It was a shotgun home. Narrow and rectangular.
An old cigar worker’s abode from the early twentieth century.
Up front, facing the street, two absolutely tiny, closet sized rooms.
In the rear, a half assed addition served as a master bedroom.
Added as a lower level, it laid on the ground having sunk into a pit of sand.
The sand, a litter box, a perfect place for all the feral cats to piss.
Across the hallway was a bathroom, another makeshift addition with cheap beadboard walls.
Water damage was already evident on moving in.
With each hot shower, the thickened humidity forced another inch of the wall to bow outward.
Above, throughout the whole house, was an institutional drop ceiling.
Hanging from the original wood frame, it was suspended in air by old wire clothes hangers.
The aesthetic, like a high school biology lab.
Instead of animals in glass tanks it was me and a roommate.
In celebration of the ‘investment,’ I painted the interior neon.
I thought the scheme went well with my inherited space aged, mid-century modern decor.
A Broyhill Premier Curio with lunar lander legs.
A Zenith Console stereo, a copy of Hawaiian classics propped on the turntable for posterity.
Minus the bear skin rug, minus the olive on the end of the martini’s toothpick,
the house was a live-in Shag painting.
A mess of colors.
A sour sight to anyone living in the proper century.
There were tikis.
Loads of other Florida tourist boom paraphernalia.
That garbage celebrating the 60’s land grab, when the Sunshine State was a perpetual beach party: a safety blanket, concealing the peninsula’s hard living.
But even more so, its cache of natural born things ready to kill you.
Beyond the mortgage, I knew nothing of residual expenses.
Not an inkling regarding property taxes.
Not an inkling about homeowners insurance.
I discovered that hurricane protection was an additional fee.
Base price, plus hundreds of extra dollars in preparation for the inevitable cyclone season.
Every year, massive storms lurk near our Peninsula.
And on the occasions when they smash into the state, countless dollars in damage accrue. Houses are washed into the sea. Lives are lost.
Looking back, I was lucky as hell to land the last resort insurer:
the only company to gamble in ancient wood framed houses.
But I remained blasÃ©.
An apathy ingrained, when young, by a local myth.
Folklore is peripheral ‘knowing.’
Table talk of the mysterious.
Of those things that lean towards the irrational.
Those things that transcend science.
Like when Florida folk speak quietly about the Tocobaga storm myth.
Driving home from work, their shell middens hide in the mangroves off of Weedon Island.
Tucked behind the old power plant, broken crustacean carapaces are all you will find.
Hard evidence of their ancient community is minimal.
So myths abound.
Within living memory, no hurricane had set a direct disaster coarse for the Bay Area.
This blanket of security was credited, for years, to the indigenous.
To their close ties to the land.
Their communing with mother nature.
They bound a pact creating some type of barometric force field.
The myth reassured us locals.
So much so that real estate agents milk it, to lure in naive snow birds.
It was late Summer. The end of the wet season.
Pedalling home from elementary school, a single, ominous cloud crept on the horizon over the bay.
Getting closer to home, I watched as three water spouts slowly descended from the sky.
I sprinted inside.
Grabbing what I deemed valuable–my toys, baseball cards, a brand new electronic game system– I carted all of it into the tub.
Huddled in the dark, next to my trove of junk, I hid.
But nothing happened.
Those three columnal vortexes sat idle over Tampa Bay.
Floating in air, ghostly, they twisted for minutes.
And then they disappeared.
Leaning next to the tub, I waited.
Concerned more so for my materials than my safety.
Until the silence bored me out of fear.
Cutting through the garage and out into the elements, I was surprised to find a pristine sky.
Above, dozens of tiny, innocuous white puffs pitted the crystal blue.
The Tocobaga’s arcane mysticism hung over Tampa Bay.
I was sure of it.
On that day, the myth had been solidified.
More than ever, I believed.
In August, intense storms breed heavy in the Atlantic.
Since the new millenium, global climate change predicts more chaotic seasons to come.
So it went in 2004.
Two massive storms had already barreled over the state.
Both exceeded previous records of historic damage,
yet, somehow, both minimally affected Tampa.
I took shelter in my shot gun house through most of the seasonal activity.
Though the intense winds often made it creak,
so loud at times it sounded as if the frame were splitting.
Miraculously it held up, and I huddled safely within my bedroom.
Then came Ivan.
Ivan: a category five that measured the size of Texas.
As it gained momentum, it travelled North through the Gulf of Mexico.
The eye, although hundreds of miles off the coast, whipped its arms clockwise, lashing Central Florida with abnormal gusts.
Ivan’s mass was terrifying.
More so than any of the other previous storms.
My gut feeling was to get out.
Once Ivan crept well up into the panhandle, I drove home.
The sun cut through the clouds for the first time in days.
And as I arrived back into the neighborhood, my dead end was unchanged.
Except for my house.
Pulling into my driveway, the roof was shrouded in the boughs of a giant pecan tree.
The tree, like an earth tone blanket, sat diagonal across the apex.
In shock, I walked inside.
Everything was slightly damp.
The rainwater having oozed through cracks spidering out to every corner.
Through the living room, I followed the tree.
The neon blue walls eerily illuminating the interior, reflecting the dull, grey light from outside.
The kitchen, an obnoxious beach ball yellow, was perfectly intact.
And as I walked past the bathroom decorated in bright purple and fluorescent pink, an untouched, fresh roll of toilet paper propped on its stand.
I pushed open the door to my room.
It was as if a grenade had exploded.
My chest of drawers split in half. The contents scattered over the stained carpet.
Both windows broken, the vertical blinds shattered on the floor.
The middle of the tree laid, wedged, in the ninety degree corner of my room.
The angle, the convergence of the two walls, held up its lofty mass,
and prevented it from crushing through the house.
Over my bed, the roof had collapsed, leaving piles of debris on the comforter.
And the ceiling fan had dropped, imbedding itself in the dead center of my mattress.
The exact spot, where, having still believed in the Tocobaga myth, I would have been asleep.