From the Other Side
Sept. 10, 2008
Sixteen Tons

The two things hurricanes do for people is humble us and take away some of our holier-than-thouedness.

Hurricanes are the great equalizers. Moreso in days past than today, but still, somewhat now. The dividing line seems to be "He Who Has Electricity" versus "He Who Has No Electricity" and in the subcontext, "He Who Has A Generator" versus "He Who Sits Sweating In The Dark."

I remember those days well. We happen to have a generator now – a little guy, but more than enough to run a window unit and the fridge – but many years ago I’d sit sweating in my easy chair taking a rest from cleaning up the yard and listen to the generators running and know deep in my heart I was going to hell for the jealousy and bad things I was saying about my neighbors.

I was lucky that the power returned at 4 p.m. Tuesday last week before the first tank of fuel was burned. I got a little work done Thursday afternoon, but the limbs and small trees were pretty abundant and horizontal.

When I first got home, it was hard to get the key to turn in the lock of the front door. I fought through it and got it open. Later that week, Peter Soprano told me a good tip for our readers was that debris gets blown into locks, and a shot of oil or graphite lube would fix it up. I forgot, unfortunately to mention that last week when it was more appropriate, but bear it in mind for future storms. Worked like a charm.

Friday after lunch I went home and started cleaning up the yard. All approximately three acres of it. What a mess. Well, it ain’t going to get done on it’s own, right?

So I get in the shop, get a rake, get a bottle of water and my chainsaw. I had been worrying about my chainsaw for more than a few weeks. Something like, oh, I don’t know…three years more than a few weeks. It never was a very good chainsaw, though I paid a pretty penny for it. Seldom wanted to start, rarely stayed running at idle and once it stopped generally refused to start again at all without a C-note in mysterious repairs for which I could never, ever get an itemized invoice.

I put in fresh gas, but it wouldn’t start. Not even fire. I checked the plug and it sparked well. I opened up the carburetor compartment and found a disintegrated air induction line. No hope of finding a replacement, without some improv, anyway. I searched the shop over and could come up with nothing. So I went to see Susan, possibly the most prepared and innovative person I have ever known.

I showed her a sample of my disintegrated tubing. She immediately rummaged around a little and found a sunglasses case with a pretty floral pattern and a carrying handle made of…blue plastic tubing of exactly the size I needed.

"I can’t mess up your pretty sunglass case," I protested

"Oh, here," she said, and before you knew it snip! Snip! The handle was off and I was shooed back to the shop. It worked like a charm. And that’s just one of the many reasons I’m crazy about my Suzie.

The saw started, but it only made about three cuts and died again. I checked my bright blue sunglasses case tube and it was fine, so I had other problems. I fought it for an hour or so and gave up, brought it to town and couldn’t get it serviced. I called my pal Joe and he offered me a loaner.

"My chainsaw is a piece of junk," I said upon arriving at his place.

"Every chainsaw is a piece of junk," Joe said emphatically. "There has never been a chainsaw that was not a piece of junk. Never will be a chainsaw that is not a piece of junk." I’m paraphrasing my bud here, but you get the idea: We have a very, very low opinion of chainsaws. I made a mental note to myself that, after the storm was a thing of the past, I wanted to sit down over a drink and discuss weed eaters with Joe.

But he poured out my supposedly fresh gas and put in some of his fresh fuel and gave the thing a few vigorous cranks and it started. Wouldn’t idle if you set it down, but that was fine, what can you expect from a chainsaw? I thought briefly about how saddening it must be to be a member of a species of which the general consensus is that there ain’t a dang one of ‘em worth a plug nickel. But then I realized I already am.

I borrowed Joe’s chainsaw just for backup and headed out to attack the fallen rainforest in my yard with zest and zeal. I made load after load to the temporary dumping site the Chitimacha officialdom had set up for debris removal. I sawed and sawed until my hair was full of sawdust and the grit in my sandals would grind layers of skin off my feet when I walked. I looked like a gerbil in a nest of wood chips that had gone amok after a frantic drinking binge. I drank lots of water to stay hydrated and took regular breaks to catch my breath and have a cigar, which I hereby publicly admit makes absolutely no sense at all.

So I sawed, raked, drank water, piled, hauled and repeated all from early afternoon Friday until dark each night and by 5 p.m. Sunday I was pretty much done. This is the way it happened:

I threw a load on the pile.

I looked around at my kingdom.

I threw my rake in the back of the trailer. I closed the tailgate.

I took a deep breath and proclaimed loudly to the world in general, "I am done!"

My arms look like I got in a fight with the aforementioned hung-over gerbil, or Patches. I’m scratched up, bruised up and scraped up. My legs hurt when I walk and my left shoulder tends to crack like a .22 caliber rifle shot if I lift my arm the wrong way, which is practically any way. But I guess I’m none the worse for wear after all, and probably shed a few pounds in the process.

Poor Bogie, who has been house bound during all this cleaning up business because he’s not quite old enough or behaved enough yet to be trusted not to bolt off after a cat, squirrel or magnolia leaf tumbling across the yard and end up in the next parish, finally had enough late in the afternoon just before I finished. I had been taking him out an hour and a half or so in the morning to romp and play, then leaving him inside until about midday for half an hour or so, then an hour before dusk. I felt guilty about it, but there was all this mess to deal with.

Just before I made my proclamation of completeness Sunday, Bogie had enough. He began a tirade of barking and fussing and raising tarnation in the house that resulted in his near immediate release into the yard just to restore the peace. People couldn’t hear their chainsaws running for all the puppy racket!