I started writing this the night after a hurricane came through my area, isolating the small town where I live by flooding all the access roads. Learning over the next several days about the loss of life in this town alone and the personal and business financial hardships the flooding caused made me take a long break. It's not a tasteless pun when I say the whole muddy mess dampened my enthusiasm for the story.
Months have passed. The damage, for the most part, has been cleaned up. Now, it's time for a hurricane party.
* * * * * * * * * *
The only thing that kept me from beating someone's face in at work that day was the complete absurdity of it all. I manage a large do-it-yourself home improvement supply store. A hurricane was churning up the coast, and people were going insane with their over-preparation for the storm. The media's "public service announcements" warned of Armageddon. The official forecast called for heavy rain with some river flooding. That happens some times. Usually the storms don't have names. This one did.
Fear-mongering sells papers and air-time, so the local media outlets have gone nuts. "Buy ice! Get bottled water! Stock up on food! Buy flashlights and batteries! It's the end of civilization as we know it!"
A hurricane that came through here when I was a child killed a family trying to cross a flooded bridge down the hill from my parents' house. Right after I finished college, another hurricane turned some towns around here into islands for a few days.
Funny thing. Except for people who tried to drive through rushing water or who insisted on going back into their flooding homes to save one more thing, no one died. No one starved to death. No one was blown away. No levee broke. We're north, inland, and uphill. And yet, people panic. It was like a feeding frenzy in a school of sharks at my store.
One customer was having a panic attack because we were out of plywood. "What can I do? What can I do? You have to sell me plywood!"
"I'm sorry, sir. We've out of plywood," I said.
"What about flake-board?"
"The last skid went about an hour ago."
"Get more!" he yelled.
"It's been ordered."
"When will it get here?"
"Some should get here Monday, sir. We have six trailer-loads of plywood, flake-board, and particle-board coming."
"The hurricane will be here tonight! What am I going to do?"
"Sir, this far inland, you don't need to board up your windows."
"Don't you tell me what I need to do! Are you implying I don't know what I'm doing?"
"Sir, I would hate to see you waste money and cause cosmetic damage to your house to guard against a threat that doesn't exist."
"I'LL MAKE SURE YOU GET FIRED! I NEED PLYWOOD, NOW! I WANT TO SEE YOUR MANAGER!" the customer shouted.
"I'm the manager."
"GET ME THE DISTRICT MANAGER!"
"I'll give you the number for the corporate complaint department."
"Will they bring me plywood?"
"No, sir. The complaint department is in California. They will investigate your report and take disciplinary action as required."
The moron was practically in tears. "Why don't you have plywood?" he wailed.
I was very proud of myself. I didn't smack him, and I didn't laugh. "Sir, certain irresponsible media outlets are making the threat from this storm out to be more than it is. The major weather services are calling for us to have heavy rain and some flooding, but minimal winds, nothing more than the gusts we get once or twice a year from thunderstorms."
"But I need to board up my windows!"
"Where do you live?"
"Serenity Hills. Why? Are you going to deliver plywood to my house?" he asked anxiously.
"If you live up there, I doubt you'll need to do anything special to weather the storm."
The guy gave me a disdainful look. "Maybe you don't care about keeping your family and your possessions safe, but I do!"
"Sir, you'll do more damage to your house screwing plywood to your window frames than the storm is likely to do."
"But what about the storm surges?" he shouted.
"This store is a hundred miles inland and five hundred feet above sea level, and you live on a ridge above us. I'm not sure storm surges from the flood in the Bible hit there."
"You don't know that! I want to be prepared!"
A fool and his money are soon parted. "Probably, you could use pressure-treated deck boards, sir. We still have racks of those left, but they're all one and five-eighths inch premium select grade."
"So they'll be good and strong? Now you're talking!"
An hour later, I was amazed at how much expensive lumber this moron and I managed to fit in, and on, his Mercedes SUV. Armed with enough top-of-the line tools and fasteners to start a construction business, this foolish homeowner left to secure his castle. I was tempted to sell him a roll of aluminum foil to make hats for him and his family, but I was afraid he'd buy it.
By the time I locked up the empty store and drove home, I was exhausted. Doing this work keeps me in shape, but even with all the heavy lifting I had done today, I knew I'd be okay in the morning. That's not what wears me out. It's the emotional strain of keeping myself and my staff from hitting obnoxious customers with a sledgehammer.
This was my weekend off. On Monday, the trucks would roll in, and we would face the Herculean task of re-stocking the store. I called my second-in-command, the acting manager for the weekend, to tell him what happened.
"Jake?" I said when he picked up the phone.
"Have fun tomorrow and Sunday," I chuckled.
"That's an understatement. There isn't a sheet of plywood, flake-board, or particle-board left. We're out of generators and flashlights. Picnic coolers and ice-packs ran out this morning, there are no more grills or camp stoves, no charcoal or propane – you name it, if it would have any usefulness at all in a disaster, it's gone.
"Damn!" Jake said. "What will we do tomorrow?"
"Before I left, I grabbed some cans of fake snow from the Christmas supplies we just got in and wrote on the front windows, 'Out of everything. Sorry.' I think you should only open the main door and get your biggest guys to stand guard against the mobs. It was crazy today. One asshole even bought deck boards to cover his windows."
Jake laughed, "I've been watching the news. The talking heads are ranting on about the Apocalypse, but real meteorologists say we'll only get rain. Are you prepared for the storm?"
"Yup. Bought a bottle of sippin' whiskey on my way home. That's the supply I'll need most over the next couple of days," I laughed. "Oh, and if you need me tomorrow?"
"Tough shit." Jake said.
"Right. Have your people do major housecleaning."
"Oh sure, you wait until your weekend off so I have to be the bad guy making everyone do shit jobs. Classy move, Harry."
"As General Manager, I'm delegating responsibility to you, buddy. Run with it." My phone beeped. "Hey, gotta go, getting another call," I said.
"Enjoy your days off, and stay dry," Jake laughed as he hung up.
"Harry?" my new caller said.
"What are you doing, you old fart?"
"Not much, Ben. I just got home from getting my ass kicked at work."
"People are nuts, aren't they?" Ben asked.
"Guys from that gated community up the road from the store are boarding up their windows!" I said.
"More money than brains. Our siding contractors will make big bucks repairing the damage these idiots do," I said.
"Wanna get a drink?" Ben asked.
"No. I'm heading to Suzie's Sauce Shop. They're having a hurricane party."
"Let me grab a shower and clean clothes. I'll be there soon."
"I'll save you a stool," Ben said as he broke the connection.
Suzie's is down the street from me. It's a big building, with a bar and karaoke upstairs, and a club in the basement. My favorite spot on Friday nights is the dance club downstairs. The music is too urban for my tastes, but fun people hang out there, and the drinks are cheap. It's also within crawling distance of my house, so I'm not tempted to drive when I've had a few.
It was raining as I walked, steadily enough that I was glad I had my hooded rain-jacket. "Hurricane Party in the Dugout," the sign in the front window said. Normally, I have a beer in the neighborhood pub-type bar that serves as the main entrance, and then go downstairs, but the upstairs bar was nearly deserted. I headed to the Dugout dance club.
"Hey, Harry!" Ivan, the bouncer, boomed at me. "Here for the hurricane party?"
"I guess. What is a hurricane party?"
"I dunno. In Moscow, we didn't celebrate on-coming disasters, but you crazy Yankees do weird shit. It should get wild. All drinks are at least one-third off. Drafts are only a dollar, and that hillbilly whiskey you drink is three-fifty for a double."
"Sounds good, after the day I had at work," I chuckled.
"There's some nice eye-candy here," Ivan observed.
"So I see."
"Maybe you'll get lucky."
"Sure, Ivan. In my dreams. I need a drink."
"Check out the shot-girls," Ivan said.
"Yeah. You know Hana, that Korean chick who's banging the cook? It's her younger sister and the sister's roommate."
"What are they serving?"
"Red Headed Sluts and Harvey Wallbangers. A buck each."
I laughed. "My roommate and I threw a Harvey Wallbanger party in college. We got seriously trashed. Some chicks danced naked on the table."
Ivan said, "They can't do that here. We don't have that kind of club license."
"You're no fun."
"Did I say I'd stop them right away? I might get busy and not notice for a while. Doing cavity searches on suspicious-looking women takes time."
"I knew there was a reason you always smiled, you big Russkie pervert," I laughed as I headed toward the bar.
Ivan was right. There were women of all types and ages, from girls who probably had fake ID's to women who were more age-appropriate for me to hit on. But that wasn't why I was there. I was there to have a couple of drinks with my old friend Ben.
Ben and I grew up together. He was the one who introduced me to Maria all those years ago. Ben and his wife were best man and matron of honor at our wedding. They were the ones who supported me most through the ordeal of watching the radiation and chemo fail to save my wife.
In our younger days, Ben and I chased a lot of skirts together, but neither of us had any delusions about our appeal to the younger and more desirable women at Suzie's. Sure, we flirted with them, or tried to, but we were just a couple of old horn-dogs who liked to get together for drinks and laughs.
"Hey, Ace!" Ben hollered from his stool at the crowded bar. "A lager and a double Jack Daniels for Harry!"
My favorite bartender, a character everyone calls Ace Ventura because of his outrageous hairstyle, greeted me with his usual high-five. "How's it going, Splinter-Pecker?"
"Every time I see you, I'm reminded that I've failed," I said.
"I could have been rich if I had put money in hair gel stocks."
"Watch the hair jokes! I like my hair. It's a fashion statement. It says a lot about me."
Ben snickered, "Yeah, that you're a slimy bastard."
Ace leaned over the bar and said to me in a stage whisper, "Guess who's next drink is going to be real, real weak?"
"Fuck you, Ace," Ben laughed.
"You're not man enough for me. If we got together, you'd be the one on your knees," Ace dead-panned, turning to get my drinks.
"Look at that," Ben said, pointing to the TV over the bar. It was showing video of the torrential rains the storm was dropping.
"It's gonna get wet tonight, boys," Ace said as the collected my money. "I've been watching that all night. The storm turned inland, and it's dropping a hell of a lot of rain. It's supposed to stall right over us. You know how our storm sewers are."
"Yeah, if we get an inch of rain, Main Street turns into a river," Ben said.
"I know," Ace replied. "Look!" he said, gesturing toward the screen. He grabbed the remote, turning the music down and the TV volume up.
"... streams and creeks are flooding. Viewers in low-lying areas are urged to keep watch on rising waters and to obey all evacuation advisories. Motorists and pedestrians are strongly cautioned to avoid standing or running water. This storm could dump ten inches of rain or more in our area over night. Folks, this is a bad one," the weatherman said.
"Shit!" I said. "That's a lot of rain."
"Ten inches?" Ace exclaimed. "That's almost as big as me."
Ben ignored him. "If we get ten inches of rain, this town will be an island. Every road in and out crosses a bridge."
"It was raining when I came in, but not that hard," I said. "I wonder how it is now?"
A couple came downstairs into the bar, looking like they had been fished out of a lake. "There's your answer," Ace said. "Hey, Gary! Hi, Cheryl! Is it raining?"
The dripping guy said, "Not funny, Ace. Got any paper towels?"
"In the restrooms."
The two squished off in the direction of the bathrooms to try to dry off.
"Damn, they look like they took a shower with their clothes on!" Ben laughed.
"We won't get any more customers," Ace said. "There goes my tip jar." He went to tap a few beers.
"Did you see the shot-girls?" Ben asked.
"Ivan said they were Hana's sister and the sister's roommate."
"Here comes the roommate," Ben leered.
"Hi, boys," a petite girl in a naughty schoolgirl outfit teased. Her silky-smooth skin was the color of caramelized brown sugar. "Who's thirsty?"
"What do you have?" I asked.
"Ummm, B-cups. But my nipples are cute."
Ace called over his shoulder as he was pouring a shaker of shots, "You're not lactating, are you baby? What's in your shot rack? Old Splinter-Pecker's thirsty."
"Splinter-Pecker? You poor man," the dark-skinned beauty laughed.
Ben punched me good-naturedly in the arm. "Yeah, and don't listen to his line about how at least he has wood."
Ace chimed in, "More than you can say, Ben, according to your wife. Or was it your daughter who told me that? Hell, I slept with both of them so many times, I can't remember."
"It was his Dad," I said.
"You're right! That's why he always liked to take me along when he went fishing," Ace laughed. "Anyway, guys, meet Onyx. Onyx, honey, that's Ben, and that's Harry. I call him Splinter-Pecker because he runs a lumber yard."
"Got any good deals on gopher wood?" Onyx asked.
"Gopher wood?" Ben wondered.
"Noah's ark was made of gopher wood," I answered. "Didn't you pay attention in Sunday School?"
"No, I watched the girls."
"Onyx!" a female voice called. "I'm out of Red Headed Sluts. Time to refill."
"Do you have any Harvey Wallbangers, Jae?" Onyx asked.
"Hi, guys," the Asian girl said. "Who wants a Harvey Wallbanger?"
"Harry does," Onyx answered, pointing to me. "What about you, Ben? Oh, boys, this is Jae. Jae, meet Harry and Ben."
Jae was dressed in a backless little black micro-dress, cut nearly to her waist in the front. She was taller than Onyx but every bit as sexy. She had the taught, lean, very feminine body of a dancer or figure skater.
"Hi, Harry! I have two Wallbangers left," Jae said.
"I'll take 'em."
"What about you, Ben? Do you want anything?" Onyx asked.
"Maybe a mocha latte later?" my buddy leered.
"Hey, hey, hey," Ace called over his shoulder as tapped a pitcher of beer. "Onyx is a classy girl. If she's with a guy, he's a real man, right, babe? I'll bet neither of these old heads has twelve inches of love to give!"
"You don't either," Onyx said.
"How would you know that?" Jae asked.
"Ha!" Ace laughed.
"I saw it on his wife's phone, okay?"
"Uh huh," Jae giggled.
Gary and Cheryl came back from the bathrooms. They weren't dry, but they weren't making puddles on the floor anymore. "Ace, you gonna close early?" Gary asked.
"Why? Because it's raining?"
"Yeah," Cheryl said. "It's bad. When we left the house, it was raining, but about halfway here it was like we were in a car wash. We got this wet running from the parking lot."
Ace said, "You know Suzie. At least one bar in this building is open every day, no matter what. Last winter we ran the front bar on generators for two days after that bad ice storm. We're here, even if there are no customers."
"What the hell is that on TV?" Ben asked.
Ace turned up the volume.
"... disaster workers are preparing for the worst floods this area has ever seen. Debris in storm sewers and streams has made some streets and rural roads impassible, wash-outs have been reported, and the worst is yet to come. Authorities are strongly advising evacuation of all areas where flooding has occurred in the past or where water could rise. Citizens are urged to stay in their homes if they are on high ground. If you must travel, avoid ALL areas with standing or flowing water. Do NOT, under any circumstances, cross into areas marked by emergency barriers or signs," the commentator said.
"Look!" Ace said, pointing at the screen. "That's the car dealership on the other side of the bridge. The water's knee-deep!"
"Holy shit!" Ben exclaimed. "That's on my way home. Now what?"
"Go north a block, turn right, and at the third light, turn right again," Ace said. "That takes you on the new bridge over the creek, so you'll be okay. That street merges with this one on the other side of the hill, about a half mile south.
"I should go. The wife's probably crazy with me being out in this."
"Yeah, wimp out on us, Ben," Ace laughed. "Seriously, be safe driving home. You heard what they said. Don't drive through water."
"Okay, Ace. Harry, can I give you a ride?"
"No, I'm good. I'll wait for a break in the storm. I'm right up the alley."
"Okay. See ya."
The Harvey Wallbangers were a pleasant change from my usual beer and whiskey, and Onyx and Jae were more fun to look at than Ace.
My phone rang. It was Ben.
"Harry, it's real bad. It took half an hour to go two miles. If I got out of first gear my windshield wipers couldn't keep up. I've never seen rain like this. Water is backing up everywhere. They closed the new bridge after I went over, 'cuz water's coming over the road at the ends. Everyone needs to leave soon. They're rescuing people in rowboats. You can't use the bottom entrance to the bar parking lot, 'cuz there's water running in that street."
"Hang on, Ben. Ace! It's Ben calling. He just made it home. He says there's water at the bottom of the parking lot."
"Ivan!" Ace yelled. "Check the lot."
Ivan bounded upstairs.
Ace turned up the sound on the TV again. "... mandatory evacuation has been ordered in some areas, but residents everywhere are strongly advised to comply with any requests for them to leave."
"My wife has the same broadcast on," Ben said. "You're less than a block from the edge of the evacuation zone. Tell Ace he needs to shut down. I'm completely soaked just from running from the bar to my car. I gotta change clothes."
"Okay, thanks, Ben," I said, closing my phone.
Ivan came down the interior stairs, looking like he had been blasted by a fire house. "Stupid fucking American weather! The water is almost up to some of the cars in the lot, and they say it's rising fast. We gotta close, Ace."
Ace walked to the DJ booth and grabbed the microphone. "Listen up, everyone. If you're parked in the lower portion of our lot, you need to move your cars right now. Flood water is rising. You can't go south, but I think you can still go north. We're open, so if you want to stay, great. If not, be smart and drive safely."
Almost everyone left. The bartender from upstairs came down saying that she wanted to go home, since she hadn't had a customer in over an hour.
Ace said, "I'll explain to Suzie. Put a sign on the door that says I'm open down here. I know where you live. Some of those roads between the fields might be pretty iffy. Text me when you get home so I know you're okay."