Thursday, April 24, 2008

Natural Disasters

There are many types of "natural disasters".

There's the "shart", for those of you who haven't seen "Along Came Polly" it's when you think you're going to fart, but you shit a little.

There's that skin flap that forms under a woman's arms sometime in her 50's usually.

There's showing up at a formal event in the same outfit as a woman your friends all refer to as "the ho-bag".

But the natural disasters I'm writing about are the kind involving weather, and the earth. When someone tells me about a disaster, I find it difficult to not want to compete with them for who's lived through the worst natural disaster. I'm not sure my desire to win this particular competition is natural, or healthy, or smart.

And although it is true that many people have lived through disasters much worse than my best or worst, it is possible that I could still win the coveted "Most Freaked Out By a Natural Disaster Award". The awards ceremony for this particular award is fairly small and low key, and currently it is not being televised. The MFOBANDA nominees are often a rag-tag bunch, straggling along a tan carpet into the school auditorium , which was randomly chosen out of a dirty hat for that year's event. They are often hurt, injured, shell shocked, flinching and wincing as they pass by the disposable camera purchased to record the ceremony for posterity.

You see, about nine months after moving to L.A. I had found my own apartment. It was a small studio apartment. It had one large room, and a small kitchen. A hallway went around a corner to the bathroom, and in that hallway was a built in dresser, and vanity. The living room had a Murphy bed tucked behind a pair of large doors. I had furnished the whole thing with "found" furniture, which I cleaned up and improved as much as I could, and things that had been given to me by various people I'd met who felt pity for me. I was very proud of the fact that I had a pretty nice set up, and hadn't spent any money other than a couple bucks on a few yards of fabric to cover a chair.
But I digress. In the middle of the night, I think it was around 4:00am on January 17th, 1994 the Northridge Earthquake struck L.A. This was my first earthquake and it was a pretty big one. I was awakened by the sensation on laying in the bed of a pick-up truck as it flew down a bumpy dirt road. It was pitch dark, it was loud, I was naked! Everything was falling all around me, things were smashing and breaking. It went on for about 20 seconds, which felt like an hour. When the walls and the ceiling and floor stopped moving, it was still pitch dark. Car alarms were going off everywhere, people were outside the building talking in excited and frightened tones. I was afraid to get off the bed, I'd heard things breaking, I had bare feet. I slowly carefully lowered my feet to floor and felt each step before taking it to the light switch. No power, I picked up the phone, no phone. I needed to find clothes and get dressed and find out what I'm supposed to do! I started to panic, because my apartment was on the ground floor, and from the side of the building someone could easily break a window and step right in, and there I was naked, startled, no way to call the police, no lights, no one else in the building to here me scream. jThe thought of this nearly paralyzed me with fear. It sounded like everyone was outside. I thought I should be out there too. I had some candles, I lit a lighter to find them, and thank god I didn't blow up.

You should never light a match after an earthquake, gas pipes break or leak, but I didn't know. I didn't know how to survive here, it hadn't occurred to me before. I finally got some candles lit and looked around at the destruction. I was in disbelief! Cabinets opened and emptied themselves, even the hall closet threw up all over the place blocking the door. I found clothes and it took me a while but I found shoes too. I moved the pile of crap blocking the door and exited the building. Everyone was out in front of the building telling their story. The whole neighborhood was out there talking to each other and assessing the damage, in L.A. neighbors talking is a strange sight indeed.

There were many aftershocks, smaller but still disturbing earthquakes that followed the initial one. Every one of these made me feel a little sick, and scared. You never want to see a building you're standing in move the way a building moves during an earthquake. After a couple of weeks, the aftershocks were getting very small and not that unsettling. I had a very large avocado tree outside my apartment window, and when we had an aftershock I would run outside and pick up the avocados. I'd call my friend and say, aftershock! I'm making guacamole for the game. I put a big nail by the door and hung my jeans with the wallet in the pocket and a t-shirt on it. I put a pair of shoes just below them on the floor so I could find everything in the dark. i had management fix the closet door so it would latch properly and felt a little more prepared, but shortly after that was when the anxiety attacks started.

I would be on the freeway and traffic would slow to a stop and I'd be sitting their, one car locked in like a puzzle piece with thousands of other cars just sitting there, stuck no way to get out....STUCK. I would start pulling at my clothes because I couldn't breathe and they felt tight around my neck, but they weren't. This feeling, this panic began to extend to any situation where I felt unable to move, being in a large crowd where it was difficult to move or raise my arms, on a bus with people sandwiching me in, anything like that.

You never forget your first earthquake! You never know what will break inside you when you are truly shaken.

MFOBANDA acceptance speech:

First of all, I'd like to thank all the slightly less freaked out people without whom this award would not be mine. I'd like to thank the mental health professionals I've come in contact with for nominating me. Id like to thank the pharmaceutical companies for being there when I needed them, and I'd like to give a shout out to all my peeps who know what I'm talking about!


TheWeyrd1 said...

hee hee sleep naked...hee hee hee. So are you going to write a whole biography in installments? Cause so far it's a page turner!

RED MOJO said...

theweyrd1, lol, thanks. I don't know, just some of the highlights I guess.

Ces said...

Yes, I'm with theweyrd1. A lot to read about the disaster and I was following but after I read the line "naked" I just skimmed through the rest. Hahahaha!

kj said...

ces is theweyrd1? wow....

another well written capitivating chapter, rm. you have a right to post traumatic stress!

RED MOJO said...

ces, you crack me up!

kj, thank you two times!

comfortandjoy said...

Ok, Ok, Ok, you win "The Most Freaked Out By A Natural Disaster Award." But I win the 'Freaking The Most People Out By BEING A Natural Disaster Award." Ha. So there. Winning feels good. Yeah. *grin*

RED MOJO said...

cj, Yes, but my award is national, and for your's the field was limited to the people who wax your car.

Baino said...

Apparently LA is due for the BIG one sometime soon . . .scary alright. We've had minor tremors now and then and they're enough to kick he dog off the bed! Keep up the slice of life stories, they're wonderful!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

My husband and my son were both in San Francisco when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989. Flip and I hadn't met yet, but my son called me and sounded utterly shaken. The connection was broken and I was unable to get through to him for three days, so although I wasn't there, I experienced it too.

I think my personal worst disaster was when my family boat blew up out on the ocean and quickly burned to the waterline as I tried to paddle away from it. I was 7 and couldn't swim, nor was I wearing a life jacket. I was in the water for over an hour before a fishing boat came along and picked me up.

Your PTSD would be reason enough never to set foot in California again. I'm so glad you're still with us - oh, and I sleep naked, too. Thankfully, my skin hasn't begun to bunch up under me yet like pj's.

TheWeyrd1 said... bro was also in the area when that earthquake hit. He was supposed to be on the way to Candlestick Park to cover the game for one of the TV stations as part of an internship, but was running late and ended up under his desk instead. My mom was sooooooo mad at him for not calling her to say he was alright which he could have done because he lived in Berkley. He ended up having to write a really really long apology letter. I don't think he'll make that mistake again. Course he currently lives near my mom in Texas...

RED MOJO said...

baino, thank you, glad you're enjoying them.

heart, My god, that boat incident sounds horrible. What an ordeal! I'm glad you are here to tell the tale!

theweyrd1, do you read heartinsanfrancisco's blog? If you don't, you should...she's a wonderful writer, and human.

citizen of the world said...

I lived in California, but never experienced an earthquake until I lived in Virginia. But it was so very monor, more like a shudder of the ground. But hurricanes and tornados! Those babies scare me.

tsduff said...

I was in the big Sylmar quake when I lived in Calabasas - 1970 I think. It hit early in the morning - I was still in bed and when the bed shook I thought the cat was jumping on it. I looked out my window, and the full moon, which was beginning to set in the sky turned red, frum the dust rising. Years later, I was living in the bay area when the Loma Prieta quake hit in 1989. Happily, my family and I were just fine. My one piece of advice regarding earthquakes is to keep a flashlight under your bed, as well as a pair of shoes. First thing leaping out of bed naked after an earthquake, you don't want to step on a bunch of broken glass. That Northridge earthquake was a real doozy. Great story!

heartinsanfrancisco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
heartinsanfrancisco said...


My early post on that incident was called "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This" on 9/21/06.

The link in the comment I deleted didn't work, but I'm not sure it's worth the effort anyway.

RED MOJO said...

Citizen, Yeah, it's all really all crazy powerful stuff!

tsduff, The cat jumping on the bed?! At the end of my street a four story brick apartment building lost an entire side. The wall just crumbled away. You could see inside the rooms...I'm glad I wasn't in one of those bedrooms!

heart, Thanks, I'll go read it. :)