It has been a busy day in Muskrat Flats. It all started at about 2 pm on Tuesday when the residents were roused from their normal routines by the yellow air raid siren perched atop the Fire Station on Hawthorne St.
Sid Bartleby, former commander of the Civil Air Patrol sounded the alarm, some thing which was a regular task of his, during the Cold War years every Friday at Noon. But he had not activated that droning siren in a long, long time ... there really was no need to do so.
As residents heard the siren they tuned into to the local broadcast to find out that a warm front from the Hurricane down south was about to collide with a cold front front the Northwest. A tornado warning for the tri-county area had been issued. The local weathermen predicted Muskrat Flats would get the brunt of it.
Fortunately it wasn't as bad as they had predicted, but there was some severe damage in some parts. The town has been shut down and a majority of the residents have begun the task of cleaning up and regrouping after a series of two tornadoes ripped through the outlying areas of the Flats.
Most of the downtown area and the local businesses were spared. As was a major portion of the Farm Museum. Where there was damage, the damage was caused by high winds and falling debris. Sadly, however, some of the champagne grapes succumbed to the violent nature of the storm. Sveltelana Smith and her crew were out there early in the morning assessing the damage. The assault on her crop came mere hours before the grapes were to be harvested.
She and her crew bent over the vines, taping and splicing and pruning broken limbs where necessary. The remainder of the crew was quickly harvesting what could be salvaged.
Most of the berries were already bruised and browning in the morning sun, their sugar content intensifying as they began to decompose. Ever the industrious and positive thinking person, Sveltie decided to make the best of the situation and turn these battered berries into a limited edition sweet sparkling wine with the traditional method champenoise. It was to be a busy day, as they had to act quickly.
Nobody was really harmed. There were some close calls as a tree limb fell and caved in part of the roof of the horse barn at the museum. In another part of town, a few houses were destroyed and there was a close call with a dog named, Chubby.
Earlier in the day, the locals had gathered in the usual spot outside the kitchen at the Oddfellows Hall. The brother's were talking about the success of the Labor MDA Charity Run and Picnic a few short days earlier. The usual coffee with freshly baked native blueberry muffins were being consumed. The television in the corner was showing video of New Orleans, meteorologists from all over the country had descended on the crescent city to do their live news feeds awaiting the landfall of Hurricane Gustav.
"I think that is awful ... all of those reporters down in New Orleans." Sid Bartleby said.
"Why, Sid?" someone asked.
"Because everyone is expecting a repeat of Katrina. They want to see the whole city drown on live TV as it happens." There were a bunch of groans. Sid was quite the conspiracy theorist. Someone changed the subject.
"Gomer Eckstien, what a character, huh?" Jeff Nelson said.
Gomer had quite the day at the MDA picnic. The topic of conversation turned to the events following the musical performance by Gomer's band, Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans.
Gomer got into a very loud and public confrontation the Rabbi from the Ark of the Covenant Synagogue in the neighboring town of Baptist Lake. The Hook Nosed Satans played a rousing and energy filled set or hardcore klezmer music finishing up with a jam based upon a medley from the the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack.
Rabbi Bob Feldman confronted Gomer, waiting for him, glaring with his dark eyes. Stroking his bushy beard with one hand and his other arm folded across his chest. He was was tapping his toe, certainly not from the rhythm of the music he had just heard. His two young sons were standing behind him.
The Rebbe was pissed off that some one could be so irretrievably callous as to name their band Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans. A an obvious ethnic slur against the Jewish faith making light of both a sacred holy day and ethnic stereotypes. The rabbi was loaded for bear as he approached Gomer.
"How, DARE YOU!?" Gomer was still reeling from the adrenaline pumping through his system from his set. He was equally charged.
"How Dare I What?"
"Achh!?" The Rabbi gasped at the insurrection.
"Your name ... making light of the Shabbos, Hook Nosed Devils?
"Calm down, Shlomo, it's Hook Nosed Satans, it's a joke, a play on words to fit the style of music."
"A joke? I've got 6 million reasons why you should not joke of such things!"
"Oh, boy ... here we go again ..." Gomer sighed.
"Ya, here we go again." The Rabbi said with his voice rising. His face was getting redder by the second. "AND, YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER, BEING A JEW!"
"Wait a minute buddy, How do you know I'm Jewish?"
"well ... you obviously are." Now it was Gomer who decided to turn the tables and chose his words wisely.
"WHAT!!?? I'm obviously Jewish? What kind of shit is that? Because I have a big nose? Is that it? You ultra orthodox Torah thumping fuck!" Gomer pointed at him,
"YOU"RE GOING TO HELL!" He yelled leering at the Rabbi with a big maniacal smile. You just don't fuck with Gomer.
The folks in the crowd who knew Gomer began to laugh, but the Rabbi wasn't having any of it. He knew when he was being made sport of. He took a swipe at Gomer. Gomer turned and ducked quickly avoiding the punch slapping the cleric in the face with his sweaty greasy pony tail. By then people had begun to restrain them. They were separated and the scene was defused.
Sid Bartleby asked,
"So, Gomer, do we hire him for the Picnic next year?"
"Of, course we hire him. The crowd loves him. He is irreverent. He is the consummate showman." Jeff Nelson said.
"We may not be able to afford him, next year. Did you see the line up for his upcoming tour? He is playing a couple of theaters along the way." Someone else replied.
"I don't know," someone else interjected, "he was pretty over the top. We don't want to get a bad reputation." Sid replied.
"We don't want to get a reputation for censoring the entertainment. Besides, Gomer's style is uniquely representative of Muskrat Flats. It is guys like him who started this town. He is involved in the community. I say yes, if he will have us we hire him."
"Here, Here!" a couple of the brothers had said. It was then that Sid Bartleby's beeper went off. It was Josh Barrington, the Sherrif, still digesting the blueberry muffin he ate not to long ago in that very room, alerting Sid to the National Weather Service's update for the Flats and the Tri-county area.
As he was walking through Hawthorne Park, picking up litter and cigarette butts, Coley Blackstone heard the siren. That was odd he thought. He looked at the alarm clock he had strapped to the outside of his two wheeled laundry basket. The clock said 2:15 pm.
He fished into his basket. He did a double take to make sure no one was looking.
In these times, everyone is hooked up to some kind of electronic information technology device whether it be a cell phone, a Blackberry, or a laptop. Every one has them and you see them every where. But you don't often see a "homeless" hermit whip out an I Phone and start scrolling through the menus with an unusual display of digital dexterity.
He saw that he had a weather alert - Tornado Warning for Muskrat Flats and the Tri-county area.
"Shit" He was about 25 minutes away from home.
He packed up his stuff, tying the 7-11 bag full of debris and cigarette butts to the side of the carriage. He grabbed the leash and whistled loudly and yelled,
"CHUBBY! Come here, boy!" The little shaggy mutt was sniffing around about 50 yards away. His ears perked up and he turned his head to look at Coley. Chubby began galloping toward his master.
Chubby was a mix breed somewhere between a Bichon and a terrier. He looked like a minature version of a sheep dog with his black bangs often obscuring his runny brown eyes. He had a stubby little tail which was alway wagging at a furious clip. He has a slight respiratory problem which caused him to grunt a little bit with every step he took. To the outside observer he seemed down right cranky.
Chubby had an odd little habit however, he had a taste for bananas. Coley loved bananas, he always had them on hand. He would keep them in a wooden bowl on his mother's dinig room table. One night he roused from his slumber, grabbed his composition book, ready to attack another mathematical calculation. He reached out to get a banana, but the bowl was empty. He thought that the help probably had eaten them. And made a note to get more the next day, which he did.
The same thing happened the next night, the bananas were gone. This was a mystery to him, a mystery which he was going to solve.
The next night, he hid in his cardboard refrigerator box in the middle of the living room. There were two bananas left in the bowl. All of the sudden he heard some grunting. The grunting got louder as Chubby made his way down the stairs one step at a time. Coley watched as Chubby hopped up onto the dining room chair, and then to the table. He grabbed the two bananas and made his way back to the floor and out the flap in the kitchen door. Coley grabbed a flashlight and followed him.
He heard grunting underneath the porch. He shined the light. There next to a composting pile of banana skins swarming with fruit flies, stood Chubby, biting the peel off of the bananas and consuming the sweet fruit. He looked up at Coley, knowing he had done wrong.
Coley was left with no choice but to lock the bananas in the kitchen cupboard. Occasionally when he was in there and the cupboard was unlocked, Chubby would sneak up and steal a banana, making a quick escape and usually devouring the fruit, before Coley could catch him. Needless to say he needed to be punished and that meant, no bananas.
Chubby ran to catch up with Coley who was heading up Petersen St. at a brisk clip. Everywhere around him residents of the flats were racing around. They were picking up last minute supplies, the children from school and day care. They were battening down the hatches in preparation for the strom.
"Hey, Coley! Tornados coming better get cover." A well wisher shouted across the street.
"I know, I know. Thanks." He looked down, Chubby was grunting along with him, keeping up.
"We gotta get home, Chubby, Storm's coming." The sky began to darken and the wind picked up.
They got to a few hundred yards away from his home when it began to rain. There was thunder and little bit of lightning. He looked down at Chubby who seemed a little frightened. He picked him up and held him in his arms. Coley could see the entrance to the Storm/Bomb shelter his mother had installed in the the back yard. The rains and wind began to pick up even more.
Chubby spied something and began to wiggle. He leaped down to the ground an ran across the street. There, the neighbor had placed a bushel basket of summer squash with the sign "Free" in front of it. Chubby ran up to the basket and grabbed a curved yellow squash. He turned to look to Coley who was frantic that Chubby had gotten away.
Chubby made a bee line for the front porch and squeezed underneath the trellis as Coley chased him. The wind picked up more the sky darkened and then ... everything was still. Coley knew what was coming. He ran into the house, grabbed a bunch of bananas. He ran outside, kicked in the trellis and kneeled down to look under neath the porch. there he saw poor, wet and confused Chubby biting into a summer squash wondering why it didn't taste right.
Coley held out the bunch of bananas and yelled,
"Chubby, come here boy, you can have all of these, just come to me now."
The sky darkened even more and Coley heard a roar behind him. It sounded like a freight train crashing through a barn. Chubby dropped the summer squash sniffed it one more time and then ran to Coley. He picked up Chubby and they made it to the shelter in the nick of time as the Tornado cruised by.
He held Chubby tightly in his arms, crying at the fact that he almost lost his only friend.
An hour or so later, after a few more calculations in the composition notebook, Coley emerged from the shelter. Chubby was resting comfortably, comatose from over consumption of bananas. Coley was awed at what he saw. The tornado had ripped away the front porch and dining room of his house. There was a gaping hole with the contents of his house strewn across the yard. His refrigerator box was caught between two branches in the old oak tree in the front yard.
Coley was awed, indeed, by the wreckage. He opened up the shelter and whistled down to Chubby. He came up. Coley picked him up again and held him in his arms.
"Look what happened to our house, buddy. Look what happened to our house."
The onlookers, shocked at not only what happened, but at who had emerged from the shelter, began to murmur amongst themselves.
"Our house?!" Jeff Nelson asked Jeremiah Smith and Sveltie, quietly.
Coley looked around at the crowd and looked at the house. the charade was up.
"I guess I'm going to have to retire earlier than I had planned" he thought as he whipped out his I phone and dialed the number for his Shrink.
As if a Tornado is bearing down on me ...
You will always find me,
Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.