Sunday, April 28, 2013

South Central was Burning


For a few moments this afternoon, I traveled back to April of 1992. 

I was listening to music via a random shuffle today, and I was treated to a tune that I listened to repeatedly when I first arrived at the Presidio of Monterey to attend the Defense Language Institute Korean language course.  Before Lori came out to join me, I lived in the barracks for a few weeks.  Especially at night, I listened to the same two or three CDs over and over, when I crawled in my bunk.  Now those songs are perpetually bonded to that brief time.

The Alpha Company barracks were near the highest point of the Presidio, affording a nice view of the bay.  My roommate was a Mandarin student with only a couple of weeks remaining before graduation.  While I was there, he got his orders to Hawaii.

After I found a place for us to live, Lori was moving out from El Paso (where she’d stayed while I was at basic training). 

We had to postpone the move, because my flight from Monterey Municipal Airport was canceled.  It connected through LAX, and the Rodney King riots were in full conflagration that weekend, with smoke from all the fires preventing incoming flights to LAX.  Usually, a big news item like that was something on TV or a newspaper headline.  But, the unchecked mayhem, vandalism, and violence boiling in South Central required us to alter our plans for reuniting.

The following weekend, Lori drove west from El Paso to Phoenix with her Aunt Patty. Meanwhile, I would fly to Phoenix, where they’d pick me up from Sky Harbor, and Patty would fly back to El Paso. Then, I drove with Lori to our new life on the west coast.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friends, Unfriends, and Radical Allegiance


I was a long-time opponent of Facebook, decrying its trite and inconsequential postings. ("I just sneezed very loudly." "I love a good kumquat."  "Can't find my other sock.")  But, when I joined during the summer of 2011, as my daughter prepared to move to New York City for college, I discovered the silver lining of reconnecting with old high school classmates, far-flung army buddies, family located in other cities/states, and friends that live abroad.  Thus, I became somewhat of a reluctant student of the hackneyed way that trivial status updates were employed to broadcast quotidian minutiae in a constant frenzy -- a veritable new discourse spawned in the age of social media.

However, I also soon learned that Facebook is a place where many persons share every bit of political propaganda they can find, as if the success of their day (nay, their hour!) rests on how many cornpone things and how much partisan spin-doctoring they can "share."  

Many individuals that I like and genuinely care for hold near-vitriolic ideologies that both disappoint and vex me.  And there’s no doubt they would be likewise disappointed and vexed with me if I peppered their FB news-feed with my philosophies in the same aggressive manner they wield their social media accounts. But, they are still my friends or my family, and I still value them.

Alas, we've increasingly slid into the era of the digital echo chamber.  Everyone, it seems, wants only to surround themselves with people that believe exactly as they do on polemic issues or otherwise (i.e., a homogenized environment of groupthink).  Down that road lies more cult than society.

I don't desire an echo chamber of like-minded people who will chime in -- exclamation marks at the ready -- with my political opinions ("YEAH!!!!!" "You go!!!!!") or otherwise click the "like" button to indicate they support the same candidate or special interest group.  I don’t require that rampant validation to have faith in my opinions.

A longtime friend (and, when I say friend, I mean someone who has been my friend since junior high school, regardless of the status of our online social media) recently posted on his FB an invitation to unfriend him if you disagreed with him on a certain issue.  No discussion.  No give-and-take.  Only the spirit of radical allegiance.

(First of all, terminology is askew here, FB.  "Unfriend" implies withholding or withdrawing of friendship, rather than simply electing not to follow someone's social media account.)

I've wrestled with this.  My first thought was to comply with his request.  But, if I unfriended every person with whom I disagreed on one issue or another (or every person that refused to see an issue as nuanced and complex rather than binary), there would be precious little social in my social media.

It is okay to respect someone or have a healthy affection for them without requiring them to line up on your side of the fence on every subject and scenario.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Missing Marshall

Marshall graduated from high school in 1984 and served his country in decorated military service. Excellence marked his life, as he garnered distinction and recognition from his high school sports successes through his career as a U.S. Navy SEAL.

With altruism unbounded, Marshall encouraged, motivated, and inspired all that knew him to fulfill the potential within them.

He lived his short life to the fullest with a passion to achieve and measured his worth according to the integrity of his heart. In all his endeavors, he pushed himself beyond his limits.

When his health began to deteriorate under the aggressive assault of a virus in his heart, Marshall fought with a fierce focus that impressed his doctors. His high level of fitness buoyed him far beyond their expectations. He was likewise encouraged by a bottomless well of love and support from his mother, step-father, sisters, brother, and grandparents.

Once the virus persisted, Marshall was in and out of VA hospitals. Doctors were reluctant to place him on a list for a heart transplant, as they feared his weakened body would not survive the operation.

But, Marshall never let his eyes falter from his course, despite a daunting prognosis. He kept his chin up and counseled others: evaluate what is truly important in life -- let go of trivial concerns and worries.

I visited Marshall in Houston during the summer of 1999. He was having a good day, and we met at a McDonald's near the Astrodome. We had a wonderful time reminiscing about school days, bygone track meets, and our respective military experiences, but he carefully orchestrated the conversation to avoid the future.

As we left in our separate vehicles, I followed Marshall briefly before our destinations caused our paths to diverge.

I watched him drive away, his silhouette through the back window of his truck. I wondered if I'd ever see him alive again.

Eventually, Marshall woke each morning to combat the looming specter of mortality and continual complications. Breathing became a battle. But he still cherished all that life had given him.

I visited Marshall in the hospital on Mother's Day of 2000. His previously fit body had withered and lost considerable muscle mass. It seemed clear the end was near, but he was at peace.

He died at the age of 34 within the week of my Mother's Day visit. His brave determination and his mother’s love were not enough in the end.

But, his loved ones and the nation he served can be proud of his legacy. 

I miss him.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Farewell, Fantasist and Hero

I was especially saddened today to read in the L.A. Times that noted author and fantasist Ray Bradbury died at the age of 91. He was, almost to the day, two years older than my dad.

Bradbury was a tremendous influence on me. His Greentown was idyllic, and the strange and wonderful things that happened in his stories never failed to connect with me in powerful ways. I loved his prose and the worlds it created. And I always found great pleasure in reading his short nonfiction pieces, as well.

I was fascinated to read about his adventures designing for the World’s Fair and the Spaceship Earth ride (generally known as the giant golf ball) at Disney’s Epcot Center, and writing the screenplay of Moby Dick for John Huston.

I added his name to the Wish List on my TiVo and periodically caught episodes of The Ray Bradbury Theater or recorded The Illustrated Man or the 1966 film of Fahrenheit 451.

Though noted for tales of Martians and other science fiction tropes, Bradbury’s writings including horror, mystery, and humor. His fiction often served as commentary on human behavior (even if he was writing about Martian behavior).

In 2009, Bradbury said (according to the L.A. Times): “What I have always been is a hybrid author. I am completely in love with movies, and I am completely in love with theater, and I am completely in love with libraries.”

A note on his website today includes a quote from his book of essays, Bradbury Speaks: “In my later years, I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back.”

Farewell, Ray.

Friday, April 27, 2012

For the Quiet Heart

It's been about a year since I finished Steve Martin's second novella, The Pleasure of My Company. I'd not read Shopgirl (or seen the movie on which it was based). But, I have read a number of Martin's essays, and his particular flavor of humor has always appealed to me.

The story is a first-person narration by Daniel Pecan Cambridge, whose existence is mostly related in the observations he makes from his Santa Monica apartment and the life he leads in its immediate vicinity. Via the force of his imagination, he fabricates relationships with those he observes, though it is apparent the constructs are wholly believed by Daniel.

He partakes in daily rituals and says things like: “But, my conventions, it turned out, could not be broken overnight, because they had been forged in my brain like steel. And nothing so simple as longing could dislodge them."

I must say, I felt a tinge of kinship with the character.

While I don't have the protagonist's savant powers, I do have what amount to attenuated variations on his insecurities and eccentricities -- less obsessing than fretting, less neuroses than psychological hurdle. I could easily see myself in circumstances similar to his: alone in a big city, largely lonely and ensconced in mental elaborations that stave off acceptance of reality, and, in fact, become a stand-in for reality. I could see how my desolate landscape of solitude would occasionally be broken by salient instances of genuine socializing or spontaneous larking.

So, I thank the narrator for acting as my docent to a parallel universe, as my Clarence-The-Angel earning wings by showing me a path of what might have been. And I hope this novella also becomes a movie.

Here's a passage that affected me:


In the deeper hours of the night, I began to
look at myself, to consider myself and my
condition, to measure the life that I'd led so
far. I did not know what made me this way.
I did not know any other way I could be. I
did not know what was inside me or how I
could redeem what was hidden there. There
must be a key, or a person, or a thing, or song,
or poem, or belief, or old saw that could access
it. But, it all seems so far away. And, after I'd
drifted further and further into self-absorption,
I closed the evening with this desolate thought:
there are few takers for the quiet heart.

-- Steve Martin,The Pleasure of My Company

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Code for Nothing

This morning, over breakfast, I was admiring some lovely flowers in the center of the table.  I brought them home several days ago when my daughter was visiting during her late-in-the-semester spring break.  She's gone back to New York now, but the flowers have remained behind in Texas, bold and resilient.

Between spoonfuls of cereal, I was visited by a quote from Rivka Galchen's odd and fascinating novel, Atmospheric Disturbances:

"We get these wrong feelings sometimes,
feelings like articles slipped into our luggage
but not properly ours. I think of it like vestigial
DNA. Code for nothing, or for the wrong thing,
or for proteins that don't fold up properly and
that may eventually wreak great destruction."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Presidents & Parents

When Ronald Reagan died, I purposefully avoided information about the services and eulogies. I ducked coverage of his body lying in state. I dodged heated diatribes about the man who held the highest office in our nation during some of my most formative years. It was at a time when I was unwilling to give death its due, even by displacing it with focus on the life it took.

Near my desk, there's a picture of Dad with Reagan. It was taken before I was born. Now they are both dead.

My dad died the same week as Richard Nixon, whose presidency I have less memories of (though I've read All The President's Men, seen the movie, and tend to distill Nixon to his culpability in Watergate). And, mired in my own mourning, whatever events or coverage swirled around Nixon's passing, I was generally unaware.

A salient image remains from coverage of Reagan's funeral: news footage of Nancy Reagan (looking shockingly similar to my mother in her final years) touching the casket of her dead husband, who was taken from her years before his death by the decimating cruelty of Alzheimer's disease. 

It conjured the memory of Mom approaching Dad's casket at the conclusion of his funeral. The attendees had already filed out, and the pallbearers had yet to bear my father to the hearse that would drive him to his final resting place.  Certain images cannot be discarded, even if they are no longer wanted.

This recollection reminds me of my parents, of their funerals -- but, more importantly, their lives.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them

Years ago on a trip to Boston, I ate burgers at b.good and hopped the T to Faneuil Hall, where I found the Freedom Trail and figured I'd follow it a while.

But, then I noticed something nearby that drew my eye.

It was a capricious instant that spun me into a profound experience. Just around the corner, I approached The New England Holocaust Memorial, with its sextet of glass pillars reaching skyward.

Each pillar represents a concentration camp, and a walking path threads the base of each glass column. Steam rises from grates on the sidewalk in a creepy visual that evokes both the ghostly apparitions of lost lives and the smoky evidence of ovens and burnt bodies. The glass panels that comprise the pillars are etched with numbers representative of the numerical identification tattoos from the arms of the victims and survivors.

Walking through each symbolic figurative camp, one finds personal quotes and factual statements that are haunting days and weeks later, revealing that you can't possibly understand the horror of that scope of injustice.

"When my parents were sent off to the camp,
I gave my good shoes to my father
because I thought he'd need them
if he did physical labor.
When I saw my mother for the last time,
I hugged her and said I hoped
she didn’t have to work too hard.

I never dreamed they'd be dead
within such a short time of their departure."

- Jack Polak, MAJDANEK

* * * * * * *

"My younger sister went up to a Nazi
soldier with one of her friends.
Standing naked, embracing each other,
she asked to be spared. He looked
into her eyes and shot the two of them

They fell together in their embrace
-- my sister and her young friend."

- Rivka Yosselevscka, CHELMO

* * * * * * *

"Isle, a childhood friend of mine,
once found a raspberry in the camp
and carried it in her pocket all day
to present to me that night on a leaf.

Imagine a world in which
your entire possession is
one raspberry and
you give it to your friend."

- Gerda Weissman Klein, SOBIBOR

* * * * * * *

"I remember stooping down and picking up
a piece of something black near the
crematorium. I realized it was a bone.
I was going to throw it down again,
and I thought, my God, this may be.
all that's left of someone

So I wrapped it up and carried it with me.
A couple of days later, I dug it out
of my pocket and buried it."

- George Kaiser, AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

Humanity is at its own mercy. And evil is relentless, I think.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Art of Eulogy

Two of my favorite Internet sites (Slate and Longform) occasionally join forces.  I recently saw where Longform has provided a guide (via Slate) to great obituaries.  That made me think about two of my favorite obits: American painter Andrew Wyeth, whose work captivates me (though the man less so) and my great-grandfather (dad's maternal grandfather), John Silas Daniel.

From The Mineola Monitor on Thursday, March 7, 1929:

John S. Daniel Dies At Alabama Home

On March 1st, at Center Ala., John S. Daniel passed
to the rewards of a life well spent.  He was born
June 23, 1844, in Alabama where he lived until 1894
when he moved to Wood Country, Texas, where he
lived for 26 years.  This writer knew him well, being
closely and intimately associated with him -- in his home
and elsewhere, he was the same, yesterday, today, and every day. 

He was the best man in every respect
it has ever been my pleasure to know.

Mr. Daniel was a true man to his convictions;
who maintained his independence of thought for good,
always had time to consider his friends.  He despised
no human being, was ever desirous of bringing about
reconciliation among men and cause them to love
each other better, his whole desire was to do good;
wealth or poverty made no difference to him, he loved
you for what you were, and to love him was to become
better yourself.  He was a good man.  He served four
years in the army of Confederacy participating in many
of the most important battles of the war, more than once
was desperately wounded, carrying the scars of that
terrible conflict to his grave.  He was a devoted husband,
loving father, a consecrated Christian, a model citizen.

Andrew Wyeth, 91, died in his sleep at his Pennsylvania home in January 2009. He was controversial in the art world. But, I was a fan of his (and his father's) work. If I were ever a museum curator, I'd assemble a comprehensive Wyeth/Hopper show. Even if no one else attended, I'd still wander through it every day.

(For the record, my second show would be Chuck Close.)

I liked this line from Wyeth's New York Times obit: "Wyeth gave America a prim and flinty view of Puritan rectitude, starchily sentimental, through parched gray and brown pictures of spooky frame houses, desiccated fields, deserted beaches, circling buzzards and craggy-faced New Englanders." I wish I had written that.

I never knew the backstory to "Christina's World" -- his most iconic piece:



Wyeth had seen Christina Olson,
crippled from the waist down,
dragging herself across a Maine
field, "like a crab on a New England
shore," he recalled. To him she was
a model of dignity who refused to
use a wheelchair and preferred to
live in squalor rather than be
beholden to anyone. It was dignity
of a particularly dour, hardened,
misanthropic sort, to which Wyeth
throughout his career seemed to
gravitate. Olson is shown in the
picture from the back. She was 55
at the time. (She died 20 years later,
having become a frequent subject
in his art; her death made the national
news thanks to Wyeth's popularity.)

-- Michael Kimmelman, New York Times




Thursday, March 8, 2012

Exhibition & Exposition

I've been recently catching up on podcasts during my commute, and an episode of To The Best of Our Knowledge (a production of Wisconsin Public Radio distributed by Public Radio International) included an interview with Chuck Close.

I saw the phenomenal Chuck Close exhibit at The Ft. Worth Museum of Modern Art back in May of 2006. His techniques and skill were impressive and inspiring. It made me wanna create. It made me wanna immediately leave the building in search of a canvas.

There was a cheesy Rothko-derivative Sean Scully exhibit, too. But, aside from the initial appreciation of texture, stroke, and color palette, it quickly became repetitive and ho-hum.

One room held the Nicholas Nixon exhibit, Brown Sisters, which encompassed the yearly black-and-white photos of his wife and her sisters taken from 1975 to 2005. The individual photos themselves are not necessarily captivating or impressive (though some are). The true power of this show is experienced when the viewer strolls along all the images in chronological order. One sees the steadfast affection of the sisters juxtaposed against the gradual change over the decades in their fashion and their aging faces.

Brilliant.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

His Final Surge Toward Mortality

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. on December 16th.

When I checked my phone to see what time it was, I saw an alert from the New York Times.  (I get alerts on breaking news items.)  Christopher Hitchens was dead.

Two days earlier, Christopher Hitchens crossed my mind.  I realized I hadn’t noticed a recent article from him on Slate.com.  Typically, I would find at least one per week.  I knew he had esophageal cancer, and I suddenly panicked, thinking an absence of his writing meant he’d died.  So, I quickly clicked over to Slate and looked.  His last contribution was at the end of November.  Hmm.  A longer stretch than usual between Hitchens postings. I hoped it wasn’t indicative that his health had taken a turn for the worse, spiraling down in the final surge toward mortality.

I checked over at Vanity Fair’s site, another place I would frequently (though less so in recent months) read his observations and excoriations.  I didn't notice anything there, either.

Though he could make me angry, and though I certainly disagreed with him at times, and though I perceived he could be an abrasive intellectual bully, I loved to read his writing.  He was a brilliant, towering intellect who could dissect an issue and splay it with phraseology and a pervasive assault of reasoning.

Perhaps oddly, when I was diagnosed with cancer last year, my mind very quickly turned to Hitchens writing about his own diagnosis and battle.

Goodnight, Hitch.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Behind the Kimchi Curtain


The news out of North Korea last month (of Kim Jong Il's death) gave me pause.  I was in-country when his father, Kim Il Sung, died.  And, as a Korean linguist, I went on a 24-hour operations cycle as our electronic eavesdropping ramped up to discern what was happening behind the Kimchi Curtain.  There was one line of thinking that the generals wouldn’t stand for the ascension of the oddball, quirky, fey heir to the enduring dictatorship and totalitarian regime.

When Kim Il Sung died, it was just months after international hubbub concerning North Korea’s dismissal of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.  The peninsula was a precarious place then…at one of its more delicate moments since the long fermata of cease fire brought a manner of conclusion to the momentum of the Korean War.

My heart goes out to my fellow linguists at the 102nd MI BN of the 2nd Inf. Div.  No doubt their Christmas was unpleasant...and they'll be spending a lot of weeks in the field this winter.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Big & The Bang


It's been a decade since the crash.  It happened ten years ago tonight.

I was headed home from work, after returning to the labors of office life in the wake of the Christmas holidays.  I remember walking down the hallway from my department and seeing a Security guy heading in the door.  Also, on my commute, I remember passing a cop whose bubble-top lit up as he pursued someone else.

BANG!

The next thing I remember was regaining consciousness slumped in my driver's seat, the scene marked by my blood, the bashed-in front end of my vehicle, and commotion outside.

I was sore, as if body-slammed off a 4-story building.  I slowly turned my body to look around.  Was there anyone else with me?  I didn't know.  Couldn't remember.  I called out for an answer.

I didn't know where I was going or where I was.  I didn't know if it was dark at the end of the day or the early morning. 

Somehow, I undid the seatbelt and crawled to the passenger side, where I reclined the seat as someone wrenched open the passenger door.

"Are you okay, man?"

"I think."  I tried to talk without moving my mouth.  I'd clearly chipped a tooth and maybe bitten my tongue.  "Can you call 911?"

"Someone already called," the voice assured me.

The next thing I knew, I was regaining consciousness again strapped to a board in the back of an ambulance.  Someone was cutting my clothes off.

There were others in the ambulance.  I heard talk about a Care Flight.  And I realized they would've had to pull me from my vehicle, get me on the board, and load me in the ambulance.  And, being unconscious, I know I was a sack of dead weight.  So, I apologized for being fat to those who had to carry me.

They asked me what day it was.  I had no idea.

Soon, the ambulance was under way.  Someone else from the scene was Care Flighted.

"I see you were wearing a seatbelt," said the burly EMT who rode with me in the back of the ambulance.

I had no idea what he meant until later, when I discovered huge bruises crossing my chest and belly and also my waist, exactly where my seatbelt had been. 

It seems I impacted the back of a stopped vehicle at 70 miles per hour.

Not the best of days.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Across the Years

My mother was a remarkable woman who didn't profess big dreams beyond day-to-day happiness and a good life for her family. When my folks were married in the late '40s, the world was an unusual place. The Great War was over, Dad was out of the Navy, and America still held a Rockwellian charm as it slide toward the Korean War, the idyllic '50s, and the rise of Elvis.

Because Mom and Dad grew up during the Depression, some of the hard-learned lessons of that generation seeped into the atmosphere of our house and family. Some of my classmates literally had grandparents that were my parents' ages.

Mom was an artist. That is where I got it. She could draw and paint (yes, they are different), and I was in awe of her talent. For a time during my youth, Mom worked at a local department store, and she decorated and arranged the long display windows with meticulous dedication and impressive results. We were often stopped at the grocery store (or on other local outings) for townsfolk to chat with Mom about how they loved her current windows, or thought this or that particular touch was clever or well executed. I regularly saw the positive influence of a job well done and appreciated -- the pride she took in her work. (If she were with us now, oh how she’d love to talk with her granddaughter about fashion and accessories!)

I miss Mom. But, I can hear her distinctive laughter across the years, and I’ll always cherish the fond memories of her that will comfort me for all my days remaining.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Monday, September 26, 2011

No Man is an Island

Three Septembers ago, I headed down to Houston in the wake of Hurricane Ike. My brother-in-law and his wife evacuated from their home on Galveston Island (six blocks from the seawall) to his older brother's house in north Houston -- where, as a result of the hurricane's winds, several trees fell on the older brother's house and garage, trapping their cars.



My sister-in-law was in the midst of an important medical treatment, and since there was no power at the residence in Houston or anywhere near it, and since their car was block in a tree-attacked garage, I drove down to evacuate them from their semi-evacuation. (I was hailed as a hero for bringing several bags of ice.)



The creepy aspect of the day was the complete lack of electrical power. Once I moved below Buffalo on I-45, there was nothing. A surprising flow of traffic headed back to the Houston/Galveston area clogged the interstate and stacked up in lines at every exit, in hopes of having selected the right exit to score some gas or food.



But, no. 

I left the interstate to drive over to the small town of Madisonville, thinking I might purchase a stash of D cell batteries -- a hot commodity in powerless Houston. I theorized that most of the travelers would not swing out to Madisonville, since it was not visible from the interstate.

I was right. I encountered no traffic. But, I also encountered no power. Nada. The town was electricity-less.



In Huntsville, it was worse. I think there was a collective belief that power/food/gas would be available at this more sizable city. But, no. A long queue of cars snaked back up the shoulder of the interstate, waiting their turn to take the first exit.



When travelers discovered no power/gas/food, they rolled down the service road paralleling the interstate, hoping the next exit would magically, inexplicably prove to be the oasis of power/food/gas they needed.



I rolled on.



No power in Conroe. No power in The Woodlands. No power.



"Captain Trips," I thought.



I got in and got out, having topped off my tank before getting on the interstate in Buffalo.

It was just a few weeks later when I took by brother-in-law back to Galveston Island for a look-and-leave, when authorities allowed residents (with photo ID) to enter the island and assess their property. We had to be off the island by 6 p.m.

But, heading out the causeway as I-45 approached Galveston Island was a very surreal scene. What were once upscale yachts and boats were tipped on their sides in the median of the interstate. A collection of hull-damaged vessels lined the shoulder of the road. Sailboats with broken masts lay scattered about and abandoned.

It was crazy.

Tiki Island, which you pass en route to Galveston, was once a bustling community of condos on stilts and a crowded marina catering to the weekend-home crowd. Everywhere were piles of belongings heaped up next to the homes where they once resided. That became a common theme: people dragged their possessions to the curb.

Once we rolled onto Galveston, there was more of the same. Boats where they should not be. Trees lying down. Businesses and homes all over the island had vomited their innards into semi-organized trash piles for contractors to collect and haul away.

I felt like I was intruding on the misery.

We rolled slowly down Broadway, taking in the sights of loss. When we finally turned to corner into the right neighborhood, it was the familiar scene. Furniture and clothes and appliances and belongings spilled out of the homes and lined the sidewalks, as hurricane survivors moved in and out like a colony of ants.

At first glance, my brother-in-law's home didn't have any obvious damage, though I could see the avocado tree in the backyard and tipped over toward the alley. He spoke to his neighbors. All their homes were on the ground level. They all theorized his house might be okay, since it was elevated.

We cautiously entered, expecting to see things tossed about and knocked over, general disarray, pillows and papers swollen with water. But, everything seemed in fine order on first inspection.  The lack of complete destruction was incongruous with the scene in neighboring homes.

We wanted to celebrate, but we feared we were somehow overlooking something.  Of course, there was damage.  Insidious destruction that didn't present itself at first glance.  Not the kind of bombastic devastation seen on news channels, but structural and other complications that would ultimately cost quite a bit to rectify.

We taped up the refrigerator and hauled it to the curb. I coated his yard and underneath his home with heavy-duty mosquito spray. We turned his water back on and checked the faucets. We also got up on his roof, having seen some shingles on the ground in his side yard.

As the curfew approached, we cleaned up and got organized to leave the island, rolling slowly north in the line of others who had come for the day to do what repairs they could.