighborhood smelled like sewage in the mornings and evenings as the lifting station pumps were out of commission or running slowly on gasoline powered generators.

The power outage for Irma lasted five days, but I was in much worse shape from sleepless nights and heat exhaustion.  I can’t endure as well at 58, and it’s taken a few weeks to recover since the power was restored.  A friend of ours, who lost power for six days, ended up in an ER suffering from a fever and vertigo.  A nurse asked our friend if her power was out.  The hospital had been getting a steady stream of patients worn down by the heat.

So that sucked, but multiply it by 100, and you’ll get a glimpse of what it’s like in Puerto Rico.  We are being told by our president that “community effort” and an attitude of not “expecting to have everything done for them” are required for speedier recovery.  This being said about folks who have survived a category five hurricane, whose homes, if they still exist, have been badly damaged, who haven’t food, medicine, transportation, clean water and a functional sewage system.

Ever try pulling yourself up by your bootstraps while in shock, while suffering from hunger, thirst and extended heat exhaustion?  Ever try to do that without being able to purchase tools and equipment (ATMs shut down, debris-blocked roads, gas shortages, nowhere left to buy a two-by-four)?  Ever try to be effective while wondering whether your life will ever be the same again, while not being able to contact loved ones to let them know you’re alive, while wondering if your son’s asthma medicine (mother’s diabetes medicine, etc.) will hold out until new supplies arrive?

If you agree with the president’s pronouncements about Puerto Rico, then I wish you an equivalent fate to what the Puerto Ricans have suffered.  I’ll look forward to seeing how well you all perform under similar circumstances.  Please show us all the shining example of your determination and grit while standing in a shredded pile of belongings in front of your collapsed house.  I’m waiting to be inspired.

 

 

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Man Cleaning

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Laundry room debris field

I’ve done my share of cleaning house over 30+ years of marriage.  I stayed home with the kids when they were little and waged the losing battle of keeping their chaos at bay.  I once told a college class that managing a house occupied by two toddlers was like composing a term paper with a drunk roommate deleting key passages whenever the writer looked away for a split second.  All accomplishments are doomed to erasure.

Doing chores while surrounded by little barbarians gave me a fatalistic approach to house cleaning.  I got in the habit of taking care of the worst of the worst, nibbling at the bits I somewhat cared about, and letting major areas collect dust and debris.

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Dresser top of lost hope

Recently our circumstances have forced me to take on more of the chores than I ever did before.  The kids are grown and gone, so there should be less to do.  But now I’m starting to see things through my wife’s eyes and realize that the cobwebs growing from the ceiling in the back room really shouldn’t be allowed to hang down to eye level.  The strange odor in the laundry room behind the Christmas tree boxes no longer lingers, but its fossilized source really ought to be removed (dead lizard or corn snake?).  Ancient stains on the side of the fridge could be scrubbed off, as well as stratified layers of greasy fuzz on the kitchen ceiling fan.

I eventually come to the conclusion that I could start at one end of the house and scrub inch by inch.  Repainting and patching could follow.  New curtains could replace the moth eaten ones over the front window, and the coat closet could be excavated for usable tennis rackets, tennis balls, and vacuum cleaner attachments from amongst the debris at the bottom.  The job seems endless.

And now I begin to understand a major difference between the sexes.  Women tend to see housework as a manageable project that produces a cozy nest if the right effort is applied, if their housemate abstains from random acts of stinky sock/wet towel dropping.  Men see the interior of a house and shut down.

Housework induced catatonia in males is not always caused by laziness, but more often by willful blindness in the face of overwhelming odds.  The blindness has no evil intent, but is more a matter of self-preservation.  A man who has taken the time to do a thorough survey of his domestic environment is like an astronaut spacewalking and contemplating the stars.  He feels so small compared to a vast number of tasks spread over a mini-universe of domestic space.

When confronted by the infinite, it’s best for a man to pretend that the majority of it does not exist.  He pops a beer, sits in a recliner and waves to his friends, the spiders hanging all around him.  He might knock down their webs down in a day or two, but at that moment he just wants a little company.

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Entropic night stand