And now mid-morn with Lisa unraveling her raincoat the sky is the color of lead and no less heavy. Hurricane Irene flattens the Bahamas and is lumbering towards the city of New York at 14 miles per hour but blowing real hard at over 100 miles an hour. You understand? The mayor, a sensible man, says “Don’t Panic!” which, actually, is not all that helpful. And I swear I heard the radio continue, “If it doesn’t screw us up this time, sooner or later there will be a hurricane that will. But don’t panic.” Old folks in low-lying areas by the sea are being evacuated. They are being evacuated from Coney Island where the poor live alongside ferris wheels and ghost trains. They are being evacuated from Battery Park where people with money live not so far from where the Twin Towers were. (“And we thought we were safe.”) It is said the sea will rise with an eight to 10-foot surge with this hurricane. Some places 15 are predicted. Upstate the baker in his long white smock and towering height tells me “Long Island is being evacuated.” He speaks with authority. Bakers know storms like they know yeast and fermentation. His bread is excellent. His face is pasty white. His eyes glow like coals. Something’s afoot, that’s for sure. The normal looks anything but. A girl with her hair covered by a bandana is painting the front of the old hotel with the American flag hanging on it. There’s still 36 hours to go.
Images in the TV news show the dread-and-joy scenarios, the laughter-in-the-terror we have learnt and re-learnt throughout life that come and go in spurts of the non-ordinary that Bataille called depense preparing us for the end, depense as in wild excesses like those swells boiling in the ocean. Surfers in North Carolina dare the great waves the storm kicks up. A grafitto on a giant plywood slab nailed across a window on the second floor as protection reads Good Night Irene. A sign outside a surf shop says Irene, Hang a Right. Red and orange generators are being unloaded for sale in megastores. It’s war. Don’t Panic. Pick-up trucks are loading jerry cans of gas and drinking water. And shot from real low—the ominous perspective beloved by cinematographers—are mile after mile of oracular red and orange tail lights of cars blinking at us from SUVs stuck in traffic jams of evacuees fleeing the horror they have themselves caused, in part, through years of unseemly emissions.
These are the new, American style, refugees unable to walk because they gave that up years ago. Evacuation is the word you hear from all quarters, like that woman speaking loud into her cell phone in the queue at one of those big box stores brought to New York City by the zero-tolerance mayor, Duane Reade, was that his name?, ghostly places taken over by zombie clerks and zombie customers where you certainly never hear a human voice. But now! Evacuation, evacuation, she keeps on saying, a new word, a new tongue, beyond the wildest images on the shelves of shampoo. From his vacation residence on Martha’s Vineyard the president says “All indications point to this being a historic hurricane.” And there are 36 hours to go. Where Oh Where have we been this long while as the planet heaves, the oceans boil, and the hurricanes go ballistic? The politicians have had bigger things on their mind. Not like the old days when people thought of nothing but the sun to which the politicians, meaning the priests, made human sacrifices different to those made today.
As the bus tears out of the city through the tunnel under the Hudson the afternoon of the earthquake in August five days before hurricane Irene comes our way, the mood is jubilant. At least we got out, they are saying, these people who normally pile bags on the seat so no one will sit by them but now they emphasize the we. At least we got out. Upstate the siren created for the Cold War out of fear of the Ivans bleats continuously as the volunteer firemen—backbone of the Republican Party and the Conservative Republican Party—sharpen their tools. Every day people are more skittish. The nervous system tightens like a spring, another pulse is beating, yet within a couple of months, as if because of a magic spell, nobody remembers.