Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
The first thing you hear when it rains here are sirens, even before the thunder, like the rocket’s scream is heard after the explosion. The first real rain comes fast, sprinkling heavy drops in broad daylight, when sunburns are still possible. One hundred plus outside and then comes the pit-pat of hail, ice from above in mid-August. Here, all is reverse. When the storm begins, doors and windows are opened and people emerge from within, seeking a lack of shelter.
But before this come the sirens. Bold and inexperienced drivers, unused to slick roads and too-low exhaust pipes, speed home from jobs canceled due to showers, excited to make love with spouses in a grey room booming with thunder while their kids are still stuck in school, forced to stay indoors but given free-time to gaze out the windows in excitement and fear. The smell of hot cocoa fills the homes of families just as the sirens reach their peak, racing past one another in total confusion, slowing to pass through the puddles turned rivers due to bad drainage in a city that doesn’t usually need otherwise. Intersections are closed rapidly, and traffic signs fail to work, sending police in clear-plastic coats and official umbrellas to stand bitterly yet happily in the middles of streets. Most of the ambulances are dispatched in relation to poorly calculated broad left turns, when the driver, steering with one hand and likely dialing or typing with the other, pulled a little too quick and hit either a last minute red-lighter or a telephone pole. Soon, sipping coffee and cocoa, the power goes out and candles are lit, displaying the walls amidst flickering shadows.
If you’re lucky, it lasts. Work is able to be missed and there’s an excuse to lie down a bit and truly rest, to experience sights and sounds uncommon. The disillusioned and eternally unhappy pray for its end, passing the rare beauty off in gripe format, citing recently-washed cars at expensive cleaners and muddy shoes and a two-digit temperature that feels like winter, which is the opposite of why they’ve purchased overpriced homes in this otherwise hostile climate. Some of them just want to be warm always, like reptiles, and they crank up heaters and start applying flannel in suffocating layers the moment the thermometer drops below seventy-five.
If you’re unlucky, which you usually are, it ends faster than it started. The rain seems to reverse, pulling up from the ground into the sky and disappearing, like an angry lover packing its things and starting somewhere new. Immediately the humidity sets in, turning already despised swamp-coolers into overbearing moisture machines. Landlords are badmouthed city-wide for being behind their times as the raw smell of the ocean flows through cheap apartments and old houses downtown. Children, after a heavy debriefing regarding the dangers of flu and pneumonia, are let loose in packs to puddle-stomp, worm-torture, and frog-hunt, not returning until dinner time when they arrive, filthy and ecstatic, stamping mud-prints into the carpet and forcing mothers and fathers into medicine cabinets where tightly sealed orange bottles are popped open earlier than immediately following the last meal of the day. For days mud will streak the city streets and be flung from car tires (unless the rains continue) onto car windshields, increasing the amount of fists-shaken and, for the younger, middle fingers flown like post-tragedy national flags. Those grumpy and disillusioned will return to car washes, asking for improbable and unrealistic discounts with claims of being there the previous day. Don’t you remember me? I even tipped you.
Sometimes the rain will stop, as if exhausted, and, catching its breath twenty minutes later, with thunder still echoing, resume with violent energy, sending its second-wind down in healthy handfuls. The lightning during these day-storms is contrasted with the varying grays of the clouds, drawn jaggedly white amidst the soft and menacing shapes. With storms like this so infrequent, you find it hard to not feel some pang of fear when the big ones come. The realization/reminder that these sounds are not manmade and are, in fact, older and more natural than you, can be dizzying. The sudden crack and brutal downpour feels threatening in its disregard for your location or plans or level of preparation. People roam about in survival mode, searching out clean water and energy sources as if the end of days has come. Huddled together in stores dimly lit by outdated generators, they watch in horror the indifference of nature, thinking of loved ones who may be driving, biking—or worse—walking, out there in this. Calls are made on cell-phones soon to be cursed for having bad reception, thrust angrily back into purses and pockets, their owners for once not being judged for unreasonable hatred toward things inanimate, as onlookers watch with sympathy, having done the same thing and not realizing how this profound way of thinking could be applied more often and in much more crucial settings.
Power lines watched swaying in heavy winds from indoor windows increase the overall paranoia, becoming direct metaphors for the possibility of approaching doom and destruction, visions of live wires left sparking in puddles. Mop buckets, coffee cans, and mixing bowls are placed methodically in older homes, catching the leaks and, if the storm is real enough, being checked regularly, poured into sinks, and replaced, taking the spot of the soup bowls and mugs of inferior capacity. The day following a storm thousands of calls will be placed to landlords and realty offices, chastising secretaries in condescending tones, voices pretending to be far more upset than they are, excited for the opportunity to speak this way to a stranger. Parents will also wait at bus-stops with children to warn the drivers of bad road conditions heard on local radio stations, begging them to take care of their little one, who stands waist-high, blushing as peers with less paranoid guardians snicker and mock. Galoshes, dug up from dusty closets, basements, and attics, appear aplenty, stiff from non-use, their designs reminders of fashion trends long past.
Occasionally the storm continues into the night, beating on recently illuminated lamp-posts as smaller children latch onto legs or squeal for company in cribs, white light bursting into their rooms seconds before the frightening rumble, the echo of which shakes ceilings and floorboards alike. If the power holds out, families and those who file ‘Single’ status alike flock to televisions, watching reruns or prime-time, a marquee of local weather news scrolling across the bottom of the screen, warning of which counties should worry the most, often with accompanying topographical maps repeating that same two seconds over and over, which has become so closely acquainted with news feeds in general, especially those dealing in catastrophe, and the subconscious connection is felt in the fretful hearts of protective lovers, who pull their significants tighter and kiss them a bit longer.
Some of the eccentric (or perhaps in tuned) shed clothing and hit the streets barefoot, dancing wine-drunk in puddles and making macabre jokes regarding electricity and water to their friends, screaming like the children they once again feel similar to. Hair and clothing soaked they revisit kitchens for more drink with dirty feet and rosy cheeks, smiling and laughing and flirting a bit more than usual before returning outdoors to repeat the process, holding hands and sometimes even skipping.
Next-day umbrella sales with be through the roof, intelligent companies pulling out their back stock for this time of year and marketing all of the new designs, colorful for children and drab-serious for adults. Department stores take glee in those caught inside at the start of the weather who, tired of waiting, with life and work not ceasing for nature, are forced into purchasing the most expensive of this back stock on the spot, writing additional checks and maxing out cards for overpriced water protection. Also next-day, especially if sunny, all plant life will seem strangely a glimmer, as if a single night’s rain was all it took to wash the dust and dehydration away, giving off a green exuberance that is altogether healthy and beautiful. Children allowed to stay home (or if it happens to be a weekend) can be found playing in canals and ditches usually dry, prodding creatures with sticks and keeping an eye out for parents and baby-sitters, who have warned repeatedly against the irrigation ditches, which in flash floods fill rapidly and carry bad children like them away forever. Or so they hear.
For some people this weather can last for weeks without becoming a burden. This is beautiful, and no dissatisfaction in regards to bad driving and the constant drone of sirens and mud and extra laundry and work missed and time spent stuck indoors will convince them otherwise. In the desert, in a six-month summer, they come to appreciate something as common as weather, as natural as rainfall, as simple as snapped twigs floating down dirty streams for miles, finally finding a gutter and slipping inside unnoticed, or caught in the grate under shifting gray skies.