I heard the warnings but wouldn’t leave the house. The windows were boarded up, there was plenty of food and water—and I thought I’d ride it out. Having never been through a hurricane before, I thought it might be a break in routine to make me feel like somebody (my ex says I can’t cope with being a nobody, that it’s making me “…miserable and frustrated”).
Image from Plymouth State
Everyone else on the block has absconded, even the Weissfluchts across the street. You’d think Mr. Weissflucht would’ve stayed. You’d think he’d threaten the storm with physical harm if it tries to disrupt his botanical handiwork. What about his azaleas, roses, petunias, lilies, germaniums, sunflowers, orchids— everything in rows, everything trimmed, dusted, shining, beautiful?
No wonder his yard looks great: the Weissflucht lawn-care troops (his children) are out there every day wearing holes through the knees of their jeans, muttering as they rake, trim, mow, plant, re-plant, transplant, prune, seed, re-seed and weed. Precision-trimmed hedges, symmetrical flower beds, large rocks painted white set in borders: the overall effect is completely artificial, not unlike a Hollywood backlot suburban yard.
All the while Mr. Weissflucht sits on his back stoop, glaring out from behind Ray-Bans, running one hand over his flat-top, flexing his flabby arms, directing his brood through their well-orchestrated motions, issues corrections when necessary: “Don’t do it like THAT! Do it like THIS!”
Sipping from one Schaeffer tall-boy after another, he curses the “Goddamn welfare cheats…” and “…fucking immigrants.” while flicking ashes off the end of chain-smoked Parliaments into a Niagara Falls: 8th Wonder of the World ashtray.
“Whose bubble-gum wrapper is this and what the FUCK is it doing on my front lawn?!” came slamming through our screened windows one Friday afternoon this May. I’d just come home and was drinking lemonade from the pitcher, with the refrigerator door open. Mr. Weissflucht’s eruption was followed quickly by a series of short thuds, then muffled sobbing. Drop a gum wrapper on the old man’s lawn, eh? Might as well shimmy up his flagpole—the biggest flagpole on the block, biggest flag at top—and shit all over him. Might as well tear the Schaeffer from his hand.
Now a fire truck makes it way down the street. An urgent voice shouts warnings through a loudspeaker: Everyone in this area is advised to evacuate and seek shelter at E.W. Bower School or the High School. I picture my neighbors, huddled in the dark, agonizing, praying they’ll soon be back to their plasma screens and cold Diet Pepsi.
I can’t do it. I can’t go. I don’t want to make small talk, pretend I like these people. I won’t. I’m staying here. I’m sitting through this. I’ll climb on the fucking roof to get a better view. No better way to feel it, feel the wind and the rain, the tree branches cracking and the power lines ripping down. I want one to touch my body. I want a twenty-five thousand volt cable to touch down on my goddamn pointy head and light me up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. I want my fucking nose to light up and my hair to stick straight out. I want to have an electrifying personality, finally.
I should wrap myself in aluminum foil. Does aluminum conduct electricity? My friend Richie used to pronounce it “Furl. Aluminum furl”. He also said “curn” instead of “coin” and “bat-tree” when he meant battery. I should wrap myself in aluminum furl and invite the ‘lectricity down on me. My uncle dropped the first vowel off of words like that. He’d say ‘lectricity, ‘luminum. Maybe I should wrap myself in ‘luminum furl.
Damn hurry-cane is getting closer. I say “hurry-cane”, “Santy Claus” — anything for a laugh. How about I lash myself to the antenna? Pretty good bet that a power line will hit it or at least blow it over. How do you lash yourself to something anyway? I’ve never done it before so I’ll probably fuck it up and blow away. I know what I’ll do! I’ll just sit up there right next to the chimney and hold on! That way if the antenna does come down I won’t blow away with it. And if a power line does touch down — who knows?
I get the ladder from the garage and lean it against a gutter. I’ve always hated climbing ladders. I don’t have a fear of heights, just a fear of falling very far. But this will be worth it. I climb up slowly, hugging the ladder. The new roof looks good. The landlord just put it on. The contractor bragged about the fine job, the thickness of the shingles, the quality construction of the gutters: “Everything guaranteed fifteen years— in writing!” The landlord’s in competition with Mr. Weissflucht. They’d each desire to have the finest, cleanest showplace. The landlord— who works—is not up to Mrs. Weissflucht’s level. She literally crawls all over the inside of her place. I see her through the windows. She’s always hauling vacuum cleaners and brooms and mops and buckets up and down the stairs; forever cleaning, polishing, wiping, searching for the germs and the filth. Eradicating unwholesomeness. God, how can she stand it in that dirty old school gymnasium?
The hurricane is here! I sit on the south side of the chimney, facing out towards the bay. The milky gray sky presses down on green-blackness, wind churning up white-caps, rain advancing in sheets. Down the street a fence goes over and trees are stripped of small amounts of foliage. A TV antenna blows away. I can taste the salt water on my lips now; my clothes are quickly drenched. The rain’s not cold and it doesn’t bother me.
A lawn-chair whizzes past the Weissflucht house. The howling wind slams me hard against the chimney and I feel I’m on a roller coaster that’s falling apart as I ride. The house is a horse and I straddle it, one leg down each side of the peaked roof, digging my fingernails underneath the new shingles. The hurricane rises in pitch, pulling down power lines, telephone cables and smashing a few windows. Then it’s fully upon me. The shingles at the edge of the roof begin tearing loose, leaping into the air and whooshing past my face, exposing the plywood beneath. All the shingles, save the ones I hang onto, flip into the wind. The gutters go next. They groan as they pull away from the eaves, then collapse to the ground. None of it seems to be nailed on too well. Won’t the landlord shit when she reads the fine print and sees no provisions in the guaranty against Acts of God?
Then something strange happens. I suddenly become tired, like I can no longer hold on. If I let go will I fly like Peter Pan? Closing my eyes, I picture myself soaring, arms outstretched, over the Weissflucht house. A small bomb is clenched between my teeth. I open my mouth and drop it down their chimney. KA-BOOM ! A direct hit!
I keep my eyes shut a good long while, enjoying the feel of the wind buffeting me, imagining a different kind of hurricane. One that’d whisk away not trees and fences and gutters but assholes like the Weissflucht. Just wash them away like lawn chairs, like weak branches on a strong tree. Like the shingles on the landlord’s roof — never to be seen again.
Opening my eyes, I see the worst is over. I survey the immediate area. Debris is strewn everywhere. Whatever was not tied down or indoors is far from where it once sat. At the Weissflucht house they’ve come through largely unscathed. Pulling myself together, I step to the edge of the roof where I left the ladder. It — of course — isn’t there. I shimmy down the least damaged downspout. It supports me until I’m two feet from the ground. Then the battered aluminum shrieks and shears away from the roof. I hit the soggy earth hard and make squishing noises as I right myself. The sun is out and shining. As I move, water flows from me.
There is no sound but birds chirping. No one has returned to their homes yet. I look over at the Weissflucht house, then cross the street and lift myself up and over their low fence. I step around to the rear, take a quick look around then kick in a basement window. I squeeze in, landing ankle deep in water: some damage after all. I grope my way along a wall, discern the thin outline of the staircase handrail and climb upstairs.
The basement door opens out into the kitchen. The Weissfluchts left in haste: there are kerosene lamps and a flashlight on the table. I grab the flashlight, flick it on and check inside the refrigerator. Hamburger meat, orange juice, left-over chicken, Ring-Dings and diet soda. Aha! A Schaeffer! I grab it. pop it open, begin fishing through kitchen drawers in search of something interesting, Hmm… nice knife, cool cigarette lighter — in my pocket they go.
I pull the drawers out of their cabinets, flinging them on the floor in a clanging symphony of kitchen-ware. It makes me giddy. I knock their blender to the floor. And their toaster oven. And coffee-maker. And everything else on the counter. My gravity tests over, down the hall I go.
The master bedroom. The curtains are drawn. Everything is done in putrid earth-tones. The room smells of Vapo-Rub. I go through the dresser drawers: nothing. I check the nightstand between the beds: a romance novel, an espionage thriller, some letters and —at the bottom — fifty bucks! I pocket it. What’s in this case? SHIT! A pistol! A silver .45. It’s loaded. I shove it in my belt and head for the living room.
Family pictures cover one wall, above a display case full of baseball and bowling trophies. And there she is — the golden blonde daughter, Alexis. What a perfect Aryan. We dated once. I asked for a second date and she said, “I can’t My father doesn’t approve.” That rotten prick.
Stepping across the room I spin, reach for the pistol, take aim — and fire at the largest picture of his face. The bullet shatters the glass, piercing his eye. I imagine blood spurting in a crimson arc and squeeze off the remaining rounds, obliterating the whole family, sending shards of glass, wood, metal and paper flying everywhere.
I make my way back down to the basement and find the furnace. Kneeling in the water, I blow out the pilot light and turn the gas full on. I bound up the stairs two at a time. Once in the kitchen, I grab one of the kerosene lamps. I replace the small cap on its base with a dishrag, then head out the back door.
From my right pocket I grab the purloined lighter. At first it won’t ignite. Then it does. I touch the flame to the dishrag and hurl the lamp through the kitchen window. Then I vault back over the fence and scurry across the street to my house. Safely inside my room, I visualize the Weissflucht house erupting in a massive fireball, sending flaming chunks hurtling thousands of feet straight up, to cascade down everywhere. I wait. I wait some more. Nothing. Something’s wrong.
I make my way cautiously back to their house, stepping slowly inside. The makeshift molotov cocktail sits on the floor, extinguished. There is no smell of gas. Motherfucker! I hear cars on the next block. My neighbors are returning. Shit. Shit. Piss.
I make my way back to the master bedroom. I stand over the queen-sized bed, unzip my fly… and pee. It’s a good, long steamy piss. My eyes roll back in my head. A small yellow lake soon forms. I notice I am singing:
God bless America — land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
through the night with the light from above.
Da da mountains, da da prairies, da da oceans
white with foam…
When I’m done, I head home.
I’m sure Mr. Weissflucht suspects me. He’s glaring far more than usual and grunting disapprovingly whenever I’m in his presence.
At the Labor Day barbecue I make a bed-wetting joke. Everyone laughs but Mr. Weissflucht, who chokes on his hamburger. We look at each other — his wife, his kids, my landlord — all heads swiveling this way and that. We watch and waited.
We wait until he notices us waiting.