EDITOR’S NOTE: Have a burning sensation? Consult your doctor. Have a burning question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.
Mr. Labash, Is the recent hurricane the best near-term opportunity I could expect to fake my own death? I have real concerns about the enjoyability of my current life path and wonder if a “reboot,” as it were, is my best option. I’m a standard Floridian with an upside down mortgage, home zoo, complicated legal issues in other states, and an Escalade with 24” Dubs. Cordially, Ms. Tified in Miami-Dade
First, let me say that in regards to your being a standard Floridian, you have my sympathies. Though your home zoo sounds intriguing. Do you have pandas? Because Jim Treacher loves pandas. Especially when cooked medium rare. But considering that as of this writing, 74 unfortunate souls have in fact perished due to Hurricane Sandy, I’d have to be a monster or an MSNBC anchor to make the hurricane about something other than what it is about: the loss of life, the destruction of entire cities, and one of the scariest weather events in a decade that is shaping up to be almost nothing but.
But what you’re doing is normal. You’re asking the question most selfless Americans these days ask during times of great national consequence: “how does it affect me?” So that this question is not really about Sandy at all, it’s about you, Ms. Tified, which incidentally, would be an excellent handle if you decide to make a fresh go of it in Florida’s robust hip-hop community.
Here is an uncomfortable truth. For most of us, it’s really hard not to watch calamity unfold. Even for me personally — when reporting from places like a smoldering post 9/11 Manhattan, or post-Katrina New Orleans, or post-earthquake Haiti — the cliché rings true: we are never quite so alive as when we’re rubbing elbows with death. All of the sudden, concerns such as why my ice-maker isn’t cranking out enough ice or why my Weed Eater won’t start on the first pull, find their rightful place at the bottom of the Hierarchy of Misfortunes.
The threat of annihilation is something that commands our full attention, that forces us to clock our relation to it. Perhaps this is because it reminds us that we dodged a bullet ourselves, and as Churchill said, “There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.” Was the sense of relief I felt, after spending the better part of a night trenching my yard in a driving rain in order to divert water from my basement during Sandy, diminished or enhanced because places like Union Beach, New Jersey were nearly totaled by the same storm? The ugly answer is probably both. Enhanced, because the same fate didn’t befall me or mine — a fact that despite my preparations, I had literally no control over. Diminished, because watching my drenched, newly homeless, terrified-out-of-their-minds fellow human beings suffering reminds us all that the bubble of security we like to hope we inhabit could be punctured at any moment. And when that moment comes, you often lose more than your material possessions — you lose your entire frame of reference. To think it can’t happen to you is worse than arrogance. It’s foolishness.