Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Bertha Special: East Coast Earthquake

      It was a normal Tuesday afternoon.  I ate lunch, I wrote a little, I tried to buy postage stamps.  I stood in line at the post office, wondering why 25 people found this particular Tuesday afternoon the best time to visit the post office.  A liver-spotted, gray-haired guy behind me (with a body like Gilligan and a face like Jimmy Durante) had no sense of personal space whatsoever.  He just stood there, inching ever closer to the back of my neck.  His breath smelled of sweet cigars and cheap cigarettes and his sloppy Gilligan hat made him look more like a goofball than the jaunty weekend sailor he was probably hoping to reflect.  Step, wait, inhale stale tobacco.  Step, wait, inhale stale tobacco.  We kept up like this for a good 5 minutes.  I hated his scent, his defiance of unwritten personal space rules, and the way his dry mouth kept making a smacking sound against his gums.  I started writing a letter to him in my head:

      “Dear Marlboro Man, I don’t know why you are insisting on seeing the world through a veil of my hair, but I don’t think I appreciate you breathing down my neck.  That is a practice that is beyond rude and, at your age, your should know better.  It isn’t that I don’t adore the scent of stale discount tobacco, I just find it clashes with my citrus-based perfume, thus throwing my day into a stale, orangey/cigarette-butty tailspin.  If I could take a moment of your time …”

      But there wasn’t time.  The building started to shake.  The windows rattled, the floor quivered, the roof groaned.  My first thought was perhaps a construction vehicle was making its way down the main road, but no vehicle shakes a building that hard for that long.  Just then, a postal worker ran out from behind the counter.  “The back walls are shaking!  Evacuate!  Get out, get out!”  I was proud of my fellow postal patrons.  Gilligan Durante, the frazzled mother of 4, the hippie granola-girl with her hemp skirt and recycled sandals, the college student with acne scars pitting his cheeks … each one quickly, yet calmly left the building.  No one screamed.  No one pushed and shoved.  No one seemed irritated with anyone else.  One woman quietly prayed, “Oh please, dear God, no.” 

      My irritation at Gilligan Durante was all but forgotten.  I didn’t mind the stench anymore because he was safe and I wasn’t having to give him CPR.  My thoughts turned to my life, my family, the future.  How was Buttercup?  Would The Yankee be out helping someone like he always does or would he be oblivious to the tremors and say, “What earthquake?” like he does when he’s deep in thought.  I thought of my brothers, their wives, my parents.  I thought of my writing career and wondered if I was spared so I could keep blogging about old guys who like to invade the personal space of others.  I thought about my house and wondered what shape it was in.  It was a sobering moment, to say the least. 
      I drove home, walked in the door, and stopped cold in my tracks.  My house was a wreck.  The outside structure has sustained minimal damage but the inside was toast.  Broken glass in every room.  Demolished mementos.  Food littering the kitchen floor.  Dislodged shelves, open cabinet doors, and overturned bookcases.  If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn we had been robbed.  It was a disheartening mess, but I refused to dwell on it.  I changed into ratty work clothes, soothed Buttercup’s tears over the disheveled state of her perfectly aligned world, and showed her how to pick up books.  We worked at it together.  We held each other through the rough and frightening aftershocks that threatened to undo our hard work.  We rejoiced at the sight of each room we successfully unearthed.  We bonded through adversity.
      I suppose that is the true test of the human spirit.  How willing are we to put aside our irritations to make room for concern for our fellow man?  How much strength can we muster to put the shattered remains of a treasured belonging in a box and send it to the trash heap?  How open are we to sharing our resources, our love for others?  How much do our friends and family members mean to us up until that very moment a catastrophe strikes?  How often do we let them know what they mean to us?  It was a true test.  A scary, true, real-life test … and I hope I passed. 

      But Gilligan really should buy some gum.

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

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