Previously on Poor Impulse Control, we played my very favorite game: SNOW DAY! Because it’s that time of year and Hurricane Sandy is barreling up the coast, 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:
2. Get home before I cannot.
3. EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!
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 of bread and milk. 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?
Snow Melt (for the sidewalks)
Enough Extra For Additional People, Animals
Ability To Travel Locally
Warm Outdoor Clothing
Warm Indoor Clothing
Fun Things To Do, Including Each Other
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
Ability To Wash Dishes Manually
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:
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 mashed potatoes once 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 Colorado. 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 two fussy toddlers, 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 the big blackout hit a few years ago that people still 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?
The tourists are gone, which means tourists like us arrived at Sandy Hook this weekend. I’ve been waiting for this weekend since it turned cold last winter. Pete and I drove down to the park, rode like Jehu to this snack bar/rest stop/unprotected beach and sat on the roof for small snacks and lots of fluids. I was actually as happy as I have ever been in my entire life. If someone calls you on the phone and says, “For $10,000, Jed, do cream cheese, dried cherries and fresh basil make a good sandwich?” Well then. You say yes.
We have sudden storms. Long Island has tornados. The west endures historic drought.
Fate don’t fail me now.