Maybe A Poster From An Old Rodeo

Previously on Poor Impulse Control, we played my very favorite game: SNOW DAY! Because it’s that time of year, let’s recap:

I’m not much of a game player, but I have a few favorites. My sister Daria and I compare grocery store register tapes with ferocious game faces and end zone dances; I play bumper cars with traffic on my bicycle twice a day and my crappy memory makes all of life a constant game of Concentration, but my absolute favorite is Snow Day.

Stuff’s gonna happen. Weather’s going to kick your ass now and then, and depending on where you live, in invigorating ways. Here in the eastern part of Central New Jersey, weather is fairly mild most of the time, but once or twice a normal winter, snow is going to tie up traffic and macramé brainwaves. The game has three parts:

1. Prepare.
2. Get home before I cannot.

When snow is in the forecast, I count on about half the people around me to head to the grocery store to buy bread and milk and the other half to forget they’re out. Most people are not good at this game. But look: this is fun. Imagine yourself cozy inside your happy house for – let’s say – two days, even three. What would you need? What would you want? What would make these three days awesome?

Cat Food
Cat Litter
Snow Melt (for the sidewalks)
Toilet Paper

Enough Extra For Additional People, Animals
Ability To Travel Locally
Warm Outdoor Clothing
Warm Indoor Clothing
Fun Things To Do, Including Each Other

Adult Beverages
Clean Laundry
Human Treats
Cat Treats
Mariachi Band!

It’s a complicated bit of imagining. What if your neighborhood loses power in this fantasy? What if you find yourself stranded with guests? What if you, whoever and whatever you are, have to take care of an injured person? Can you do it?

First Aid Kit
Antibiotic Ointment
Clean Towels

Extra Blankets
Ability To Wash Dishes Manually

Power Generator

I don’t have a generator and probably never will, but that’d be great, wouldn’t it? Maybe. But then you have to store combustible fuel for it. Here, where power outages are few, far between and brief, keeping a generator is probably not a great idea. Where you live, it may be absolutely necessary. How do you feel about a mariachi band? So let’s amend:

Drink Umbrellas
Festive, Warm Costumes
What, you think a party just happens?

Look, I’ve been broke. I don’t mean out of pin money for the weekend, I mean ate once mashed potatoes a day while pregnant, and I have a rule: Every grocery list that includes ramen noodles must include paper drink umbrellas. Life is short! But everyone has a different definition of Need, Want and Awesomeness, and some things you can build into your regular life and count as part of the game. A really good example: batteries. Locate your flashlights at the beginning of October, replace all the batteries and store enough new batteries to replace what you’re using in January, should the need arise. Bonus: you can feel very smug when a TV PSA asks if you’ve thought of it.

Another thing: coffee. I don’t know about you, but I am going to be very unhappy in a situation where I’m denied some caffeinated swill. A power outage does not threaten my ability to make coffee, however, since I’m perfectly willing to build a fire in the backyard, boil water and use the french press to make coffee, which I can store in a thermos. Do I sound desperate? Maybe, but a warm drink on a snow day sounds like a basic need. So: charcoal or small logs, newspaper, coffee grounds, french press, clean water, a thermos or large carafe. Or: you could make the coffee before the snow hits and set aside. Fewer conflagrations for you! By the way, do you have a fire extinguisher?

The more you think about it, the more it becomes clear that sometimes in an emergency you’re going to be on your own or with one other person. Pete and I have lived where we do nearly our whole lives, so we’re not surprised when the river rises over the small bridges or when low roads become fast-moving creeks. It happens now and then that I’m at work when the river comes up. I don’t hang around and wait for the inevitable four-hour crush to drive two miles. I stupidly did that once in snow: lesson learned! When the weather map says it’s going to snow for a whole day and the clouds deliver I’ll be at my house.

You’d be surprised how many people think this is dumb. I bet they’re out of milk and bread.
Listen, I try to be ready for predictable things, but I get caught flat-footed all the time. Yesterday, we drove down to Delaware to see Pete’s elderly aunt and uncle. We thought we were having lunch, then heading home, but when we got there, no trace of lunch could be found. We’d had breakfast, but that was hours before. By the time dinner was ready, Pete and I were ravenous. I wanted to pick up the bowl of meatballs and pour them into my mouth, and it was really hard to not imagine us making growling sounds when someone else reached for the plate of sausages. We were unprepared for this situation despite the facts that we are hypoglycemic and this has happened with our retired relatives twice before. You know: we could’ve had a V8, but we didn’t. Oops?

What if I can’t get to my house, which I love love love and want to be in? The river between my office and my house sometimes floods four out of five nearby river crossings, and getting to that fifth bridge can serve as an IQ test, and this can happen when our skies are clear but North Jersey has had rain for two days or a sudden thaw. Surprise! A flood! But that’s not part of our game. What is? Here in Central New Jersey, people get in cars and panic with the fall of the first flakes. If you drive, take cabs or buses, your job is to get off the road before people with their hair standing on end drive their giant SUVs into a ditch, tying up traffic, emergency personnel and tow truck drivers past your bedtime. If you take trains, keep in mind the Long Island Railroad, for instance, goes haywire when the tracks get wet. No, I don’t understand that. Yes, I think we should all be able to take trains, but what the hell? Anyhoo: my mother’s house is on the other side of the river and about two miles from my office. If I couldn’t cross the river I still have places on higher ground I could retreat to. Bonus: mom’s house has a wine rack I could find in the dark.

If I couldn’t get home, I could still win the Snow Day game by retreating to a backup shelter I know stocks a pantry, a wine rack and warm clothes – but only if Pete is at home with the cats, and they are wearing little sombreros and eating meaty treats.

This morning, I shut the kitchen door on my way to the garage, and even before my hand slipped off the knob I knew I’d left my keys in the house, and that my chances of bicycling to work on time had just gone POOF! So I called Pete’s cell and left a voicemail because he was in the bathroom, which I knew because I could see the second floor light on. After twenty-five minutes of shouting, “PETE! PETE! PETE!” I heard him grumble, “What?” – like I was nagging from the backyard. He stuck his head out the window. “Ya locked out? I’ll be right down.” Instead of my usual three small stupid things before breakfast, I did one large stupid thing just afterward. So what’s in your car’s emergency kit?

Believe it or not, there are websites and experts who can help, but in order for you to win your own version of the Snow Day game, you’ve got to take into account your locale. Miss Sasha lives in North Dakota. I’d like the state to send everyone shiny-shiny GPS pendants every September 1st, but as long as she prepares sensibly for extreme cold, long miles and a fussy toddler, keeps her cell phone charged and keeps a regular schedule, I’ll worry less and that’s important, because it’s all about me.

Here in Crowded Mild Weather Land, if I drive my car into a ditch, tying up traffic, emergency personnel and tow truck drivers until past your bedtime, someone will violate local ordinances and dial 911 before my wheels stop spinning. Obviously, I should add a cheese platter and sandwiches to my emergency kit. It would really help if I had a reliable car, though: two days every month, one of my tires goes flat. In a new and exciting quirk: the tire won’t re-inflate unless the car’s jacked up. So how can I win with this much left on the board? AAA, and a willingness to abandon the car and hoof it. Fortunately, I’m seldom more than two miles from home, and I know I can walk that in 35 minutes, even with hip pain.

When that big blackout hit people mention, then laugh nervously about, my friend Audrey was in a meeting in Newark. She got up from the table in the dark, made her way down innumerable flights of stairs and walked in a mini skirt across the city to a ferry terminal, where a full ferry was getting ready to get under way. At the top of her lungs, Audrey shouted, “WHO DO I HAVE TO FUCK TO GET ON THIS BOAT?” A young deckhand said, “That’d be me, ma’am,” as he helped her onto the boat, but then didn’t say another word. Everyone was spooked. She walked from the opposite ferry terminal to her Prospect Park apartment and stayed there for three days. I mean, the bitch is fierce.

What are you prepared to do to get home? Are you prepared to stay in place, wherever you are?

I’ve been writing these posts so pressed for time I’m not sure every sentence features tasty verbs. Please forgive me. I don’t usually write like I stuck my finger in a socket while sorting my silverware. Let’s talk about the most important part of the Snow Day game: winning.

For me: we are in our house, which we leave on foot to shovel the sidewalk or to help someone else since our little town is full of elderly people and mommies with babies, some of whom are my relatives. Our indoor cats are warm, well-fed and play little ocarinas. Our outdoor cats have plenty of food and look okay. Pete obsesses merrily on an indoor project that doesn’t involve injuring his back. We have plenty to eat. I am writing something worth reading. With or without electricity or running water, our house is snug and warm. Maybe we take long, luxurious naps. After a spectacular dinner, we cozy up on the couch with glasses of wine and our musical felines, and if the cable’s working, we watch TV and our clothes drip dry by the front door. When we go to bed, we wish every day could be like this, and if the storm continues, we might even get a second snow day.

It may sound to you pedestrian and dull. To me, it sounds idyllic. I totally win!

Even if you live somewhere tropical, you can play this game. Are you prepared for a hurricane? A tornado? Another blackout? A flood? A more likely scenario: are you prepared if your town suffers an outbreak of flu and you’re advised to stay home for two weeks? Could you do it? I like to think I shop carefully and keep a good pantry, but every week or so I run out of something, so plainly, I too have a lot to learn.

What do you think? Do you like this game?

Shake It Up Now

At, one learns that ugly pajamas in alarming sexist colors are the new black. And black is so not making eye contact.

I do not even know what to say about this horror show. It’s true that one of my goals is to spend life in fashionable pajamas, but these ain’t them. For one thing, I once wore a union suit and a vintage tuxedo jacket to work at the library, about which there is still talk. For another, I now have better tuxedo jackets.

While the Stars Shine Above Me

Wednesday night on Facebook, a friend remarked casually that Occupy the Highway would be passing through New Brunswick. Because I am a person of poise and elegance, I said, “Wait, what?” After a mess o’ research, I found the march route that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that wasn’t important. I contacted everyone I knew would certainly be interested and only one person knew what the hell I was babbling about. That’s a record, even for me.

I called my sisters Thursday morning to tell them the marchers would walk right past the family store. Everyone was all aflutter. Next thing you know, half the tiny town was talking because a whole lot of people are in contact with OWS about food prep and where the marchers would sleep because about every fifteen minutes the marchers changed their minds about where they would sleep and how they would eat. This plan that shifted under our feet all afternoon drove us crazy. Should we cook dinner? Should we make breakfast? Should we scour the neighborhood for spare pillows and cozy comforters? Conjuring up the ordinary miracle of food and shelter takes time.

Looking north, the group arrives.

Eventually, the marchers stopped tweeting where they were and what they’d decided. For about three hours, we couldn’t figure out what to do and reluctantly went about the business of being us waiting for something nobody knew what to do for. About. To. It doesn’t make any difference. We waited, waited, waited, went to dinner, picked up dinner for my sisters, waited, waited, made plans, waited, waited. Suddenly, a little guy on bike skidded to a halt in front of my sisters Anya and Corinne, Pete, Brian and me and said, “They’re a block back.” We believed him because the blocks are very short in town and we could see a bunch of kids we knew jumping up and down on the corner. Pete took pictures as the first marcher declared, “Ninety-nine percent coming through!” We cheered and slapped hands with them. They implored us to march with them, even a little way. Friends of ours who are dogs and their people brought up the rear of the group and when we turned to look back, Anya, Corinne and Brian were gone in a flash. No, literally, a flash: Pete took the picture below and then I noticed the people standing next to me were gone.

A moment later looking south - my sisters and a local rock star have disappeared.

On Facebook last night, Anya posted pictures of a rally on that bridge I bicycle across all the time. It looked fantastic and I recognized dozens of familiar faces. Later, the marchers posted their own photos of a general assembly on the College Avenue steps. Since I didn’t have to get up two hours early to feed them, I could simply love everything I saw with a quiet heart. Tomorrow, a van filled with supplies goes to Zuccotti Park. I am sure there won’t be a spare inch in it.

You And You For Me

The pussycat on the left may look familiar. His name is Oliver.

Two years ago, Pete found a tiny ball of fleas with a little bit of cat inside them and brought all of them in. The bit of cat was taken in by Trout, who taught the wee thing to bathe, to climb, to use a litter box and to have a really great time no matter what. Then we found him a home with some very, very nice people we knew who had two cats and a Yorkie. At first, this seemed like a match made in Ho Ho Kus, but it turns out Ho Ho Kus might be Heaven after all. Oliver is handsome, isn’t he?

Oliver: tiny squeaking kitten as we found him in the backyard.

Well, let’s say he thrived on the attention at the house of the very, very nice people who are completely original in all things. On Wednesdays, a friend brings over her ferret to play with the Yorkie. The ferret taught Oliver that leaping and bounding ferrets do when they’re joyful, so Oliver leaps like a cat and bounds like a ferret. After two years, Sonya, the orange cat on the right, finally lets Oliver join her on the new throw blanket without a fight. I mean, it’s a throw blanket and it’s new. This is, like, Christmas-happy for cats. Pete and I couldn’t be happier for the very nice people and the happy cats.

Days ago, a friend of ours found two young calico cats abandoned in the basement of her Brooklyn apartment building. How would you feel about having and providing your own and someone else’s happily ever after?

Heard They Crowded the Floor

The family stores are moving to a new location more or less right across the street. The family’s been working on emptying the toy store into the gift store; soon, the family will empty both stores into the new location. My jobs: heckling, fretting, casserole-making. I’m so tired I can barely lift a saucy word.

Sauce: jarred in July. Pork chop: simmered in sauce. Pasta dough: made ahead. All we had to do was roll out and boil fettuccine at dinnertime.