Tonight Los Angeles had its third earthquake in as many days. I was sitting here at my kitchen table writing a story about my frustration in gender inequality and how women shouldn’t be treated like a piece of meat when the ground beneath me started to shimmy back and forth. I felt like a piece of tenderized chicken getting aggressively stirfried by an angry chef. I moved one way while my furniture moved another. And while this might be the only instance where I actually did feel like a piece of meat, I decided to leave the irony of the moment behind and focus on exiting my home.
Grabbing my laptop, phone and a pair of shoes, I ran outside to my courtyard where I stood alone anxiously speaking into the air, “Guys? What should I do? Stop drop and roll? Just say no? See something, say something?” I looked like a crazy woman whispering Vespers to herself. It was as though the panic of the moment had smooshed all sense of reason or common conversation out of my head.
A woman walked into the courtyard and I immediately ran up to her with my stinky shoes in hand asking, “Did you feel that? Is it still happening?”
She calmly smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry, I’m carrying a pan.”
She too was living in the same smooshed world reality I was. Was she thinking, we’d cook our way out of an earthquake? Or maybe she was prepared to assault any potential looters with big heads.
Other neighbors started to file out of their apartments, including my neighbor who has a new baby boy. I asked if he had woken up from the shaking and she quickly replied, “No, but I didn’t want him to worry, so I woke him.” Yep, she too was out of sorts.
I think people simply don’t know how to respond to these scary events because we have all watched on television, or in some cases, been through similar, but gravely worse natural disasters. So our brains don’t really know where to go when it’s happening. Is it foreshadowing? Or no big deal? It’s impossible to know which.
After a few minutes, we went back into our respective homes. Still frazzled, I tried to sit down and work but then the floor started to shake once again, this time with less pizzaz. That chef must have moved onto a bisque.
It was then I decided I absolutely needed to pack a “Go-Bag” or an emergency bag of some sort in case things got worse. I couldn’t really say where I’d be going, perhaps to a field or the zoo? I had no idea where “Go” actually meant, but I finally decided to let in the little voice who’d been standing patiently outside my brain’s To-Do-List-House. She had stood there vigilantly in her red braids and wooden shoes tapping on the window for years reminding me to get an emergency kit. I would usually just look at her and nod whispering, “Yeah, Sugar, I’ll get right on that!” Then turn away from her chilly little figure.
Despite the years of neglect, she continued standing outside the house inside my head like a friendly stalker, gently whispering to me every so often to get water and band-aids. Not to sound callous, but I don’t have time for her neediness. I am usually too busy dealing with the guests already inside my Thoughts House. There’s Mr. Get A Real Job, who looks like an accountant from 1965. He uses a stenograph and often drinks heavily with Lady I Have An Idea. She’s usually busy sculpting a version of the Eiffel Tower out of flowers, piano keys, and exclamation points. Meanwhile, circling the room is Sir Gotta Take Care Of Everything. He goes around tieing and untying everyone’s shoes while dusting for spiders. He’s a little OCD but goddamn that room is always spotless.
My brain has to keep a lot of people working, occupied, and busy doing crafts, so getting around to Little Miss Go-Bag, took some incentivizing. And that jaunty 7.1 was just the push I needed.
Jumping out of my head and back into the real world, I immediately started to walk in small circles in my living room because all my To-Do People were mixed up and out of sorts. Ok, I think I remember someone saying I need shoes with tough bottoms. I instantaneously imagined the roads exploding and Miss Get ‘Er Done- my MacGyver of voices- trying to navigate over mounds of rubble with giant rebar pipe sticking up at every turn.
I think watching years of apocalyptic and survival shows like Titanic, Poseidon Adventure, Gilligan’s Island, and Alive have conditioned me to expect the worst. Although, from that particular list, one would surmise my biggest worry would be taking a cruise to the Bahamas, or becoming a Chilean soccer player. This might also explain why I call everyone, “Lovie”. (In case you don’t get any of these references, I strongly urge you to watch the aforementioned works. You will immediately want to learn how to swim, float on a door, wear a tropical MuMu, and make a savory human flesh sandwich.)
After having packed up a change of clothes, forty band-aids, a half dozen sharpies, and a used double-A battery, I came to the conclusion I should go to the store to get a few more essential items that might actually come in handy, such as water, protein bars, and a jar of Neosporin. (To put on all those rebar injuries.)
I got in my car and drove to the store across the street. (only in Los Angeles.) I started to think, “What do I actually do during an earthquake? Stand in my driveaway? Sit on my lawn?” It got me thinking about what should be done and I turned on the radio to listen to the news. On it, I heard an interview with a geologist and a local newscaster. The geologist was saying something to the effect of, “The earth has a bigger tear in it now. I’m not too concerned except…” The geologist trailed off, took an alarmingly long deep breath, and then started to say words that rhymed with “zombie” and “potato”. Or maybe not. I kind of stopped listening after the sigh. That was telling enough. To hear a grossly depressed scientist worried me more than whatever rhymed with “schmink schmole”.
I got out of my car and two women next to me were packing up a trunk full of water.
“Yeah, that’s why I’m here too.” I turned to one wearing what looked like a religious Batman cape.
“Oh, you’re going to a baby christening?” The caped woman asked. I’d obviously hit the 1 in 10,000 odds of mistaking a survivalist for a Baptist.
“Uh, no the earthquake.” I stammered. “It reminded me to get emergency water.”
“Oh Right! We got some bananas and lots of gum. We just moved to LA from Rhode Island.” I couldn’t argue with this logic.
“Yesss.” The other woman calmly peered over a pair of round purple spectacles that sat low on the bridge of her nose. Wearing a fringed leather halter top and brown bell-bottoms, it appeared she was entering a John Lennon impersonating contest and was already deep in character.
“We were at the Ross-Dress-For-Less and I felt this buzzy roll of the earth beneath me,” she went on. “I thought it might be my vertigo because I get that sometimes. Only usually when I’ve been on a boat, or have eaten too much lobster. But that only happens when I’ve been on a boat.” Clearly, Ms. Lennon was either high on weed, life, or boat fumes.
I couldn’t tell if these ladies had smooshed earthquake brain also, or if this is what Rhode Island’s version of panic looks like.
But then religious Batman looked at me and said, “You look familiar! Where have I seen you before?”
My inner voice, Miss You Should Be Wearing A Bra, hollered in my head, “I told you you should have worn one, even to the store.” I wasn’t quite prepared to be recognized and was more concerned about getting emergency baby wipes, so I deflected a little and made a non-sequitur about my love for a good deal at Ross-Dress-For-Less.
We all laughed and bonded for a few minutes about loving Ross and how despite at any given time, someone in the store may have a raging case of the flu, the deals there are worth the risk. After exchanging tips on where to find the deep discounts in flatware and underwear, we wished each other well and said our goodbyes.
Before turning to leave I said, “I look forward to seeing you at the store again under better circumstances. Or maybe we’ll run into each other during a meteor attack.” Miss Lennon found this especially funny and pointed at me with finger guns, which I can only hope was a compliment.
“Nice to meet you Nina!” religious Batman said as she unexpectedly leaned over and hugged me.
“You too” I smiled and hoped she didn’t feel my unbridled boobs mashing into her cape.
I turned to walk inside, and I felt a touch more calm for having bonded with very friendly strangers from Rhode Island.
After my peaceful exchange in the dark parking lot, it felt jarring to enter the grocery store with its iridescent neon lights and amped-up produce thunderstorms. I was a bit out of sorts initially and I found myself wandering through the store in a bit of a daze.
However, I did notice a few key things:
- Everyone was calm but also seemed to be completely spaced out. One man I walked by was staring at a Hotwheels car for an indeterminate period of time, while another couple stood holding a single candy bar between them. While the woman behind the cold cuts counter stood eating a child’s cupcake. Also, they too could have all been high. (It’s LA, being high is more common than having Herpes.)
- Every person I walked by had a shopping cart full of water. Some had piles of water plus stacks of canned beans, tuna, and all the other last resort foods you wouldn’t normally eat unless forced to by a natural disaster.
I made my way to the water aisle and with only a few containers left on the shelf, I scooped up 5 gallons of water and put them in my cart. I then proceeded to mindlessly wander around the store, happy to see other people calm, bored, and hungry. Ah, the mundane benefits of a brief piece of mind.
Like a sleep-deprived game show contestant on a timer, I thought buying a box of grape Kool-Aid seemed like a good idea. So did buying a two-pound bag of Twizzlers. Then I tossed in a large box of graham crackers because what else am I supposed to dip in my Kool-Aid? The earthquake probably wouldn’t kill me, but diabetes might. After that, I tossed in some beef jerky, batteries, Neosporin, and a pack of sparkly birthday candles. If I had to survive by candlelight, it was going to be so pretty!
I stood in the protein bar aisle with a glazed look on my face. So many choices, and yet they all tasted like the cardboard you walk on when entering a construction site. I didn’t want to get any of them because paying $2.50 to taste the rubber soles of a thousand feet seemed less appealing than surviving a sugar coma. But eventually, I caved and got a box of the kind that fills you up but then constipates you for days. I thought it was probably for the best if the situation got so dire I’d lose my toilet privileges.
Leaving the store with copious amounts of hydration, sodium, fructose, and bum stopper-upper, I felt way more prepared to face another earthquake. I got home and unpacked my loot. What had I done and why did it feel like I’d just broken some law? Deep inside I knew any purchase that included beef jerky, batteries, and licorice was one that could either lead to no good or a very large bonfire.
Getting over my buyer’s remorse I set out to finish packing up my bag. I then filled my backpack with ugly hiking boots, a package of baby wipes and seventy-two thousand calories. Something tells me I still didn’t quite grasp the concept of what goes inside the bag versus what goes into your cupboard, but between the two, I think I’ve now got the ability to throw a birthday party for a nine-year-old sugar addict (me) and ride out whatever comes my direction.
As I finish this story it is now a few days after the earthquake and I’ve gotten a little bit of distance from the initial panic that had me walking in circles like an in-bred terrier.
I’ve gone back to my day-to-day routine of work, meeting up with friends, and singing in my car. What I have noticed is a little bit more of a longing to connect with those around me, strangers and friend alike. None of us know what the next moment will bring but somehow finding richer connections to those around us seems to make the day a little more worthwhile.
Yesterday I spoke at a meeting of incredible humans. I was slightly nervous and very excited to share with them but had the rarely heard voice in my head, Miss You Need To Have A Dance Party, telling me I should shake things up before I began my speech.
Normally I would have told her to pipe down and mind her own business, and for god sake, go put on a bra. But something about that quake has reminded me of the importance of kicking fear and self-consciousness to the curb.
So instead, I started this meeting by telling everyone to get up for a 30-second dance party. We all stood up, shook our booties, hollered a bit and cut loose with reckless abandon. From here on out, I think the reason the earth should shake is because we are having such a good time up above.