NORTH MIAMI BEACH — Quick quiz question: which major motion picture featured Albert Einstein, in the flesh, playing alongside the great Sharon Stone? If you answered The Muse, you are a maestro of all things trivial and Ben Stein had better watch out for his money. Yes, the popular actor who performs as Albert Brooks was born Einstein. Whether he is kin to the great physicist I cannot say: relativity is not my field. Nor is it Brooks’s; he can act but he’s no Einstein. On the other hand, Ken Weathers, the local anchor for the Weather Channel, definitely kens his weather.
What’s in a name, you ask? The last girl who asked that, Juliet, did not stay around for an answer; the subject could use another visit. Or perhaps a visitation, as in the case of Katrina, the latest hurricane to beset the generally placid communities of South Florida. She did to your faithful reporter what Frances and Irene failed to do last year: she took away my power.
Now that Katrina has become my personal Delilah, I must join the ranks of Floridians who speak ill of those storms that have passed away. Andrew was a real killer, folks say, and Frances gave us a real beating. Those names are forever tarred here; they are the equivalent of Lee Harvey and James Earl (sorry, Mr. Jones, you know we love you).
Think of that sweet girl Katrina, the one who always comes to babysit the kids and help set up the barbecue. Now she must leave on the midnight train to Georgia. Otherwise she is doomed to cringe hourly for the rest of her natural life when she hears: “That Katrina was so nasty.”
And nasty she was. Ha, ha, ha, only a Category One hurricane, so people did not bother putting up shutters. Oops, now they’re putting up shudders. They found out soon enough that an 80-MPH wind is quite a gusty gust. A semi blew off a highway off-ramp. Street signs littered the streets. Trees with more roots than Haley shot from the ground like comets. A domed gas station was doomed before you could say “Oh!” Entire sections of Fort Lauderdale Beach blew onto the A1A highway, making it impassable — because of sand piled high and thick.
Whose idea was it to name these disasters? In California there are no tremors named Trevor and in Kansas there are no tornados named Dorothy. No flood in Ohio gets tagged as Curt, and despite the rumors about Ms. Gardner’s temper, we do not call landslides Ava. All those agents of malevolence practice their pernicious craft in anonymity. Only the hurricanes are tabbed. Pity poor Katrina’s parents who unknowingly stuck her with this lifelong opprobrium.
Perhaps it’s time to take away a storm’s personality. Leave it to labor like a nameless cipher, just a number among the destructive forces of nature. Without a name it has no face. Robbed of personality, shorn of notoriety, it may well slink off into the remote reaches of the ocean and leave us landlubbers alone. It’s like the old Jewish story about the holy man who was fasting in the public square. Everyone came to the Rabbi to tell of his great righteousness. Just boycott the public square for a week, was his advice, and his holiness will lose its steam.
Then again, perhaps we forget the great aftermath of these storms. Human beings gather to rebuild. Creative energies are unleashed. Money and energy are invested. What emerges after the rebuilding always far exceeds what stood there before. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 brought a maelstrom of development to Florida that roiled for years afterward. In fact the population of Broward County, badly battered by Andrew, has doubled since that time, from 625,000 to a million and a quarter. It may offer little solace to the families of the nine who perished at the hand of Katrina, but we might remember her more for her long-term message: build, my friends, build.
As for Sharon Stone, many gossip columnists have dubbed her a hurricane in her own right. But in a conversation two years ago, she assured me that it was her policy to be nice to everyone. I quickly said that I believed her: you can never be too safe.