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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Life Stories

The Hurricane Hits Crepe Myrtle Court
• Allen Cook
Florence packed a fierce punch


 According to the local news:

More than 1 million people in coastal areas of Virginia, North and South Carolina were ordered to evacuate. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called the storm a monster, big and vicious.  It was bringing flooding and high-force winds.  Heavy rains were expected over a large portion of the Carolinas with winds that could reach 150 mph.

Most storms coming into the Carolinas tended to move northward, but this storm looked as if it was going to stall over the region and bring tremendous, life-threatening flooding.  It originated from a tropical depression off of the coast of West Africa.  Initially downgraded to a tropical storm, it regained strength and became a Category 4 hurricane and then it was ultimately downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved inland.

The financial toll of the storm might reach around 150 billion dollars, the death toll around forty.

Florence made landfall just south of Wrightsville’s beach, North Carolina near Wilmington.  It weakened further as it moved inland toward Raleigh and its suburb of Apex, passing right over two houses on Crepe Myrtle Court. 

1005 Crepe Myrtle Court, Apex NC

 A palpable quiet invaded the Phillip’s house.

The old man sat back in the Naugahide recliner, daydreaming. He knew he loved his grandchildren more than all the rain in the any hurricane, more than all the distance northward, southward, eastward, westward, nadir or zenith.  To his delight, today, courtesy of Florence, he was their babysitter de jour.  The kids, Christian (eleven) and Mike (eight ) - Hardy Boys of the house, needed supervision on days off of school when their parents had to work.

Outside clouds changed from sheets into heavy blankets.

Flutters of butterflies flew around Bob’s stomach.  His major flaw of character (he had a large numbers of minor flaws) was anxiety; he was a realist-neurotic.  Storms frequently circled Bob’s head.  Because Florence was meteorological, not simply windy imagination, his whilom fear now registered approximately nine on a disaster scale of ten.

The cloud vortex dragged him down into a spate of recent events.  The present produced a brief view into the last four weeks.  He started to worry even more.  

As the rain fell downer than down in an erratic deluge, Bob walked over to the big picture-window in the living room and whispered into the glass, “When you graduate school with a fancy degree you want a good job, a nice house and a loving family; then you just want a good job, nice house and a family that doesn’t quarrel too much; then simply settle for a good job; then a job that pays regularly.  Finally, you want to be able simply to pee.”  He felt that the new CEO of his company was taking his toilet away. 

The Board of Directors had just hired as a new CEO an attractive, articulate person whom Bob thought would be an excellent boss. Her first day on the job she fired all the managers.  She then made them all re-apply for their former jobs. At least Bob didn’t lose his job although he did lose a third of his income.  That was just the beginning.  The new CEO eventually axed scores of people and replaced them with “ her people,” whom she had known before and with whom she felt comfortable.

A sunken look fell over his eyes, as the winds outside increased in velocity.  Rain pounded the roof.

Last week, according to one of the last standing “old timers,” as she sat at her huge desk in an office, which was about the size of a three-car garage, the new CEO read an article about her appointment that described her as having auburn hair.  She started screaming, “I don’t have auburn hair I have red hair, red hair!”  Her eyes popped and her head swelled into a hot air balloon.

Bob thought how the workplace closely resembled a hurricane.  Profit replaced security. Competition replaced personal allegiance.  Finding a job was much more difficult than losing a job, especially for a 60-year-old man.  Even the weather conspired against Bob.  Fierce storms played in the orchestra of the market.  His job as a babysitter, while wonderful, testified to his rather erratic work schedule.  He was off this week only because one of his bosses had to leave the country because of a family emergency. Otherwise he would not have been here in the path of Florence. Suddenly in the middle of his daydreams he swept his 60-year-old relationship with work under the carpet.

Walking through Bob’s cloud of anger, Christian, his older grandson, came over from the kitchen to cuddle.  Christian was a lot like a puppy dog, “Grandpa, don’t worry about the hurricane, everything will be OK.”  Shadow words rose and fell between the old man and the young boy. The immediacy of the storm brought the two of them ever closer. The young boy was old beyond his years; the old man was childish for his years.

 As he spoke with Christian, Bob’s work frenzy about his boss finally fell off the wall: Humpty Dumpty.

Christian often asked piercing questions without knowing their bite.  He queried, “Sometimes when I get up in the morning and just don’t want to do what I have to do.  Grandpa, why are we made this way? Why shouldn’t we always want to do what we should do? Why do we have to leave for school when you visit?" Bob winced.   He thought Christian’s question was actually not appropriate.  Magic wands that turn on videos from the couch would be a better topic to explore during a hurricane than Scholastic philosophy.

Talking to Christian was like spending time on Freud’s couch.  Even when the kid said nothing he gave you the impression of seeing right into your mind.  Bob then remembered an incident that happened a few years back.  When Christian was only eight, Bob (trying to be a wise guy for the edification of his grandson) asked the boy what he thought about the idea of infinity.   The boy took a slight breath, “I think it means no matter how much you have, you will always have more.”  This shut up the old man for good.  Bob never again played the game, “I am smarter than you are because I am older than you.”  

Flummoxed, Bob didn’t reply: a pregnant pause.  He knew he had to tell the boy that he couldn’t answer his question.  Why was nothing easy? The fabric of days was not “no-press” but more like silk— pretty, but dicey to wear to work. 

Christian’s question brought to mind Bob’s greatest fear about love.  The kids would want answers to important questions and Bob would come up empty-handed.  No matter how hard he tried, he wouldn’t be able to make their path straight and unencumbered.

Christian then came over to his grandfather and whispered, “I love you.”  He got up and left.

 Alone once again, Bob found scientific comfort in the Weather Channel. Florence came from the Cape Verde Islands, off the West African Coast. He looked outside. Bubbles started percolating on the sidewalk in puddles.  He imagined fabulous parrots and orchids bursting out, all around. 

The storm changed quickly. In a few minutes the insect teeth of wind and rain had turned into a distant freight train.  

Christian came back into the living room, riding a suitcase that had wheels on it. He wore a small trashcan for a hat and brandished a plastic baseball bat for a sword.  He slammed across the floor a beach ball with his bat, “I like to play golf but the ball is too small.   I have better luck with a big ball and a make-believe hole.  That way I can easily get a hole in one.”

 He held his fingers over his mouth.

“Ssssh.  Grandpa, let’s not tell mom and dad that I have eaten the last of the chocolate chip cookies.”

Kryptonite fell.

It was hard to explain why a cookie brought such a big fuss in Bob’s head, but food had become one of the most volatile cultural items between him, his son and his daughter-in-law. All revolved around the crisis of vegetables.

Bob’s daughter-in-law came from the ancient warrior province of Rajasthan in northwest India. She was a Brunhilda of vegetables.  A vegetarian vegetarian, she was not only militant about cauliflower, tomatoes and broccoli.  For her, the label “vegetarian” did not simply mean someone who only ate vegetables.  It meant that a person who was NOT a vegetarian could not touch the vegetables that vegetarians ate.  Utensils used to eat or to serve vegetables could not touch non–veg items, either on the table or in the refrigerator.  Only vegetarians could touch veg items.  If a non-veg dish or container came too close to a veg dish or container, their auras would conflict and there would a type of spiritual explosion.

In the Phillip’s house, finding a cookie hanging around a counter came close to finding a bomb, and there was no good place to put a bomb.   To actually eat one was akin to religious suicide.

Bob tried to be sure his grandchildren followed the food rules.  He lauded eating “your spinach,” but was still an in-the-closet meatatarian and the boys knew it.  They were quick to find chinks in the grandfather’s vegetable armor.  In this context cookies became a clash of cultures. 

He was not in an easy situation.  Bob came out of the American culture of the nineteen fifties. He ate dinner each evening at 5:30 PM.  The meal consisted of mashed or boiled potatoes, over cooked vegetables (they were always grey and soft) and some inexpensive cut of beef from out of the A&P discount items.  Dessert consisted of various jello flavors with artificial whipped cream topping.  His mom made bologna, peanut butter and jelly, or plain jelly sandwiches for lunch.  All the kids had Frosted Power Flakes for breakfast.  The food may have been bad, but everyone ate it and was relatively happy about eating it. Exotic tastes could actually be dangerous.  One Thanksgiving Bob’s Mom served a treat of shrimp as an appetizer.  Unfortunately, she didn’t know you had to cook them.

Bob dreaded that he might fall victim to the vegetarian SS.   His son and daughter-in-law might scream with horror about the cookie and badly upset the boys. What if the kids’ parents found out the Bob actually let the boy eat it?   It could easily mean that he would be able to spend only limited time with his grandchildren.

Bob had but a white feather of resolve, “I am not going to tell your mother or father.  I’ll just not say anything.”

“No,” said Christian.” You don’t have to say anything.”

Curious, Bob asked, “Where did you get the cookie?”

“I saw dad take it out of his pocket and put it on the counter.”

The boys knew their dad periodically visited, without letting his wife know, Mary’s Hog House for cookies, brownies and delicious Bar-B-Q.

Hurricane Florence began singing wild opera.

From his laptop Bob realized the main part of the storm was right over Apex. He herded the two boys into the den, which was most protected from bad weather since it had only one window.  Mike, Bob’s youngest grandson, then ran out to go to the bathroom.

The boys particularly loved to go out to hamburger “joints,” order French Fries and douse them with ketchup. At home they also liked to make ketchup sandwiches, without any meat, from hamburger and frankfurter rolls.  Every time they would go out to eat they would purloin ketchup packets; the refrigerator was filled with ketchup packets.

Mike came back from the kitchen, via the bathroom, with his hands full with ketchup packets.  He blew a make-believe trumpet and announced, “Grandpa, let’s have a ketchup war.”

Mike hid ketchup soldiers between cushions, in the pillows, around corners, under the rug.  The opposing ketchup army took over the top of the couch. The battle began.  Firing started with a puff of booms from Mike’s mouth, which served as artillery explosions.

The boy took total joy at this massacre.

His shouts contrasted with quiet Christian, who was sitting on a plush chair reading Harry Potter. By default since Mike was winning, Christian was losing; sibling rivalry then took over.  The boys started to shout at each other. From his chair, Christian came down on his younger brother with a deadly punch of words.  He wanted to win the mental war, if he could not win the ketchup war.

With his head out of the his book Christian declared, “I don’t care if you kill all my ketchup soldiers.  Grandpa loves me more than he loves you.  I am two years older than you, so he loves me two years longer than he loves you.”

Mike blew his stack, “The only reason I don’t kill you is because you play games with me.”  The two then started to throw punches.

Bob stepped in, “Boys, never forget that you love each other.”  They didn’t pause for a moment. One had the other in a headlock.

Bob was not really disturbed over Christian’s assault.  He didn’t make a big “to do” over it.  Bob let the situation ride.   Mike was tough and could play this “love you more” or “love you less” game just as well as Christian. Bob remembered a story that his daughter-in-law once told him.  Mike came into bed with her to cuddle one early morning. He said that his mom smelled so good!

He came up to her ears and whispered softly. “Mom, I love you a lot.”  She smiled. He then continued, “But I love dad a little bit more.”

The ketchup war finally ended when Mike with all the force of a Navy Seal stepped on a packet of ketchup and it squirted out onto the carpet. He screeched, “Look, look we have blood! “

Bob had had enough.  He shut down the battlefield.  Mike stuck his tongue out at his brother.  Christian smiled.

Meanwhile things outside were getting worrisome. On carefully manicured lawns trees kissed each other. Electrical wires fell to the ground.

To break the mounting tension the three Musketeers trotted off into the media room.  Fortunately, the electricity had not conked out.  The two kids sat on the edge of their chairs ready for an escape into video games. Grandfather stared out the window wanting to bite his nails.

Climb up the side of buildings, drive a fabulous sports car, swim without getting wet, get shot without getting hurt?  Mountains glowed and collapsed in all their artistic beauty, while creatures ran around ugly as nightmares. Video games forsook a person’s allegiance to the everyday universe.  It was a perfect foil to the fear of Florence.

The kids were not supposed to play video games during the day, hurricane or no hurricane.  Bob, once again, knew the routine. They were supposed to read, play piano, play cards or board games, build tents, do puzzles and eat vegetables.  But under the circumstances Bob was a little desperate.  A bit discombobulated, Bob ignored, once again, a prohibition.

Surprisingly, the three shared an unsuspected intimacy via the media room. As they dove into the screen the kids touched their grandfather’s whiskers.  They touched his arm.  They sat on his lap.  The kids didn’t care what their grandfather did, “You don’t have to play anything, Grandpa.  Just sit and watch”

The boys dressed their characters in different “skins.”  They could be male or female, tough or maniacal, but no matter what they looked like, all the characters could dance a storm. To the accompaniment of blowing rain against the windows and the “shake” of the chandeliers moving around a little, one boy mimicked a guy on screen who looked like a samurai with chicken feathers coming out of his head while the other character, a girl, made Mae West look flat chested.

The kids twirled and slid over the floor.  Christian suddenly broke into dance on the furniture with his arms and legs flying around the way a goony bird did a mating dance. He ended-up with a big middle finger pointing at the ceiling singing totally off tune, “Your girlfriend is so ugly when she looks into a mirror it flashes, ‘Zombie’s Bride: Parental Consent Required.’”

Twenty minutes in front of the screen turned into one hour, which then turned into two hours. The reality was that neither Bob nor their parents knew what to do about time kids spend on video games.  What is enough, just right, or too much?   What should they be allowed to watch? Of course, their parents protested against all violence but when their parents did their own work at home the kids might play for hours unsupervised.

Bob wanted to be good grandfather but always seemed to be breaking house rules. He began to squirm. He knew that he filled up his nights and days with the media as did most all his acquaintances.  Whenever he asked friends what they knew about Paris, for example, even those who have never been to Paris, their answers were usually much the same:  the Eiffel Tower, maybe the Louvre and the Arc de Triumph.  What they called knowledge about Paris was what the media had constructed for them as knowledge about Paris. 

If Bob didn’t want his two boys to live in a world that the media had created, he should maybe not live in a world that the media had created.  

This reverie broke quickly up. The once shy stream dressed up within just the last hour into a fast-ass river.  How could a backyard creek change so quickly from a splash of water into a cheetah that swooped down on the unsuspecting antelope of their backyard?

His eyes led right to the house next door.

1007 Crepe Myrtle Court, Apex NC 1960 Coup Deville

Its owner, Kumar, had struck up a friendship with Bob when his kids first moved into town. They had a lot in common. Both were interested in technology.  Both had management jobs. Bob’s daughter-in-law was South Asian and Bob knew a phrase or two of Hindi to break the ice in a lagging conversation (let’s hang out for a while and go shopping! Ab ko shopping wapping karna chayai).

He looked young and energetic.  People were frequently surprised that the man was in his mid-fifties. They usually thought that he was only in his late thirties. Impeccably groomed his jet-black hair appeared cool, young.  He combed it up into a quasi-Mohawk.

The nascent flood now hit Kumar’s house with a sledgehammer.  Actually, Kumar was trying to get rid of the property for the last few years.   He didn’t even want this real estate that now looked like a leaking sponge.  But he had no luck.  The place had a major problem.  It had five bedrooms (Kumar had four girls) but no backyard.  Most people interested in buying it would probably have a bunch of kids but no place for them to play.  After all, this was classic suburbia where every kid needed a backyard.

Bob recalled the current turmoil in the media about immigrants.  People asserted that so many of them were dangerous.  They were drug dealers, involved with sex and money laundering.  They were threat to the American Way. Not! Kumar was a sterling example of the “new American”— hard working, smart, polite, generous and successful.  In addition, this guy had been slammed more than a few times but repeatedly managed to get up again and again!

Bob saw a big branch of the magnolia tree split.  The action caused him to pause and imagine Kumar in his native Mumbai, India.  

Kumar had been born in Mumbai to very poor parents.  As the oldest of five children he took over the role of father when his dad died of cancer.   The boy was just ten. Kumar got his hands on a brokendown pushcart.  He walked through alleys and by-ways selling little trinkets, small toys, paper pads, pencils, used books and nail clippers.  His mother picked garbage. The family lived in a shack in the slums; it was able to squeeze out a living. Then a truck hit his mother and killed her.  Kumar had to feed and clothe a family of four siblings.

Yet he had big plans.  With extreme frugality he was able to support his siblings AND save enough to get the books he needed to study for his high school exit exams. He had a supply of pens, pencils paper and used textbooks from his pushcart.  He didn’t need tutors. Kumar frequently worked under streetlights, since candles were expensive.  He taught himself.

He finally took his exams.  He failed some subjects the first time around but plugged away and took them again.  He eventually passed everything and wanted to get into some undergraduate college program.

He had no money for tuition.  To get around his poverty he made an agreement with a local university Rector.  If the school would lend him money he would agree to pay it back with interest after graduation.  He would designate a certain percentage from the wages from the job. The Rector saw that he was a winner in spite of his poverty; the university lent him the money.

 On graduation he landed a job with a big international company, which eventually re-located him to America.  Soon he became a company executive.  After he saved enough and sponsored his siblings to come to the States, he married a young South Asian woman, and sponsored his wife’s siblings to come to the States.   

After a few years he also founded a charity.  He paid college tuition for one or two students in Bombay who had been good in high school, but who came from very poor families. He then bought this house that was now under attack.

A crash blasted out of the garage!

This situation required a bit of un-packing.

Kumar’s wife, Rheka, had a friend. June, who had just lost her husband. The couple were in their seventies and had been married for over fifty years.   People said that they were joined at the hips.  No. They just appreciated each other in love and tried to ignore each others annoying attributes.  Long marriages are like a big tree: much of it looks beautiful but some of it is rotten. 

About a year ago her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He fought back hard.  To capture old times in the midst of demise, he periodically took his nineteen sixties yellow Cadillac Coup de Ville out for a spin.  It didn’t help his health but made him happy.  June had some nervous moments, especially when he was out on the road and he turned a corner too sharp ending up driving on someone’s sidewalk , or when he had mistaken a mail box for a dark shadow and smashed it to the ground. (He said it was the fault of his sunglasses and the post office, which should not put mailboxes in grave holes.)

June simply smiled as he once flattened out an inflated Santa Clause on her neighbor’s lawn.   She always supported her husband even when he was off the wall.  She told him that he should be careful but not to worry.  The Lord would take care of everything.  Underneath her sheet of quiet she lay petrified of losing her best friend. 

His driving got ever worse. 

On his death bed, the topic of the Cadillac came up.  Her husband reiterated that the car was to go to no one but June.  She could sell it if she wanted, or keep it and take it to old car “gatherings.” There she might meet his old buddies and hang out with them for old times sake.  (She was looking forward to that prospect like an enema.)

Most importantly, she needed to take the beautiful “yellow tank,” (his nickname for the Cadillac) out for a spin once in a while, otherwise the oil and liquids might turn corrosive. He told her the best garages in town to use for a thousand-mile tune-up. If something drastic happened to his “baby” he gave her a card of an antique dealer, who could repair anything.

Next to his wife and kids, he loved his car.

During her husband’s funeral procession June rode in the yellow Coup de Ville.  She knew it was the right, if unconventional, thing to do.  Somehow the car became an important link to the ghost of her dead spouse.  As the coffin was lowered she resolved through her tears that she would treat the car as some kind of moving memorial to her beloved.

A few days before the hurricane, June had taken the Cadillac for a spin around town and anchored the vehicle (it was more like a good size boat than a sedan) in the driveway.  She planed to take the “baby” to the carwash later that evening but she fell asleep early.  

You can imagine her horror next morning when she came out of the house. She discovered a gaggle of turkeys on the roof of the car dancing and plucking as if they were at a square dance.   They were having a regular Pow-Wow of gobbles.  Turkey feathers danced up and down as the fat birds pecked at the car roof.

She frantically waved her arms and hooted but the turkeys were not easily dissuaded from their celebrations.   June started to cry. Why were those damned birds scratching the roof of her husbands beautiful car?  How did they get up there to begin with?  She never even heard of turkeys flying.  Weren’t they like the dodos of the United States?

June finally took a broom that she fortunately kept in the garage right by the garage door and started to whack the birds with it. As she plunged after them, she muttered, “ To hell with the ASPCA and turkey rights.  I hate these birds.  They need to be on someone’s Thanksgiving table and not on top of my beloved husband’s  yellow Cadillac Coup de Ville!”

After the last gobble was out of sight, not to be heard, June inspected the car roof.  It once beautiful finish was dreadfully scratched up and spotted with bird dudu.  June then took the vehicle to the body shop to have the roof redone for a fast $500 deductible.  She could hardly afford this turkey trot. The final bill then came in the mail yesterday. 

As reports of Florence hit the wires, she was still shaking with anger over the turkeys.   In spite of the hurricane June decided she had to see Rehka, her best (and only) friend from Church.  She needed comfort from her tribulations over the turkey trots. Storm be damned!

In the torrential down pour she drove, fool that she was, to Rekha’s/ Kumar’s house.  It was only a few blocks away. She had to feel a warm hug from a friend, to mitigate her recent trial by fire with the turkeys.  Sometimes she got so terribly lonely. 

The winds were enough to blow her wig off and the rain fell harder than the spikes in push-pins.  June was not in total control of herself.  She drove the car going far too fast up the driveway and misjudged the distance between the Cadillac and Rheka’s garage door.  Smash!

She first went right through the door and then proceeded to crash into the back of June’s Toyota. But June had not put on the brakes, when she put the car in,  so her Toyota crashed into the back wall of the garage. The back wall was lined with old bookcases filled with half used this and that’s. Unfortunately, paint cans and garden equipment then went flying off the storage shelves and landed on June’s Toyota. 

It was this crash that had startled Bob and the boys, who now looked out of the glass door astonished. The hurricane blasted poor June as she whimpered up to the door of Rehka’s house and rang the doorbell.  When Rehka opened the door, the two friends hugged. The ladies saw the full catastrophe. You couldn’t separate their tears from rain.

June suffered a little whiplash. Both the Cadillac and Toyota were smashed as was the garage door and the wall of the garage opposite the garage door.  The worse part of the entire episode was not the confusion caused by the hurricane but the fact that June had crashed the pride and joy of her late husband’s affection. 

As it sat in and out of the garage back wall the big yellow whale of the Cadillac resembled a denizen with its whilom pristine body in a bit of shambles.  For June, the Toyota now sticking out right into the middle of the flooded backyard looked like it needed some swimming lessons.  

The damage was considerable: one front bumper, a radiator, a hood (for the Cadillac) one back bumper, one front bumper (for the Toyota), a new garage door and a new wall for the back of the garage, in addition to a bit of cosmetic landscaping for the tiny backyard. 

The two girl friends tightly hugged each other as they walked into house. Kumar came out to comfort both of them.  The two boys stared goo-goo eyed from out their front door. Bob held his grandson’s hands and thought fondly of Kumar.

The hurricane finally lay exhausted in about ten hours… after Bob’s nervous attack, Christian’s suitcase battle, the ketchup war, the video game extravaganza and the Cadillac/Toyota debacle.   Eventually, the storm moved out to the Atlantic, from which it came – never to be seen again.  

No one would easily forget Florence.

The next day was bright.  The creek that became a river, once again turned into a creek. It slowed down but its force had left piles of tree limbs and leaves all over the place.  It created an ideal scene for the two boys to explore.  Nothing like a patch of woods after a flood has dragged the kitchen sink through it. 

Excited with the mess that now lay in the backyard Christian and Mike rambled around and ended up at the bank of the creek.  They found a fallen tree which and made a bridge out of it.  Christian walked from one side of the creek, to the other side of it, although going was a slippery time of it.  As he walked and balanced on the tree, both Mike and old grandfather cheered with their hands waving wildly in the air. 

Some things unseen in good weather, looked a lot better after bad weather. 

Christian yelled out after he jumped off the tree,” Grandpa! Grandpa! I won!”

Bob was a realist-neurotic.  He understood that once in a while everyone comes across a bastard of a boss and you just have to live with him/her.  Trying to get control of his fear of the ever darkening atmosphere, Bob reflected how today’s work force closely resembled the current weather. Hurricanes (bad bosses) came out of even the bluest waters.  They moved along the coast and thanks to global warming, they turned so powerful that they smashed homes far inland where there wasn’t even any ocean

When in the middle of this muddle to himself the phone rang.

Another storm hit. “Hello Mr. Long.  This is Bank of America.”

Bob froze or rather his tongue turned into a dune.  He knew it wasn’t good news.  No bank calls a person in the middle of the day offering a bouquet of flowers.

“Hello Mr. Long.  This is B of A. Is this Mr. Long I am speaking to?”

“Yes this is Robert Long.   How may I help you?”

The woman continued. “Someone stole your credit card and we have place a fraud alert on it.  The person ran up a few thousand dollars.  Mr. Long don’t try to use your present credit card. We will be sending you a replacement.  You should the replacement within the week.”

The only thing Bob hated more than banks were phone calls from banks telling him that something was wrong. He could feel the blood billowing into his head.  Fear flew into his ears fast as strong wind. He tried to hold onto a cap of reason but it flew right out of his hands.  For a moment he crashed his puddle jumper of a personal airplane through this cold front of bad news.

He then thanked the voice on the other side of the line.  (He thought for a nano second that she might be the thief, but dismissed the possibility as stupid.)  He cut up his card. 

What was he going to do?  On a vacation, visiting with his grandchildren with no money?  He had no access to cash except with the card and only had a little cash.  What about all the treats he planned? Who was going to pay for the tofu turkey with broccoli legs he had just ordered?  Stop!  For the kids sake he needed to grab onto a rock, or at least some pebbles of self-control.  He then settled down, trying to hold his smile with a Plaster of Paris of resolve.

He pondered,  “At least no one was murdered! Besides, we’re not declaring war on North Korea.” He found near misses of death comforting,  It was like coming out of a bad operation on your intestines but you were still able to poop.

Modern media characters grew out of the worlds and all the old time cartoon characters. As his grandchildren put on the headphones, pressed a few buttons and entered into Planet Fortnight, Bob thought, “Batman is just Mickey Mouse on steroids. Instead of Lois Lane, Batman the wounded warrior has Robin.”

Actually the media room was only a small study with a big screen TV and two computers wired up so a person could play games, see movies or watch TV programs.  And why not?

Violence and action became a meditative phase of concentration.

Although video specks of electronic thought created pictures in his head, Bob couldn’t quite get it.  Looking at the screen was as if it was Christmas morning: lights and tinsel shone off the tree under which he could see loads of brightly wrapped presents.  Suddenly the lights went off, the kids had switched some button,  and he was in the middle of an episode of Gun Smoke or Romper Room with Miss Jane.

He glanced over at his grandsons. Though he knew the boys were bright points out of the first sentences of Genesis (Let there be light), their presence couldn’t blow off his umbrella of gloom.  In concert with the coming storm, Bob flew into clouds of unknowing.

Christian was then very intelligent.  Bob felt that he was almost being able to read his grandfather’s mind, “Grandpa, why are you still working? Why don’t you retire and stay here? You can never catch a second once it leaves.”

“What is the truth between a grandparent and grandchild? It surely is not the truth between a parent and a child.  A grandparent brings to grandchildren the truth of love not a newspaper article.

When Bob finally got in the middle of the punches, both of the boys stopped. They agreed to make peace, “ Grandpa, we were just wrestling.” Bob knew all was OK.

As the roof turned ever louder with crashes of water, Bob reflected how the rivers of time had come over him.  Age had taken him by the seat of his pants and set him out to fly on the flagpole of today.  His life flew by his nose.  This present storm stripped off the veneer of everyday worries and for just a moment Bob saw into the eye of the storm.  Yet peace came for only a moment.  He whispered inside this head, in the vacuum of thought,  “All turns into emptiness.” The breeze of days and ways then blew as confused as ever.  

Bob’s life had always been a hurricane.  His wife said that he was born anxious.  When people say that age resembled the still of a snowfall, it never failed to bring an annoyed smile to Bob’s lips.  Whether young or old, everyday life is a bit of a punching bag with the individual serving as the bag.

Bob’s eyes saw a badly wrinkled white shirt. It was not as if he was against ruffles in the cloth of maturity.  It was just that these wrinkles were far more plentiful than he ever imagined. 

The problem was parties.  As people were escorted out of their offices with plastic bags filled with the tzotskies of their lives, her friends from former jobs along with the Titanic-survivors, toasted madam president, “How brilliant, how inspiring.”

He was South Asian just  like as daughter-in-law.   Although Kumar’s attitudes towards woman were gradually changing (Kumar had confided to Bob one afternoon, when they were both watering their lawns), that for him being a dad of four girls was like passing GO in monopoly and not getting any cash. He loved his girls but also spoke to Bob fondly about Christian and Mike with their menagerie of bikes, sports equipment and video games.  He wanted a son.

An old friend once remarked on the special relation between Bob and his grandchildren, “If there is a choice between hanging out with your grandsons when you’re alive and their spending your money when you’re dead, don’t you think your grandchildren would prefer you to be a live chicken rather than a roasted turkey?  Don’t worry about what you will leave them, just count your precious time together.  Don’t worry about what may happen.”

Bob thought his attitude about food sensible.  He was brought up by a loving mother who fed the family everyday at 6PM dinner, which consisted of meat (beef or chicBken), mashed or boil potatoes, and some green vegetable that had usually been overcooked into a watery grey.  You had cakes and pies for dessert and cookies for in between snacks, especially just before bed. 

Everything was filled with sugar, carbos and fat and very ordinary.  Even basic seafood was exotic.  In fact, one Thanksgiving meal his mom served shrimp as a special appetizer but did not realize that you needed to cook the shrimp before you served them.  (Of course, she might have been years ahead of her time before the craze of Japanese food.)

Bob’s son married an Indian woman who was strict vegetarian.  When they were first married they lived with Bob and his wife, and food was a center of many storms.  She wanted a separate refrigerator and separate dishes for her food since all food had auras: “pure” food could not be placed next to “polluted” meat or food that had been in contact with meat. In fact once she smelled a whiff of a Christmas ham as she came into the kitchen Christmas morning and feinted. She crashed onto the table making a total mess.  His son then carried her back upstairs like Rhett Butler.

Processed sugars were also completely forbidden for his grandchildren to eat.

Florence turned into a wind tunnel.   Bob shoved paper and pencil into Mike’s hand and told him to sit down and draw. 

He drew a rather large dilapidated house with a black roof and a man’s body flat on top of it.  He made up a story to go with the picture. Law and Order was key to the boy, though he disobeyed rules and frequently brought chaos. 

One day there was a boy who loved to hide.  In fact he was the best hider in the world. In a hurricane when his mom called him for lunch, he crawled out the window of his bedroom and hid on top of the house.  It was raining really hard so the roof was very slippery.  He slid on the roof but was lucky; he slid onto a trampoline that was right next to the house.  He bounced up and down in the rain.  Then he was not too lucky. He slipped right off the trampoline.  Too bad that he broke his arm.  Moral of story: Never go out on the roof without your parents’ permission in a hurricane

With the racing cars the action started.  Trees tumbled, cars crashed, boulders shattered, and within a few minutes, Christian smashed through the finished line and got a pot of phony cash. “Grandpa! Grandpa! I can buy a Lamborghini.” The media game made the boy into a multi-millionaire though he only owned scooters. But that was not its real power.

© Allen Cook  October 2020
Professor Cook is the retired Dean of School of Education - University of Bridgeport

Allen Cook

Joan first met Patrick in a dumpster.  This altercation had a lot to do with the neighborhood in which she lived.

Israel ( and further adventures of Patrick)
Allen Cook

Although New Yorkers, who loved lox and bagels, Joan and Bob were goyim, not Jewish.  By going to live in Israel they did not plan to make alliya (become Israelis.)  Rather, they simply wanted to see first hand what was going on in the region.

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