Thursday, August 25, 2011

Between a Rocking and a Wet Place

In June we got tornadoes -- or at least they did in central Mass., an hour or two from here. We never get tornadoes.  
On Tuesday, we got an earthquake -- or anyway the house rocked gently back and forth like a giant cradle. We never get earthquakes. 
And right now, Hurricane Irene is rolling slowly up the Eastern seaboard, due to arrive on Sunday. Supposedly she will be more irenic (peaceful) than she was in the Caribbean. But not so irenic as to be ironic. Anyway, we almost never get hurricanes.

I'm not suggesting that we all bone up on our Armageddon Preparedness drills (basically yelling "Armageddon outa here!" and running like hell). But it does seem like the end-of-the-worlders could have had more recruits if they'd waited a few months.

As earthquakes go, it was a carnival ride for toddlers. I was at the dining room table when the house was possessed by the gentlest swaying, forward and back, accompanied by a rockinghorse creaking. Except it was dumbfounding. The equivalent of a giant over the head of a cartoon character. At first it was a sensation looking for a name. Pretty soon the brain came up with the name--more of a tentative suggestion. It couldn't really be an earthquake but of course it had to be an earthquake. The rocking continued. (These were those fat, slow seconds reserved for unusual events.) So, what to do about it? 1. Ride it out. It was so gentle. Almost fun. 2. Mosey outside. Would it soon become less gentle and not at all fun? 3. Something about standing in a door frame. A few more fat seconds later, the rocking ceased, the creaks subsided. The gods had finished their bouncy-bouncy. Relief and disappointment high-fived each other like a pair of tectonic plates.

Belatedly, words spilled out. "Holy shit!" From Matt's room, an echo: "Holy shit!" He came out, looking agog and delighted. I was happy for him. A grandpa moment at age sixteen.

I looked at my watch. Seven minutes to two. It seemed important to fix the moment. Next important thing was to validate the event by finding it in the media. But it was too fresh. It was still in the tender "what the fuck was that??" phase, a story not yet told. Nothing on the Internet, the radio, not even a businesslike bulletin bursting through the bubble agony of the soaps.

The soft tissue was already hardening into history, though. Brains were busy measuring it, making sense of it, canvassing reactions to it. My father-in-law came upstairs, bemused and amused. 5.8, epicenter near Washington, D.C., he reported.

The innocent, freefalling, naked sensation--the ? moment--was a gently rocking memory to be freely distributed as "DId you feel the earthquake?" trading cards. Those who hadn't, somehow had.

"Are you having a hurricane party?" I heard someone ask someone else today. Meaning Irene. And there will be a run on milk and water and chips and salsa and other essentials. Some people in Winthrop will board up their windows because you can't be too careful, as the too-careful say. Mainly, the expectation, at least two days before, is a kind of fun hurricane, like the fun earthquake.

We can feel guilty or grateful that our disasters don't measure up to the maximum hell that other places get. No famines, no floods, no fires. What we have is heck. No shame in that.

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