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Monday, April 17, 2006

Tornados, disasters and tv...Oh My!

It’s April in Nashville, which means it’s tornado season. Many days this month, caffeine and adrenalin-infused weather forecasters will take the network tv broadcasts hostage as they break in with one alert and storm warning after another. We’ll be inundated with a deluge of names of little unincorporated communities no one has ever heard of linked to a train schedule of estimated arrivals of thunderstorms, straight-line winds, radar-identified vortexes and the ever-present "golf-ball-sized hail." Which raises the conundrum, "why must hail be compared to sporting goods?" You always hear the inevitable analogy to golf balls, ping-pong balls, baseballs, softballs, marbles... occasionally you get quarter- or half-dollar-sized. What I’m waiting for is some Australian crocodile hunter type of weather maniac coming on the local broadcast and shouting "Cracky! We got hail coming down out there the size of me left testicle!!"

This time of year, the weather men and women change from mildly charming and slightly nerdy junior varsity members of news teams to highly competent and professional flight attendants smiling their way through floatation device instructions on a one-way, non-stop commuter flight to hell. Every local station touts the supremacy of it’s radar and computer simulation systems. One’s got 3-D imaging. Another has higher resolution. Others show frequency of lightning strikes. They all seem equipped with an annoying capability for the user to point and click with a mouse and have the computer clutter up the screen identifying streets and highways that lie most directly in the path of impending doom. I’ve been in a major tornado. Here’s a hint: If you’re still sitting in front of your big screen plasma tv trying to determine whether the storm is going to hit the 700 or 800 block of the street where you live and the power goes out - your ass is grass as the saying goes.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the efforts of this cadre of weather warriors. If nothing else, they are so fastidious in telling you it’s time to run to the basement or an "interior room of your house" that you know if they haven’t put your neighborhood on high alert, you’re high and dry and can rest easy.

But it’s confession time. When the weather nerds break in like some kind of underground pirate radio station and interrupt American-celebrity-home-makeover-dance-a-thon-on-ice, there’s a part of me that hopes disaster has me in its crosshairs. Logically, I know that’s stupid. The husband and dad in me sure doesn’t want my wife and kids in harm’s way. I was in the middle of the big tornado that trashed downtown Nashville in April 1998 and went on to rapid-fire redevelop East Nashville on its way out of town. I know what can happen. I have a co-worker who’s house was right in the middle of that mess. Last week my parents had a near miss in their neighborhood by a small but potent twister that swept through the suburbs to the North of the greater Nashville area. I saw pictures in e-mails today from an old college friend who lives in Iowa City that had an even closer shave a few days ago.

Still, deep down, I find myself excited at the prospect that disaster will strike.

I don’t think I’m the only one.

I’ve tried to figure out where this comes from. Best I can tell, some dark shadow that dwells below my surface gets bored with the mundane 8-5 world of a desk job and a house with 2 kids, 2 dogs and a station wagon. Something in there wants the wildness of staring mother nature in the eye and calling her a bitch under my breath. I’m not an adrenalin junky or an habitual risk taker. I have as much life insurance as I can get through my employer. I don’t smoke or ride motorcycles or go skydiving or frequent casinos. I don’t have tattoos and I don’t even roller blade. I never "do the dew." So why does some part of me wish a big honkin’ storm front would sweep through the world and teach us all a little bit about survival.

In J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, there’s a quote that’s stuck with me which Mr. Antolini, the English teacher, shares with Holden. "The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is he wants to live humbly for one." I think that’s a part of what's going on. It would be far more exciting to do battle with the elements than the dinner dishes. There’s more challenge in trying to bring order back to a life cast into chaos by an act of God than in trying to get the last two month’s Management Information System entries entered into the network computer.

I think all this helps stoke the fires of my latest obsession. I kept expressing regret to my wife that I never watched Lost when the show started. I’d caught the last few minutes of a handful of episodes -- just enough to peak my curiosity. So a couple of weeks ago she picked up the DVD of the first few shows at Blockbuster. We got hooked. She has now kicked the habit (because she hates spending the evening in front of the tv) and simply reads the recaps of the episodes on the ABC website. I, on the other hand, bought the boxed set of the DVDs on-line and have worked my way through 3/4s of season one. Thanks honey.

I was pleasantly surprised to find good writing and interesting characters on an entertaining and highly-rated tv show that actually doesn’t deal with lawyers, hospitals or criminal investigations. A tv show where issues of faith and belief, mysticism and science and social issues get all mixed together. Being a fan of sci-fi, I can suspend disbelief at a moment’s notice, so the attacking polar bears, mysterious monsters, strange hatches and the elusive "others" haven’t put me off. At least not yet. Generally speaking, I’ve got to say most of the shows I’ve enjoyed and watched regularly over the years usually outlived my interest as the show’s declined. I'd end up tuning out long before they were cancelled. There were some notable exceptions: Angel, Northern Exposure, Millenium, Strange Luck (bet you haven’t heard of that one). So who is to say whether Lost can sustain the quality of writing over multiple seasons. And maybe it actually sucks. I used to be a snob about such things. Now I can’t say for sure if it’s really good tv or if, as a parent of young kids, I’m just so thankful to be watching something other than the Big Comfy Couch or Barbie Farietopia (I don’t mind watching Arthur) that I have deluded myself into thinking it’s intellectually stimulating.

Watching Lost, of course I can’t help wondering what I would do in that situation. Stranded on a desert isle, trying to survive on my wits and other people's detritus scavenged from the wreakage. I’m afraid I have a bit of Mr. Locke in me. I think I’d like the island. I’d get some degree of satisfaction from seeing human beings surgically separated from their mocha lattes, SUVs and Walmarts and forced to confront a more intense reality and find out who they are.

So am I the one who is warped and twisted because I secretly desire to see the ordered facade of civilization stripped away? Or is it our culture that is a perversion of the way human beings were meant to live?


Blogger wordsonwater said...

Okay, I just can't resist any longer. I've read this post at least 6 times and it is hysterical. I not only enjoyed it greatly, but I when I told my husband the subject, he immediately and uncharacteristically ran to read it. Not only that, he understood exactly how you felt. Even if you intellectualize the concepts six ways from Sunday, you're both still overgrown boys when it comes to lightening bolts and high winds. Evidently it's one of those few areas where men and women are just genetically programed differently. If you have a chance please read my post of Sept 05 called Cast of Charactures, and I think you might see where I coming from on this one.

7:21 PM, April 21, 2006  

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