other acts of God; a flood chronicle, Russian River 1995

Though this was an intensely personal experience it is one I imagine in fact to be quite generic so in the interest of the general as opposed to the particular some of the names have been changed.

Coming up

Saturday, January 7

So, it is that some things are self evident, and so it was, sans dôut, without doubt apparent that it would flood.  Something about the nature of the rain, so unequivocal, so much. The only thing I guess that had been at issue was just how high the water would get.  I thought to call Paul at work as if it would make some difference and told him that he had to absolutely leave on time, that the river was rising.

The power went out and I lit the lanterns and I felt safe and snug, especially since even at the late hour I saw candlelight reflecting off Jake and Leila’s ceiling.  Anyway.

Sunday, January 8

I got up and turned on the radio, as if waiting for the bulletins which would tell me what I already knew.  In the mean time, I had already begun moving to higher ground  those things which I meant to save.  The first bulletin actually came at about 10:30: “People living on the Russian River need to be prepared to take evasive action. The river is expected to reach…”

I went to tell Paul who was still in bed the news. He pulled the covers over his head.  He said he was evading thank you very much.

Well, everyone finally got up to speed by mid afternoon.

Paul and I emptied the guest house and then we drafted several plans depending on how high the water was intended to get. Ha!

Rumors of course were already flying.  Turned out they weren’t so far off.

Anyway.

It was a strange feeling to start taking it seriously.

About four or five we packed overnight bags(!) and began taking things out to our Honda Civic just in case you know.  And I think by this time Paul had actually already moved the Thunderbird up to Matthew&Peter’s, out of harm’s way. And then we made a checklist should we get to defcon one, to red alert.

How do you know, I wondered, what you need when you are fleeing for your life, and how telling is it that among the most important things should be legal documents and bills and checks and pending business concerns.

We put some food in a box and got the cat carriers ready, lining them with scraps of the tattered sheepskin rug that will have once upon a time sat in front of the living room stove.  The reality of the pending catastrophe sinks in slowly.  It is a lot to conceptualize.  And there is a lot that you, that I,  miss in the thinking it through.  For instance, I thought to move the books up, and the speakers were obvious as was the computer, but the cupboards in the kitchen and bathroom, and the shelves in our clothes closet completely escaped me at first.  And it’s hard to think totally through issues of particle board and turbulence, so we did things like put the couches on the coffee table and the end tables.  On the other hand we bagged up discs and videos, and of course made safe all the electronic equipment.  Truth was we assumed the garage and guest house would of course get it, and thought that the laundry room and house would be exempt.  Anyway.

We drank a beer, and thanked God the electricity had stayed on during all of this.

Anyway it must have been about 7 pm when Jake came over to say he and Leila were staying, and he could only imagine that we were too.  We agreed tacitly none of would leave without proper notification. And we went over the facts and figures: The river floods at 32 feet, our backyard and lower buildings begin to take water at about 41 or 42 feet and the fat lady sings at 45 feet: water in the living room.  And not too incidentally, road access from town is cut off at about 35 feet.  No problem, that’s what floating holidays are for!

And then Jake called at about 8 pm and said, actually the tone of his voice said it all.  The words were “the office of emergency services called and urged us to evacuate, the river is expected to crest at 48 feet, it is expected to be at the level of the 1986 flood.”  Our house (not ours at that time) took 5 feet during that flood.

It was checklist time.

We called Matthew&Peter and told them we were on our way.

Funny how the rain had been so constant, that on some level we didn’t even notice it anymore,except for what it was doing to the river.  But in fact it had been pouring with hyperbole, and it had been for days.  And there was no sense that it would stop anytime soon.

And so the two of us and our three cats moved in with Matthew&Peter, and Jake&Leila and their son and their two dogs and cat moved in with Ann&Martin, and Laura and her two sons and their cat moved in with Mitch&Shirley until they were evacuated, and Stan and Jill and their son Troy and their dog moved in with Bob, and like that, you know.

And so then it was a waiting thing.

We sat in front of the TV, like people used to sit by the radio, you know, and waited, for someone to tell us what we already knew was inevitable.  And every once in a while we went out and walked as far down the road toward the river as we could get.  And we did normal things like eat supper and take out the garbage.  And paced.  You know, we even went to bed, but it was to fly in the face of reality.  No one slept.  And at any given time during the night everyone was out prowling around, surveying the situation.  It was grave, it was quiet.  The river was big and each of us were so small.

And so as I might have imagined Paul was there to watch the guest house take water at 2:30 in the morning.  It was like a boiling cauldron, he said with absolute disbelief, you wouldn’t believe it, he said with amazement.  It bubbled up through the floor for Christsake.

And then he got back into bed.

Monday, January 9

The water had made it up the street, not to Jake&Leila’s yet but past our driveway, and it was higher than our knee high boots, (which put it at this point, just about at our front stoop.) Paul couldn’t stay away and he kept going back, followed by Matthew, just to do something, because doing nothing was intolerable.  And after a long time they came out in the canoe full of retrievable last minute things, like the TV and Matthew’s mother’s dress and the rest of our clothes.  Peter and I had been waiting by the edge of the water because my knee high boots were even shorter than the boys boots and Peter was only wearing his Birkenclogs.  But I got impatient and in a fit of arrogance I just took off my goddamned boots, rolled up my pants and went wading in.  Why not. Funny how I never thought to think how cold the water might be, or how contaminated it was.  Later I would say more than once, well it couldn’t be any worse than the River Kwai in Thailand.

And so not only did the river come up the street, it also came up the path from the beach, and that was that.  It stretched clear over the highway without pause, as far as you could see. And we moved the cars to higher ground yet and began wondering what if we had to leave Matthew&Peter’s.  And as the day stretched into night and the river kept coming up the street we tended to the empty houses, throwing the main breakers and switching off the propane tanks.  Before bedtime we even tethered the canoes and kayaks to the house in such a way that should we have needed them they would come up with the rising water.  Somehow imagining that if worst came to worst we would evacuate out the bedroom window.  Four dogs, four cats, and four adults, mind you.

And there was by now, of course, no electricity, no phones, no running water, in a manner of speaking, no tie with anyone save  face to face contact.  Oh well we thought, at least the God forsaken telephone had stopped ringing.

Tuesday, January 10

We canoed through the neighborhood ducking the power lines.  We paddled in our front gate, it was no easy task getting the sucker open, and looked around, reconnoitering the situation. The house was full of water, in a manner of speaking. You know you knew that, but it was quite another thing to see it, to be up in it.  Paul asked if I wanted to go in the house. Somehow canoeing in our living room was more than I could manage.  We got the kayak, and he, disembarking and reembarking using the wood shed as a dock, went around to the back of the house.  We hadn’t been able to get through in the canoe.  He looked in the bedroom windows, paddled over to the guest house, looked in the garage. What can you say.  We attached the kayak to the canoe and went on our way.  On Center Way (the street which backs up against our backyard) we saw, among other things, some of our firewood. We knew it was ours because it was as if bundled by the posts which once had secured it on the ground, and it was still covered by the tarp which was to have protected it from the rain.  Logjam.  “It floated right over your fence and through our front yard,” Tim said later.  “I ran someone off it, I knew it  was yours.”  But that was later.  We canoed into the backyard over the 8 foot high fence with 18 or 20 inches to spare and lassoed the rest of our about to be errant cord wood so as not to lose it all.

Weird.

That night was the hardest for me, I woke in a panic.  What if what if what if, and so I got dressed and went walking in the rain as far as the river would allow me in all directions.  I also explored up on Neeley Rd to make sure our car was OK, but I became overwhelmed by the possibility of being hit by an uprooted  tree or loose branches. They were all over the road.  And someone had already actually been injured by a falling tree, so I turned around and headed down Neeley Rd toward town.  Got only as far as Parker’s Resort.  You know you could see waves on the road.  Like ocean waves.  And so I understood graphically the concern about high tide.

Anyway the exciting part was while I was standing there I could see the river receding.  By God.

So it had crested at 48.7 early Tuesday morning.

There was a whole sensual side to this too, you know.

There was a noise thing.

Helicopters.  At a certain point the helicopters were ever present like the rain.  The sound was always overhead and it underscored somehow the state of emergency, it made unequivocal the urgency.  They were for a long while our only connection to the outside world.

Generators.  And sirens.  And the explosions of propane tanks as they popped free from their lines with the rushing water.  And of course the rain.

There was a color thing.  Mud and fog and clouds.  It was overwhelmingly muted.  It was all so gray and brown.

And you know everything was so wet.

Going Down

Wednesday, January 11

Those that knew said that once the river started to go down it went down fast.  And it did.

But we still had no electricity or running water or way to town and it was still raining and the land phones were iffy, but the cell phone worked.

And now the emergency was over and a whole new thing was to begin.  The obvious lessons had already been learned, you know about control and insignificance.

And the rest of it, well you just did it one foot and one minute at a time.

How could you even begin to imagine what it would look like, even knowing.  You couldn’t.  And I couldn’t even order it, make sense of it, understand it, or actually just plain see it even when standing in the middle of it.  The chaos and disarray and destruction of what once had been familiar and home and orderly was absolute. And at some point, at some level, you knew that everything would have to come out.  Everything.  Down to the nubbins.  Even the goddamned nails in the sub flooring, you know.  In all the rooms.  Nothing had been spared.  How could you know what it would feel like to dismantle, to gut your own home? Perhaps like shooting your own dog.  You shouldn’t, I shouldn’t have to know.

Thursday, January 12

So walking down the street to the house I pass someone in a yellow slicker, the Guerneville haute couture of the times, and out of habit I say, Hi, how’re ya doing, and I sort of shrug as if to qualify it with, under the circumstances, and maybe even say it aloud, and he nods and says how’re you? and I actually say, under the circumstances I guess it’s a pretty stupid question. Funny how that has stayed with me and I find myself thinking in the middle of one of the nights I couldn’t sleep that it would be  an interesting paper to write, about greetings and salutations.  I think of Asia where the greeting is “where are you going?” and the answer is “to work” or “to play.”  And I remember Fred, who at the inception of the AIDS crisis, began asking “what are you doing?” in place of how are you, it having become far too complicated a question.  But it is that people ask it and it was a while before I came up with a proper answer.  Bottom line I’m stressed, very stressed, and sad. But it was not a spot that I could live, you know, on a daily basis, too hard, too raw, too visible to the buzzards.

So I move up to the next level, and I discover that given the circumstances at the mark, I am OK.  Given the circumstances.  Although truth be told there are sometimes that I am not so sure. That is to say, the cover wears thin in spots, you know, so that I am vigilant and ever on guard so that I will not be overwhelmed by the immensity and the intensity of the sadness.  Overcome all of a sudden as if by surprise. It seems it would be a bad thing now.  Better dealt with once we are safe and sound.  Like at the beach, drinking Margaritas sharing flood stories, the way we did earthquake stories or like that.  And I am grateful that I do not need to manage this alone.  Not so much that Paul&I talk about it, because we don’t, but because practically speaking the burden of the tasks and the decisions is so great.  And somehow it is important to point out that we don’t talk about it because it is clear that it would disturb the fragile boundaries and overload the system. And there is nothing to say that is not already known, that is not already apparent on my face or in his eyes.  It is important to know that to share feelings at this point would spawn distance and not foster anything but animosity.  At this point it is a survival thing and there is little room for the luxury of indulging in ones feelings.  This is an important thing for me to know and to remember.  It is one of those bigger lessons that comes later and something new for me to understand. A thing I did not know before.  Sometimes talking is just voyeuristic and vicarious and thrill seeking at someone else’s expense.

Anyway there was no time either.

We spent the next 5 or 6 days hacking away at the destruction trying to get the upper hand.  And this is when you start thinking those thoughts like where the hell is everyone and why do other people get to go on with their lives as if nothing has happened, and can I actually make it through this.

Not to mention that it is still raining, there are still helicopters flying overhead, we are still collecting rain water and bathing out of buckets on the back porch and we still need to boat to town.

And we begin to think about contamination in very real and dangerous terms, you know.  There are issues here of integrity and immunity and compromise and Paul&I went in search of gamma globulin shots just on g.p.’s.  And we try to keep Matthew out of harm’s way.  And Clay too, but swollen legs and all he just kept getting into the middle of everything.  Oh well.

Friday January 13, (someone pointed out, the days at this point lose their singularity)

So the roads finally opened.

They had set up Highway Patrol roadblocks to check the identity of people travelling into town.  They had already shot and killed one looter, I guess they didn’t want to have to do that again.

Road’s open

Peter was able to go back to work on Monday and we braved Santa Rosa to prepare for the insurance adjuster who was coming on Tuesday.  Whew, it was really weird being out in the world.

Really hard rubbing up against people as if everything was normal.  I mean we have so little idea how loaded a question is how are you.  Like a gun, like a provocation, like you wanna fight man.  I can’t begin to tell you.  It’s strange.

The last time I had a run in with this was when all the answers were secret.  That is to say, I couldn’t say, because everything I would have had to say was a confidence. The difference was at that time it had simply reduced me to hysterical laughter accompanied by that blank stare I am sometimes known to give when asked what I consider to be a stupid question.  Oh well.

Paul and I went back to work on Wednesday the 18th.

And the inevitable happened, Hi Judi how are you? you know, head cocked to the side with concern.  And I just looked at the bitch, in a manner of speaking only, with that blank look I get when someone asks me what I consider to be a stupid question–which fortunately was familiar to her–and blessedly she went on to say, or is that a stupid question? Whew.

Cleaning.

It was something seeing the inside of everyone’s house outside.  Innards lined the roads everywhere you travelled; stoves fridges bookcases books insulation walls countertops flooring floors washing machines dryers vanities entertainment centers TV’s stereos dressers beds sofas desks miles and miles of carpets and carpet pads cabinets power tools water heaters toys, you name it.  And of course, scalvagers, as we called them. Those with integrity at least came to the door and asked before they rifled through your belongings.

It was demoralizing, and thankfully the county had arranged for the conservation corps, incarcerated juveniles, to be part of a clean up crew.  It was good, they came for days with bigfront loaders and dumpsters and made hash of our belongings pretty damned fast, but at least the piles were gone.

This was one of those sound and color things all rolled into one, it’s still pouring rain and everywhere is gray except for the yellow front loaders and dumpsters of different colors.  Front loaders all up and down the street for days going forward and crunching piles of furniture and household goods and going backwards and beeping and loading people’s crumpled goods into dumpsters all up and down the street. Forward and crush and backward and load.  Crush and load.  And the sounds of the stuff being crunched, I don’t know, it almost made you think of bones.  And that Godforsaken front loader beeping had replaced the helicopters as a signal of our distress.  Our driveway out front parks six cars easy and we filled it up three times with stuff to be smashed and loaded.  That was hard.  That was one of the times I got into oh, there’s that oak desk we bought, you know for only $125 when we first got to San Francisco, and the mahogany dresser we refinished, it had been painted an ugly slime green, and the leather couch, and the stove and fridge and two washing machines and the dryer and all that stereo equipment and the tools, ach the tools, and the books, oh the books.  My life’s worth of books…anyway zip zap, crunched, crumpled, smashed and loaded and gone.  Leila and Paul somehow both compelled to watch had sent me away, an atrocity not to witness it was.

Mud, mildew, mould and green slime.  Hoses.

You went, I went into my empty house, with hoses and shovels and squeegees and hosed the damned things out.  Weird.  You can’t even begin to imagine how much mud there was.  Raw sewage, hell of way to fertilize the garden. The Red Cross gave out cleaning kits and hot meals.  Spaghetti and bleach.  What a combo.  And you, we  cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and there was and is still mud everywhere you look.

In an effort to battle the mildew, they brought blowers and suckers and foggers and dehumidifiers and desiccators and fans. They blasted the house with disinfectant and then for days with mondo fans, and lots of them they dried out the house.

Brings up questions of electricity and water, yes.  And phone connections yes and propane tanks.  And mail, neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor hail, but they never said nothin’ about high water, now did they. Anyway all things which needed minding.  First guy in was the electrician, power.  Now, this was a frightening concept. When the power came back on in the neighborhood, we excitedly went back to the house, to flip the main switch only to discover that the meter was more than half full of water.  We called the electric company (PG&E) to report this and asked them to come check it out before we turned the power on.  Good thinking they said. So they came and checked it out and turned the power on!  Oh well.  On the grid for free. Not bad in the end, especially since the house didn’t short out and we used more power during the four days it took to dry out the house than we probably use in 6 months. Stupid suckers.

Well, needless to say we redid the breaker box and all the plugs in the house since they’d all been under water, and PG&E did finally get their shit together and redo the meter. And the phone guys redid the phone connections. And even though we had secured our propane tank so that it hadn’t floated away, it had upended,  and then we decided to switch to a propane, on demand hot water heater, so we needed a new and bigger tank anyway.

So now at least with the basics we were back online, as it were.

There was a point finally where the destruction did stop and construction did begin.  There came a point where order began to hold its own in the face of all the chaos and where families did regain a sense of integrity.  And the prospect of peace begins to ride herd on the potential for violence.  It had been an edge experience and we were all but for the grace of one another, just a hair’s breadth from the edge of destruction.  All of us, each with our own demon called upon to do battle, to take a stand to make that irrevocable decision.  More than once.

And so people ask, are you going to move and Paul looks on with wonder saying where, meaning of course, where might one go where safety can be guaranteed?  And I think, one does not desert at the first sign of difficulty, and I remember the inimitable Super Chicken who always said you knew the job was dangerous when you took it Fred.  And so of course the answer is no.  But it is like one of those in the hole kind of things.  You always can.  It allows for some sense of maneuvering room when it seems like there is none afforded you elsewhere.  Like when the insurance man and mortgage man and every other Tom Dick and Harry who thinks he needs a part of this, starts in.  You know like the county inspectors and the engineers and the FEMA people and on and on and on.  It is sometimes endless and you begin to know more about things you never wanted to know about in the first place.  Oh well.

Holding steady

February 2

And I got Paul to set up the computer.  Whew.

And I begin to collate some of the material, to order it in my mind and on paper, knowing full well that how I manage is to make sense of things, and to learn.  And I remember from my work with trauma victims and PWA (people with AIDS) that bad things happen to good people.

And this whole thing had been a crash course in the cost of power and powerlessness.

And I begin to know some other things.

Like the stuff in itself is not so great a loss for me except as it represents in its order that thing that we call home, and the loss of my home is that thing which almost is more than I can bear.

There was an article in the paper about the psychological sequela of the flood and it talked about the kids who were reluctant to go to school because they were afraid their house wouldn’t be there when they got back.  (Or be red tagged or yellow tagged.  Like the moonshining days when people went to ground just ahead of the revenuers, we were ducking the county building inspectors and their goddamned tags, you know.)  Made me think of when I was living in Spokane with Luke, and how I was always amazed at the end of the day when I came home that the house was still there, literally. And interestingly, it wasn’t until just recently, in the telling of this, that I realized that at that time it was a metaphor, perhaps for the relationship.  And now it, the loss of house and home, is a thing quite real.  It, a home, is one of those things that somehow secures us, fastens us, you know.  A thing not to be snatched as if it were a hat.  Anyway one of those big category losses.

And I know that sometimes I can’t talk about it because it is as if to reexperience it.  This is an important concept.  Again, a thing to remember when delving into the bloomings of another’s soul, and I revisit the unabashed vicariousness that others enjoy, especially in our business.  It is true too, that sometimes it is helpful to talk about it, and now, when they ask, well they asked, and sometimes the innocent get more than they bargained for.  Hence the pitfall of the question how are you.

And I think of how it was when Jake&Leila and Paul&I ran into each other.  We somehow, not surprisingly, cross connected so that Paul and Leila talked and Jake and I talked, saying those things that perhaps in the end needed verification, or clarification, or airing, but could not yet be said within the confines of the primary partnership.  And for all of it I saw that same look on Jake’s face, that Paul had been walking around with ever since the water started rising.

Failure in a personal sense for not having been able to defend the castle, to protect the queen.  And he saw in my face that I had seen and he had watched me see. And all the while we were just talking.  He was talking about how hard it had been to talk about it and how hard it was to be with people who had no sense of what this had been like, really.  But he did allow me to touch him and to, without a trace of pity or weakness, hold him.  And of course this assuaged my sense of powerlessness in not having been able to succor my king, not having been able to foster hope, nor redeem with fecundity the unremitting destruction that was all around me. And he saw that on my face and I watched him see. And all the while we were talking.  And I was talking about how hard, just plain hard it was, all of it.  And without demands or confusion about my pain or his pain he held me, without pity and without indebtedness.

I imagine that Paul and Leila had done the same thing.

And I must say I have learned new respect for the expressions God willing and the river don’t rise, come hell or high water, and especially, misery loves company.  And I’ve developed a sensitivity to the expression when it rains it pours.  But I decided that I would not experience post traumatic stress every Goddamned time it rains.  No ma’am. (yeah, right, hmm…)

And I know that you can just never know until the time comes what you will or won’t deal with, what you will or won’t do and you just never know how durable you might be, or not.

And I know that you just can’t always imagine what it might be like but it’s not necessarily the same as not being able to understand just because you haven’t gone through it.

And we begin, Paul and I to talk about it, the feelings not so dense, not so crushing, not so killing.

And yesterday February 9, fully a month after the beginning of this was the first day that we did neither work at the house or go to work.  And it will be fully another month before we are able to move back into our home.  And there is no roller coaster anywhere in the land that comes close to the ride this has been.

And today February 16, I went and got my hair cut, and over the weekend we bought couches and appliances and carpet and linoleum and sinks and vanities and countertops, and the big wall in the living room has been rocked and will be taped as soon as Carl comes back from Hawaii and some of our furniture was delivered and now there is a sense of the future.  There is an excitement about how it will be, a sense that it will be, that it is.  And less of a sense of loss and how it used to be and is not anymore.

And there are daffodils and narcissus and quince and the fruit trees are blooming.  And of course there is still mud and rain and it will be a while before the flood of ’95 is over and done with but we are over the hump.

Smells

How interesting that I missed it earlier when I was thinking about the other sensual aspects of all of this.

Like the rain and the helicopters, the smells became so oppressive and so ever present as to be inseparable, indistinct in their own right, almost.  Even now, I drive down the road, or walk in an alley, or into a store, or get into the car and like the sunrotting garbage in Bangkok, it is a smell that is pungent and permeating and stays in your nose, you know for hours.  Not fresh like a damp forest, or rich like mushroom soil, but instead  reminiscent of putrefaction and spoilage. Musty, dank, fusty, the thesaurus suggests stale also, one only wishes stale but stale brings to mind dry.  Ain’t nothing yet that is dry dry.  Hmm.

The Tango

February 19

And finally the insurance man is out of the loop. And now the tango with the mortgage company begins.  The language has something to do with an insurable interest in our home.  In a pig’s ass.

And so I begin to learn more about the ways of people than I had ever hoped.  No, what I mean is that I nevertheless, must behave with respect and regard toward others who have a dissimilar idea of what this might mean and who instead elicit (deserve?) a murderous rage. And I think again that living is not for the faint of heart, nor as Bette Davis once said about getting old, for sissies.

And I think instead, of all the merchants who did not raise their prices as if it were Christmas.  But who instead gave discounts to flood victims having realized that in spite of the immediate cash flow sponsored by FEMA and our illustrious insurance companies, that in reality of course it would be all of us, as taxpayers who would pay for this.  After all Sonoma county will need to recoup some of its tremendous losses.

And I think in fact, of the many people who did have hearts and big hearts at that.  Those who did lend hope along the way, and weren’t in it just for the buzz and an adrenalin rush.  Those who knew what to do without asking, knowing that anything done, especially at the beginning was nothing but helpful.  And those who along the way did their jobs with compassion and who never treated us with anything less than absolute regard and who never for a minute saw us as anything other than singular human beings.

And one remembers, and thinks to dare not forget, how thin is the line that divides us from them.  And it is the wise ones who know that it is the selfsame line that divides them from us, and consequently they are a little less arrogant.  And a whole lot less careless with their karma.  And again I am hit in the face with the lesson of beholden to.  Goes back to those issues of pity and indebtedness.  And I think instead of goodwill and wonder where, but for the grace of one another would we all be, but condemned to hell.

And I ran into Lee today, the postman, and he said, you’re smiling, and I said yes I am, the end is in sight.  Our humor is returning and though we cannot yet really enjoy a sense of leisure, we are just a little bit more playful and a little less grim and terse.  That the sun has been shining, and that it was a record high for this time of year the other day, 78 degrees F, in fact, of course makes it easier.

And life goes on, I had to spend that beautiful Sunday in traffic school, having failed to come to a complete stop in Pacific Heights on my way home the other day to the tune of $104.00, sooo, to eradicate the blemish and the increase it would reflect on my insurance I spent the day with other such scofflaws, oy vay.

And who has even had time to reflect on the Ides of March.  Certainly not us.

March

So we began to think of moving back in, first week in March, certainly by mid March and we set deadlines accordingly.  Funny the things in the end that turn some walls and floors into a home.  Anyway, like pieces of a brain teaser everything had to be done in its proper order, the kitchen cabinets sans countertop (the countertop was on special order and hadn’t come in yet) before linoleum, bathroom vanity and toilet after linoleum, and in the other bathroom vanity and toilet before carpet, and of course ideally painting before all of that.  We just made it under the wire because the great wall took longer to rock than might have been expected, but what a wall it is, so white, so clean, such great expanse, I had to fight tooth and nail everyone’s urge to texture the damn thing. And finally carpet.  Whew.  And the next day we were to get the furniture.  Ha! OK, let’s see the stove, fridge and dishwasher have been, still in their packing, in the laundry room and so are the coffee table and two end tables for the living room, also in their boxes and not yet assembled.  Yet to be delivered is the bedroom furniture, the entertainment center and two couches for the living room and the bedroom set for the guest house, but hold on to your hat because has come a new storm warning with dire predictions of flooding.  And indeed it did.  This one however was what we had actually expected and been somewhat prepared for when we conceptualized that our place would flood in the first place.

The guest house/garage took some water.  We had in our great wisdom decided not to put carpet in but to tile it, and in fact the tile guy had been scheduled to start work that week, but well, the power had gone out, because of this incredible wind storm which had knocked down trees and power lines, and all in all the weather and the roads and everything was pretty iffy.  Anyway the short of it is the guest house took about 6 inches of water and all we had to do was hose it out.

We had thought, you know, to put in scuppers, but never quite got around to it!

Anyway the power stayed off, and we had no running water again and we were cut off from town.  And of course, there was not a little hysteria because of the great flood in January so we went through the drill again.  Moving stuff to higher ground.  The insult was of course this was the very weekend we had planned to move in, and of course we had just laid our new carpet, just laid, mind you, our new carpet, and here we were like looters running up the street with our appliances.

How many stooges, more than three.

Anyway at some point Paul called a halt to this madness and said, f— t— s— we’re moving home come hell or high water!  And we did and it did and it was fine actually, if a little nerve racking.  But by God I coped.  I had by this time developed a workable strategy for triangulating some semblance of truth–I listened to 3 different radio stations at about 10 minute intervals, and called the Office of Emergency Services and the Sonoma County Water District just about every hour to get updates on the level of the river at the Guerneville bridge and, it helped.  So did the Ativan mind you, but we were home.

Two months it took.

And even though we were the last ones back into our house we were the first ones at this stage of completion.  You know walls, flooring, appliances, beds, laundry facilities.  On the other hand we were using our outdoor bistro table as a dining room table and the computer room and the sitting room off the deck had no furniture (money and time thing) but Goddamn it we were home.  And we moved back in (as we had the first time and as we had been driven out) in the pouring rain.  There was some sweet sense of mastery in this I must admit.  And so we canvassed the neighborhood retrieving all of our belongings that had been given refuge hither and yon and brought them all home.  People looked on in disbelief.  More than once we were asked which way we were going with that stuff.  But you know enough is finally enough.  Our final stand you know.

Back Home

March 23, 1995 (a letter) Hay you two, So you know the great wheel turned just ever so slightly and now it is spring, and the work is renewal and growth and tenacity.  You know, just like those little shoots that come up through the ground or the cement or out of acorns or pine cones or rocks for God’s sake.  Hard work, for sure, but the task nevertheless.  Ha! throughout this crazy ordeal the daffodils and the tulips and the narcissus and the crocus, and the lily’s that we had planted did their do like there weren’t nothin’ out of the ordinary happening.  And our hummingbird–a ruby throated kind of guy, who we call Jocko, who we’d been feeding all winter and to whom I felt an incredible sense of responsibility, since he hadn’t gone south since we’d been feeding him–anyway Jocko is another tribute to tenacity and those things that keep track of the way of all things, cause not only is he still around suckin’ the syrup out of the feeder, but Mildred–his lady friend came back just the same too.  Ha!

And the trees, the magnificent trees in the backyard, standing proudly in their redwood families holding court and remembering the knowledge and wisdom of times gone by, oh yes they remind me of the continuity, and somehow they teach me about patience and grace and strength and adaptability and all of this somehow being different from just plain old stubborn and ornery.  Hmm.

And the osprey who we call Ishi is also back in his tree, see, over there, right out the front window.  No fuss no muss, as if everything is all right, you know.  Oblivious, indifferent, insensible to the ups and downs of the river, if you will.  Hmm.  Anyway there he is in his osprey spot doing osprey.  Big white underbelly, wide wing span keen eye and watching them fish.  Ha!  His favorite branch sits out over the river and gives him a good look at the unsuspecting fish who are doing their fish errands below oblivious to the possibilities here, or maybe not oblivious, but what the hell, the errands need to be done anyway, you know.  You can’t always not do the errands just because some osprey is going to swoop down and eat you for dinner at some point. Hmm, so somewhere here the point, or the lesson if you will or the sticky wicket is about the fuss, you know like maybe it is all fuss or no fuss.  You know how like I say feeling bad feels bad, or feeling good feels good or chaos is chaotic, and so on, so what’s the big fuss, you know–but the trick has to be knowing and remembering that one way or another, for better and for worse, it is all so impermanent or maybe insignificant–hmm the thesaurus says another word for insignificant is unconnected, I suppose that is one way of looking at it.  Just along the way you know, it’s all just along the way.  I’m still quite hung up here on unconnected, I don’t think that is the way I would have said it, but the point is that incredibly everything is normal, usual ordinary in a very comforting way on the one hand, and in a way that is galling on the other hand, but nonetheless everything is just happening as if there is no reason on God’s green earth why it shouldn’t. Amazing. Whoshebe (the cat) could have told me that.  Oh well, I just wasn’t listening.  Best regards.

March 31

AN OPEN LETTER OF THANKS to the many of you who lent support, moral and otherwise, during these at least forty days and forty nights of chaos:

your concern and attentiveness have been kindly received and  in tangible ways have made this ungodly situation less onerous.  Most particularly,  the support extended us as well as the ongoing interest which has endured over the long haul, significantly diminished the sense of isolation and  singularity which we experienced; the human connections, replete with the expectation that we still be able to carry on a mundane and benign conversation  in the midst of  the absolute disorder  in  our lives, not to mention that we were able to, lent a comforting sense of normalcy; and the abiding confidence that in the midst of all of this we were nonetheless able to reliably and effectively continue to do our work allowed us a sense of mastery in a situation which was otherwise totally out of our control.

In short, thank you,  for your kind thoughts and show of affection which enabled us to manage with some grace this incredible and unimaginable ordeal.

We are back home now and most things are in their rightful place.  There is  once again a glimmer of order and more importantly safety, and  peace.   And not so incidentally we dare to say, with some well earned trepidation, the sun is shining!

April 27

So one of the things that we were all robbed of is that sense of our home being among other things impervious.

So one must learn again to feel safe, no easy task.

And it seems we have many reasons for our uneasiness, not the least of which is all those things left undone, but in fact it has the most to do with still being on edge on guard just plain on and at issue with this business of safe and trusting the walls of the castle.

May 4

And we are still sifting through all the things that are not yet put away, and I marvel at how much is still left given all that we lost.  Funny the way things get stymied.  Like the loads of laundry left to do that I’m reluctant to tackle because I feel ill prepared to make decisions about saving or not, the clothes and in any case I’ve nowhere to put the things I would choose to save.  And so it is with all the stuff still in bags that came out of the desk drawers.  What the hell are we going to do with it, and why do we even need it.  We don’t, but I can’t bring myself to throw it out yet.  And books.  We’ve barely 100 left and they are pretty insignificant in the face of those we lost, but still there aren’t enough book cases to hold them and so they sit as if orphans in piles here and there already dusty.

It’s funny, on some level this has been like a great purge and we are left with a compulsion to whittle everything down to its final simplicity.  Less is more.  But imagine cleaning all your junk drawers, basement and attic all in one day, or one month or one year for that matter.  Never mind the garage.  Detritus.  Hmm.  The human packrat.  Stuff of a lifetime that has no real meaning but somehow gives us succor.  It’s hard to figure.

And so we still have no dining room table, but the flower gardens are in and we have regained some sense of leisure time and totally scoffed at this last flood warning they issued just this weekend.  In fact I think we just disallowed it in our total disbelief.

May 11

And so we took the final plunge(!) and made an honest effort to rehabilitate our teak dining room table and discovered, as we knew we would, that it was veneer and as is the way with these things one minute it was teak and the next minute it was scrap.  So yet again we went to town and bought a 48 inch round dining room table with one leaf and six chairs for roughly eight hundred dollars and free delivery that very afternoon and called it a pretty good deal.  That too was a hard one but, four months out we have a dining room table and the goddamned bistro table is outside where it belongs.

And Carl came yesterday and finished the countertops, hooked up the ice maker did the last few odd jobs and by God we’re ready for the final inspection.

Funny you know you hear about the intense relationships people develop with physical therapists and even of old nurses, because of the work they do together.  But here, now, on the river, it’s all about the contractor.  After all it is with him, because of him, that we have been able to recreate that thing that we call our home.  And we have over time in some still waters run deep and irrevocable way become tied to him.  And have now to show for it, for lack of a truer or better word an acutely familiar relationship.

And how important and principal it is.

Carl

He in a way came with the house, an easy, river faring kind of a guy, soft spoken and adamantly opposed to stress of any ilk.  A man not easily offended.  A man never to be hurried.  Works hard and steady but never too long and not instead of play.  Like he hadn’t really wanted to do the sheetrock but did in the end anyway because it would happen sooner, and he could tell I was losing vision here and needed the boost to my morale.  And when I asked why he didn’t want to do the sheetrock he said, don’t like doing it anymore ’cause it’s too hard on my shoulders, and flashing his toothy grin he said he’d rather save his shoulders for surfing fishing and making love.  He never came before ten or ten thirty and never left after five and most often was gone by three, but for all of it, you know we still were done before the rest of the neighborhood, not that we were keeping track, mind you.

And he was present and soothing and always participative and not struggling for control.  Which then allowed Paul (and I) to contribute whenever and whatever so moved him (us) without transgressing boundaries or domains or disturbing Carl’s sense of the economy of this.  After all our work saved us money, which meant not so much money out of Carl’s pocket, but certainly, less money in.

And so there were tribulations to be sure and a few trials, like his sense of river time, but never strife.  And when the second flood threatened in March he phoned to see if we needed his help and even though we told him not to risk it he came flying down the road from Occidental just to walk through t he place with us and to reassure us yet again that no matter what happened we’d just put it back together once more if need be.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men.

And then he flew down the road again just ahead of the water.

The point is he was instrumental, key to our victory and triumph, you know.

One of those things beyond thanks and beyond the fair value exchange of services.   One of those there but for the grace of one another, kind of things.

And again I am astounded by the apparent whimsy of those encounters which we come to know as intimate and call myself bloody lucky to have seen the leprechaun.

Dog and Pony show

Which brings us to the dog and pony show, the money story.

So let’s see.

We’d just been flooded and everything we had to do or have done had a cash value. In practice this came to mean all of a sudden there were a multitude of interested and vested parties in every transaction, no matter how insignificant.  Which meant the already very high stakes were now even higher because everything, it seemed, would need approval by some authority.  By those with the purse strings.  And then as if by default, things moved in inverse proportion to our sense of urgency.

The added insult to us particularly just in case we didn’t get it the first time, (as the river came up) was that we were rendered for all practical purposes almost impotent.  First of all because our common sense did not cover this sort of experience and second of all because we were no longer independent operators.

So, it starts right away.

Can we do anything before the insurance adjuster comes?

What?

Now in the face of everything that needed to be done you might think this is a stupid question, but believe me facing it all, it was at first virtually impossible to tease out, to cull from the overwhelming disarray and destruction, what to do.  Where to start.  How.

Perhaps it loses something in the translation, but the question remained. It was like, Holy Shit Man, now what!?!?

If we do start hauling stuff out of the house do we have so save it so he can see it?  And of course every bloody body had an opinion on this, and horror stories.

At a certain point though, after going back and forth over decisions which are difficult enough in and of themselves,

never mind figuring out the vagaries and whims of the insurance company and its minions, you finally recoup some of your bearings.  Which is simply to say that certain things need to be done, no matter who is going to pay, and certain things cannot wait.

What are they going to do send us to Viet Nam?! and whose house is this anyway.

For instance, we needed electricity and hot water right off the bat.  No electricity no hot water no work.  Bottom line=$3375.00

Now this was about ten days before the adjuster even came out for his first inspection…it took a while for the roads to open so that they could even get in.  And we were lucky.  We’d  at least been able to use our cell phone to make the call to The Insurance Company (TIC) long before the land phones had been restored.  Which is to say we were way ahead of the game.

And then, we needed to dry (whoever heard of such a thing) the house which was a whole other dilemma because they (TIC) said they wouldn’t pay for that.  But you know, as the days went by it wasn’t getting any drier and, not dry no work.  So this

was our first brush with to hell with them.  It needs to be done and we know that.  Bottom line=$4000.00

And in the mean time, in between everything else, we are spending 10 to 12 hours a day non stop, cleaning up, for which they will reimburse us at minimum wage.

Bottom line end of week one is $7335.00+sundries and clean up costs, so, let’s call it just about $7400.00, which as it turns out would almost be covered by the advance released by The Insurance Company (TIC).

It goes downhill from here.

The Mortgage Company (TMC) which, obviously, has an insurable interest in our home was a co-payee, and to our horror and surprise took control absolute unequivocal control, impersonal cipher control, of all the monies.  And following the black and white dictates of their policy they were, for the love of Christ, going to dole it (the $7000.00 advance) out in thirds.  First third up front, got to give them that, the rest only with receipts.

So you see the problem:

From their point of view: no work no receipts no money.

From our point of view it looked more like, no money no work no receipts.

Big problem.

No grace of God here at all.

No grace, no God.

We’ve already spent approximately $7,400.00 in some anticipation of the advance money that we didn’t yet have, and then were given, and then all of a sudden had to beg for.  TMC was going to have us roll over and over and over before they’d issue the money.  Our money to our way of thinking, and theirs obviously, to their way of thinking.  (The things they leave out when you buy insurance and sign up with mortgage companies is perhaps criminal.)  Anyway, the way it worked they said was, we send them the check so they can co-sign it and, they’ll send it back, in thirds mind you, in about 10 days…la di da di da, (or so by the time you take into account proper channels and working days.)  All said in this practiced metallic meant to be benign tone of voice dripping with disdain and stupidity. I mean, didn’t they get it!  This was our home, for God’s sake.  That we wanted to move back into.  Before the millennium.

No, they didn’t get it.  Ciphers and unimaginative and impolite sycophants.  Dogs and ponies.

We were outraged (infuriated incensed, and finally the thesaurus trail gets to, provoked) and so this was the first time we offered to give them (TMC) back the house. As fucking is. After all we pointed out, ever so sweetly, we at this point have nothing left to lose, and they are making it next to impossible to get anything done with any sort of ease, so perhaps they would just like to take it on, and maybe they could give us a call when it was done, or not…

So after a flurry of phone calls and a considerable fuss on our part which included our insurance agent (DG) writing a letter, which as it turned out TMC demanded he resubmit because he hadn’t signed the letter with his last name, for God’s sake (oh ciphers and sycophants) they finally released (in the lingo) the $7000.00 in total, and even agreed to send it 2nd Day Express mail.  But alas, it took about five days (a work week gone here) to get to us, because it got hung up on someone’s desk in the Insurance Claim Department (ICD) of TMC.

Those desks, those pesky mortgage company desks were like black holes we were going to come to discover.

Anyway by the time we got the money, it was long since spent, so we were still behind.

Dogs and ponies.

No work no receipts no money.

No money no work no receipts.

Actually, at this point we were now also at the mercy of The Insurance Company (TIC) who had not yet finished processing the claim.  At the very least we still needed to arrange for a second site visit and in the mean time, they were still hemming and hawing about what they would and wouldn’t cover and had yet to determine, for example, if the washing machine and dryer were structural or personal losses.  And then, they phoned to say, oh by the way, we’re sorry, we made a mistake, (oh Gawd) the laundry room and the garage/guest house are not covered because…well trust us they’re not.

Now who’s scamming who, how the hell would we have known those buildings were not covered, or were for that matter, unless someone, i.e. TIC had told us so.  And had we known they were not,  we certainly would have done what we needed to do to get them covered.  After all, we know those buildings represent more than a modest portion of our property value and the guest house/garage, for Christ sake, is definitely the most likely to be flooded.

Anyway such were the loopholes and pitfalls of this money morass which to traverse always demanded absolute self control and the presence of wit, especially in the face of dwindling patience and good will, not to mention dwindling money.  Even in its simplest form it always required negotiating and cajoling.  And other times strategic and skillfully executed threats were the only way to effectively get something done.

We were told by those trying to pass accountability to anyone else, that all flood insurance was underwritten by FEMA and so the policy is federal.  And the service curried by the local insurance minions is for our convenience, (this of course also was said in that thought to be benign metallic tone of voice) and was intended to say of course, it’s not our fault.  After all this had all been devised and was supervised on a federal level, which was intended to intimate that there wasn’t a lot of leeway here.  But let’s get serious folks, headway is another matter, you’ve simply got to be willing to point high, you know, and not fall off at the slightest blow.

Dogs and ponies, ciphers and sycophants.

Anyway we’re still spending money, because it all cost money, and

took time which cost money, and demanded skill expertise and materials which cost money which was not forthcoming because TIC hadn’t finished the claim, which they said they were working on as quickly as possible.  In fact they did work hard to expedite it because we had of course, raised a more than considerable ruckus after the oh by the way phone call.  Which again involved an intervention by our insurance agent’s office.  His assistant had been so outraged that he carried out his own rampage and on his own initiative reamed the Insurance Adjuster (IA) a new orifice or two. What got him going was, well it’s a long story, but the short of it is, we, Paul&I, the insurance adjuster (IA), our contractor (Carl) and a representative from Restorx, this mondo big time drying company were all walking through the place getting a bid for the drying, which TIC finally had decided in fact they would pay for.  We were in the guest house and the IA says let’s pull back part of this wall and see what’s underneath it.  Of course then we had to bicker about how high up they would replace the walls, (the guest house had taken just about 7.5 feet of water, and they said they would go 8 feet) and, to be quite sure, before Carl started peeling back the walls we went through the are you sure you’re going to pay yes we’ll pay tango, one last time, in front of God and his witnesses, mind you.  So we pulled back the walls, drilled a hole or two in the bathroom and in the end dried the guest house, only to be told later oh by the way…and you know the rest.  I must say actually in the initial phone call I was a little intransigent, if not impolite and insisted, actually demand is more like it, that they at the very least, cover what had been done at the direction of their IA.  His mistake, their money.  It had been this last bit that had sent our agent and his assistant into orbit.  They couldn’t believe it either.

Anyway all of this helped us in that matter of headway, and not falling off in the face of a blow, you know.  There are blows and then there are counter blows, shall we say.

So where were we, oh yes, at least now we were generating receipts.

They (TIC) sent our personal property reimbursement first ($10,300, not representative of the actual loss, by any stretch of the imagination, but…) which thankfully bypassed TMC, and we were able to use that to continue with the structural repairs.

The house was, at this point, totally empty because everything that needed to be done and that we needed to do it with, required money up front. But it was clean and dry, just empty  and waiting. And just as the money came Carl went to Hawaii (he had warned us right at the beginning that this was coming up), fishing and surfing and making love, you know. So we used this time to go get, with our personal property money, mind you, the cabinets and countertops and sinks and faucets and vanities, we’re talking for three bathrooms here, you know, linoleum and carpet, (did you know that linoleum, at least the linoleum we chose, was twice as much per square yard as carpet, and we even got a Berber carpet, for God’s sake,) anyway what else, oh yeah the sub flooring, which was not particle board, but code plywood, which costs an arm and at least two legs, and then the painting.

Anyway, this was quickly running us out of money, and thankfully, just about now, TIC had cut our final check for the structural losses, (an additional $17,900.00 or so) so we thought we were home free.

Well, far from it as it turned out.

Actually early on we had started to get nervous about running out of money before TIC settled, so we borrowed $5000.00 (leeway here) from my folks, up in Canada.  And so opened another ring in the dog and pony show.  We were going to have the funds transferred electronically, which anyone would have imagined could and should have been done quickly and with a fair amount of ease.  Well, not.

First was the issue of foreign currency and exchange rates and then, it got lost, and what a bunch of nonsense that was.  And again the lesson of those who do their jobs with compassion and interest and those that think they’re doing you some sort of favor.

In one of many phone calls I had to make to the bank (TB), our bank, to track down where the money might have gone–which was a whole other thing because there of course was a specific department in TB that dealt with foreign wires but I needed to go through the main customer service switchboard to get to them and they, that is the people in the Wire Department of TB, had told me to feel free to call every day if I wanted, so I did–anyway I was making my daily call and this person, this woman, who is just the sort who gives women a faulty rap, answers the phone with her bla bla bla may I help you and then when she hears what I need, she says her supervisor says we don’t do that and she can’t put my call through, sorry.  At least it wasn’t that benign metallic tone of voice.  This was twit talk, pure and simple.  I didn’t even waste time getting annoyed, I just called again and was pleased to have someone else answer the phone who of course hadn’t heard that bit about not doing that and she put me through.  Good Christ. Anyway, it finally took the head officer of the bank in Canada to find the money, and he did, and all of a sudden it took the few minutes it should have in the first place instead of 10 days.

But as I said, by this time TIC had cut our check and we knew the drill, so we had our receipts, our 8X10 glossies and everything in triplicate and we sent it registered overnight express to the ICD of TMC, and even phoned them to tell them to expect it.  Great, they’d look for it and they said something about 48 hour turn around time. I must have missed something in the small print.

Well, it didn’t come (Mon) and it didn’t come (Tues) and it didn’t come (Wed) and then I phoned and asked about it.  Oh! she said in a pert voice, those funds were released days ago, you should have gotten it.  But, she said as if remembering something and sounding a little downcast, they’ve been way behind in the Accounting Department (AD).  I’m sure they’ve caught up by now, so let me give you the UPS tracking number, and you should be getting it…well by now it was late enough in the day that even overnight express it wouldn’t come until Friday.

But never mind it didn’t come (Fri).  Saturday either.  So on Monday I called again, and the lady in the ICD said in her surprised pert voice, she just didn’t know what could have happened and could she put me on hold while she went right down to the AD to see what possibly could have happened.  And sure enough, there it was sitting on someone’s desk, so she grabbed it and walked back down the hall with the check hot in her hand and was just full of herself by the time she got back on the line, and she said, a little breathlessly…well you know the drill now, she said she’d send it right out.  And here was another UPS tracking number.

Paul was pissed, and had little faith, we’re talking little faith.

Now this is a man, who in large part earns his money and makes shit happen on the phone, and he’d had more than enough.  Definitely more than enough.

The press was, the carpet folks were coming and we needed $6058.00, which, well we’d already paid out about $20,000 you know, and the barrel head was empty.  We just didn’t have any more and we needed the money.  Now.  And the check’s in the mail clearly wasn’t getting it.

So Paul got on the phone.

First thing he did was call the 800 customer service number of TMC and asked, well he asked the poor unsuspecting customer service representative for the name of the CEO of the company.  She, as if she hadn’t heard him, asked for his loan number.  He said it was irrelevant and could he please have the name of the CEO.  Well, wasn’t too long before her supervisor got on the phone wondering if there wasn’t something he could do to help. Paul ever so politely, yet again simply asked for the name of the CEO and when the guy started hemming and hawing Paul asked him his name and then asked ever so politely but very directly,  if he was refusing to give him the name of the CEO.  Well it wasn’t too long before his supervisor got on the phone and gave Paul the name and a phone number.  The phone number as it turned out was for an answering machine, would we like to leave a message.  No.

But we had a name.  So we decided to try the front door, since all this 800 number stuff was just routing us to the message heap, and you know how that goes.

Well, here was another little snafu, (you remember don’t you, what that stands for, situation normal, all….).  Anyway, we call the operator in the 669 area code and ask for the number of the president’s office of TMC and she said, there was no such listing.  Hmm, no such listing, and then she said, just a second and she looked in another area code listing (out of her jurisdiction no doubt, but she was intrigued, I guess) and damn…there it was. Hmm.

We’re into this at least an hour by now, and easy about 10 phone calls, just to find the president of this company, mind you.  Information I might add that should be public, and readily available. Hm.

Anyway, now the fun starts.

Paul calls and if you please, just as slick and as pretty as you please, asks to speak to Angelo, (the president).  May I ask who’s calling they of course want to know.  Just someone interested in, he pauses, customer relations, he says with just the proper edge in his voice, so smooth, but with just the proper hint of big trouble,  you know.  You know what it feels like when you are talking to someone and for reasons you’re not real clear about you start to feel a little tense, and maybe a little edgy.  Well she got it and said ever so solicitouly, I’m sorry, Mr. M isn’t here right now, but Chuck takes his calls perhaps you would you like to speak to him.  That would be fine.

Well we run the drill by Chuck, including how arduous it was to get to him.  Who did of course, take all of this seriously because first of all, it was no dimwitted crackpot who would have and could have hacked his way through the maze and second of all, this shit should have been taken care of long before it reached the office of the president.  Yessir heads were going to bang if not roll.  He was also a  little unnerved to find out (that we knew too) the check had in fact been cut and was sitting on someone’s desk a full week.  And still hadn’t been sent, and in the end would be 10 days before getting to us.  (Now, how dumb do you suppose they think we are, I mean, what do you think they did with that money?!  You’d think they could have at least split the return with us.  After all the funds had been released and the check had been cut (in our names) and had been just sitting there.  Not gathering only dust, I’m sure, so again I wonder, how dumb do you suppose they think we are.)  Anyway, he got his best woman right on it and in short order she called wanting names and dates and by God she got them.  And we got our money.

We were satisfied.

Still not home free though.

At this point it was TB (The Bank) again. They wouldn’t cash the check, for 10 business days because, well it takes 10 days to clear checks over $10,000. Dogs and ponies, ciphers and sycophants.  So I get on the phone and asked to speak to a manager please.  A manager of what she wanted to know, they didn’t really have managers.  Anyone then who could authorize clearing the funds for the check, I said.  Well that person is on vacation she said and won’t be back until next week, as if that took care of that.  Whoa, hold on, excuse me, I said, I need to speak to someone today who has the authority to clear the check.  Oh OK, she said, you need to speak to the manager!

Holy Shit!  Anyway, they cleared the check and deposited it in our account the next day.

Almost home free.

TMC, didn’t send the final third of the money due us because, well, even though that $6000.00 for the carpets would have sent us over the top, it didn’t count because we hadn’t spent it yet.  And, in any case they never disperse the last monies before a final inspection.  Which we had to arrange.

We were amused to come home one day to find a strange car in our driveway.  She was, she said, an inspector for TMC and she happened to be in the area and were we, she wondered near completion.  Putting the carpets in this week I said.  Good enough for me, she said, I’ll close you out.  Glory be to God.  I guess TMC, just like TIC before them decided it would be best to expedite our claim and be rid of the nuisance we were becoming.  Ha, takes one to know one.

Anyway, it was a while, given the second flood and all before we were able to amass the rest of the paperwork, which included a contractor’s waiver of lien, for God’s sake, (the language of which we amended to read after payment), and a notarized affidavit stating all repairs were complete. And of course the receipts.  But we finally did.  And without any class they sent it regular mail and it took oh, you got it, about 10 days to get here.

They never did get it you know, they just never got it.

But we did, insurable interest in our home, in a pig’s ass, or at the very least not the whole story.  I would guess they make a fair return on all the monies they do that way.  Let’s see, roughly $30,000 X N (the number of people whose insurance money they manage, ha!) X T (the number of days and ways they delay selling, I mean releasing the funds).  Now go figure, so to speak.

Dogs and ponies, ciphers and sycophants.

The one bit of sanity in this otherwise sordid tale was our dealings with Signa, (this name has not been changed in the interest of the particular) a company that among other things sold mortgage protection plans.  If all the rest has been a Grimm’s Fairy Tale, this one is a little breezier, with happily ever after in the story line.

In December we had received a flyer in the mail by way of TMC advertising yet another way to protect our mortgage, this time in case of a disaster and other acts of God.  For $18.00 a month which would be added to the monthly mortgage payment, Signa would, in the case of a disaster pay the mortgage for as long as you needed to be out of your house up to so many months, bla bla.  Anyway, this being the rainy season, and it having already rained prodigiously, Paul called and signed us up effective immediately, (Dec. 22 or so), first payment to be added to January’s mortgage payment.

It flooded January 8.

And without fuss or fume nor asking for our first born son, my mother’s maiden name, or needing a pact signed in blood promising we would not fly to Hawaii or buy the de Lorean everyone else was so sure we wanted, they reimbursed us for our January mortgage payment, and paid for February and all of March.  They also offered their switchboard as a message center for as long as we might need it, and then had the unmitigated gall to say how sorry they were for our loss.

Unbelievable.

Anyway the money, to the tune of $6000 or so, saved our ass and  there were, thank God, no dogs or ponies to be seen. Which brings us back to the leprechaun and those things beyond thanks and the fair value exchange of human kindness.

Leprechauns

Matthew&Peter

We’d been friends for years.  More than friends.  Family, in the way friends, not only of long standing but with whom you develop and enjoy a particular intimacy become family. Kin.  Of a clan.  And so it was understood, it was before understanding, it was without question that we would evacuate to their house, and we did without question.  We, Paul&I and our three cats, moved into their guest room where we had slept many times before.  But you know, to take or give (depending on the perspective) refuge in a crisis is one thing. We were going to need more than that.  We were going to need shelter.  For a while.

We were after all homeless.

Which puts everyone in a bit of a bind, you know.  But as any one of us might have imagined, in that sense it never did bind. Which we knew was no small tribute to the values and the ideals that we hold dear, and which we honor.  Community in a true sense, and loyalty and dependability, and respect, you know.

There were some things, certainly, that made it easier.  They had a one room in-law studio apartment with its own entrance that we moved into, but that wasn’t really it.  It had more to do with, well, living as if together, as opposed to just staying there, which demands a different set of skills. And playing together, and working together. And of course honesty and regard.  And being able to talk about it.  And even paying rent.

And you know in the end we lived together, four adults, four dogs and four cats, not to mention some birds, for two months.  And we were with grace able to maintain as individuals and as couples our sense of privacy.  And with pleasure and ease our sense of the intimacy we shared.

But in the end, you know, it had to do most with heart, and their absolutely unequivocal and unwavering sense of welcome and affiliation.

I don’t know how one gives thanks for that, except to put it back in the pot and pass it around.  And to keep watch for the leprechaun.

Gretta

She was one of those who came, as soon as the roads opened, without being asked, and jumped in to do, well whatever needed to be done.  All around the neighborhood.  Ubiquitous.  With vigorous enthusiasm and stalwart concern, absent any hint of thrill seeking.  Because, well because we were important, friends, community.  There it is again, community.  Connectedness.  Because we all lose a bit when any one suffers.  And because she knows nothing of the arrogance that would have allowed her to believe that this couldn’t, or didn’t, happen to her.

Now she would have little patience for my talk of leprechauns but she’d come chase them with me, just because she would.

May 15

And at Lalita’s Cantina, where we were the other day having pre season Margarita’s, I saw a plain white piece of paper tacked on the mirror above the bar which put all of this into perspective, it read:

We don’t like to think of ourselves

                                 as flood victims,

                 but simply as people who live with water!

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