Event of the day: earthquake

Well, it’s been a year of firsts, as I said, and today I experienced my first earthquake.

And I didn’t even have to go to San Francisco to do it.

No sirree, I was sitting in the comfort and privacy of Casa Smiter, procrastinating over my latest editing project and having a chin-wag over the phone with my dear friend Katerina (whose son broke his arm last night in a non-earthquake-related event) (soccer) when my office chair began to shake in a rather alarming manner. By this I mean my back was bouncing off the back of the chair and the chair itself was inching and lurching across the floor in a way that chairs really ought not to do.

"Is it me, or did the earth move?"

I could hear a gust of wind and the blinds were banging against the window frame and I said to Katerina, “Wow, that is a really strong wind! I wonder — what the — HOLY SHIT!” as I became abruptly aware of a low-frequency rumble and the fact that the floor was also shimmying like a carnival ride.

I’m sure her eardrum will mend up again in the next few weeks. I shall have to send her some restorative ointment.

At any rate, it strikes me as odd how, regardless of how educated or savvy one purports to be, one’s brain still veers towards obvious (and sometimes inadvertently funny) explanations for bizarre events.  It’s not like in the movies, where an accident or a crime is heralded by scary music and the camera zooming in. No sirree, stuff just…happens, and it takes our feeble little brains a few moments to go through the possibilities and come up with the correct explanation.

I guess this is what’s known as the “horses vs. zebras” effect, as in “when one hears hoofbeats, one tends to think of horses, not zebras.”

As a rather sombre case in point, when I was a young Smiter just fresh out of school in 1988, I was working for a national news organization when the horrific air-show crash happened at Ramstein, in Germany. Even then I was struck by one of the front-page photos which showed the immense fireball in the background, and the spectators in the foreground, completely relaxed, hands at their sides even, as their brains no doubt tried to compute what was happening and what to do next.

Today, in my own comparatively safe little world, since the blinds were banging and quite a breeze was coming thru the windows, the particular “horse” I thought of was the wind, as I said (in which case I’d be reporting a hurricane).

More humorously, a friend of mine, who must remain  nameless, thought a really fat person was heel-walking across the floor at her office. I lived with a heel-walker once; I feel her pain.

Of course, both of us were wrong, and this was one heck of a zebra.

It was doubly interesting that I was on the phone with Katerina, of all people, during this little distraction. Not just because I rarely talk on the phone, and because she and I rarely get to see each other or talk, but also because she grew up in Greece and New Zealand, where earthquakes are common, and has experienced rather a lot of them. In one, when she was a kid, she was sitting cross-legged on her floor and began to bounce up & down, not unlike Doug Henning.

Needless to say, with that kind of seismic action behind her, today’s tremor didn’t even faze her. (Actually, not very much fazes her, which is one of the reasons I like her.)

"Whee! I can fly! ... Oh, hello, Doctor."

At any rate, once I’d stopped hanging onto my chair for dear life and going “Oh my god!”, we had a jolly time marvelling at the wonder of it all as we strolled around our respective houses checking for cracks in the walls and ceiling.

Typically, the cat slept through it all.

The latest news reports say it was a 5.0 magnitude, sufficient to cause significant damage to poorly constructed buildings, and “at most, slight damage to well designed buildings.”

Regardless, I shall be hoisting a beverage with the neighbours later on as I celebrate another “first” in the life of a Smiter.

A note here to the Smiter’s Law deities: that’s quite enough excitement for one day, thank you!

"Hurray! Nothing fell on our heads!"


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