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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 45.
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 vegetables.
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 desk tops.


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 called Sophocles.  



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