Writings by Tom Lohre
Hurricane Jorge Story
I had been painting portraits and landscapes in Palm Beach for about
six years now and finally started traveling down to Key West at least
for one week. It was at that time that I reacquainted myself with my estranged
father. A bitter divorce had cut him off from his children for fifteen
years. He only talked to one or two of his eight. I was the third and
it was tough to get started. Today he has recapitulated and then his common
law wife dies suddenly and he his left with his eight children all to
be proud of. He even went to the second marriage of one of his eight after
all but one had gotten married. It could only have happened because his
daughter Patty was on her third marriage.
Now I no longer paint in Palm Beach. Settled in Cincinnati with my lovely
wife, we entertain my father at our home. He ventures up about once a
year. On and off his eight children visit him at his Big Pine key home
and lately they have filled up several weeks.
My sister Cindy had just left Dad two days before the hurricane hit and
she kissed him goodbye and cried thinking it could be the last time she
would see him alive but he shrugged it off and asked her once again something
about the computer. He was stalwart about sitting it out. And that was
just about what he did. He did not prepare one iota. The computer has
taken him over. Being a retired advertising executive who worked in the
biz for thirty years the old fashion way he finds the new computer way
riveting in its expansions and ease of use. His entire burning hot summer
was spent in an air conditioned living room typing away at the thing,
turning out a story to go along with his shark leather products.
But that was before Georges struck. The hurricane blew through the lower
keys destroying hundreds of homes just above Key West. The family had
not heard from Dad for three days. But he faired pretty well, watching
hundred mile an hour winds blow across his property. He was on the lee
side of the storm and the storm surge was only three feet. The winds blew
East to West and the home just to the East buffeted a lot of the wind.
His roof was shingled about fifteen years ago with what looked like twenty
year shingles and they had harden up to a point where the wind only blew
one off that I could see. His screen porch had blown out and the power
was still off. Water was restored in five days and telephone in three.
Mostly the big beautiful flowering trees that made the street so desirable
blew down. Water had flooded the majority of homes. Flotsam and jetsam
was everywhere. Fences collapsed under the weight of the debris. Everybody's
stuff was somewhere down wind several miles.
My Dad was 74 with one eye and a patch over it. He lost it as a complication
of cataract surgery. His weight was down although he did have a cute basketball
of a belly. He had to watch his salt intake and as a barometer he would
watch his feet swell up and down. He only had about three hours of work
in him these days. Early morning was best. The heat throughout the main
part of the day was unbearable especially due to the lack of electricity.
My Dad was tall and for the most part wore the clothes of a Cuban patriarch.
His friend who help him get ready for the hurricane was Oscar Montejo.
His was compact and dark. He seemed to be aware of all that was around
him in a very matter of fact way. He was Cuban and after trimming some
of the broken palm fronds piled the fallen coconuts into his truck for
good drinking later especially with rum. He had dark curly hair and well
worn clothes. To be with him was to not want him to leave. Everything
he said and did was interesting although none of it had any intellectual
content just good common sense. Oscar was kind and benevolent. He lived
downstairs with is daughter. Mrs. Montejo had died quite a few years earlier
from a aliment that could have been treated at a major hospital but the
distance and weather had prevented it just long enough to claim her. Oscar
always spoke kindly of her like she was always with him even after being
gone for many years.
His 19 year old daughter lived with him in the small studio apartment.
She slept in the bedroom and he on the couch. She was the picture of beauty.
It was hard to believe that she was his daughter being tall and blond.
I never asked about her mother but you could assumed that she was tall
and blond. Her name was Gabriella. She was very centered around herself
and would not venture out unless everything was in order about her. Her
swelt body was the perfect mannequin for all she wore. The gaze she put
forth was strange in its not having any real meaning. Her looks just made
you stare at her without knowing why.
If you were ever stuck somewhere you did not want to be this was it. I
did not know if the heat or my Dad were worst.
We all lived together. My father and I upstairs and Oscar and Gabriella
downstairs. If I had not been married you would think the men were trying
to match mate us although Gabriella was quite a bit younger than I, being
Oscar was very busy after the hurricane and we very rarely saw him. He
was greatfull I had come down and wanted to take care of all the loose
ends the hurricane had caused around the compound. Oscar had many friends
that relied on him and the heat was getting to everyone.
My fathers home was beginning to be a classic courtyard paradise like
you would find throughout South America. He had purchased the distressed
property because of the potential and location and slowly was turning
it into a little garden of Eden. The canal ran along the back and a substantial
boat was tied to the dock. A deck covered a large portion of the yard
and his jeep was always parked under it.
I spent my days fixing this and that always making the long ride to the
not so local hardware store. A lot of little things had piled up. All
the while my father would be right there going on about something or another.
You would have thought he never talked to anyone. I do not think he really
ever talked to anyone. It just all piled up inside of him and he let it
all out when one of his children came to visit.
Mostly he talked of his plans and dreams for the place. He also owned
a shark skin leather products business which also kept the conversation
going at a fever pitch. Recently he had started to incorporate Mayan mythology
into the business in the form of little stories to go along with the products.
My dad was a one person hurricane of himself. To be around him was to
be captured by a alleged question or opinion wanted. Always a idea needed
scrutiny or observation from your point. Or maybe not from your point.
You offered advice or suggestions from the endless opened ended ideas
and proverbially got it rejected. He was an endless string of thoughts
and ideas. To keep up with him was dangerous. A nod or yes every now and
then just didn't make it. Heaven forbid you say something insulting or
crass. Even a semantically debate could lead to disaster. My father was
for all intents and purposes a large bore cannon pointed at you, loaded
and ready for firing. You had the match and your conversation was causing
it to sway around the fuse. You really didn't know how your conversation
moved the match but at any moment you could have a lit fuse and a explosion
in your face.
Opinionated my father was. He hated most everybody. To him all were scum.
The government was evil and he would never vote. He was a crotchety old
man who had no friends. Nobody was good enough for him. He surrounded
himself with servants and yes men. The exchange of civil thoughts amongst
men was not possible. The Church offered no comfort. He had high ideals
but saw none of it in most people. He was a hopeless case of defiance.
To be around him was to learn how to avoid him. Trapped in a fishbowl.
But he was your father?
Coming down was a constant call to the airlines waiting for the Key West
airport to open. They almost didn't let me on the plane from Tampa. My
father had just the right telephone number for the ticket agent to call
when she called him and off I flew into the wind torn keys. Above, you
could see the overturned airplanes and boats looking to take a right turn
off the highway as they sat in the middle of it. Small buildings were
twisted masses. All along the highway, living room furniture and fixtures
rested where the water had subsided. Water had covered all the windward
land to a depth of three or four feet. Roofs slowly broke apart and coolers
ended up in trees.
The first night there we had dinner at the local Catholic Church. I realized
later that Dad had taken me there to be exposed to the scum side of the
island. To listen to him you would think the vast majority of inhabitants
were drug runners, thieves, shiftless Joes, hookers and criminals. Of
course there were also the independents like himself. Independent from
everyone. Contributing nothing. Oscar was around back that night working
at the grill. Dad did say hello to a man serving us. He was a large kind
looking man with wits about him. I wished I could have seen him dropping
by to say hello. Inside where we ate was the parish hall. We ate rolled
this and steamed that. I finished everything as I looked on into the human
eyes of the keys. They were white crackers. Some men were tattooed all
over their potbellies. Others had super long hair untied moving this way
and that as they flashed the peace sign to friends. One couple brought
in their children, two small boys. Each parent was kind and attentive
to serving and cutting their food. He was rugged and honest like Oscar.
She was solid and well proportioned. You imagined that they had lost everything
from the somber looks on their faces. The only relief was the neon green
knitted swimsuit top the mother had on. It covered her perfectly large
bronzed breasts in a manner that made you think of Tropicana Suntan lotion.
Dad had even been to a few services there. He did not elaborate. I envisioned
that they were funerals or weddings and just maybe one of those holidays
where you just go to mass like a Jesus zombie had taken control of your
soul and given you a unthinkable reason to justify going to church. Father
spoke up on the microphone. He was sturdy, full bearded and concentrated.
Right on top of everything he oversaw all the doings of the parish. He
was a true Shepard.
It was a sprawling pioneer church. A still standing tall decorative bell
tower made from what looked like a very creative use of cinder block rose
above everything. A sprawling compound of many one storey buildings and
gardens were exposed because the clean slate hurricane had stripped all
leaves from the brushes. Everything was well worn now. What was hidden
was now exposed.
Next to the church was the FEMA tent. The Salvation Army had clothes,
food and toiletries out for taking along with potatoes chips and canned
Hundreds of workers came down from up North to help clear the land. The
chainsaw wheeling Baptists were legendary. An autonomous group of do gooders
who worked like they enjoyed the hell they were putting themselves through.
Duke Power from North Carolina sent many line trucks to help rebuild the
power grid. There were around two hundred line trucks in operation. Just
as we left for the airport they were working on our weather head. It looked
like the power would be restored soon.
The last afternoon of my stay I took a little ride through the key deer
preserve on Big Pine. The deer were so tame. Some had electronic collars
on them. The homes in the center seemed almost like places reserved for
the outback or African coast. Canals seemed to be at the back of each
home leading the docked boats out to sea. It seemed hundreds of miles
from civilization where you caught rain water to drink and used a generator
for power. Independents and adventurers lived there away from the security
of a community of homes or trailer park. The keys are coral rock with
mangroves and key deer. Everything else has been brought in either willfully
or accidentally. The government owns 90% of the land. Taxes are so high
the locals think they are paying for everything. This storm will go a
long way to prevent trailers and billboards in the keys since they were
hit the worst.
The savior of the keys is Radio US 1. They stayed on all during the hurricane
thanks to zippy the generator. The only radio station became the lifeboat
for the citizens of Big Pine. A talk radio station, they fielded all questions
and comments during and after the disaster. If you ever heard the DJ on
Northern Exposure, Kirby was him. Kirby was grace personified. You could
feel the serenity and openness in his voice. He handled one and all with
consummate beauty. To have a tape of some of those calls would be entertainus
maximus. The tragedy of one caller followed by the hatedred of another
juxposed against the dandy comments of another and the friendly I know
you thoughts of an acquaintance all brought full circle with Kirby calmly
allowing each to have their way. Such excellence in talk radio is a marvel
to hear. I stopped by to see the station but a receptionist and office
did no justice to the great idea I had in my head. I should have gone
around to see Zippy the generator.
I was slated to stay a week but it took an extra day to get into Key West
because they had no power. The plane was not that full. Mostly ladies
that had left Key West to avoid the storm. Some had lost everything others
had no damage. I was leaving Tuesday no matter what. Irene, my wife, wouldn't
have it any other way. I had grown up to put all my marbles in one basket,
Irene. Family had become myself and a heretofore complete stranger. Now
my bonds to my father were second. None the less he was very glad to see
me. The other children were especially happy to have me there. Being self
employed allowed me to drop everything and get down there post haste.
Now I realize I should have gone down before the storm and prepared.
The heat was prominent. At night sleeping was a sweaty mess. I ended up
tying a kerchief around my neck an bunching my long hair on top of my
head with a hair tie. The heat blanket it caused if lying on my neck was
enough to wake me to a drenched pillow. Occasionally a mosquito would
chew incessantly until I hit it with my flallyings.
Probably the one hell raiser was the neighborhood generators. The guy
across the canal had lost a good portion of his roof and kept one going
twenty four hours a day drying out his place but the rich neighbor next
to us arrived to a untouched home and promptly placed a generator into
what seemed to be our ear drums. It drove use away. We looked for any
opportunity to leave. We planned ways to cripple his generator. I spoke
kindly to the man using words like incensed and unbelievable. He seemed
not to get my drift but just before we planned our attack he moved it
inside his garage which made it tolerable to talk outside on the deck.
All was becoming normal again. I know the power was to be restored soon
and it would only take a few days to cool the home down and all the while
Dad hammering at that unbelievable machine the computer. Much like I am
here except I could not find the serenity to write it down until on the
way home sitting in air-conditioned airline seats with little fold down
This is a play I am writing using the dialog from our home. Most of
the dialog is arguing between my wife and myself. Once I write down
the dialog it always makes me out to look stupid. I find it a great
way to help understand the environment of married life. I use a program