Man! I feel cheated, swindled and totally ripped off!
Last week, I could see my moment of glory approaching at a steady 19 miles per hour.
At last, Mother Nature was handing me the opportunity to endure hardship, tragedy, thus to rise into the ranks of literary immortality as a "real" writer along the lines of Hemingway! Jack London! Joseph Conrad! And maybe even… Dare I speak his name? Walt Kelly… well perhaps no one can compete with the dizzying altitudes obtained by the chronicler of Okefenokee. But I do live in a swamp.
Hurricane Dean was coming. Yippee!
Against the sage advice of the 2.5 people I know possessed of any common sense, I was intent upon toughing out the storm in a one hundred-year-old Caymanian craftsman house of wood construction and zinc roof. Located just fifty yards from the water, at an altitude of a nose-bleeding three whole feet, la Casa de Chartier has survived countless storms.
I was told subtle things like: "Get the hell out of there!" and: "Think of your wife, your son, your readers, your… life!"
Yeah, well, like I said, this house has withstood numerous storms in the past. Hey, it’s survived the lovingly nurtured lifestyle of the lead guitarist in a punk rock band of ill repute, right? Not for lack of trying, neither one of The Hounds, Little Brain and Nimrod, have managed to shatter its foundations.
Most recently la Casa de Chartier survived hours of pounding by Category Five Hurricane Ivan in 2004. During that debacle, the roof stayed put, the windows remained unbroken and uh… inside the house flooding was a mere three feet. Didn’t have to wash the floor that week. We just had to shovel out the muck later. [Gardening hint: it was wonderful compost… for mangroves.] OK, we did evacuate for that one. The shame of running away I have yet to live down. Anyway, I figured little old Dean couldn’t be any worse.
Besides, I wanted the Experience Points!
But despite being stupid I wasn’t about to be stupid. All the windows on both floors were boarded up. Supplies, including lots of fresh water, were stocked. Cherished items such as my extensive DVD collection, guitars, music and books were packed in plastic tubs. In fact just about everything was locked down above the Ivan flood line. All the furniture was lugged upstairs and covered in tarps.
With the family headed to the shelter, I was ready for the worst. I would hide out on the second floor landing with The Hounds. I had everything I needed, hard-hat, LED underwater flashlight, jugs of water, beast jerky.
On the 19th of August, Dean lashed Jamaica and then it turned its nasty face west. Hey wait a minute! Dean and I were destined for destiny. That Cat 5 storm was supposed to continue its west-northwest path. What kind of scam is this, Dean? What, the Cayman Islands not good enough? There’s no Pulitzer Prize in writing about a near miss! What gives?
Last week’s hard labor covering the windows with plywood had me suffering from tropical dehydration and heat stroke twice. I nearly passed out while on the roof once! I could have fallen to my death before the hurricane! Talk about irony.
I wanted the reward of a good whopper for my efforts. And, I wasn’t alone in my madness. A BBC reporter in Cancun wrote that: "One couple told me they had deliberately stayed for the experience." See, two more literary hacks seeking a Pulitzer.
Fact is, Dean was a whopper registering as the third most powerful Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record. But by passing 80 miles to the south, Dean spared my little island of Grand Cayman.
Well, OK, with the family at the shelter, I had a night to myself. Big deal. I could say this was my "vacation." I spent it watching Apocalypse Now on my laptop. I like "redemptive" movies with happy endings. And then I hit the old fart sack waiting for Dean to come a-knockin’.
I was not entirely disappointed. The house shook and it sure was noisy. Man! It was worse than those upper class neighbors with leaf blowers and garden parties. Heckers, it was worse than those damned kids next door and their rock band… uh… wait… maybe I shouldn’t talk. But Dean wasn’t good enough to inspire the Great American Novel. Geeze! I mean what’s the point of living on a tropical island?
Morning came and it was time to look for the ravages of nature red in tooth and claw. Outside, it was still quite uh… breezy? We lost yet another palm tree. Ivan had taken out several. And looky, looky the yard was missing! In it’s stead was a lake of stinky bog water! A rising bog of repulsive aromatic dark brown "water". Oh the joys of living in a swamp. The primordial stew came up to within an inch of the door.
So how do I get out? Fishin’ waders? The antique chiffarobe? Oh man! Well, I could hold out but The Hounds gotta go! You know what I mean.
Ok… I could hear the surf pounding the beach across the street and the wind was still around fifty mph. It was not exactly prime weather for "walkies." And yet… on went the leashes and out we ventured. Gee… I hoped the brown mystery water was not contaminated with tropical microbes. Who was I kidding? Of course it was! Well, that’s why I bought all that isopropyl alcohol. The Hounds were going to love being bathed in that!
Our little party of three set out. Crossing the street to the beach, we came upon an angry sea. The surf was impressive. The waves had obviously been at least twenty feet high during the night and even now, they were still huge. Imagine a wave as tall as George W. Bush’s ego. Cowabunga! But… they were way too choppy and all messed up… also like our president. Unless you’d had experience, and were suicidal, you weren’t gonna try it. Besides I sent my surfboard to Gaza.
As the day progressed, things calmed down. The all-clear was given and curfew lifted. People drove by to admire our lake. The local newspaper took photos. They wanted Little Brain to frolic in the water. She was only willing to snarl at them for trespassing on her turf. Good dog!
All my fine work to board up the house had worked like a charm… excellent advice to those of you in the path of hurricanes. Cover your windows with plywood! Duh! The inside stayed totally dry. But now, I had to take it all down. Oh well, what’s some more physical labor after a night of no sleep?
Day Two and I was still cleaning. Low and behold, what should drive up but a government vehicle bearing Cayman Islands officials. Aye Carumba! Not being one to hide my faults, I stepped out and greeted them by saying: "What are the charges?" Yeah, I stole that line from Apocalypse Now.
First off, unlike government officials in some countries these three guys were friendly, unarmed and even had a sense of humor. Second, unlike officials in other countries these three were here to check on our safety! They knew about the flooding at the house and wanted to make sure the water hadn’t risen high enough to create an electrical hazard. "You don’t want to fry."
Can you imagine that? It’s almost beyond belief. Well my friends, this is the sort of thing one gets when one lives in a civilized country. Neither burdened by an overblown Federal bureaucracy nor tied up by red tape, the Cayman Islands enjoys the perks of a small government.
There’s no monstrously gluttonous State to start wars, crush the middle class, condemn the lower class to eternal poverty, make the elite upper crust more filthy rich and create mountains of rules and regulations to destroy freedom and civil rights.
Unlike the governments in some other countries, the government of the Cayman Islands… cares.
Maybe that’s why they call it paradise?
So do you think a novel that is not soaked in tragedy and has a happy ending might be a best seller?
Elizabeth Gyllensvard contributed to and edited this story.
Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Currently he resides somewhere in the Caribbean.