The Hubris of Men

“This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself.”
― Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Oblique Strategy: Children -speaking -singing

When our kids were young we used to come over Thanksgiving, or over New Year, or both – to rent a beach house at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, just east of Galveston, Texas. In the off season you could rent an old rickety beach house for almost nothing. It was great with high maintenance kids like ours- there were only two directions they could go on the beach and nothing they could destroy. It was the best of times.

We had to stop going because in 2008 Hurricane Ike wiped the low sandy Bolivar Peninsula clean.

Now, ten years later, a lot of the beach houses have been rebuilt. Their stilts are noticeably higher now, heavier and more numerous. So we rented one for New Year’s – Lee came from New Orleans and Nick from North of Houston.

It’s great to be back, the only problem is the weather is awful – cold, rainy, and very windy.

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002. Fifteen years ago, almost to the day.

Lee walking in roughly the same spot, fifteen years later. There was no sun and it was very cold and windy. Same ocean, though.

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A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 22 – before the storm By Alex Sheal

Have a drink.

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 22 – before the storm by Alex Sheal
Read it online here:
before the storm by Alex Sheal

Then we slept, our storm-scattered raft adrift in the afternoon sun, mouths parched, detritus trailing us across the lifeless ocean. Or did fish school beneath us, flashing like bonfire sparks in a bottomless night?

—-Alex Sheal, before the storm

There is this comedian, Larry Miller (he’s the obsequious clothing salesman in Pretty Woman) that does this comedy routine about drinking in bars – it’s called “5 Levels of Drinking.”

He says:

You crawl outside for air, and then you hit the worst part of level five ~~ the sun. You weren’t expecting that were you? You never do. You walk out of a bar in daylight, and you see people on their way to work, or jogging. And they look at you, and they know. And they say, “Who’s Ruby?”

Let’s be honest, if you’re 19 and you stay up all night, it’s like a victory like you’ve beat the night, but if you’re over 30, then that sun is like God’s flashlight. We all say the same prayer then, “I swear, I will never do this again (how long?) as long as I live!” And some of us have that little addition, “……and this time, I mean it!

Truer words have never been spoken.

Today’s story reminds me of that bit, somehow.

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, “Is your husband a professional photographer?”
Candy answered, “He thinks he is.”

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 9 – The Hurricane, by Lord Dunsany

(click to enlarge) “Approaching Storm” by Claude-Joseph Vernet, Dallas Museum of Art

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 9 – The Hurricane, by Lord Dunsany

Read it online here:
The Hurricane, by Lord Dunsany

‘Old friend,’ said the Hurricane, ‘there are cities everywhere. Over thy head while thou didst sleep they have built them constantly. My four children the Winds suffocate with the fumes of them, the valleys are desolate of flowers, and the lovely forests are cut down since last we went abroad together.’

—-Lord Dusany, The Hurricane

Today, with Houston starting its long recovery from Harvey and Irma bearing down on Florida with its horrors to come, I thought I’d link to a short little bit of fantasy called The Hurricane.

Article on Lord Dunsany

It’s hard to underestimate the impact that Dunsany had in the fantasy genre, and he remains one of the literary movement’s most notable figures, influencing many authors who would become major figures in and of themselves. Authors such as H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard noted their appreciation and influence of the man, with Lovecraft saying of The King of Elfland’s Daughter: “Inventor of a new mythology and weaver of surprising folklore, Lord Dunsany stands dedicated to a strange world of fantastic beauty.”

Dallas, Texas

The Storm is 400 Miles Away

“People seemed to believe that technology had stripped hurricanes of their power to kill. No hurricane expert endorsed this view.”
― Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

While 400 miles to the south, Hurricane Harvey brings terror, destruction, and death – here all it has done so far is brushed the sky with its outermost bands and made for a beautiful sunset.

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

Cities of the Dead

tour1

New Orleans Cemetery – Saint Louis #1

On our last trip to the Big Easy, we signed up for a New Orleans Cemetery tour from Tulane University.

The Cemeteries of New Orleans are famous – when you visit you notice them right away on your drive away from the airport. Because of the high water table, burial in the city is above ground in crypts. If you tried to stick a coffin underground it would come bobbing up in the first hurricane and go hurtling down the street.

The dense clusters of stone crypts packed into rows give the cemeteries of New Orleans the nickname, “cities of the dead.”

All the parents piled in to the bus on the Tulane campus for the trip to St. Louis Cemetery #1. The woman sitting next to us spent her time making desperate phone calls. She was from Rockaway in New York and her house had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. She had decided to go ahead and make the planned trip to visit her daughter at school so she could use the Internet to register for assistance while her husband remained behind trying to salvage what he could. There was a lot of irony in a parent from New York coming to see her daughter in New Orleans as a refugee from a devastating hurricane.

The tour was very interesting – mostly because of our tour guide. A spry elderly New Orleans native of French extraction – thick with that amazing melodious Cajun accent – she spoke a lot of the unique way of looking at life (and death) necessary for survival in a place as inhospitable to polite civilization as New Orleans. She spoke of the constant friction between the attitude of the New Orleans natives and the Americans… spoken as if they were aliens from another planet.

She said she didn’t understand the Americans, even though she was glad she was married to one, because, “Darling, somebody has to do the work.” She said, not long after she was married, her husband had to go in to the office on a Saturday,

“Honey, where’re you goin’,” she asked.

“I’m going to work.”

“What do you mean? It’s Saturday. Nobody works on a Saturday!”

The concept was completely incomprehensible to her.

Then she went on to describe the details of a New Orleans internment. She said, “Ah never though this was unusual. I thought everybody did it like this. When I went to another city I was stunned. Ah said ‘You did a hole? And drop a body down there? And cover it up?’ Ah couldn’t believe it.”

You see, I always knew about the above ground crypts in New Orleans, but I never understood the process. You see, these are family crypts – or in some cases, organizational crypts. They are built in two parts, an upper chamber and a lower one. A small opening at the back of the crypt connects the two.

When you die, there is no embalming… and no fancy metal or lined casket – just a pine box. They open the crypt and you go in the top chamber. There you wait, for at least a year and a day, until the next person expires. Then they open up the tomb, secure in the knowledge that the tropical heat and humidity have done their work, and there isn’t much left of you. Any surviving pieces of casket are removed and everything else is pushed back through the opening where it falls into the lower chamber, leaving room for the next occupant.

This is repeated as long as necessary. Some of the tombs had dozens of names on them, spanning well over a century.

Some of the details are fascinating. The walls of the cemetery are lined with small “wall tombs.” These are for when, as our guide said, “Somebody dies too soon, before the year and a day. They get stuck in the wall tomb until they can get moved back into the family crypt.”

Our tour guide in front of a typical New Orleans burial crypt.

Our tour guide in front of a typical New Orleans burial crypt.

A street in the City of the Dead. Family crypts on the left, wall crypts on the right.

A street in the City of the Dead. Family crypts on the left, wall crypts on the right.

Older crypts, getting run down.

Older crypts, getting run down.

Wall crypts. Space is at a premium. Look at the tiny spaces at ground level.

Wall crypts. Space is at a premium. Look at the tiny spaces at ground level.

Layton family crypt.

Layton family crypt. Over a century of family members.

Our guide said she was waiting for tomb space to open up and had saved money to buy in. “Space is limited, and in death like in life, it’s location, location location. I don’t want to go to my rest outside the city, I want a tomb in New Orleans.”

When a family dies out, nobody is left to take care of their crypt and it can collapse. Our guide said she had her eye on this spot in case it came up for sale.

When a family dies out, nobody is left to take care of their crypt and it can collapse. Our guide said she had her eye on this spot in case it came up for sale.