THIS AIN’T KANSAS / Bet On Crazy


Two Septembers ago I checked the morning weather report online. The forecast for the Tri-State area determined my attire for the diamond exchange, especially as the summer and autumn of seesawed during September. The AM meteorologists predicted temperature would top off at 75 with rain hitting the city by the afternoon, so I dressed in a lightweight suit. My umbrella was in the office closet.

Morning passed into afternoon without incident.

Around 4:30 I delivered a loose diamond to another jewelry store on 47th Street.

On the way back I studied the western sky. Black clouds roiled overhead and the air was thick with humidity. I tensed my fingers into a fist. None of the knuckles crackled with age, indicating a falling barometer. I figured the storm would arrive at 5.

Closing time.

The wind picked up, as I entered the exchange and sat at my desk. The telephone rang and I picked up the receiver. Manny my boss was calling on his cell. My 80 year-old boss had taken off the day. His hip was bothering him.

“You be careful.” His voice was edged with urgency. “There are reports of tornadoes.”

“Tornadoes?” I dismissed his weather report as the hysterical reaction to the fear-mongering tactics of the TV news.

“Yes, severe thunderstorms are expected. I can see them from my window.” Manny was from Brownsville. Its Old School motto was “Never ran. Never will.”

“Let me speak to my son.”

“It’s Manny with the weather report.” I signaled to Richie Boy to pick up the phone.

“Tell him I’ll call him back.”

Richie Boy was listening to a beautiful female client explain how her fiancee gave her the ring in Vietnam. The Ford model had big breasts. Manny’s son wasn’t going anywhere.

“He’ll call you back.”

“Make sure he does. The sky is looking strange.” Manny sounded like one of the extras from LA tornado scene in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. “I see a line of dark clouds approaching.”

Storm chasers described this phenomena as the ‘bear’s cage’.

“Okay.” I hung up the phone.

Very little scared Manny and I exited the store to rechecked the sky.

It was very dark. The wind was gushed down the block and Hassidim hung onto their hats. Several stores were pulling their merchandise. The threat of a storm was serious and I fought a surging wind back into the exchange.

“How is it out there?” Richie Boy was finishing up with the model and looked out the window. The street was dark as an hour after dusk.

“It’s getting crazy.”

“I’m going to get a taxi.” The model had places to be and her time was worth thousands of dollars an hour.”

“You’re not going anywhere until it’s over.” Richie advised seeing a garbage can hurtling down the sidewalk.

“Your father said something about a tornado.”

“You mean like in THE WIZARD OF OZ?” The model was revising her leaving. Two men had just been knocked down by a gust.

“Just like THE WIZARD OF OZ.” Dorothy and her dog Toto had been sucked into the heavens by a Kansas twister. Their house had landed atop the Wicked Witch. The munchkin EMS had declared her dead on the scene.

“We’ll stay inside.” 47th Street was mired with gloom. Rain was pelting the sidewalk. Pedestrians sought shelter under the alcove of the exchange. Two other friends called with concern. They had never seen a Doppler screen radar with such an angry red line. Richie Boy’s had yet to break from the cleavage of the tall model. He was close enough to smell her perfume.

Innocent flirtation.

Richie Boy was always faithful to his wife.

Same as I was to mine.

The wind whooshed through the canyon of 47th Street. The storm blew past in five minutes. I called Manny to tell him that we were all right. The old man was relieved by the news. He was heading downstairs to his local bar. I told him to come in late tomorrow. The model left and Richie Boy said, “Let’s close.”

It was only 5:15. His father never shut the store before 5:30. My co-worker Ava hit the interior showcase like a Pirate of the Caribbean. We were out of there by 6. I got home to Brooklyn at 6:30. A tree had fallen on my street. My apartment was soaked by rain. I had left the windows open. Many other trees had been toppled by the high winds. An actual tornado had struck my neighborhood. I phoned Manny. He was in the bar.

“You were right. There was a tornado.”

“I don’t joke about shit like that.”

“I know.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.” I was drinking a little wine and eating yellow tomatoes.

“And my son?” Manny was a father of four. Same as me. Only one thing mattered to men like us.

“Fine I last saw.”

I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Barring wind, sleet, rain or snow.”

I was glad to have the work. These were strange times in many more ways than the weather.

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