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Gone with the wind 

News gathering is so up to the minute that it's hard to get any real information. Just try to have a chat with your neighbor over whether the avocado tree is in your yard or theirs without Van Susteren, Cochran and Rivera convening four hours of panel discussions on "Crisis in the Backyard," or Koppel snagging an exclusive interview with The Lorax, presumably hired to speak for the tree. No one steps back from things anymore.

Thankfully the Wrath of God is not as overheated as the media. We have had enough time to step back from the tornadoes and we have seen that, of all the events that get covered as if they're Armageddon, this is the only one that looked the next day like it just might have been. While you're sitting in front of the tube like a mouth-breathing statue, unable to believe what you're seeing, it's hard to assess a situation with the normal balance of sense and nonsense. But now that we have our balance back, these are some of the things we noticed.

Naturally, coming as they did around Oscar time, we have to note that the tornadoes produced the greatest celebrity cameo of the year when Bill Clinton arrived to survey the damage and to touch people who survived the storm. If I had any sense, I would have messed up my hair, hung a toilet seat around my neck and showed up in Kissimmee, claiming that an executive grope would do me a world of good. So often one only thinks of what one should have done after the fact. Instead of bringing a used Jiffy-Pop pan to the front of the line and saying, "This used to be my house. Feel me up!," my friend Larry and I just squabbled over who the president was actually cruising for, him or me.

Blown opportunity

Forgive my hormonal view. It's hard to ignore the fact that Clinton has done for the presidency what matinee idols did for the movies: Introduce sex appeal that appeals to both sexes. Tax-code revisions and germ warfare could never have made us this interested in politics. We're all excited just to see his approval rating up.

Larry said, "Wow, the president has a nice big-ass helicopter." I really didn't think he was going to say "helicopter." I really thought he was going to leave it at "The president has a nice big ass." You never hear "nice big ass." Never. Eyes, car, living room, yeah, but "nice, big," never goes in front of "ass." It's up there with "Hand me that piano" on George Carlin's list of words you never hear together. That you will think of this the next time you are out there and spot a nice big ass, and it will make you laugh, is my gift to you in our community's time of crisis.

The local news was under more pressure than ever during those days, and one of our favorite moments occurred on Channel 6. A caller reported winds so strong on the east coast that some docks had been blown out of the water and onto the roofs of homes. Six News' Shannon Hori thought the caller said "ducks" and showed the requisite scrunched-brow concern for these luckless waterfowl; after all, if God had meant birds to fly, he'd have given them ... well, anyway, the caller corrected her, saying it was "docks," you know, like a pier, that had been uprooted. Without banging her head on the desk like I would have done, Hori acknowledged that that was indeed much more serious.

The theme parks escaped the storm -- mostly. A reader e-mailed with a theory that Disney had coordinated the disaster to clear land and then buy it cheap, a la Operation WALT: Wind And Lotsa Tornadoes. Now, come on. I'm a conspiracy geek, but even I know that Disney doesn't doesn't go around decimating apartment complexes in Winter Garden. They're too busy seeding the clouds with Prozac so that when it rains the tranqs will be absorbed into our skin and we'll endure another listen to "colors of the Wind" uncomplainingly.

Blown away

Blown away

Universal Studios delayed the opening of its "Twister" ride that was going to showcase a five-story tornado that wreaks havoc, instead donating $100,000 to disaster aid and taking donations to the Red Cross. Fine by me. I've never understood disaster rides. If you want to simulate trauma, where are the rides called "Honey, Your Mom is Dead" or "Back to the Break-Up" or "The Hall of Prostate Tumors"? See, it takes real cojones to handle Emotional Rollercoasters. And I don't say that because I experience pants-wetting fear just getting in line for Tower of Terror.

And that being the case, I wouldn't have done well in an actual tornado either. So, I appreciate the reminder that we should live like we mean it because it could all end in a second, am glad to have my natural fear of trailers and rural locales reinforced, and will hope I never have to find out whether I'm suited to the wind-blown look.

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