The Unswung Bat

Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Well that was frightening

I don't know how to feel about not being able to confidently say that that was the scariest few minutes of my life. The steam main explosion happened right outside the building I'm working in. What we saw out the window was a huge shower of rubble and dust, while the floors shook and the roar just got louder. Yeah, what do you think was the first possiblity we thought of? You think you are going to be skeptical when an explosion is underway in your very immediate vicinty, possibily in your building? No. The in-charge part of your brain astutely notes that it's so unlikely for you to be on the seventh storey of an office building, which is shaking, as a solid wall of debris pelts all the windows and something near and BIG roars, that—hey—who knows? All bets are off, and speculation that the deafening sound could come from a falling building, or an exploded plane, ain't so much of a stretch as to not be worth taking into account.

And not only am I proud to say that despite starting from the seventh floor far from the stairwell, I was the fourth person out. Nothing you can say can change that. I would'a lived. And I wasn't pushing or cattle-driving—in fact, it was impressive to see that even people on the edge of hysteria were being decent. Not helping each other really, everyone was more or less panicked, but not hindering or anything.

I, and the editor-in-chief, and two other people with their heads screwed on, however, were far too busy getting the living hell out of there. Let me be clear: when our canoe got caught in a deadly storm, six miles from the middle of nowhere, with Andra in front and me steering, I was rowing for her at least as much as for me. That was sketchy, and awful, and I never want to be in a prolonged life-or-death situation like that again. Or even a short one. The point is, this time, I was alone and running for me. I don't know how or whether that's better or worse, and like I said, I'm good not knowing.

This was not a life or death situation, as became clear once outside. The street was ripped open and out of the three-lane-wide gash was blasting what in the fraction of a second I saw it looked like an avalanche in rewind. What from my vantage looked like the entire guts of Manhattan were erupting through the street. The steam pipe rupture happened at the crossroads of 41st Street and Lexington Ave, which is to say, at the northeast corner of my building, half a block from where I was standing at the fire exit. That initial geyser, I'm now told, was taller than the Chrysler building (easy to judge, since they were almost side-by-side). I saw a wall of rubble coming out of the ground and thought, as I turned to run in the correct direction (I still didn't have my bearings but that one point of reference was all anyone needed) "up from the ground is good." And it is: Whatever's blasting out must be getting forced, which limits it and makes it controllable. It's localized, the mere fact that I've seen it is reassuring even if at that instant I've no idea what could cause it, and, more to the point, monstrous plumes of rubble shooting out of the ground just doesn't scream "terrorist").

Of course, I didn't stop to look back till I was two blocks away, and then only for a moment, and by that point I was already running upwind, knowing full well that demolition debris can have a ton of bad pollutants that are nothing to be cavalier about. One thing I can say of every Bovee and Begun I've met is that we are not damned fools. Someone was very kind to lend me her phone so I could call my uncle, who works in the building next door, and my aunt at home, and from there it was just a long walk to the next train station, after I picked up a 72 cent notebook at the first drugstore I decided was far enough away. Different people have different ways of dealing with shit. It was not, as it turns out, a disaster. It was maybe a travesty, but only if they should've done something about the known risk. Which in my opinion they damn well should have. Certainly it was more than a SNAFU.

But for about a minute, it was really bad: everything was shaking, everyone was thinking, and not without reason, that the floors might come down—imagine, a combined earthquake and rockslide hitting out of nowhere when you're in a high building, and try to think a comforting thing. We didn't even know if the exit was safe. It didn't "feel hot," but so what? Just before we opened the door someone shouted "Nonononono NO!" It's a bad feeling to think you're (maybe) trapped in a building in mid-disaster(?!). Buildings, being generally designed as static, should not be mid-anything, ever. Midwestern, maybe. Maybe.

In case you're inquisitive and don't already know, I've assembled a few lessons in convenient sentence form, that they may be taken into your heads for consideration through reading, rather than direct experience, or that they may be taken out of my head and massaged around into something I like better:

The silence of concentration is common and seldom noticed; that of disbelief, unsettlingly different. José Saramago said silence has nothing to do with noise, silence is when birds turn and fly away.

Panic starts with the sound of silent disbelief and someone saying "um."

In a situation so very bad-seeming that you want to wake up, a big chaw of your brain fixates on the elephant (or explosion) in the middle of the room. Possibly it's yelling "NO!", that one syllable stretched from one end to the other of everything you know, possibly that's just the light tubes humming, who has time to wonder?

Meanwhile, the talented tenth of your brain, the clever strip stapled but not talking to the bulky panicky muppet brain, is a master of ignorance and displacement, seeing not the elephant but the directest course of action leading away from it. Meanwhile it very wisely chooses not to notice how fucking frightened you are.

Five minutes later, everything is okay. Five minutes after that, everything really is okay. Standards change over time. Then suddenly ten minutes later you realize you're having trouble tying your shoes.

I need to learn the email addresses of the rest of my family.

Katee Sackhoff is gay? Dammit!
Nope, she's not. We win again!

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