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Tuesday, September 14, 2004
By Paul Ford
Here comes the flood.
Last Wednesday, at six in the morning, I wandered into my subway stop to find a waterfall coursing down the stairs. It was beautiful. Hundreds of gallons of water. I took the escalator in the other direction. On the platform water was coursing through the overhang, pouring solid, three inches thick, splashing in the half dark.
I was on my way to Washington, D.C. to write about a conference. I took a train to Penn Station, a train to D.C., a train to a station in Virginia, and then a bus—the 23A—to a stop in an office park in McLean. I first took buses alone when I was 14, traveling from my mother's home to my father's. It took two hours, and I was alone with headphones and books, cultivating the privacy, fabricating a strangeness so that I could feel superior. I wanted to be a writer. I had an idea what was involved—my father is a writer. Writing was rejection letters and occasional success; it was poetry readings and college teaching. It was punctuation and deep emotion.
Both of my parents had Amiga computers, my mother a A1000, purchased when my folks were still together, and my father an A500. I went between them with disks in my pockets.
The hurricane of last Wednesday sent my father, now relocated to Cocoa Beach, Florida, inland to Ocala, Florida, among horses. And it flooded my mother's new home in Mount Savage, Maryland, three feet of water in moments, pouring through the basement. She moved there just months ago, and the basement was chocked with unsorted miscellany: books, papers, old magazines with my father's stories published in them. Some ladies came by without being asked, and all worked together, three women over 60, putting a washer and dryer up on a chair, trying to keep the water from taking over. The fire department came the next day and pumped it down from waist-height to calf-height, and then the neighbors helped pump out the rest, and my brother and his family, who live a few hours away, went down to help. My father headed back from Ocala to Cocoa Beach, to wait for Ivan.
The conference was held at the MITRE center, a large military think tank, in a building at the top of a hill up from Dolly Madison Blvd. I helped myself to oatmeal cookies. The conference was about the application of semantic technologies to e-government. The cafeteria was bright, in primary colors. The people serving us our sandwiches wore hats and smocks embroidered with the words “Corporate Food.” A block from my apartment in Brooklyn, on 9th St. between Court and 2nd Avenue, there was a solid foot of water, and this made the cover of the New York Times.s
Riding north on the train on Thursday night, I checked my messages. My mother said, I had a flood, and all of your papers are destroyed. Meaning two boxes, with all of the stories I wrote when I was 14, 15, 16, through 21, all the fiction and college papers on Thomas Hardy. The whom of who I was was soaked straight through.
I called her. What I could do, she said, is put it out in the sun and dry it off. It would be nice to hold on to old things. But why save the words of the unfinished, amoral, baffled animal I was then? I guess dump them, I said, what the hell. She sighed, relieved. Then I was two boxes lighter. I thought of my grandmother and grandfather, both deceased, sitting across from me at a table of a restaurant. I was 19, and I was as low as you can go, filled with sin and shame. I'd screwed it up, and now the world knew. My grandfather said, just let it go. Fuck it, buddy. Here was a man who loved the future, planning for New Year's, 2000 until the day he died in 1999. I thought, let it go, with the hurricane, right? Water will clear it all out, run with gravity out to the ocean, sponged up into clouds. Running down the stairs at the 9th St. subway station, filling up the street by 2nd Avenue, running through the basement, slamming the beach in Florida. All the memories I'll need are on their way.