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October 14, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Last night around midnight I finished up the final version of a gigantic sheaf of words I have been working on FORever and sent it off and I was so pleased, so happy, so relieved ... so tired. I went upstairs to get into my big comfortable bed and I discovered a delightful new water feature right in my very own boudoir.


The rooftop patio is right above my bedroom and sometime during the Great Storm of '09 while I was downstairs typing and mainlining pinot grigio, a seam opened up in the ceiling and water had soaked the floor and the bed and the drywall. I tried to put buckets and towels where I could but it was coming down awfully heavy and I spent most of the night emptying buckets and wondering if I had entered the smiting period. That's a time in your life when things begin to tumble around in the dregs and later you make jokes about "that time your roof caved in and the FBI tapped your phone and then someone flashed you at Ralph's and you weren't even that offended." I'm just imagining of course, but really who knows what could happen when the smiting starts.

Or maybe it's just Los Angeles, where it rains so infrequently that one inch of precipitation can cause your rooftop patio to morph into a waterfall.

I waited patiently until 8 a.m. and then started calling the manager who is Russian but looks like Antonio Banderas. He was nice and apologetic and apparently I'm not the only apartment experiencing indoor rain. Now I'm just waiting for the maintenance people to come and then I have to go to work and print out 1600 stickers and pretend I don't look haggard and wrinkly from being up all night.

So that's the worst of times. The best of times is that I got the nicest email from my editor this morning congratulating me and reassuring me. I love Allison. If this book ends up being so bad we all just make fun of it later, it's my fault. But if by some miracle it does end up being readable, Allison is the reason. A good editor is the finest person you can have in your corner and she is the very best.

So, in the spirit of both writing and smiting, I thought I would share with you one of the essays that didn't make the final cut but seems oddly apropos today.

Before I started driving I thought an Act of God was a hurricane, earthquake or a smiting. I wasn’t real clear on what smiting consisted of really, but growing up on the bayou one is often warned to be nice or God will smite you.

My first real official grown-up car was a red Volkswagon Fox. It was a smallish, boxy metal car with a stick shift, four-speed transmission and optional passenger’s side door mirrors. They were optional. That was the kind of luxury package available on the Volkswagen Fox.

And I loved that little metal box of a car. I drove it from my home in Mississippi up to college in Tennessee and back every single semester break and holiday. I learned all the back roads, knew the best road stops by heart and I would smoke menthol cigarettes and listen to college music on the tape deck and I would always stop at The Snack Pack ten miles outside my house in Mississippi to change clothes and wash the stank of cigarettes off my person and spritz heavily with perfume as my parents had a nose for nicotine like nobody’s business, and I did not want to be in their crosshairs.

The first Act of God came right before the end of the semester freshman year when a deer committed suicide on my car right there on the rural route, three miles from the house. I was going through a heavily vegetarian phase at the time and I was more devastated by the deer’s death than the massive cavern he'd carved into the side of my tiny red car. I didn’t know when it happened that it was an Act of God, but I soon learned that's the term used on the insurance papers my father filled out. Any event outside human control was deemed an Act of the big guy. Good to know.

The second Act Of God happened just two months later when an owl flew into my windshield. I do not know if you are familiar with owls –- I was not –- but they aren’t the tiny furry little birds who eat lollipops in TV commercials. They are actually huge, enormous rockets of power. The owl who dive-bombed my windshield did so on the northbound lanes of highway 55 and the collision of the two produced a thwack! like a sonic boom. The entire windshield spidered into a crackling web but held it together. I freaked out and spilled Diet Coke in my lap and cursed God for smiting me.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and sat there for a moment, trembling, and thanking the smiting God that there was no traffic on the highway and that I had not swerved into a big truck in surprise of the attack.

After a few moments I got out of the car and inspected the damage. The windshield was broken and there was a rather large dent in the front passenger’s side of the car, on the metal area above the windshield. It looked like someone had tossed a bowling ball out and hit me like a bullseye. I just stood there staring at my red Volkswagon, wondering why on earth animals were so cruel and suicidal and why me? Why me? Me who had just last semester become a vegetarian, right before the deer hit me?

It wasn’t long before a trucker spotted me and my car on the side of the road and CBs crackled and buzzed and the highway patrol found me. They carried me off to a service station a few miles up ahead where I called my father and gave him the bad news. He just got in his truck and drove out to the scene of the second Act Of God and shook his head, and thanked the nice deputy who’d helped me out, and he asked me if I was OK.

“I think so,” I said.

“Well, you’re certainly better off than the owl you hit.”

The third and Final Act Of God happened at the very end of summer, when I was driving home for Labor Day weekend. The whole southeast was in a drenching downpour, huge areas of Alabama and Mississippi were under flood warnings and still it rained, and rained and rained.

I was driving home on the back roads, avoiding the traffic on the interstate. And even though no one would believe me later as I re-told the story –- first to my Dad, then my mom, then my brothers, then the nice man at the insurance agency –- as I was driving on one of the rain-soaked backroads of Mississippi a tree fell on my car.

It happened almost in slow motion. A giant old oak whose roots had been exposed from weeks of continuous rain chose the exact moment I traveled under its mighty branches to suddenly tump over. Onto my moving vehicle. I was fine, my car was dented and covered in tree bark and mud but mostly I was just really tired of nature throwing itself at me when I was driving. I appeared to be unharmed and my vehicle was still running, so I drove out from under the branches and arrived home. The car was dented and scratched and the front grill was broken in, covered in mud and leaves.

My father didn’t believe this “tree-falling-on-car” story the first three times I told it so he himself suited up in a slicker and got in his truck and drove out to the scene of the accidental logging. He came home an hour later, wet and covered in red Mississippi mud, and sighed the sigh of a weary man.

“A tree fell on her car.”

And later as he tried to explain this to the nice man at the State Farm agency, the man turned to my father and said, “Three Acts of God in one summer! Now that is really something. “

“Yes,” said my father. “That is really something all right.”

The insurance man looked my father straight in the face and asked, “Do you think your daughter has angered God?”

And sometimes I wonder. Three Acts of God in one summer. My summer of dating was a lot like the Acts of God summer – surprising, unfortunate, with superficial (but repairable) damage and nothing left but some really funny stories to tell.

Posted by laurie at October 14, 2009 10:20 AM