Wading for Godot

Allison arrived in a flood of thoughts -- mattress rafts, murky thigh-deep water and the sudden flotsam of family life rushing out the back door

The door wouldn't stay open unless someone held it, so I stood there, watching the flotsam and jetsam of our life flow on out to the backyard and eventually, I guessed, to the Gulf of Mexico. (Most of it actually ended up getting hung up against our chain-link fence and so it was thrown out rather than sent to the sea.)

There, on the river gushing out the back door, were dozens and dozens of paperbacks. Hundreds of pages of paper for various stories my wife or I had reported on, papers that once seemed vitally important. There went the Texas-shaped plaque of some journalism award, there went a battalion of little plastic army men and their helicopter, there went countless little mementos of trips taken or concerts and shows seen. There went a bowling pin from my son's sixth birthday party, autographed by all his friends.

I saved the bowling pin, but the rest I just let float on by. After a sleepless night spent standing up in shitty brown water, none of it seemed to matter a bit. It flowed out of the house, to be replaced by the memories of the night when it was swept away. As I stood like a watchguard over the exodus of items, it just seemed more useful to focus on the future, the rebuilding, than on the past that those items represented.

Mark Poutenis
Mark Poutenis

In the days to come, we were utterly taken aback by the kindness and generosity shown by friends, neighbors, co-workers at the Houston Press and the management of New Times, the company that owns the Press.

Strangers pitched in too.

The Sheraton Brookhollow gave flood victims a disaster rate of just $25 a night, and let us stay for a week. (That's the Sheraton Brookhollow, conveniently located at Highway 290 and the West Loop, perfect for whenever your travel plans take you to Houston.)

The officers of Constable Jack Abercia constantly cruised the flood victims' streets to keep out looters. (That's Jack Abercia, perfect for whenever your plans include a constable.)

Churches and dry neighbors handed out lunches in the days after the storm. No fewer than four times on one Sunday, a friend and I were offered food and water by people going door to door. (Although eating is about the last thing on your mind while you're sweating your butt off in a muck-ridden, bug-infested, airless house.)

There's a moral to all this, I know, and it concerns the relative worth of your health and material goods. I think the moral is There's No Sense Being Healthy If You Don't Have Lots of Material Goods.

No, that can't be right. Maybe the moral is Health Is Nice, But Furniture Is Good Too.

Nah. We all know what the moral is. We all know because it's a trite cliché, but it does happen to be true.

It's no disaster to lose belongings, no matter how dear they might be. Things can be replaced.

What can't be replaced is a wife who worries to death about a cat while her world is falling apart, or a kid who can belt out show-stoppers from The Producers while the floodwaters rage.

It didn't take a Bizarre Moment to realize all that. But everyone needs to be retaught once in a while about what's really important.

Next time, though, the Great Teacher in the Sky can just send a Hallmark card, as far as I'm concerned.

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