Natural Disaster

Gina Sakalarios-Rogers

Wow. Pineapple Mojito
Photo Credit: John Dunsmore

Hurricanes aren’t tragedies. Maybe if someone dies in an unexpected or unpreventable way, then it is tragic. A tree falls on a house and kills everyone inside is a tragedy. The hurricane itself is just nature.

I’m not a cold bitch. I lost my home, my boat, a close friend, and a lifetime of memories during the storm last year.

Hell, I may be among the few who don’t think it was such a bad thing. I lived, so who gives a shit about insurance woes and recouping financially for all the stuff that we lost. Most of it wasn’t important anyway. As George Carlin said, smart man that he was, it’s just stuff anyway.

I got a new life, so I’m not complaining at all.

The worst thing now is those people who get all excited at hurricane season, but can’t admit that the excitement comes from wanting the storms to come our way, wanting the shake up of the usual routine that storms bring. All the rush to stock up is to keep them out of the last minute panic lines, so they can look responsible. They can then sit back and enjoy the anticipation of tracking the storm, giving their learned assessments of where it will make landfall.

These people annoy me, like the guy in my bar earlier tonight.

I’m trying to enjoy a drink without hearing the inane noise the bartender has tuned in on one of those constant news networks. There’s some tropical disturbance out in the Caribbean, which is, of course, being “closely monitored” for its “potential to intensify” overnight into the next killer storm. I don’t need to see the news anchor to know he’s salivating at the opportunity. I can hear in his reporting of the speculation about the effect of any sized storm on the oil spill in the Gulf that he’s hit weather reporter gold.

I should fire my new bartender for his obsession with the news.

I don’t want a conversation, but there’s some yahoo at the bar drinking a Mai Tai who does.

“It’s just a tropical depression,” he says. “Gulf’s too cold for a big storm right now with all this rain. Storms out in the gulf all the time, so that’s not gonna change the oil situation anymore than shifting currents.”

Since it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself, I keep my nature at bay. No need to talk to him at all really.

Until he says, “If a storm comes in I’m ready. I stocked up the day hurricane season opened and all the stores did that tax-free thing on supplies.”

So he asked for it, I figure.

“You got gas stored in your garage, generator at the ready? Ice in the freezer and canned goods in the pantry. I bet there’s fresh batteries in the flashlight and Coleman lanterns in the hall closet. You have a pyramid of bottled water in the dining room and precut and numbered plywood for the windows out in the new workshop you got the insurance to pay for when the neighbor’s tree took your old one out last year. No matter what you say about that oil you got ideas in your head about how BP could maybe pay you a little bit for some way it’s messed up your way of life.”

He was unwilling to accept this as his due for being a jackass; most jackasses are. His reaction though was not one that I expected.

I’ve seen very few men break down in tears. This guy was the first to burst into tears like a child whose sucker just fell in the dirt. Hell, his sucker was immediately covered with ants who wanted a bite at him as well.

I didn’t know what to do. So I got up and let the bartender handle it.

He called me a cold bitch. I’ll fire him when I get back from the chaos at the hardware store.


Standing in lines at banks and grocery stores makes my nerves tingle. It’s dead time. Lines full of antsy, hurricane-rattled, last-minute preparers singes my entire nervous system. I become one of those obnoxious people who everyone else in line sees as self-important when I say things like “Hope this place is well-built ’cause it looks like this is where we’ll all be when the storm gets here.”

I was in the store for two hours, fighting for the few remaining sheets of three-quarter-inch OSB and standing in line. When I got back to the bar, I wanted a cold drink before hauling all that wood into the storage room.

What I walked into was Jim Cantore on both televisions over the bar, telling all of my patrons and anyone else watching that the potential for the Category Two hurricane to strengthen to a Four and hit the Panhandle was looking more and more likely.

“Turn that off,” I said. Not yelling yet, trying not to project the store frustration onto this situation, which required an entirely different level of anger.

My bartender raised his eyebrows at me like he couldn’t believe I’d made this request. “They’re going to have this expert on next who’s going to try to convince us that the hurricane won’t pick up oil and sling all the hell over our homes and everything else.”

“The news is one thing, but no Weather Channel in here.”

“But this storm—”

“Fear mongering is all it is. Ratings nirvana. Turn it off.”

I climbed the bar. No one expected this. I kicked a margarita into an outraged snowbird’s lap.

“Hey,” someone said from the far end of the bar by the toilets.

“What?” Yelling now.

“I’d like to know how soon it will be here,” the newly-sticky snowbird said.

“What?” still yelling.

“The hurricane,” my unemployed-but-unaware-yet bartender said.

“Category Two,” said the snowbird’s husband/boyfriend/son/whatever. “Is that serious?”

“No,” from me.

“Yes,” from the bartender.

“Please turn it back on,” the lady said.

I turned it on, not wanting to be irrational. They had a right to know, but not from storm mania central. If it was headed our way, it would be on the local station. Henry, the weatherman and frequent patron, who is hopelessly obsessed with his scandalous co-anchor, stood in front of a map of the Gulf of Mexico pointing, with a smile, at the loathed red hurricane symbol twirling like a kid’s pinwheel back and forth on a muddy yellow dotted line meant to represent its projected path. Along this path lay the now too familiar outline of the oil slick, red for definite area of oil and impact, yellow for the possible.

The snowbirds began making plans to leave, wanted to know how soon they should get out.

The bartender said, “There’ll be a few more years of this kind of storm activity they say. They also said that no matter how quick this oil is cleaned up we’ll still be dealing with it for years. We’re screwed no matter what, dude.”

I let him finish pulling a couple beers and serving them up so I’d have enough time to really work myself into a righteous lather before launching into the argument I now wanted us to have.

“So how do they know what they say is true?” I asked my fired-as-soon-as-we-boarded-the-place-up bartender.

“Scientific studies. I saw this guy on TV, this researcher, who studies mud or something at the bottom of swamps and can read the hurricane history from it somehow. He said that these intense hurricanes are part of a naturally recurring cycle that’s happened many times in planetary history and will last about twenty years.”

I snorted. Snorting is always a good sign of derision. It’s as classic as the middle finger and as eloquent as any Shakespearean barb.

“Global warming,” was my verbal response.

The idiot bartender laughed.

None of us listened to what Henry the weatherman was saying about the storm. We just assumed, as most do now, that it would come for us and it would intensify, be maybe a Three by the time it got here in two days.

As I informed my bartender of the link between storm intensity and global warming, while denouncing his mud scientist as a swamp-brained distractionist, I worried about how full of shit I might actually be myself.

This storm damaging my bar too seriously was a long shot since its concrete slab foundation and block wall construction had weathered every hurricane thrown at it since it was built in the fifties. Unlike my former house, whose nineteen-eighties slab-and-stick frame, up to a then-inadequate building code, was non-existent after Ivan swept across the island last year.

I wanted to be brash, like a Two was no worries. “We’ve got the remainders of a wedding party coming in here soon. This hurricane crap won’t be on when they show up.”

My reliable cynicism, sharp tongue, and quick temper were wimping out on me. I couldn’t summon them. Even my normally impassioned “we’re heating up the planet with toxic crap and killing ourselves” global warming speech was lukewarm, rote speechifying at best. My much-wanted argument with my smug bartender offered me no relief because it hadn’t even been an argument. He didn’t jump in and I couldn’t summon up enough invective to goad him. I avoided the oil argument entirely. I hadn’t yet figured it out.

“You think they’re still coming?”

“Life doesn’t stop because there might be a hurricane on the way.”

“But we should be—”

“Get the champagne out of the cooler, get the glasses. Dammit, just get to work or I’m firing you now.”

“Instead of later?”

The lady snowbird at the bar said, “Oh, he’s been so pleasant to us. Don’t fire him. ”

I glared at her. I couldn’t really give her hell because, unlike so many other tourists who’d planned vacations to our beaches, she hadn’t cancelled her vacation because there might be some oil on the beach. She knew, I assumed, that there was more here than just a nice view.


Betty grew up on the island, and even though she couldn’t bring herself to live on it anymore, she was drawn back to it frequently.

I didn’t feel festive, no reason to. But Betty is Mr. Scott’s daughter and he was my friend and neighbor before the storm, and the crabs, got him. If he was still around, I’d be at the wedding having a good time. I’d just have to do some pretending for his daughter.

It doesn’t help, though, when you have to be polite to acquaintances that you aren’t particularly interested in seeing or knowing anymore. Meeting acquaintances you didn’t care to see in a small bathroom where the close quarters make polite chatter a necessity multiplies the unpleasantness. Especially when you are made to feel uncomfortable in your own territory.

She smiled as she dried her hands and said, “Hello.”

Abby Sanford has a habit of looking at you head to toe when she greets you. It’s like she’s reading a sentence, taking in the meaning of your appearance. Subject and verb. Hair too slick, clothes a bit too big. The meaning of your sentence only diagrammable by Abby.

She was out the door before I even got out my reluctant, “Hello.” There is the possibility that my sentence wasn’t hard for her to read: “This is a secondhand outfit I’m uncomfortable in, but I need to keep up appearances after my arrest.”

Abby Sanford lost nothing of any significance in the storm—a couple of trees, some shingles, her mailbox. You bet she collected though, got a new roof for those few shingles.

I, however, lost my home, my best friend, and, after sneaking onto the island and getting arrested, my job teaching American Lit at the community college in town.

I would like to have asked Abby if she was a friend of Betty’s or Marvin’s. I couldn’t picture her being friendly or even acquainted with either one of them. They are outdoors, outgoing, friendly. Abby is at best unremarkable, dull most often. She’s one of those people that’s just there, whose life outside the context in which you know them is hard to imagine. They leave work or school or the bar or wherever and then they cease to exist until they come back. They go gray.

I thought it would be entertaining to observe how she functions in a festive atmosphere. I’d lay down a hefty bet that she dances by the book.

Her husband would read what he wanted into the book and, therefore, be a sloppy dancer convinced he’s Fred Astaire. When Abby’s husband, Oliver, ordered a mojito, he mocked my bartender for not knowing how to make it and not knowing that it was the favorite drink of Ernest Hemingway.

It’s a shitty drink, and Hemingway never touched one.

I made it. Oliver, what a dumbshit name, thanked me and asked me if I knew much about Hemingway.

I said yes.

“Just read a good one myself,” he said. “Hemingway’s Hurricane. It’s been out for awhile, but I just got around to reading it.”

I nodded, watched him sip at his mojito like a woman. Men like Oliver don’t want to be surprised into making an unflattering face if they gulp a drink that is too sour or too strong. He finished half of his mojito in the next swallow, leading me to believe that he found its potential to make him look less than manly non-existent. It was a safe drink. It didn’t mess up his manicured-to-look-weathered style.

“Hemingway didn’t drink mojitos,” I told him.

He laughed. “He made them popular.” He raised his glass as he said this like we were toasting the old man.

“No,” I insisted, “he did not drink them. It’s a marketing myth swallowed wholesale by men hoping to project a larger than life, grab-life-by-the-balls machismo that they can’t possibly possess unless they consume the affectations of the lives of their heroes.”

This was intended to shut him up. Unfortunately, my bullshit doesn’t fly with people equally as full of it.

“What the hell do you know about me or Papa?”

“Papa,” I said, “Like you know the man.”

“I do know the man. I’ve read his books.”

“Oh, well then you know him well,” I raised my glass. “Cheers.”

“Well enough to know what he’d say to you.”

“Which is?” He didn’t expect this I’m sure. His line was meant to shut me up, but I don’t shut up easily. So he said what he was thinking, and, unfortunately, most likely what the old man would have said himself.


I laughed. “It’s my new profession,” I told him. “What’s yours?”


Impossibly, I didn’t have a line for this. I kept my mouth shut. Surely this jackass wasn’t forced into his retirement though. No one told him he was too stressed, stretched thin, storm-worn to continue. He didn’t need a break, some time to rest, to straighten out the debris of his life.

Hemingway’s Hurricane,” I said, “was not written by Ernest Hemingway, so it is not a Hemingway book.”

He lifted his glass to the bartender and pointed at it, thinking he’s smooth because he can do this and talk to me without looking at me all at once. “He’s all over the story though, so he may as well have written it.”

“I don’t like jackasses like you in my bar,” I told him, like he gave a shit, but I was mad and had to keep my mouth running.

“Jackasses like me don’t willingly go to bars owned by bitches like you.”

Abby crept up at this point in our conversation, so I lashed out at her. “So you have to be forced by nosy, gossipy bitches like her?”

Astonishment from Abby. Indignation from the jackass.

There was yelling, bad words I won’t share because you surely know them. Name calling, threats to punch me. My requests to see if he had a lot of hair on his chest.

They left. Abby red-faced. My name to be smeared all over the community college English department on Monday.

I apologized silently to Mr. Scott via the large photo mounted on an easel behind the cake.

That damn photo made me uneasy. I could see it from every position behind the bar. Betty’s uncle, on her mother’s side, put a barstool with Mr. Scott’s favorite drink, Jack Daniels over ice, in front of it.

A bar full of jackasses. But I smiled and laughed at the sentiment, somehow, for Mr. Scott via Betty, I guess. Mr. Scott, like Hemingway, would agree that “an intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.”

Fortunately, the cake was cut, the bride and groom pummeled out of the bar and into their taxi by birdseed-wielding friends, before I was no longer able to smile.

The leftovers, those people who just won’t leave once the party is over, hovered around the pool tables, drinking, talking, rolling the balls around the tables, but not playing.

The TVs were back on, some snowbirds drifted in from the overcrowded restaurant next door. They ordered the inevitable fruity drinks.

My bartender put the hurricane’s-gonna-drown-us-in-oil news back on.

“So how much longer do we have before we should get out of town?” one of the snowbirds asked my no-longer-fired-because-I’d-lost-the-mood bartender.

“You should’ve left already if you’re gonna leave,” he said. “I had a friend last year, got stuck on the interstate trying to get out of town too late. Traffic even now is going to suck.”

“We should stay,” his companion said. “When it passes we might be able to help out with the oil and things, you know.”

These guys were young, college kids maybe. Well-intentioned, I guess. I really shouldn’t have thrown them out when they started seriously making plans to stay and help clean up the oil that the hurricane was going to toss all over the beaches and homes and animals. They meant well. They tried to tell me so. They suggested that they could try to make my bar some sort of home base for the friends they planned to call in with clean water, since surely all of our available water resources would be contaminated by flying oil.

My bartender tried to restrain me. I punched him. He told me he was going to quit.


Gina Sakalarios-Rogers lives in Pensacola, Florida where she is an instructor of composition and creative writing at the University of West Florida. She received her M.A. at UWF and her Ph.D. from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. She has published fiction in Toasted Cheese, The Bare Root Review, and Flash Fiction Online. She was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize and was voted a notable story of 2006 by StorySouth Million Writers Award. Email: rsakalariosrogers[at]

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