It’s stormy here in St. Paul tonight, so I thought I’d indulge myself (and all 5 of my fans…hey, hey!) with a storm story or two from the days of yore. In this case, the days of yore are my college years. And the stories are ridiculous because, c’mon, this is me we’re talking about here.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with storms. They fascinate me on some level, but I have a lot of fear about them, too. For one, I live in the Midwest, home to those unpredictable upstarts, tornadoes. *shudder* One summer during college I lived at home. I say “one summer” because, after that, my dad and I agreed completely mutually that it was the last one. And it was, for the most part…except after I graduated and lived a few nights a week at home in the basement and a few nights a week in Joe’s apartment. Both sleeping situations were equally unattractive, as at my house I had to sleep without air conditioning on the world’s most lumpy and uncomfortable futon and at Joe’s I had to sleep on an air mattress on the floor with a parasomniac. But those are stories for another day, if he (Joe) will give me permission.
Anyway, the first summer, when I was at home, I was just minding my own business after a long day of teaching summer school to inner-city second graders by kicking back with an ice cream bar and James Taylor on PBS. Yeah, that was the life. Both my parents were enjoying the program with me, too, though it should be noted that neither of them had an ice cream novelty in their hand. Storm warnings had been scrolling lazily across the bottom of the TV screen for, oh, 15 minutes or so. Storm warnings on PBS have none of the imminent! danger! ominousness you see on your local broadcast television, so we barely noticed. Except then it suddenly got unnaturally dark. And all at once, a veritable wall of wind slammed into the side of my parents’ house, immediately knocking out power. I was in the basement behind the furnace before you could blink an eye. My parents soon followed me. I had imagined this very situation numerous times, and was filled with fear because there were no windowless rooms in our house. I’d decided from the first summer I spent in that house (when I was 10) that I would hide myself behind the furnace when the apocalypse was neigh. My parents just sort of stood leisurely in the middle of the laundry room, keeping the random central toilet fixture company. Suddenly I noticed something besides my pounding heart and chattering teeth: a spreading, gooey coldness on my hands. I looked down and realized I was gripping my ice cream bar like it was a lifeline, and in exchange it had the gall to drip all over me. It was dripping onto the floor in large globs.
“Mom!” I whispered. (I’m not sure why I whispered.)
“What?” she answered in a normal tone of voice.
“My ice cream! It’s dripping all over!”
“Well, why don’t you eat it?”
“I can’t! I’m scared! Will you eat it for me?”
She just laughed at me and said no. Nice. Anyway, when we finally emerged from the basement it was clear that something very like a tornado had visited their neighborhood. Turns out it was only straight-line winds, but roofs were all wrecked up and trees were felled all over the place. And I had an ice cream spill to clean up.
The second ridiculous storm story happened the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, everafter referred to as “hell summer”. This was the summer in which I: moved off-campus into the charming deathtrap with delightful but largely absent roommates; finally hooked up (as the kids say these days) with a guy I’d been embarrassingly in love with since starting college only to have to break things off a month later due to gayness; and, together with any friends I could possibly hoodwink into the job, moved every single freakin’ book in the School of Law’s library. Every. One. One night in August the library people “treated” us to a dinner in which the staff celebrated by drinking beer in front of us underage kids at a pizza joint, ostensibly in self-congratulatory jubilation for having the smarts to hire desperate college students to do their dirty work in moving the books that summer. Do you know how many books a law library has in it? Anyway, my friend Myra was one of my fellow plebes and we begged off of staying too long at the “reward” dinner because we had laundry to do. Which was the 1997 college-student-equivalent of “I have to wash my hair.” We really did have laundry to do, though, but isn’t it telling that it was a more attractive prospect to go to a laundromat than to sit in a restaurant with the library staff?
After hitting our respective apartments for the many piles of dirty clothes and such, we had to swing by a local supermarket which had a bank branch inside so she could get quarters. As we walked from her roommate’s car to the store, we couldn’t help but note the portentous clouds.
“Wow. Look at those clouds!” I exclaimed. “Looks like we’re going to get a real humdinger!” (I’m pretty sure those were my exact words.) (No, not really.)
I asked Myra if she’d ever seen a tornado. She might have looked at me like I’d sprouted a third leg because she’s southern. So, no.
“You know, I’m really scared of them but I think I’d like to see one once, like, way off in the distance. Just once I’d like to see a tornado!”
At this point, a bent-backed senior male who’d been hobbling along in front of us, using his practical umbrella like a cane, swung around to face me. Shaking the large golfer’s umbrella at me and glaring, he threatened:
“I’m gonna hit you!!!”
He then turned around and continued into the store as if he hadn’t just suggested assault on a doe-eyed college lass. I’m pretty sure we gasped desperately to hold in the torrents of laughter until after he’d entered the building.
After we’d procured the necessary coinage, we made our way across the busy thoroughfare to the brand-new, well-lit laundromat. All the lights and fresh paint led us to believe this place would not be scary. We were wrong. The people in washing their clothes on a stormy weekday evening were characters, to say the least. I wish I could remember more details, but Umbrella Guy kinda overshadows them in my memory. In any case, as we sat through the wash cycle of our collective 4 loads or so, we couldn’t help but notice the TVs all squawking with the local weatherman’s assessment of the storm action as the skies turned an unnatural shade of sickening.
“God, I love Ken Barlow. I’m glad it’s storming and there are TVs here, so I can watch him for hours,” I said.
“I’m going to make a movie based on you and this crazy weatherman obsession of yours. The character would just sit around wishing for storms so she could see her beloved on prime time television all the time,” Myra countered.
Right about then the power flickered off. Which meant, of course, that the machines all stopped. Now it was raining like monsoon season, and people were in pandemonium, sticking their wet laundry into garbage bags provided by the laundromat employee who didn’t know what else to do but ask people to return tomorrow for free dry cycles.
“Orko! His cage is in the window, and I think the window is open! He’s going to drown!” Myra panicked. Orko was her rat. Yes, rat. That girl loves all creatures great and small.
Promising she’d return quickly, she ran out of the laundromat, drenched to the skin before her big toe cleared the overhang. I sat there, equal parts amused and confused. I couldn’t go anywhere, so I took the opportunity to people-watch. Most people were on their way out but many, like us, had decided to stay a bit, knowing the fickle nature of Minnesotan weather meant it was likely the power would come on before closing time. Myra was back in 5 minutes, shivering, breathless.
“He was okay,” she said, though I’m sure she knew I cared only because she liked Orko.
It remained dark in the place, and now suddenly there was a man before us with a damp bakery box. We had noticed him run in to the laundromat a few minutes previous.
“Do you want to buy a donut?” he asked us.
“No,” we answered.
“Wait. Why not? Is this ‘cuz I’m black?!?”
Now we were really confused. “Um, no…it’s because we’re not hungry and we only have enough money for the dryers. So no thank you.”
“Oh,” he softened. “Well, do you just want to have a donut? For free?”
Dude. NO. No to the damp donuts!
A few minutes later, a lady about 20 feet away from us starts freaking out. “Where’s my WALLET?! Oh God, someone’s stolen my wallet!” She scuttled over to the employee. “Hey, I think that guy took my wallet,” she said, pointing straight at Donut Guy.
“Hey, what? No, I didn’t! I don’t even know what your wallet looks like!” he countered. The employee looked sick.
“It’s RED! A big, red wallet! Where did you PUT IT?!” she shrieked.
“Um, isn’t that your wallet right there?” I asked, pointing to the top of a machine just feet away from Hysterical Lady.
“Oh. Yeah, there it is. Wow. Thanks! I don’t know how it got over there!” She shot a suspicious sideways glance at Donut Guy.
I’d watched her absent-mindedly put it there while Myra was gone checking on her drowning rat. “When you were looking at your stuff in the dryer you put it up there. I saw you,” I said.
“Oh, well, thanks,” she said dismissively.
“Hey, want a donut?” Donut Guy asked us all for the zillionth time.
“NO!” we chorused.
“Is it ‘cuz I’m black?!”
After all the stuff with the wallet, he was still stuck on the Donut Discrimination.