Back when I was panicking over the fact that my apartment complex apparently has all the structural integrity of a Jenga game in an earthquake, I realized that my renter’s insurance had lapsed and wound up frantically renewing it in the middle of the night. After all, some of the furniture in my room has since been discontinued by IKEA, so if disaster strikes I’d want to be compensated for the loss of something irreplaceable like my Malm or Henmes.
In the aftermath of the St. Patrick’s Day earthquake I got a letter from my insurance company in the mail that informed me that my policy didn’t cover earthquake damage. They had, though, included an application for a cheap earthquake insurance policy that the state of California forced them to sell. Now, had I received this letter before the earthquake, I probably would’ve immediately applied for as much coverage as possible, up to and including a service where, should an earthquake destroy your building and kill you, the insurance company sends somebody to the scene to dispose of all your pornography before your loved ones can find it.
But as you’ll remember from my previous blog about earthquakes, actually experiencing an earthquake firsthand really mellowed me out on the subject - once I was done screaming and running out of the building, that is. The strongest earthquake in the past six years had been little more than a citywide nuisance, and I found myself wondering if it was really worth paying $84 for insurance against something that had woken me up a little early and forced me to re alphabetize a few DVDs that fell off my shelf.
In fact, the exact words I used when discussing the matter on the phone with one of my friends were, “Besides, it could be years until there’s another earthquake.”
After a couple of days’ deliberation I decided it was probably better to be safe than sorry, so on Friday I filled out the application and stuffed it and a check for $84 into an envelope. I was going to take it to the mailbox right then and there, but I couldn’t find a stamp - which is a problem I run into every one of the four times per year I have to send something through the mail. I was in a hurry to get on the subway and meet somebody downtown, so I just left the sealed, addressed, and decidedly un-stamped envelope on my desk, propped up against an empty can of Diet Coke so I would remember to get it stamped and posted the next day.
None of this was on my mind at the bar downtown - until, while standing at the bar trying to place an order, I suddenly felt myself losing my balance.
Am I drunk already!? I wondered as I tried to regain my footing. I only had one drink… Wait. I left it on the table when I went to the bathroom. Oh my God, did somebody put something in my drink!? Am I being roofied!?
My eyes fell on a 30something businessman in a suit who was standing with some work buddies a few paces away and, from the look of confusion on his face, seemed to be going through the same sort of inner monologue I was. We made eye contact and shared a look as if to say, Wait, is it you doing that?
Then I saw the beer sloshing out of the pint glasses on the bar and heard the wine glasses hanging overhead tinkling together and realized that I was experiencing my second earthquake in as many weeks.
The great thing about being in an earthquake with a room full of drunk people is that nobody really takes it too seriously, even if they maybe should be. Pretty soon after the shaking started, somebody held his drink aloft and yelled, “EARTHQUAAAAKE!” Except he didn’t yell it like he was scared and trying to warn other people that an earthquake was happening; he yelled it like “Earthquake” was a football team that we were all tailgating for.
The rest of the bar yelled “EARTHQUAAAAKE!” in response - myself included, because if you can’t yell “EARTHQUAAAAKE!” during an earthquake then when can you yell earthquake? The bartenders all dropped what they were doing and braced themselves against the bar, ducking their heads in case a wayward bottle of Knob Creek fell off the top shelf behind the bar.
The shaking slowly subsided and then everybody kept right on drinking. This earthquake hadn’t felt as strong and jarring as the one before, so I wasn’t too worried - but I still deemed it a harrowing enough experience to warrant a $6 basket of french fries.
I was stepping out of the bar a little later when I got the following text from my roommate:
Please note that our last text conversation before this one ALSO happened in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake.
With the knowledge that this earthquake had been stronger than the last one, and that an even stronger earthquake could occur at any moment, I could only think of three things:
1) I was currently surrounded by very tall concrete buildings.
2) Because I had ridden the subway downtown my only way to get home was to venture deep into the Earth’s crust, where I would be surrounded by millions of tons of stone, dirt, metal, electrical wiring, and water mains, not to mention closer to where fucking earthquakes come from.
3) My earthquake insurance application was sitting on my desk, as opposed to being processed by my insurance company.
It was a tense ride home. I spent the entire time eyeballing the fixie-toting hipsters and homeless people sitting around me, uncomfortably aware that these would be the last faces I would ever see if The Big One collapsed the tunnel around us and turned the subway car into a pee-smelling tomb.
When I got back to the (non-destroyed) apartment my roommate was pulling together some old glowsticks and bottled water while watching the news. It turns out the earthquake had originated 40 miles south of us in Orange County*, where it had burst a few water mains and forced Disneyland to close for the night. After talking a bit and agreeing that two earthquakes in two weeks is just too damn many earthquakes, I went to take a look in my room and see if my uninsured belongings had been reduced to a pile of balsa wood splinters and spilled Sriracha.
*This further validates my theory that nothing good comes from Orange County.
When I opened the door, everything was still in place. The only sign that an earthquake had happened was that the envelope with my application in it, which I had left propped against a can of Diet Coke, was now lying face down on my desk.
I woke up early the next morning specifically so I could get the application in the mail as soon as possible. And then, in the interests of disaster preparedness, I bought $12 worth of stamps so I can mail my renewal out immediately when the time comes.
Truman Capps knows it’s only a matter of time until there’s an earthquake while he’s on the toilet.