Saturday, October 08, 2016

Hurricane Matthew, "Our Town," and Florida memories

Over my second cup of coffee on this beautiful Wyoming Saturday, I wondered why I still had the Weather Channel blaring from my Smart TV.

Hurricane Matthew. Matt, to his friends, which are few after he pounded the U.S, coast and the Caribbean this past week.

I do like the drama of a hurricane compounded by the melodrama of media coverage.

It gets more real when you're there. Many family members and friends were in the path of Matthew. All are fine although much clean-up to do. My brother Tom in Palm Bay has trees down in his yard -- but not on his house.

One of my first experiences as a 13-year-old Florida resident was with Hurricane Cleo in 1964. On my first full day on Ormond Beach, the waves broke big and the current was strong. Our parents warned us kids not to go out too far or we'd be sucked out to sea. My brother Dan and I listened (sort of) and waded into the surf, keeping an eye on (sort of) our younger brothers and sisters, who were many. The sun beat down and we body-surfed, or tried to. We were from Colorado and had never been in the ocean before.

The next day, Cleo brushed the coast, leaving us inside to watch the rain fall and the wind blow around the big palms. The next day, Dan and I were back on the beach and rarely left it for the next five years. By the following summer, we were surfing. Hodads, gremmies -- wannabe surfers. We moved south to Daytona and surfed with the big boys at Hartford Avenue, a group later known as the Hartford Heavies and included my brothers Pat, Tom and Tim. Hell-raisers and good short-board surfers. They ripped the waves, ditched school for good surf.

Hurricane Dora targeted Daytona in the fall of '64. The illustration on the front of the morning paper showed a swirling storm. On its landward side, an arrow pointed right at me. Our father picked us up at Our Lady of Lourdes Grade School and whisked us off in the Ford Falcon station wagon to a motel on the mainland. Ten of us jammed into two tiny rooms. We watched the rain fall and the palms sway, listened to storm reports on the radio. Dora swerved and hit St. Augustine instead, giving us a glancing blow, a little less severe than the one Matt just delivered.

I lived in Florida for most of 14 years. Those are the only hurricanes I remember. 1964 was an active season, with three of the six named hurricanes hitting Florida. Isbell was the third, cutting across south Florida on its way to North Carolina. Cleo, Dora and Isbell were all retired from the official hurricane naming list, which featured only names of the female persuasion back then.

In the ninth grade, Father Lopez High School put on Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Our director was a woman with Broadway experience. She thought Our Town was just right for a small Catholic school with no theatre budget and no theatre but a serviceable gym. This was the minimalist version, with no stage design, except for a pair of stepladders and a few chairs. And no complicated costumes. I auditioned because I had time on my hands that fall after not making the cut for junior varsity basketball. This particularly irked me after my successful season with the OLL Falcons, runner-up in the 1965 parochial league tournament. I channeled my anger into an unforgettable role as Second Dead Man in the poignant cemetery scene. It was the closest I got to the gym floor all year.

After her funeral, the dead Emily appears at the cemetery.
EMILY: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?"
STAGE MANAGER: "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”
They do some. It's pleasant to think so, that poets and writers actually live life and notice it at the same time.

Maybe it helps if you're a saint.

I was dressed in an old suit and pretended to be a dead guy from Grover's Corners. The apex of my acting career. Our Town could be seen as a nostalgic look at life in a quaint New England village. What it does is rip your heart out.

I didn't know that as 15-year-old  Second Dead Man.

I do now.

Lest you deny Wilder's seriousness in this play, he often noted that it was rarely performed correctly and that it "should be performed without sentimentality or ponderousness--simply, dryly, and sincerely."

And this from Wikipedia:
"In 1946, the Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave."
Post-war Germans didn't need yet another reason to end it all.

Today in Cheyenne, the sun is shining, Matthew is on his way to open ocean and Trump will not be president.

A good day to be alive and noticing it.

No comments: