Choose your disaster

Someplace like here n California?”No, you have earthquakes there, I’m scared of earthquakes”Huh?It’s funny…. My house, built in 1933, didn’t sustain more than a few cosmetic cracks and some water damage from fish-tanks that slopped but didn’t fall…. Compare it to the death toll from hurricanes in the Caribbean this year; again, not that much…. But it was just so weird to me today to describe this little, nothing quake, interesting only because it made a weird sound, and to have people respond with fear…. Still, I have a hard time imagining choosing this train of hurricanes that are lined up like an arrow pointed to FLA over a little rock and roll.

You are just a dreamer,
and I am just a dream.
You could have been
anyone to me.
Before that moment
you touched my lips
That perfect feeling
when time just slips
Away between us
on our foggy trip.

You are like a hurricane
There’s calm in your eye.
And I’m getting’ blown away
To somewhere safer
where the feeling stays.
I want to love you but
I’m getting blown away.

    –Neil Young, ‘Like a Hurricane’

Something woke me up last night at 3:30 am. I’m not sure what. Some premonition, some fore-shock.

At 3:32 am a small earthquake struck. Small as in 3.4 on the Richter scale. Nothing really. A few seconds later there was another, the same magnitude.

These were interesting because they were loud. The first sounded like a car being slammed into the side of my house twice – BOOM! — BOOM!. The second started with a quick-swelling rumble and the a side-to-side shaking. I’ve never heard such a loud quake.

I got up and looked on the USGS web site and found they already had info; these guys are good. And then I understood why this seemed different; the epicenter was less than a mile from my house. This baby was close.


It wasn’t scary. Earthquakes don’t scare me. They never have. I grew up in California; they’re part of living here. The ’89 Loma Prieta quake didn’t scare me. And I’m not scared of ‘the big one’ that’s supposed to send California into the ocean. It will happen when it happens, but the odds of it happening in such a way that will do me or mine harm is so tiny that it simply can’t be a worry.

But I was wired. Excited. I wanted to talk to people about it. The sound was so cool.

I slept after a while. But I’ve been thinking all day about the sound this earthquake made, wishing I could have recorded it.

So I’ve been talking to people who live in the southeast US. Where they have hurricanes. Where they have force five hurricanes that kill people and flood and knock down houses. People in Florida, which has just been hammered by hurricanes Charlie and Frances, and is about to get hammered by Ivan.

These are monster storms. They can remove a town as if it never existed. They throw boats, cars, small plans around like kids toys.

I ask these people, why do you stay? Why not move someplace with no hurricanes? Someplace like here n California?

“No, you have earthquakes there, I’m scared of earthquakes”

Huh?

It’s funny. I’ve never seen a tornado. Never seen a hurricane. I want to; I want to see this sort of fury. But I don’t want to put my house in the path of such a thing. I don’t want my kids there. My family. My friends.

On the other hand, I’ve lived with ‘quakes since I was little. They’re not the least bit scary. They’re just a little noise and a little shaking, sometimes something falls off a shelf. That’s it. We have something to talk about next day at work; who felt it, who slept through it. Oh, sure, there’s the Loma Prietas; but honestly, how much did that change my life? Some people died, a few houses and building were damaged. Small, in the scale of things. Candlestick Park was full to capacity when it hit. It rocked and rolled and stayed up. Our bridges mostly stayed up, only one fatality there. My house, built in 1933, didn’t sustain more than a few cosmetic cracks and some water damage from fish-tanks that slopped but didn’t fall.

That’s one. In my life. One here, one or two in Los Angeles. A death toll that’s got to be short of 200 people. Compare that to the deaths since we started this stupid fucking war in Iraq. Compare it to the number of people killed by terrorists in the past couple years. It’s not much. Compare it to the death toll from hurricanes in the Caribbean this year; again, not that much.

So I’m amazed when I hear that; ‘you have earthquakes’, as it they’re talking nuclear war.

I know. You have some warning with a hurricane. A little with a tornado. And none with an earthquake. That makes ‘quakes spooky.

But it was just so weird to me today to describe this little, nothing quake, interesting only because it made a weird sound, and to have people respond with fear. “no,” I said, “It was just a little quake…

It’s what you’re used to, I guess. It’s scary because when you’ve only felt the earth move in bed, the whole idea is terrifying.

Still, I have a hard time imagining choosing this train of hurricanes that are lined up like an arrow pointed to FLA over a little rock and roll. Maybe that’s the California in my blood. Only I can’t blame that, I was born in Iowa.

0 thoughts on “Choose your disaster”

  1. I wonder if this is related to the idea of “the real” as Jacques Lacan (French psychoanalyst) defined it. I’m going to blow the description of it, as I’m years into being a lapsed grad student. He argues that we can only directly experience reality before we attain language, and that after we have language, we use it to distance ourselves from direct experience with reality. Every once in a while, however, we are confronted with the real–usually in some sort of sudden, threatening, traumatic experience. It’s a moment when we can’t distance ourselves. I wonder if an earthquake is exactly that: because it is so shocking, no preparation, it provides just a split second of access to the real. This exposure to the real is ultra-scary (we are taken back to the powerlessness and pure need of infancy, before language). Perhaps those who fear earthquakes, on some unconscious level, recognize THIS risk–not the risk of death, but the risk of a momentary experience of reality beyond comprehension.

  2. We talked about this right after it happened, Karl, and I’m with you. I just don’t get it. And I’m an east coast girl, born and bred.

    I knew as a kid that Earthquakes were less scary than hurricanes. I’ve been through hurricanes and nor’easters and was inside my school when a tornado miraculously jumped the building. I saw the path of destruction wider than an LA freeway leading up to the school, and the similar path leading away. It terrified me, and completely freaked me out. Why were we saved?

    A little boo-boom? A little shake -n- roll? Bring it on. I happily lived in a house that straddled the Santa Cruz fault line, because it had stood up through the Loma Prieta. I seriously condidered buying it, and would have if I hadn’t met [X].

    Universally, the people I knew who were afraid of earthquakes had never felt one. Once they did, their response, to a one, was “That’s it?!? That was an earthquake? I thought a big truck had just driven by.” Or something along those lines.

    The only quake that ever scared me was the Seattle quake a few years ago. I was out in the open, and counted the time between the first and second waves. It was strong enough that I got knocked off balance and sat down. I watched the ground ripple, and the trees sway.

    I knew the quake was pretty far away, and still strong when it got to me, so I started to worry. The first person I asked told me it was near Portland, and that was bad news. Portland was a *long* way away. Then I heard it was in Seattle, which was where [X] was at the time, working in an old brick building.

    Of course everything was fine. And then I got to see how the press frightened the world. Because they kept showing the facades of the three buildings that had suffered some cosmetic damage, over and over, from different angles. And talking to people who were afraid. And talking about how *bad* it could be. Universally, they sounded dissapointed as building after building and bridge after bridge was declared safe. It was sickening.

  3. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t heard of Robert Graves…but according to Wikipedia, it looks like they were contemporaries. Robert Graves (July 24, 1895–December 7, 1985), Jacques Lacan (April 13, 1901 – September 9, 1981). If there is overlap in the ideas, I wouldn’t be surprised. According to Wikipedia, Graves was friends with Sassoon and Owen, both of whom were working with (and through) major themes of Freudian psychoanalysis and trauma. Lacan was a post-Freudian who built on Freud’s theories.

    I’ll have to read Graves’ poetry. Amazing what connections happen in blog-land!

  4. Far out you think the quakes are bad in californa come to my town in North Australia, only 300 km’s away from the most active fault line in the world “Indo-Australian plate” what was the plate what casued 9.0 earthquake but that was very north of my country, My area we get shacken by 2 7.0M or greater Earthquake a year, about 10 6.0M earthquakes 30 under 5, yes its very scary going threw a quake the ground roars shakes bla bla but seriously dont cry when people have got it much worse then you, how about NZ? there country get’s shacken by quakes all week long

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