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Talk of the Town - Here with the wind September 16 2004

In the eye of the folks

Give me your tired, your poor ... the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.

Easy for the Statue of Liberty to say. She didn't have parents.

Mine have been here for a week, courtesy of Hurricane Frances. When the latter became a roaring Category 4 behemoth taking dead aim on their stretch of Florida shore, my progenitors headed north faster than the time it takes straight-line winds to shred une maison mobile.

Their alacrity can be directly linked to my father's obsessive devotion to the Weather Channel. He'd been eyeing Frances even before she had an eye, as a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa.

Not for Pop the traffic jams, gasoline shortages and generalized chaos that accompany the mass relocation of tempest-tossed humanity. Our family panics ahead of the curve. I swear my folks were the first people to leave Florida because of the hurricane.

And so they arrived, engaged in a protracted discussion about whether they had remembered to latch the screen door. A potentially moot point. If Frances hit full blast, their condo — screen door included — would splash down somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

But my parents are nothing if not adaptable, and made themselves at home in their emergency makeshift quarters. Particularly Dad, who gets up about the time Count Dracula is toddling off to bed. By 6.a.m. he is working the microwave downstairs ...

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP ...

Calling local stores to see what time they open. Sundry retail messages come blaring over the speakerphone:

"THIS IS THE XYZ COMPANY. WE ARE NOT OPEN, NOR WILL WE BE FOR SEVERAL HOURS. IF YOU ARE A SENIOR CITIZEN, DO NOT COME TO OUR WINDOW AND STARE THROUGH THE GLASS. DO NOT TRY THE LOCKED DOORS. YOU ARE UP AND ABOUT ENTIRELY TOO EARLY. PLEASE STAND AWAY FROM THE PHONE. GO BACK TO BED IMMEDIATELY!"

Still working the microwave ...

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP ...

Watching television, at a volume usually associated with sonic booms ...

"WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR PARENTS ARRIVE ... AND NEVER LEAVE! ON THE NEXT 'OPRAH.'"

And, you guessed it ...

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP.

(Technical note: Dad has a microwave that, when you press "1," heats a cup of coffee for one minute. On my microwave, 1 = one second. My father therefore hits my microwave button 60 times [x 3 beeps = 180 beeps] to heat a cup of coffee. At least that's what it sounds like.)

I guess turnabout is fair play. Because I was their houseguest for 18 years. For almost two decades, I didn't make the bed, left the Hot Wheels racetrack out for adults to trip over, and once — just for the hell of it — covered the screen of an Emerson floor-model TV with Pond's cold cream.

Now it's payback time.

"I'm going to install that dimmer switch in your dining room," promised Pop.

Before I could wrestle him to the ground, he had cut off electricity to most of the Eastern seaboard, removed and misplaced the switch plate (we later found it in a box of Pop-Tarts) and got lost on the first of three visits to Home Depot.

He finally got the dimmer to work, but only at the dimmest setting. So during a murky meal at our house, there's a good chance the fork you're lifting will wind up in someone else's mouth.

Entertainment is of crucial importance during a parental visit. Because what will you do during those long evenings before your folks turn in at 8:30? Going to the movies is an acceptable form of amusement, but my dad hasn't been in a theater since Gregory Peck made To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962.

There are several factors to be considered in choosing a movie for your parents to watch. No sex. (What could parents know about that?) No violence. (They only lived through World War II.) And no film made since, well, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Fortunately, all my folks wanted to do was view the endlessly televised U.S. Open tennis matches, with the shpock of tennis balls punctuated by weather bulletins. After a while, you're not sure if the "powerful destructive force" in question is a hurricane or Andre Agassi's serve.

And speaking of hurricanes, there was more unsettling news.

"I don't like what they're saying about this Ivan," Mom said. "We may have to stay with you another week."

And by now I'm thinking, come on. A lousy Category 3? You can't take 125-mph wind gusts for a few hours?

But my parents finally did head home. They left early — what else? — to avoid the off chance of encountering another vehicle during the 552-mile trip.

Meanwhile, hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

But who's counting?

This is Glen Slattery's last Lost in Suburbia. He has made landfall in Alpharetta.



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