A Hurricane on My Television
August 26th, 2005
I am sitting on my balcony in Los Angeles, listening to the rush of the freeways and the clinking of my neighbor’s dog’s collar as it trots around their concrete yard. It is a Friday afternoon. I am avoiding the living room because my roommate is watching the news, and the news is not good. Both of our televisions are tuned to CNN, where excited young newscasters are gesturing at weather maps. The sleeves of their hundred-dollar shirts are rolled to their elbows and their eyes are wide with a caffeinated exuberance that flashes: something important is happening. A steady breeze is blowing the ocean air inland. My dog comes out and presses her muzzle between the bars of the railing, licking her nose to the fishy smell of salt air and gasoline. I can hear bits of chatter from the television through the screen door, the voice of one anchorwoman fading in and out against the radios of passing cars.
I hear: Worst-case scenario.
Anne calls my cellphone and sounds upset. She asks if I am watching the news. She says everyone’s been asking about me and wants to know if I have talked to my parents. I tell her that I haven’t spoken to them since this morning, and that as far as I know, nothing has changed. A long pause follows, and I hear her take a few breaths through the static.
“Call me when you speak to them next,” she says, her voice a little shaky. I straighten my shoulders and tell her that everything will be fine. I tell her that I love her, that the dog loves her. She hangs up, and I scratch the dog’s muzzle as I punch up my drug dealer’s number.
Wind speed and intensity measured on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
My dealer does not answer. His voicemail is a static and pop recording of a song off of his car radio. I wait it out and leave a message. My dog starts to bark at a squirrel running along a power line, and by the time I get her inside, the neighborhood is echoing with a howling dog chorus.
Unprecedented since Betsy and Camille.
I lock the door and head for my room.
Life is slow in our apartment. We have two televisions in our living room. One is fixed to a rotating coffee table so that my roommate Matthias can watch Forensic Files while he cooks himself dinner. Our sink has standing water in it, and the wood veneer of our cabinets is sticky to the touch. Clutter sprouts up like moss, and it clings to the carpet and walls, encroaching on the paths we have cleared to connect one room to another. We are surrounded by everything, yet can never find anything.
I live with my best friend from college and my girlfriend of seven years, both of whom are rarely around because they work evenings. Matthias spends his time at UCLA’s neuroscience lab studying the spinal cords of paralyzed rats, and Anne wears herself out managing a hotel restaurant staffed with part-time movie extras and catalogue models. When I come home from school the lights are usually off, the dog is asleep, and they are both puddled onto the couch, bathed in TV blues. This is the dampening effect of our household. The dirty carpet, the smudged walls and low-light hum of appliances; all of it holds me captive once I step inside. It is a tangible feeling, a thickness to the air, like breathing steam in a shower. In these moments, I can see myself through Anne’s eyes, walking through that door into our dark hobbit-hole. It is impossible to miss my deceleration from the world of to living to the world of the sedentary. I can see my shoulders droop, my stomach relax and stretch against my t-shirt, and my eyes begin to glaze as the gears grind slowly to a halt.
I often think about how, when I was younger, my dad used to come home from work and immediately change into his running clothes: tiny old-man shorts, a t-shirt borrowed from my dresser, and a bright orange hat to make him visible in the night fog. Knowing what was coming next, my brother would disappear into his room before Dad re-emerged, stretching his gangly legs and trying to get my attention.
“Ready for a run?” he’d ask me jokingly. I’d give him a list of excuses as he tied his shoes. To him, my excuses boiled down to “high school is hard, and I’m tired.”
“For me,” he’d explain pensively, as if someone had asked him, “running is a way to process all the pain and frustration of the day. I run and time slows down, problems become clear; all the chaos just washes off of me.”
It sounded silly and trite, but I believed him. I remember standing in our front yard one evening, watching him disappear into the dark like a day-glow fishing bobber and wondering how parents and children could possibly feel so differently about such things.
“Hi, sweetheart. I’m glad you called.”
“Are you still watching the news?”
“Yes we are, and dad has the NOAA weather station on upstairs. We’ve spent the afternoon closing the shutters and boarding up, so it’s pretty dark inside. We’re saving the kitchen windows for last, because dad needs to have some real light in the house.”
“That sounds about right.”
“Yea, but you know how he is. You should hear him—he’s pretty convinced that the storm will turn east and take out Mobile.”
“What an optimist.”
“Well, your fa