Some mornings are better than others. Some are glorious and sunny with birds singing and my surfboard calling, but some are less so, with a lingering taste of whiskey in my mouth and my sinuses feeling as if someone packed my head with glue. Add your very first earthquake to the mix and you've got yourself a hell of a way to welcome the day.
About a year after moving to LA, I needed to find a new apartment commensurate with my ever-dwindling income. I was taking more short-term writing gigs and going on more auditions, which mostly amounted to spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere. I met this guy named Derek, a struggling actor who was looking for a roommate. He'd landed a role shortly after arriving in LA from Indiana when he was just 21. It was a soap opera but I can't remember which one because they all seemed the same to me. He made some money and booked a few commercials but then began to flame out in brilliant Hollywood fashion under a gathering storm of cocaine, amphetamines and booze. He wasn't much better off than me when we met except for the fact he had a two bedroom apartment and needed a renter, a cheap one.
You can't be involved in entertainment in this town without doing a stint in the Valley. The place is a mecca for the self-proclaimed talented but ceaselessly unemployed artisan class. I did my time in Sherman Oaks, just off the 101 with easy access to Hollywood, Burbank and wherever else I needed to be. The apartment itself couldn't have been more generic, a meditation on dingy gray and depressingly off-white. The place had no AC and so the summer months our abode served as an oven. Luckily there was a pool right outside our balcony and so much of the time I should have spent writing was spent swimming, soaking really.
Everyone in our building was roughly the same age and in similar circumstances. They were all actors and writers and we all knew of the failures and successes of everyone else. If the guy down in 3C booked a commercial you knew about it and if the girl across the patio got stand in work for Jessica Alba, then you jumped the tiny fence of her balcony and gave her a bottle of wine. Our neighbor to the right was a very pretty born-again from Minnesota who would sit out on her balcony reading the bible. She was a dancer. Our neighbor to the left was also a dancer but her costumes consisted mostly of pasties and she did her dancing to Motley Crue and the rest of the strip club repertoire. She would phone me up from time to time and ask me to come over and reattach the pole she had installed in her bedroom. I must have put that thing back up for her at least four times but each time I made sure my work was just suspect enough so I would have to return and secure it again. She would usually do a little number for me as a way of saying thanks and I might end up staying the night. I was a writer not a carpenter so it didn't seem all that odd I did shoddy work.
This was my community, almost my family at the time. In most other cities, young people with our abject lack of work ethic and questionable moral fabric would be seen as the lost ne'er-do-wells of Generation X, but in a city in which one three-minute monologue can catapult you into fame, we were doing alright.
One night Derek, me and the dancers, he preferred the one with the bible, were out celebrating. Derek seemed to have a fetish for women who claimed they were pure. I knew our born-again friend liked to drink but I suspected his amorous gestures would be deflected off of her black bible belt of chastity. Lucy, the other dancer, was more my speed since she didn't wear a belt and didn't know the meaning of chastity. The four of us spent the entire night sipping cocktails at a joint off of Ventura Boulevard. It was a lounge with hip tunes played at soft volume and the kind of dim lighting that permitted Lucy's spindly white legs to either be draped over or wrapped around mine. We ended up in a drunk, mushy mess of flesh, nearly undressing one another in the club and then losing her panties in the cab ride home.
We woke up naked and hungover in my bed. I had a head filled with concrete and a high plains dehydration tearing down my throat. I stumbled to the bathroom to dunk my head into the water-filled sink and then cupped my hands to drink straight from the faucet. I had the decency to throw on some boxers before making my way to the kitchen, where I found Derek standing next to the sink. It was 7am and he was standing in the clothes he had worn the night before, sweating slightly with red eyes bulging out of his face. He had one of those tiny bottles of tequila they sell in the liquor store and you sometimes get on a flight when you order a drink. He was chasing the tequila with an herbal tea and appeared to have been up all night doing blow. Derek and I weren't really friends as much as roommates. It was a civil arrangement that allowed us to co-habitate without some of the baggage of actually becoming friends. Still, I was concerned about his general welfare.
"Derek...you going to be okay?"
His head darted in my direction and I could see his pupils were nearly as big as his corneas.
"Yeah, I'll be fine."
I wasn't sure whether I would be fine though. I found an old plastic cup from 7-11 and filled it to the brim. I walked back into the living room and plopped down on our old beige sofa that sagged in the center. I drank as much as I could from the Super Big Gulp cup and set it down before placing my head in my hands. I needed just another thirty minutes to get past the headache and nausea and then I would be fine. I looked up and immediately began to feel dizzy. The TV was playing a remake of Godzilla and looked to be shaking back and forth with the terrible lizard. I stood up determined I should go back to bed as the hangover was much worse than I had imagined.
Then Derek began to scream.
"Earthquake! It's a fucking earthquake."
He was right. It wasn't just me. The entire room was moving. The lamp over our kitchen table was swinging to and fro from the chain that held it to the ceiling. I had no idea what to do because I had never been in an earthquake. It felt as if we were at sea, my equilibrium being thrown off, and the pictures on the wall were rattling off of their hooks.
Derek had run into the living room and was still screaming.
"Don't panic! Don't panic! Find somewhere safe!"
I had no idea what that meant but Derek was not really helping in the don't panic department. I looked out through our sliding glass door that led to the balcony and to the pool and I could see water sloshing out of it as it shook. Right about that time Lucy came running out of the bedroom, completely naked, and nearly falling on the floor. She came in an ivory flash from my periphery vision and I turned just in time as she collided into my arms and wrapped herself around me.
Derek was still screaming.
"We're going to be fine. We're going to make it."
I had never learned the protocol for dealing with an earthquake. I yelled over to Derek, "What should we do?"
He looked at me with his red eyes now threatening to eject from his skull and screamed, "Go to the hallway! No wait - stand in a door frame! Just get away from anything glass!"
Before I could do anything the rolling stopped. The overhead light in the kitchen was still swinging and the water in the pool was still sloshing but the earthquake was over. It had been a few seconds of shaking and panic and it was done.
I stood there holding naked Lucy and kissed the black spider tattoo she had on her shoulder. She wasn't saying anything and wasn't moving. Derek was in the middle of the living room with both of his arms extended and his face looking savagely wild.
The three of us stood in place for a few more seconds before it finally settled into our fuzzy little brains that the event had ended. Derek collapsed on the sofa and I picked up Lucy and carried her back to my bed. As I walked down the hallway she whispered, "That was scary." I placed her into bed, kissed her forehead, grabbed a pair of sweats off of the floor and walked back into the kitchen.
I decided to make some coffee but had to take a moment to gather myself. I took a few deep breaths and managed to shake off the shock and regain my composure.
That was my first earthquake. I had never felt the earth move like that before. On the Richter scale it was nothing. I have been in worse ones since - some that roll, some that jolt and some that shake but I have never been in anything like I saw today on the news. The Richter scale increases exponentially so that today's quake in Japan is 3000 times more powerful than the quake we had in 1994 in Northridge, CA. I saw on the TV that it lasted for thirty seconds but some areas reported five minutes! I could not imagine being in that situation for that long and then I cannot imagine the horror of everything that has followed.
My little sliver of perspective is a mere hiccup in light of all Japan has gone through but it was terrifying enough to me. My thoughts are with the people there whose lives have been altered and I wish them the best. Wherever she is, I'm certain Lucy feels the exact same way.
Originally posted at www.igetpanic.com