Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Weather Report

We had a new hurricane this past weekend.

I walked the few blocks to the diner in The Philladelphian to sit outside and enjoy the perfectly uniform dove grey sky and increasingly gusty winds as it approached. The Philadelphian is a ten story zig zagging apartment house overlooking The Philadelphia Museum of art. It forms a wall between the neoclassical monuments of The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and my neighborhood of three story Victorian rowhouses. Out front is a sweeping curved drive and a port cochere. Inside, it contains vastly scaled international modern public spaces of marble, walnut, and bronze. It's all overlayed with enthusiastically baroque furniture and grandly scaled decorations. Kind of a blend of Phillip Johnson and Lisa Douglas (from"Green Acres"). Twin salons flank the foyer, one vaguely French and the other suggesting the orient. Each is walled in plate glass punctuated by swirling gilt Louis XV carved wood boiseries stuck to the glass like decals. My late friend Bucko(baruch shalom)referred to it as "a 1950's Jewish imperial palace" and aspired to spend his twilight years there in all it's ersatz period splendor. We visited the building often, and would stride through the vestibule, nodding to the door man and smiling familiarly at the 'other' residents we passed, then wander down the ramped terrazzo corridor past the florist, pharmacy, and travel agent, to breakfast at Little Pete's. Little Pete's is less richly appointed than the rest of the place, even after recent renovations added floral wallpaper, mirror strips and styrene cornices, but in some ways is more aesthetically impressive than the grand halls out front. To me anyway. This is due largely to the presence of a pair of eighteen year old Greek boys, football players, who bus tables for the middle aged waitresses working the floor. When I arrived this weekend, I positioned myself under the shallow portico that runs alongside the terrace(to maximize the view)and focused alternately on the grey sky undulating above the chalky stone rowhouses across the street, and the muscles rippling under the boys' t-shirts while they shouldered the heavy trays and weighty buspans. Morris Lapidus had built places just like The Philadelphian in South Florida in the 'fifties. While I ate my two hotcakes, two sausage links, and two eggs (up), I wondered how the folks down there were doing with the storm and if they had been able to sit outside at breakfast today.

In my youth, I delighted in hurricanes. My brother and I would drive to the beach in one of his string of decrepit Chevy Vegas, before the National Guard arrived, to view the devastation first hand. After one storm, we visited the Atlantis II Discotec. The year before I had assisted my child molester in installing the lighting and sound systems. It was thrilling to see it now; the green lacquer and satin chrome tables ankle deep in sand with candle holders still in place. The wall facing the Atlantic had been ripped away, and the denuded beach swept uninterrupted from the cocktail lounge to the breakers below. We stood where the dunes had been, looking out at the grey green sky merging into grey green sea. I picked up a spherical compass, jetsam from one of the splintered yachts along the sound. The dial spun behind the scratched acrylic, seeking north, and I recalled the turntables spinning in the club's DJ booth, while my child molester blew me under the console. I didn't share the memory with my brother.

But now I was far inland, this new hurricane was hundreds of miles away, and my only access to it's unfolding drama would be the television.

My knowledge of current events comes almost entirely from NPR, the Sunday NY Times fluff sections, and outdoor advertising. I try never to consume commercial radio or TV news. It makes my brain hurt. I broke down three weeks ago, wanting to gape at the last hurricane's damage and see if they'd discovered any additional pictures of Governor McGreevey and his boyfriend(preferably shirtless and liplocked). But I couldn't remember when the news was broadcast(ten o'clock? eleven?) and by the time I tuned in, all the "good" pictures of roofless gas stations, crumpled mobile homes,and sloops aground in the parking lot of Wallmart had been bumped by "live on the scene" reports by soggy second string weekend reporters urgently describing the advancing deluge. They stood in yellow raincoats on boardwalks in Atlantic City and Wildwood and street corners in Cape May and Margate; the pitiful splashes of un-dramatic softly rolling breakers, lightly quivering street signs, and rain spattered emergency vehicle doors their only visual aids. Desperation to maintain the drama and excitement of impending peril grew in inverse proportion to the storm's dwindling fury. The McGreevey thing was also a wash, just the same tired clips and that tuxedo picture. After a short while I started surfing the dozen or so channels my Mitsubishi gets over the rabbit ears, and watched the storm approach "live" through the raindrops just beginning to streak my bedroom windows. Never again.

So, this time, I didn't make much of an effort to see what the hurricane was up to. Maybe with age, i'm becomming just slightly empathetic enough not to be able to rationalize my voyerism. Anyway, I'm sure the pictures were just the same as every other year's, and the stories and accompanying pathos just as touching and sad. I hope the people in Florida can bear up to this reconstruction, fixing everything just-in-time for the next one. Looks like that one is spinning north right now.

I wish them luck.
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