Touring the rocky coast
I’ve written about midnight Sept. 1989. I’m remembering it again. Hurricane Hugo. Worst killer storm to ever hit the Carolinas.
I arrived to see my friend Mickey Spillane, then Earth’s top kill ’em/shoot ’em/maim ’em mystery writer who’d done 50 best sellers featuring his fictional hero Mike Hammer.
Near what remained of Myrtle Beach — the 18-room Murrells Inlet house he’d lived in 35 years — gone. His boat sat in what would’ve been his living room. A live pelican flapped in the dining room. The pelican was on a dock. The dock was now in the dining room. We examined wreckage with a flashlight when the pelican flapped his wings, chased us and threw us out.
A giant hole was the once-glorious white house. The section fronting the water totally gone. A gleaming porcelain toilet festooned the front yard.
The front door hung. Steps, gone. Trash was piled against a 5-foot watermark like some frightening sculpture. Weird things stuck to shredded screens. A rocking chair — not his — in the library. Saltwater crabs alive and well everywhere.
His boat wound up in the living room. “When I went away my neighbor had my house keys,” he said, “but who needs keys when there’s no house?”
We sat on a porch festooned with fallen trees and bushes. The roof sagged. The floor had a hole. The walls were hanging. A boiler sat on his front yard along with water pipes, kitchen freezer, clothes iron, and rocking chair that didn’t belong to him.
We saw a now-rusted pot bellied stove, smashed Tiffany lamp, Mexican tile kitchen, which was now complete history, and an assessed $3,000 in stored groceries. In what had been Mickey’s office an ashtray — not his — that blew in from somewhere said “Home Sweet Home.” An Ethan Allen chair somehow got used for kindling. Service for 12 left only one pewter salt shaker under a mound of mud.
A year later Mickey rebuilt. He said: “The situation was unsolvable. We bulldozed and started over. Cost half a million just to tear it down and another million to rebuild. We started from scratch. Took nine months.
“The new house, on stilts, has 100% structural integrity. Ten feet off the ground. Three stories. Concrete foundation. The underpinnings have enormous power. A whole level’s underneath our first floor like a carport. We’re up on hurricane ties, concrete steel posts deep into the ground up through the walls to the second story. Hurricane windows that can withstand tremendous winds.
“Pine floors. Old-fashioned Victorian tub on an oak pedestal. New old-style pull-chain toilets. Worry won’t put anything back. Jeez, I’ve been through enough.”
Jehovah’s Witness Mickey stayed cool. He sat me in remnants of a rocking chair and said, “I’m 71, gray. Lucky I still have hair. I can’t spend what’s left of my life worrying.”
Near a trusty antique Smith Corona typewriter on which he pecked out his best sellers, he found what he said was a 500 year old bottle of wine, poured it into a paper cup and said: “Hell, I’m still doing OK for an old bastard.”
Two partners on a train back from Florida. One suddenly jumped up, screaming, “My God! I left the safe open.” The other partner shrugged and said, “So what’re you worried about? We’re both here, aren’t we?”
Only in New York, kids, only in New York.