8 Ways Suburban Apathy Got Me Through Irene: A Hero's Story
Spring Into ActionSo on Wednesday --about four days before Hurricane Irene hit -- I began hearing warnings. News commentators threw around words like "Category 3 hurricane," "flooding" and "natural disaster." Instantly, I knew what I had to do: dismiss these reports as utter sensationalist crap. After all, I was on vacation and trying to finish my novel, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse . I couldn't be bothered.
Get Batteries for FlashlightsIt was the day before the hurricane, and I was still acting as cool as Soren Bowie at a racial purity contest. Still, even though I had no belief in a hurricane happening, I figured a heavy storm or something could knock down a tree, and I guessed it couldn't hurt to, y'know, get some batteries or something. I had just grown back my sideburns for Hate By Numbers, and it would be a shame if darkness made me go an hour without checking them out. So I pulled out my camping lantern and headed to Home Depot for some D batteries.I was greeted by a PA announcement that the store was out of generators. Hmm, curious, I thought, but I didn't sweat it. I was just there to buy batteries. But wouldn't you know it? I couldn't find any batteries. Anywhere. So I approached the nearest openly gay woman in a red vest and asked where the D batteries were. "Oh, we haven't had any batteries for days ...."She looked at me with a combination of confusion and pity that I shook off with bravado."Oh, no problem," I said, trying to imply that I must have had like 30 D batteries at home and was just hoping for extras.Then I went to Radio Shack. No dice. (But that remote control car they've been trying to sell since the '70s sure looked fun.) Then to a supermarket. (Nope. Also, it did not occur to me to buy food or water at this time.) And then to another Radio Shack, where I bought the last D batteries in the place. Apparently, they had sold out but just gotten a few more from another store. And I guess they were real batteries. Not quite Duracell or Energizer, but, um ... well, they fit in my flashlight.
Next to strippers and chlamydia, I believe these batteries are Ukraine's third-biggest export.
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Get FoodAlright, I'll admit it. I was starting to panic. It was Saturday night, and my wife called me. As an afterthought, she hit Target on the way home from the gym and was taking food requests. Because I'm a sophisticated man who has weathered more than 30 winters, my reply was simple but direct: "I dunno. Meat. Stuff we can grill if the stove doesn't work."Smart thinking, because if the stove wasn't working, that would mean the refrigerator wouldn't be, either, but my wife came home with some veggie dogs and chicken cutlets, probably so I wouldn't feel stupid. Also a bunch of water. I guess that was important, too.Oh, by the way, at no point did I actually buy more propane for my grill because, y'know, why would I?
Search for Potential HazardsOK. Now that the food and lighting situations were handled adeptly, it was time to search out potential harms. I hadn't seen a real hurricane since the '80s, but I seemed to recall something about taping windows. I hadn't inquired about the right kind of tape to use, and I certainly hadn't bought any tape at Home Depot, but I did have some painter's tape lying around. I thought it would be perfect, mostly because it wouldn't leave gummy marks on the glass. I went to work:
No hurricane is gonna mess with my blue asterisk of protection!
And then I knocked the basketball net down before the wind could.
This felt kinda like knocking your own books down in junior high before a bully could.
Of course, there were some dangers I could not quickly remedy. The kind that were 50 feet high and only 25 feet from my house.
My hurricane plan involved a lot of praying for wind in the direction of my least favorite neighbor.
Protect the ChildrenOK, so now it was late Saturday night, and all I could do was wait for this hurricane that was anything from a Category 1 to a Category 3. Occasionally, I'd go to the kitchen and see how that one big tree was blowing. It was blowing. It was at this point that I realized something. We'd put our child to bed directly in the path of the one tree that could crush our house. Perhaps the basement would have been a better idea. Or any one of the rooms in the house that were not directly in the path of the precarious giant pine human-swatter. So I guessed there was nothing to do but wake him up. But then I'd have to drag his mattress downstairs, and by that time he might wake up too much to get back to sleep, and then I'd have to get offline and turn off the TV and talk to him and stuff. So I decided I'd sleep on his floor. See, that way my Spidey sense would wake me before it crushed through his roof and my super strength would allow me to catch the tree before it crushed my boy. And as I fell to sleep, lulled by the streaming of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it occurred to me that sleeping on my son's floor meant I was lower to the ground than he. He'd get hit first. I wondered if Spidey sense were an inherited trait and hoped that his three years of mixed martial arts training had prepared him for this day.
"And remember: When you're attacked by a tree, use your tiger claw ... oh, and also, in 10 years when Seanbaby is old and feeble, avenge your father!"
Taking StockI awoke Sunday morning to a light rain and moderate wind. Irene was supposed to have struck in the night, but apparently was having too much fun in Jersey to do much damage. (In truth, the Molly Pitcher rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike does have a kickass Roy Rogers and a machine that crushes your pennies into landmarks!) The tree was standing. I hadn't lost electricity."Why are you in my room, Dad?" my son asked."In case the tree crashed into your room.""You said that was impossible before I went to bed.""Did I? Hmm. WHO WANTS PANCAKES?!"We watched the news over breakfast. Apparently, the worst hadn't hit us yet. Reporters in slickers were at coastal beachfronts. One woman on Long Beach Island in Jersey was touting the "awesome" power of the hurricane by bragging about 20-foot waves that looked 5 feet high to me. Then she tried to capture the majesty of the storm for us by putting her microphone on the handrail of the boardwalk. It was convincing proof that you can be functionally retarded and still be a news reporter. Also one anchorwoman kept referring to field reporter Wendy Gillette as "Windy" Gillette. More proof.Oh, and Irene must have not been blowing the right people at the Weather Channel because they downgraded her ass to a tropical storm. What a burn.
Tropical Storm: The meteorological equivalent of erectile dysfunction.
Hunkering Down for the WorstFrom 8 to 10 a.m. we were to receive the worst of it, and it did pick up. I watched those trees, picturing crushing blows. I feared the windows and how they might shatter into a thousand knives. Then I watched How to Eat Fried Worms. Did you know Devo did the music for that movie? True story. Then the real horror struck: My 7-year-old daughter said one of the
Navigating the AftermathIt was early Monday morning. The worst was officially over. In fact, it was quite a lovely day. And that's when the electricity went out. Probably shut down while repairs were being done. Even my Droid phone wasn't working. Totally shut off. That's right. I had absolutely no way of seeing how much people hated my last column that also paradoxically performed quite well in terms of page views. I was separated from Internet commenters. Brutal.I ventured out into the world with my family. Downed power lines. Uprooted trees and limbs. Not one open Starbucks in a 10-mile radius! It was a strange and unfamiliar world. "Daddy, where will you get your decaf venti latte?" "I don't know, baby. I. just. don't. know."And then we went to Dunkin' Donuts. It's incredible what you'll do in an emergency.
Oh, the humanity!
But it wasn't all hardship. No one had bought anything from my local liquor store for days, and due to some shipments that were damaged in the storm, the owner didn't have a .75 liter bottle of Jameson's, so he sold me a 1.75 liter bottle for 20 percent off. The power came back that night. Our milk hadn't even spoiled. I wasn't sure about the chicken and contemplated feeding some of it to the neighbor's dog as a test, but I just decided to cook it extra long with liberal amounts of barbecue sauce, which I imagine has some curative properties.Fatalities for this storm were few. I heard one gentleman died windsurfing, exhibiting judgment possibly poorer than mine. But others died for no damned good reason. People lost valued possessions and suffered both sentimental and financial property damage. I'm not sure why some people get lucky and others don't, and I'll never figure that out. I also will never fully grasp our ability to pray for the safety of loved ones and then turn on a dime, praying for the return of Internet access. I got very lucky, and I'm grateful. Anyone wishing to contribute to relief efforts for the damage done can start