The year of things happening

Right in the middle of it.

The tornado missed my house by a few blocks, which upset Lary. I would have been surprised at his show of concern if not for the fact that I knew he wasn't concerned, he was just jealous. He was in New York City, way too far from the mayhem if you asked him, and he lamented missing the first tornado ever to hit downtown Atlanta. "Can you check my house for me to see if it got flattened?" he asked hopefully, believing that if he can't claim personal proximity to the disaster then at least maybe his property could have partaken by proxy.

"Check your house? I'm moving into your house," I told him, as electrical power had yet to be restored to my place. Lary's house is a fortress, after all, built from solid cinder block and rebar. Formerly an abandoned warehouse, it's probably the last original structure standing on his street. Its original purpose was to make and package candy and potato chips, but today it serves as a silo for all the outcrops of Lary's productive madness, including, but not limited to, a network of intricate scaffolding and that supply of autographed pictures of Jesus that Lary never got around to offering on eBay.

I have always said that Lary's fortress is the first place I'd run to in the event of a disaster, but here such an event has come and gone and I now realize there's really hardly any time to run anywhere. Me? When I heard the tornado, I ran to the window and stood there transfixed like an idiot, my cellphone to my ear, imploring the person on the other line to please take my daughter, who was spending the night down the street, into the basement. "It looks really bad," I kept saying, but I really should not have been looking at it at all. I should have been crouching in the bathtub surrounded by couch cushions and a mattress over my head.

But I kept waiting to see the tornado, figuring that I would run when I saw it coming. I never saw the tornado, though. All I saw was a big cloud of dust and things flying by and all the giant trees in my back yard swirling around like kelp at the bottom of an active ocean bed. "That was the tornado!" Lary groaned. "You were right there. You saw it and you didn't even know what you were looking at!"

Well, I guess all that says is that it's possible to miss something even if you're practically in the middle of it. I remember when I was a teenager in San Diego and a commercial jetliner crashed into the adjoining neighborhood, missing us by a few blocks then, too. All I can say is that that disaster looked exactly like it should have, but then I realized it had begun at a distance, as two planes had collided a mile overhead, and afterward it all just ended up nearby.

So I suppose that's what I was expecting with the tornado. I was expecting to see it coming from a distance in the shape of a funnel like the kind you see in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, only much bigger. After it was gone I found myself — kinda, in a weird way — regretting that I'd missed it, even though I was right there.

Later that day, Lary called to tell me a 19-story construction crane had just collapsed in Manhattan, in the Upper East Side, destroying four entire buildings and killing seven people. It happened a few subway stops from where he was standing as he spoke to me. "I missed it by a half an hour!" Lary griped, exasperated that the really exciting disasters all seem to be eluding him of late.

"You didn't miss it. You're right there," I told him. "Go check it out and see if you can help or something," I said, confident that Lary's genius for creating destruction out of order could be inverted to creating order out of destruction.

But he was too close to it to understand what he was looking at. Ironically, he kept telling me he had made it his mission to be more aware lately. "This year in particular," he was saying. "Because things are happening all around us. Big changes are going to occur, all over the world. This is the year of things happening. I know it in my bones. I need to keep my eyes open. I don't want to miss it."

But it occurred to me then that neither of us missed the tornado — the tornado missed us. Lary didn't miss the collapsed crane — the collapsed crane missed him, and thank Jesus Christ for that, because Lary is right, there are things happening all around us. Big changes are occurring. But when are they not? The trick is to not stand at the window like an idiot, watching it all go by.

"Lary, you didn't miss it," I kept saying, "you're in the middle of it."

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (

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