Edición dominical

Storm memories

I’D LIKE TO BE able to say that I got out of Houston in the nick of time. But nearly 18 years ago hardly qualifies as a “nick of time,” but I did get out.

As the nation’s fourth-largest city dries out, I am happy that only two people still live there for whom I have feelings. One is my former wife, and the other is Victoria who is now a real estate agent with a child she adopted four years ago.

I emailed my ex-wife the day after Harvey hit to inquire about her well-being and that of the house I so generously and perhaps stupidly gifted her shortly after our divorce in 1995. She replied from Oklahoma! She and a friend had fled Houston on Thursday, a day before Harvey arrived onshore.

I asked about the house, and she said it was high and dry. I asked how she knew that, but she has yet to reply. I also emailed Victoria. She, her home and the tyke are well.

Before moving to Mexico at age 55, most of my life had been spent within spitting distance of hurricane-prone coasts. In spite of that, I got hammered head-on just once by a hurricane.

Once was more than enough.

Betsy in 1965, New Orleans. Category Four.

The eye went right over my head.

I want to tell you something: Hurricanes are scary! And I don’t mean Halloween scary. Or fun scary.

I mean, Am-I-going-to-see-tomorrow scary.

I was 21 years old and holing up with my parents. The three of us had moved to New Orleans from Nashville just months earlier. None of us had been in the middle of a hurricane before, which is why we stayed put in New Orleans. We were clueless.

Perilously uninformed.

We were in the second-floor of a duplex rental.

People who’ve not been hit directly by a major hurricane have no idea what they’re up against. It is beyond belief. I always roll my eyes on seeing news clips of “hurricanes” supposedly during one. I have never seen a news clip that even approximated what you experience in a real hurricane.

What you usually see is billboards flapping, lots of rain, some dumb reporter in a raincoat leaning into the wind, tins and bottles hopping down the sidewalk and street.

This is dangerously misleading.

Believe this: In the middle of a major hurricane, you don’t go outside to shoot news film. You don’t even approach a window or glass door unless you’re feeling suicidal.

A major hurricane is incredible. You’ve heard tornadoes being described as “sounding like a freight train.”

The tornado freight train lasts just seconds or a minute. The hurricane freight train goes on for hours. If you stick your head up from where you’re squatting on the floor and risk a look through a window that’s not boarded up, you see this:

Trees bent at 45-degree angles or more. Electricity leaping along power lines like escaped white snakes.

And the incessant roar. Everything in the neighborhood flying all over the place in every direction possible.

My father left his Rambler parked beside the house, not even in a garage, which shows how dumb we were. Later we found a number of small holes in the car body that had been caused by stones penetrating it at bullet velocity.

I left New Orleans and my parents two days later and moved to Baton Rouge to enroll at LSU. Baton Rouge’s damage was minimal, nothing like New Orleans where my parents did not get electricity in the house again for weeks.

No matter. We were lucky to be alive, and I learned a permanent lesson. If a hurricane is on the distant horizon, hightail it to Oklahoma. Fast as you can. Don’t dally.

The Odd Pot

Marriage perp walk

Julie

LET US CONTINUE down Failed Romance Lane. We’ve already passed the Argentine penthouse and the First Marriage Apartment, so the only address left is the Second Marriage Ranch House.

The photo, which I should have taken better care of, is from 1979, and it was taken in New Orleans. We did not move to Houston and purchase the Second Marriage Ranch House till the mid-1980s.

Meet Julie.

I was with Julie the longest of all, about 19 years, but we were married for only the last decade. I have been married to my Mexican child bride for 13 years, but we lived together just a few months before the wedding.

Julie and I met at a French Quarter party in New Orleans. I arrived with two dates, one of whom was married to somebody else, and I was drunk as the proverbial skunk. I could hardly stand up.

Julie told me years later that the first thing she noticed was how pretty I was. The second was how drunk I was. Forget him, she thought.

But my rakish charm won out in the end. But not that evening.

A sharp observer might notice my glassy eyes in the photo. Yes, I was happily under the influence. I mention this issue — again — because there are few people more annoying than a reformed boozer. Perhaps someone who’s stopped smoking. I did that too, years later. Ahem!

During our many years together, I supported us while Julie bounced from one business venture to another, all of which failed. It was only after she dumped me in 1995 did she become self-sustaining, by necessity, eventually earning far more than I ever did. She’s a computer wizard.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

She lives today in that Houston ranch house, which was entirely in my name after the divorce, but which I gave to her as a gift the following year because I am a really nice guy — or a total idiot — depending on whom you ask.

I prefer the first option. My mother embraced the second.

The Odd Pot

Good and green

summerSUMMER STARTS on June 21, so we’re still in Springtime or, as my Mexican paisanos call it, Primavera.

We step outside each morning with long pants and a light jacket. It will be about 60 degrees. It’ll soar to the mid-70s at midday. Invariably I think of folks I left behind in the sweat pits of Houston and New Orleans.

We sleep at night with only half of one window open to avoid having to pile blankets atop us. We have no air-conditioning, of course, because that would be downright silly. Not much heating either.

Most of the greenery in the photo was planted by me a decade back, and they were just little tykes. When I planted little tykes in Houston, they usually stayed that way or died. I’ve yet to figure that out.

There is some horticultural magic in the Mexican air. You expect that on the tropical coasts, but it seems less likely here on the cool mountaintop 7,000 feet above sea level.

Most spring and summer mornings are similar. I eat a bagel and Philly cheese. I sweep the terraza and pick up the cursed peaches that have fallen overnight from their tree. I wipe dew or rain off the glass table and web chairs that sit on the yard patio, and I hoist the umbrella like a flag.

I take a deep breath, smile and walk back inside to wash the Philly cheese off the ceramic plates we purchased years ago in Dolores Hidalgo. Maybe do a little laundry. Take a shower, get dressed.

Life doesn’t change much. Nor do I want it to.

* * * *

While the above is a typical morning, I detoured a bit today.

At 8 a.m., I was parked outside the little lab downtown as the young nurse opened for business. It was time for the twice-yearly peek into my blood vessels and veins, to see how the old coot is getting along.

I check my cholesterol, blood sugar and triglycerides.

No appointment is necessary, no doctor’s permission. Just show up, fork over 18 bucks (would have been 10 if I’d waited for the sale next week), step into the adjoining room, roll up my sleeve and wince.

The results will be available this afternoon. I’m feeling fine, but you can put in a positive word with the Goddess on my behalf. It won’t hurt.

The Odd Pot

Tricky Dick’s truth

A FEW MONTHS ago I read my first political memoir. It was Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War by Robert M. Gates. Having never read a political memoir, I don’t recall why I started with Gates.

But I found it so interesting, I decided to plow on. Next up was In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir by Dick Cheney. Then came Donald Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown Deluxe: A Memoir. After Rumsfeld I was totally out of control, so I read Decision Points by George W. Bush.

Bush’s book is less a traditional memoir than the others. He took a different tack, focusing a bit on his life but primarily on several important decisions he made as president, and elaborating on them.

Bush’s book is my favorite so far. It raised my opinion of him considerably. Of course, memoirs invariably paint a positive portrait of its author, but even with that as a given, I still came away thinking highly of Dubya, as I often have called him, which now shames me.

I left the United States when Bill Clinton was president, so I observed Bush’s years in office from afar, but that’s not difficult in these high-tech times. I’m ashamed to say that I long embraced the left-wing (I am a fully recovered Democrat) notion that George W. was something of a dimwit, a lightweight, and that Cheney was the de facto president.

Simply was not so.

Gates seems like a good guy. Cheney and Rumsfeld have reputations as right-wing hard-asses, but knowing far more of their lives makes them more human, especially Cheney even if he is truly a right-wing hard-ass, something I do not hold against him these days, having become one myself.

After Bush, I had considered reading RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon but at 1,400 pages I decided no and opted instead to read Nixon’s Leaders: Profiles and Reminiscences of Men Who Have Shaped the Modern World. I’m just getting into that, and Nixon’s telling me about Winston Churchill.

Churchill was a writer of histories. I tried one of his histories recently and found it turgid.

Possibly next in the memoir list will be Condoleezza Rice’s No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington. The free Kindle sample sits in the sample file, one of the great aspects of the Kindle.

You may be thinking: What is it that inspired this post’s headline? Tricky Dick’s truth.  It was this quote I found in his chapter on Winston Churchill:

“The difference between politics before and after Watergate is striking … Today the chances of receiving much approval or esteem for accomplishments in public life are slim. The risks of glaring invasions of privacy are much greater, and the kinds of sacrifices and disclosures required for entering politics … have simply become prohibitive for many. This is bound to affect detrimentally both the quality and the number of men and women who are willing to present themselves for public office.”

nixonI have taken this position before, most recently in Newspaper days: Houston. I was quite surprised to see Tricky Dick parroting me. The quality of people in public life has fallen. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans,* and my former occupation — the news media — is responsible for that to a huge degree.

A nation reflects its leaders and the leaders are mediocre. The future looks very dicey.

* * * *

Bonus material: You likely noticed that all the memoirs mentioned are written by conservatives. Not to worry. A few days ago, occasional Moon reader and commenter Kim G. of Boston gifted me via Kindle with John Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience. It is on my list, and I may actually read it, but I’m unsure when. It’s like gifting the Bible to the Devil. The Amazon book description reveals that Dean says conservatives are authoritarian and present a danger to democracy. We are evil people.

But I am sure that Barry Obama would agree with that.

Dean was one of the principals who tried to cover up the Watergate situation for Nixon. He admitted in court to forwarding hush money and confessed to obstruction-of-justice charges. He had earlier asked Nixon for immunity to the obstruction charges. Nixon refused, and Dean was fired. With this background it would be a bit hard to take his book knocking conservatives very seriously.

Smells of revenge.

* * * *

* Far truer of Democrats than Republicans, of course.