How to dress for emergencies.
The first thing I do is check that I’m wearing respectable underwear.
It’s something that has been drilled into my psyche from childhood.
“Make sure you have on clean underwear.”
“Mom, I’m just going to play football.”
“Well, you never know.”
And that is enough. You never know.
Now, years later as an adult, the full force of Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on my Philadelphia apartment building, rattling the same ancient window frames that Ben Franklin himself must have installed, and all I can think about is how I’m dressed.
The lights are flickering and I’m wearing a shirt and tie, quietly sitting on my couch awaiting evacuation.
Granted, no evacuation order has been given and my section of town is not an area in direct threat of such an action, but there is still the matter of the local broadcast reporter outside my building.
“Sir, tell us how you managed to … wait, what are you wearing? Jesus, this is how you live? No wonder you’re single.”
The clean underwear will be necessary in the event that I have to be rescued, evacuated by helicopter to the closest hospital where an attractive twenty-something ER doctor will be waiting with shears to cut away my pants. (They’re always cutting away pants for some reason.) The dying I can deal with, it’s the potential embarrassment that would hurt.
As a child, I was confused by the need for multiple undergarments, feeling that my GI Joe briefs would be perfectly usable over multiple days due to their camouflage motif. The idea of “you never know” haunted me though, and for years I’d be sitting in class, innocently doing my schoolwork, when I’d imagine a booming voice coming over the loudspeaker.
“SEAN CARNEY! Report to the nurse’s office AT ONCE for underwear inspection!”
After thorough examination, the nurse would remove her lit cigarette and shake her head, a signal to the accompanying teacher that I was unfit to sit with the rest of the students. They’d place me in an aisle called “Skid Mark Row” with the other “unclean” children, resulting in an ironic stain on my permanent record.
These fears have not been helped by my morbid preoccupation with predicting my own death, constantly fantasizing about how I will eventually be killed. I say “killed” because there is a seventy percent chance of my demise resulting from someone else’s hand, and twenty percent due to my own moronic actions, leaving that additional ten percent for environmental disasters like Hurricane Sandy. There is no possibility of a peaceful escape by natural causes. Even if I were in my death bed at eighty years old, I would say something offensive to the nurse and she’d smother me.
For most pondering their mortality, they’re concerned about whether they will have accomplished all they set out to do before their time is up. Me? I’m concerned about what TV channel I’ll be watching. Because you never know when someone will burst into your apartment and murder you.
“Did you dust for fingerprints?” one of the responding detectives will ask.
“Hey, Mike,” the other will say. “Martha Stewart here was watching Lifetime when he got shot. What a loser. Let’s notify all his Facebook friends.”
They will laugh, and I will cringe from the beyond.
I think it’s the living alone that makes a person so hyper-sensitive. You’re forced to be more aware of potential threats and the thought of someone bursting into your apartment with murderous intent seems feasible, if only because there is no one there to tell you it isn’t. Other things seem possible also, like Hurricane Sandy generating a tornado. To my knowledge, Philadelphia is not a tornado-prone area, however it only takes one to change that, doesn’t it?
“The tornado struck without warning in the early morning hours, likely catching many Philadelphia residents off guard, including Sean Carney, who was just confirmed dead and presumed an unloved virgin.”
When living in that cocoon of crazy, the insanity is captured like a drink in a to-go cup, traveling with you in social situations and threatening to overturn at any moment. The smarter ones operate on a time-delay, giving themselves a few seconds of additional thought before speaking.
“Oh boy, Barbara, that’s so true. That reminds me of that time I thought my landlord had installed a secret camera in my smoke detector so I knocked it off the wall and broke it, but then I was afraid I wouldn’t be alerted if there was a fire, so I slept on my fire escape. We’ve all been there, right?”
You picture the gaping mouths and cocked heads around the table, and opt to keep this anecdote to yourself. You keep a lot to yourself, including those fears of dying alone in the night during a hurricane. You take the precautions, you board the windows, and you grip your cell phone like a lover, telling yourself it will be okay.
Which is why I sit, lights flickering but underwear confident, adjusting my tie as I await the order to evacuate. Because you never know.
Read more in Men Are Funny.
Image credit: Josh (broma)/Flickr