From The Trenches
Vol. 35 No. 6: You might want to rethink that bottle display
It all happened very quickly. It just didn't seem so at the time.
It was an average Tuesday, with the exception that skies that blue aren't altogether average. Other than that, it was your standard phone-ringing, errand-running, layout-glitching, to-do-list Tuesday. Then the house split in two.
Or at least that's what the publisher thought was going on. He ran to an second-story balcony and prepared to jump, reasoning that a broken leg in a fall beat death in a collapsing structure.
Just before he jumped, he realized what was really going on and took off for a stairwell with the speed of a puma on methamphetamine.
Meanwhile, circulation director Mike Roberts, in the ground-floor front office, stood up from his desk in suprise and wondered how a freight train was coming through when the closest tracks are seven blocks away.
I was also on the ground floor and immediately knew what it was—it was my third trip on that particular circus ride, although it was by far the most remarkable.
I thought, Earthquake!
Then I thought, Stuff!
Mike arrived on the run, and I shouted to him, for shouting was the only way to be heard over the low rumble of the ground shifting, the midrange growl of the house complaining, and the high-pitched rattle of china and glass skittering about. I shouted, "EARTHQUAKE, GET OUT!"
But did I get out? Oh, no. (Take my advice. I won't be using it.) When the publisher ran downstairs, he found me in front of a tall, open cabinet, determinedly body-blocking all the collectible glass and china.
"ARE YOU INSANE?" he shouted.
"I'M A COLLECTOR!" I shouted back.
Which is—and we now have strong empirical evidence—arguably the same thing.
So I spent the entire earthquake shoving back breakables that kept chattering toward the edge of the cabinet. This went on for an hour and a half. Well, maybe 20 seconds or so, but trust me, time slows down at such times.
Once the earth stood still again, I stepped back, quite pleased with myself about Operation No Breakage. That's when I saw the very large, very heavy Blenko glass decanter on the very top of the cabinet. It had been one mini-tremor away from landing smack on my head just seconds prior.
I knew that aftershocks could be expected, which motivated me to put some shoes on and create an impromptu disaster preparedness kit on the lawn, just in case the house caved on the next go 'round. It consisted of a battery-operated radio, a bottle of wine, and a corkscrew. To congratulate myself on being sensible enough to think of it, I opened the wine.
Yeah, yeah, it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, but an earthquake alters the time of day that the sun officially goes over the yardarm. You can look it up—it has something to do with a temporary shift in magnetic north and the alignment of the stars.
Then, while I was congratulating myself on being the picture of calm and clear thinking amid crisis, I noticed that the shoes I'd put on were one black flip-flop and one white wedge sandal. Aren't I the calm one.
One of the first people to get a call through the jammed and largely useless telephone lines was my scientific sister Lisa, who—despite otherwise having reproachless good sense—used to live on the Whittier Fault in California. Her experience there and her Ph.D. in geology enabled her to explain to me epicenters, hypocenters, seismicity, and free oscillation, which I understood to translate into English as "drink more wine."
The next person to get a line through was solicitous about this old barn of a house. "Any cracks in the plaster walls?" he asked. I answered, quite truthfully, that I'd so successfully ignored the ones that were already there that I'd need before and after photos to tell the difference.
In vino veritas.
Next I heard from a friend in town who lost two porcelains, ker-smash, when they leapt from narrow shelves. I cheerfully, and perhaps a smidge smugly, reported that I'd single-handedly saved the world, or at least all the glass. Ha. I should know by now that I do not wear smug well. I later discovered that my upstairs office was full of shattered glass from framed photos crashing to the floor in a gravityfest.
I spent the post-quake evening taking my sister's advice and moving all the breakables to lower, more stable spots, principally involving random placement all over the floors. The overall effect was that of a flea market for Lilliputians, a decor approach that did not cause either Good Housekeeping or House Beautiful to come knocking on my door.
And there the stuff stayed until I rethought the safety factor of the displays. Who knew there was a product called Earthquake Museum Putty? ("Like sticky tack on steroids!" the ad reads.) And more, who knew we East Coasters would have use for it?
It's ironic that the quake should hit right after publication of my wiseacre column about human error and collectibles breakage in the last issue. As one sage post-quake caller noted, at least now I can say with absolute honesty that I really wasn't in the room when the damage was wrought. —Ed. [Nancy Dearing Rossbacher]
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