Center of the Universe (32)
Enough with the Monster Storms.
They seem to show up every other month and almost never live up to the hype. I’ve gotten so jaded about Monster Storms I consider them a perfectly safe target for satire, even as they happen. Made fun last Friday as I posted the prior chapter of this thing — something to read, I teased, “while you’re waiting to die from the Monster Storm.”
Local tube loves Monster Storms. And over the last 24 they’ve been cutting in with Special Bulletins and Special Coverage specials on the impending cats-and-dogs apocalypse, its waterlogged horsemen approaching on a meteorological steed called Pineapple Express. It’s a name that seems to have surrendered potency (ironically) since the Franco-Rogen pot comedy of the same name — enough that I notice TV’s twinkly-toothed wolf-criers shifting to a generic description: Atmospheric River.
Which is nowhere near as urgent, or catchy, as a runaway train full of tropical fruit.
Still, even as this Monster Storm comes up short in the telegenic kablooey department, the action-hairspray team at TV-666 is warning viewers that if they think the beast is dying, don’t be fooled! Keep it tuned to KDOH! Get the app!
But I had a weird day yesterday.
Woke up queasy, headache-y, listless. Logy, Parker likes to say. And though it was Saturday morning, the traditional Hangover Holiday, I wasn’t. Hoffman and I had stayed out of trouble Friday — just a romantic din per due at Perbacco and then, despite my best efforts, home. (Yes, in the five years we’ve rented a studio in San Francisco, we occasionally eat at Italian restaurants other than Sorellas.)
I’d harbored ambitious plans for Saturday. Mostly, to play with my new USB microphone, recording 30 chapters of this blog as a podcast and streaming the latest as a Facebook Live experiment. Instead, I moped and frittered — when I wasn’t piddling.
After reading through every saved browser tab and following every link, to The Atlantic and Foreign Affairs and New York Review, I thought might help me understand what had just happened in this country, after downloading several erudite history books that I hoped would make me erudite by osmosis, along with Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, which I hoped would make me a better writer (and which, trying to sneak up on my sloth, I dove into right away), after downing a beer with lunch (in case I was actually hungover) and thinking about totally trashing the afternoon by firing up a joint for the first time in years — all this profligacy taking place in front of a TV locked on Monster Storm — I decided, before it got too dark, to check the webcam at our house.
Since the novelty had expired, my interactions with our Nest Cam were mostly limited to emails from Nest with the subject line: “Your camera is offline.” And since there are no burglars in Fairfax to rip it out of the wall, but dozens of inexplicable power outages every year, this never worried me. But with a Monster on the loose, what the hell.
The amazing thing was the power had not gone off — as it loves to, in sunshower and gentle breeze alike — and the camera was still online, showing living room and dining nook in the distance and kitchen and deck up front. Through the camera’s rudimentary mic, I could hear water — there’s a stream on the hill and rain was coming down (this Monster was not a total bust). But I saw no water on the kitchen floor. And the two lamps we’d left on were still that way. And the windows in my daughter’s old room, seen across the deck, weren’t broken, nor were any — that I could see — in the kitchen. It was dim, getting dimmer, but I studied the picture, zooming in and out, panning left and right, peering and pondering, maybe a tad too long.
A storm-blown carpet of leaves on the deck soon started to look like something more. Twice in the last decade we’d had trees topple into our yard from the undeveloped property uphill. One giant crushed the grill and furniture on our deck. One pierced the roof of our daughter’s room — three big holes. Fortunately, she was away at college. And afterwards, we’d made sure, with an anthropomorphic vengeance, to clear-cut all the photosynthetic bastards — no matter whose they were — within a wide perimeter.
And that sound of running water, come to think of it, was louder than I’d have expected, if the windows were closed. And the darker it got, and the more smeared the wide-angle image, the more the granite pattern of the kitchen countertop started to look like leaves, too.
Or was that mud?
The hill had collapsed, I thought, and a river of mud was creeping into the house.
No, a tree had fallen on us.
Just out of frame, I posited, with a new kind of sick feeling, an old oak had penetrated the north-facing kitchen window (coming from where, I couldn’t fathom). Maybe it happened just minutes ago — that’s why the house’s power hadn’t yet shorted. But the rain was surely pouring in. And would be pouring in more, as the Monster gained ferocity. And I thought about my music setup in the basement — guitars, amps, mixer, years of notebooks. And about the coyotes from the hill, who’d soon be vaulting through the jagged opening, seeking shelter. I thought about the water sloshing from the kitchen, across the living room and, one step down, into our bedroom. And about the arc of electricity. And the fire. And a Monster Storm swirled through the logy caverns of my brain.
Oh, god, I said to Hoffman, and I meant it, feeling heat in my face and a hole in my stomach. There’s trouble at the house.
While Roni threw together a bag of cleaning supplies, garbage bags and a change of clothes, I texted our daughter, who lives now in the city.
Emergency in Fairfax, I wrote. Need help.
Except for Hoffman’s deep breaths, the car was silent, as we navigated — too fast — the 23 miles northwest to our home of 17 years. There were four of us, counting Josey’s boyfriend Jon, summoned from napping and a little logy himself. The rain, for now, had muted to a drizzle. The Monster’s nap, before the deluge.
The outside lights were on, but there was nothing to see from the front of the house. I fumbled the key into the lock and, throwing a hip into it, shoved open the balky door. Emergency crew trailing, I hurried across the dry living room — as the gas heater, set to 64F, kicked on in thermal salute — past the dry dining room and into our kitchen.
If before it was difficult to see because of the dark, now it was difficult because of the dissonance. It wasn’t the sensor, it was the CPU.
My logic gates flapped open, shut, open, shut, like a saloon door. I stood by the kitchen window staring out at a storm-blown pattern of leaves carpeting the deck. But it was just a storm-blown pattern of leaves.
I looked down at the counter. Creeping mud? Crashing tree? High on the wall, the webcam power-light glowed a contented blue and, beneath it, the north-facing window remained intact. Snug. I scanned the scene two, three, four times, trying to change the channel from Mythmongers of the Monster Storm to reality TV.
Maybe I’d smoked that joint after all?
I was simultaneously relieved and disturbed.
We fanned out to make sure nothing else, real or imagined, was amiss. Jon and I moved the outdoor furniture and new grill further from the windows and folded all the chairs. And after we’d determined — they’d determined — our jerry-rigged homestead had fended off another winter assault, I grabbed a music stand I’d rescued from Sandy’s studio (Told the kids the whole excursion had been a scam to fetch it for the podcast). Josey grabbed a couple of yearbooks with pictures of Chelsea she wanted to scan (Not a total loss, she said of the surprise trip). And we all went back to our apartment, Roni’s and mine, for a feast of the most fantastic cheeses, bread, salami and olives from the Ferry Building. And my daughter teased me about trees and being high, but I didn’t mind. And we put on the second half of the Packers-Lions playoff for Jon, who coaches football. Then we watched the new Homeland and had a better Saturday night huddling against nature than anyone in our family would ever have hallucinated.
And I wondered if you even know when you’re losing your grip, when the Monster Storm has come for real.