Sep 18, 2023, 06:29AM

Hurricanes and Bee Stings

Don’t fear the yellowjacket. What year is it (#429)?

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Last week there was a violent thunderstorm in Baltimore, lightning crackling the skies like a pinwheel, and the rain fell voluminously, in all different directions. Normally, I like these very Northeastern bolts—at least at night when it can be enjoyed from inside—but when our basement gets flooded from a herky-jerky weather “event,” it lessens the meteorological marvel. Our power went off for about five seconds, which is just long enough to mess with the cellar sump pumps. First things first, I reasoned: had to re-start the TV, which takes forever (ballgame was rained out, so I was watching, no apologies, the first season of Law & Order, specifically that great episode when Frank Masucchi is rubbed out, causing Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone some moral hiccups; he was prosecuting for a life sentence) and then, around 11:30 I steeled myself for a basement check-up. It wasn’t good: the floor was a mini-pond, so I got out the water vacuum (which isn’t altogether unenjoyable, the sense of accomplishment of loading and emptying four very heavy buckets), tweaked my back, and bloodied my hands when dropping one load, since I couldn’t satisfactorily see the sink. That was enough: I let it rot, figuring once the rain subsided, the water would retreat back to the pumps, which were once again humming.

We haven’t had many devastating hurricanes here in Baltimore in recent years—at least in the city—and I’d imagine my brother Gary would scoff at the above complaints. He lives in a picture-postcard patch of Bermuda, the beauty somewhat offset by the annual, or semi-annual hurricanes, which means he and my sister-in-law Terry must make time-consuming preparations, sometimes camped out in their basement bunker (no Wi-Fi or electricity) and then emerge, Twilight Zone-like the next morning to assess the property damage. I always hope nothing has happened to the tree frogs, which might be my favorite part about Bermuda (family excluded).

I found the above picture on Thursday (which was zippy, with the bulletin that Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom was relieved of his duties) and my apparent, and undoubtedly stoned, pondering on top of a shitty Dodge sedan in our Huntington driveway one late-September day, was just about how I felt, though lying on our Jeep wasn’t in the cards. Maybe I was looking at an ominous sky; or, more prosaically, wondering how I’d complete my high school English term paper on Dylan Thomas’ magnificent Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. (The Huntington library was excellent; it was the arduous task—not really, in retrospect—of microfiche after microfiche of contemporary reviews of the book, and then printing several at a dime a pop.)

I’ll choose to transport current memories of Long Island weather maladies to my unsuspecting younger self. In 1965—the year of the New York blackout—there were the remnants of a hurricane in our area, and I’d have to say, at 10 it was really exciting and after the worst had occurred the next day, sunny as could be, a couple of pals and I rummaged around the front and back yards of our neighbors the Wheelers, who had several apple trees, as well as a towering oak or birch (I’m riffing, have no idea what the name is) that produced bright green and prickly balls of non-edible matter. But it was like searching for the Crackerjacks prize: once your hands were stung from opening the critters (used loosely because I’m allowed such liberties) there was an object inside that resembled a chestnut, some so perfectly-shaped that I’d pocket a dozen and carry them around for months.

You did have to dodge the yellowjackets picking at rotten apples, which, unlike my scaredy-cat friends, didn’t bother me much. The sting of a yellowjacket was nothing more than a pin-prick to me, not nearly like a hornet or wasp. There was one day, not this one, that I was messing around at the Wheelers and a battalion of yellowjackets went for a blitzkrieg, and the target was me. I was stung all over, and going home my mom was aghast, made me strip to my drawers so she could peel off the bees that had penetrated my clothing. I thought it was kind of cool, and while she was acting as a nurse I can recall distinctly watching Boris and Natasha on the tube, more captivated by the show than my bruised body.

Take a look at the clues to figure out the year: Incredibly, Dawn’s “Knock Three Times” was the #1 song in the U.K.; Gay Talese’s Honor Thy Father is published; the United States is introduced to “Meathead” Reiner; Winona Ryder is born and Audie Murphy dies; Stanley Kubrick debuts A Clockwork Orange; The Fillmore East is closed; “It ain’t fair, John Sinclair” protest in Ann Arbor; Kid Rock is born and Igor Stravinsky dies; Isaac Hayes’ Shaft is released; and Malcolm McLaren open his first shop, “Let It Rock” on Kings Road in London.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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