The Rockport Miracles-Part 2 Episode 7: "Acts of God And Other Excuses"
We who reside on the Great Lakes are a tough bunch. Tougher than we get credit for. Every last one of us have been taught respect for the natural world by the powerful lake storms we’ve lived through. Perhaps that’s why we were too slow to realize something UNnatural was happening to Rockport in January 1970.
Something unnatural was definitely screwing with us on the day after the horrific firestorm that killed 14 people and destroyed a third of Rockport. We awoke that morning to find our wounded city shrouded in dense fog and sniped by an ill wind that turned everyone it touched into a goofball. I had been standing in front of Wren Matthew’s vandalized house talking with two policemen when a lukewarm wind came through and coated all of us with that ‘tingle’ feeling of electricity. It caused me to suddenly become argumentative with the two cops. In fact, they were on the verge of thumping me when their car radios started to crackle with calls for help. Pushing me aside, the policemen sped off in their vehicles not realizing the witching wind had also 'tetched' them. Instead of responding to their calls, one of the cops plowed his patrol car through the front window of his mother-in-law’s house and the other cop drove to Manners Restaurant and emptied his service revolver into their giant plaster statue of Big Boy.
Reports of errant behaviors streamed in from all corners of Rockport. Bus drivers made their stops but wouldn’t let people on or off their buses. A bank president threw piles of cash onto a main thoroughfare that resulted in car crashes and fist fights. Alcoholics set their favorite bars on fire, and the Flying Owego Brothers threw “Donald Duct” off the roof of their heating and cooling company to chants of “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” Nasty neighbors turned nice and nice neighbors turned nasty. Dogs barked supportively as their walkers peed on tree lawns and citizens of all ages began dancing in the streets. The wind had no discernible effect on cats.
Ill winds that affect human behavior are rare, but not unheard of. They are found all over the world. Members of Rockport’s large European community were quick to describe the ill winds that swirl around their home countries. The most notorious of these phenomena is an alpine wind known as the “Foehn” (pronounced "fern”) that causes the Swiss and Italians to behave like Norwegians and Hungarians.
Meanwhile, as Rockport went mad, I had to run for my life across several backyards on three sidestreets to evade capture by Wren Mathews’ psychotic neighbors. By the time I’d eluded them, the adverse effects of the foehn had left me. Still a mile walk from my home, I needed to lay low and get off the streets so I decided to return to Rockport Camera. After all, I did owe Lester Brown, the owner, an apology. He had correctly identified the snow angel on Wren’s Polaroid which I cynically dissed him for. It turned out that he'd been correct and I wanted him to know it.
Unfortunately for Lester, the foehn winds had infected him as he swept storm debris away from the front of his store. By the time I’d returned, he’d already ruined dozens of unprocessed rolls of film that contained many of his customers’ Christmas snapshots. When I found him on the floor behind his counter, my first thought was that he’d been robbed. I ran outside to flag down a cop and that’s when I saw the dark clouds and purple lightning in the northern sky, just like the night before. The sight upset me so much that I threw up my breakfast on somebody’s Plymouth Barracuda. Just then, the city’s emergency sirens began to blare all over Rockport. I was scared to death.
I ran back into the camera store and dragged Lester Brown (who was still delirious) by his plaid flannel shirt into his stockroom. I created a neat little bunker by piling cartons of film, darkroom supplies and Japanese cameras all around us. Just as Lester began to regain his senses, we heard the store’s display windows explode as savage winds ripped into the building.
While Lester prayed on his rosary (I had no idea he was Catholic), an important debate began inside the fallout shelters, basements, root cellars and crawlspaces all over Rockport. Were these murderous storms acts of God or could we place blame somewhere else, like on a politician or a scraggly band of refugees?
“Why is Mother Nature attacking us?” I wondered aloud. Lester Brown suddenly sprang up like a jack-in-the-box and said, “Attack?...Attack?... Hmmm…” I could tell that one of his lectures was about to unfurl itself. Lester was a legend in his own mind and a self-proclaimed authority on a myriad of subjects. He was known to bore the paint right off a house. In all fairness, however, his dimensional knowledge of Rockport's history was solid and without peer. His ancestors were among the original pigeon eaters that farmed the land that became Rockport and the town's oldest stone structure is a chicken coop that once belonged to his great, great grandfather (or so the plaque says).
“Roycroft,” Lester blurted in a deliberate tone with his beady eyes aglow, “this is Roycroft’s handiwork!” I uncurled from a fetal position, and leaned back against a case of Kodachrome. “What?” I asked. “Who’s Roycroft? What d'ya mean, ‘his handiwork’?”
“Believe me,” said Lester, “If I’m right, you don’t want to know.”
Next: Part 3: Episode 1: "The Past Is Prologue"
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©2018 Illustration by Rob Masek
©2018 Illustration by Greg Budgett
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