A positive spin on hurricanes


AS A GUY who has spent years battling hurricanes and losing, I am trying a new approach. I am attempting to view hurricanes in a positive light, regarding them as mileposts on the long, bumpy road of home maintenance.

So when the rains and winds of Hurricane Floyd roared through here Thursday, and one of my kids called me at work to tell me that water was dripping from a bedroom ceiling, I tried to take the historical perspective.

"Aw, yes," I told myself, "that would be the house's hurricane leak. It did the same thing back in 1985 when Gloria came to town. Those water spots on the ceiling, that sagging plaster, they will be mementos, to remember that Floyd was here."

The roof trouble forced me to recall the important dates in household hurricane history: Gloria in '85 leaves a hole in the ceiling, Fran in '96 damages back windows and Floyd in '99 takes up where Gloria left off.

I confess that I had a hard time maintaining this cool, philosophical outlook. I also had a guttural "not this again" reaction to the news that it was raining on the top floor.

It is difficult not to think of hurricanes as anything other than the enemy, especially if you have spent time this week bailing out a basement, mopping mildewing floors with a solution of 1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water, drilling small drain holes in a water- soaked ceiling, airing furniture out, being careful to put water-soaked wood in the shade so it won't warp.

Moreover, battling unruly water, digging trenches in the back yard, developing a perimeter defense system for the house foundation are defining duties in a guy's life. This is what we do. We can't just quit.

But we must try to change our attitude. We must also try to see our struggles from a different, less-combative perspective. Otherwise our blood will boil.

So after Floyd attacked, instead of getting hostile, I tried to put a favorable spin on the situation.

For instance, when a tree fell in my neighborhood, I saw it as a sign from above that I needed to acquire a new toy, a great big chain saw. And when the electricity started going out throughout Maryland, I treated it as an excuse to engage in one of my favorite pleasures -- buying batteries and red wine in bulk. I wanted to be ready for those long, dark nights.

Floyd has also made me think about the relationship between a homeowner and his house. It seems to me there is a pattern. In the early years, the homeowner tries to change the house, correcting its flaws, rearranging its parts.

Over the years, the house appears to have adjusted to its new life. But when hurricanes come to town, the house reverts to its feral past. The basement returns to its former life as a babbling brook. The roof, which for years has shielded the homeowner and his family from nature, suddenly decides to let nature come on in. Your house, which you thought was as loyal as a dog, hears the call of the wild and turns on you.

When this happens, it is time to seek professional help. This week, for instance, I telephoned a longtime associate, a specialist in my home's hydro troubles -- Patrick the roofer.

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