Disaster Etiquette: How to Act When No One Knows How to Act

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So you're having a hurricane.

The first thing you should do, according to Hurricane Emily Post (an etiquette expert I just made up) is not panic. Then panic a little, about not panicking. Then read some stuff on the internet about supplies, and panic about how you don't know where to buy a flashlight in your neighborhood, because you just moved there like three weeks ago and haven't even had time to figure out where to buy a pair of emergency underwear yet, much less a battery powered transistor radio. So buy a bunch of votive candles instead. Because you live in a heavily Mexican neighborhood, all of the candles will have pictures of saints on them, and prayers in Spanish.


Look up where the evacuation zones are. Express relief that you are not in an evacuation zone. Text your mom to let her know you are not in an evacuation zone.

Spend the next 20 minutes talking your mother down over the phone. Explain that you're not going to die, because hurricanes are not like tornadoes. There will be no cows flying through the air or boat rudders impaling trees miles away. It's just a big, circular rain storm. You promise. Panic internally.

Begin texting your non-best friends who you seem to remember living in low lying areas. Awkwardly express relief when they tell you they've moved to Harlem or Portland. And they're pregnant. Well, that's wonderful. Congratulations. Another friend is in Florida. Point out that Florida tends to be more hurricane-y than NYC. Type out "haha" so they know you're really laughing, even though you're totally not. Offer your couch to everyone, in case their buildings fill with water. Offer your couch to people you haven't talked to since college. They will decline your offer, and at this point you revert to Midwestern rules, which is where you do not consider an offer turned down until it has been declined three times. The decliner of the offer should also know that because you offered three times, you're actually serious.

Begin cherishing your electricity like it's the last makeout session you're going to have with your high school boyfriend before the two of you go off to college. Lovingly gaze at your outlets, enjoying every moment you have with their precious output. Charge up all of your electronic devices. Run a load of dishes. Do all of your laundry. Take a shower, and revel in the hot water. THIS MIGHT BE THE LAST TIME FOR AWHILE. Allow the worst case scenario fill you with melodrama. Open your fridge and stare at it. Fill a bunch of ziplock bags with water and put them in the freezer.

Post to Facebook that you have tons of snacks. Basically invite every single person you know over to your house. Offer to make enchiladas, even though you don't know how to make enchiladas (you can figure it out. Recipes are basically tests of how good you are at following directions).

Stay glued to Twitter during the storm, and put a moratorium on unfollowing people simply because they're talking declaratively about things that millions of other people can currently see like you normally would do if you were watching, say, The Bachelor. 50 tweets about an exploding transformer. 50 more tweets about the rain picking up. Then stuff about the building collapse in Chelsea. Text your friend in Chelsea. Offer to make her some enchiladas. You're so far into Brooklyn that it would be all but impossible to make it to Manhattan, what with the subways closed and the streets deserted, but imagine you can get there, anyway. You formulate a plan that involves you riding your bike to chelsea with a casserole dish full of food, taped shut and secured in a back pack.


The sound isn't working on your TV, so try to learn how to play backgammon instead. Put on some old timey jazz music, like the kind they'd play when Jack was hallucinating in The Shining, because it's almost Halloween. Turn the music off when you get scared. Watch Manhattan flicker out. You're still fine, but the construction scaffolding is banging against the side of the building.

Leave your apartment and talk to your neighbors. You normally wouldn't talk to your neighbors, because talking to someone when you don't know if you'll have anything in common with them is a risky move, as you could end up in a horrible conversation. But these people are nice. Invite them to your apartment and drink beer with them, even though you normally hate having people over. Laugh ruefully as the male half of the couple refers to the building with the collapsed crane as "billionaire dick tower." Walk outside and watch the transformer a block away explode. The whole block smells like burning hair now, but your lights are still on. Make a joke about the transformer making the cemetery bodies come to life. Then pause for a terrified second and think WHAT IF THAT COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN OH MY GOD.


Go to sleep drunk, because you've been stress drinking during the storm, even though nothing is happening to you. Wake up. Again offer your couch to everyone you can reach on social media. Realize that most people who need your couch cannot currently access social media. Imagine the insurmountable task of riding your bike all the way to lower Manhattan, this time with tacos. No, not tacos. Not portable enough. This time you'll bring everyone chicken sandwiches that you'll wrap in wax paper and stack like kindling in a tote bag. Spend the morning puttering around and trying to get online. Succeed sporadically. Spend the afternoon working and making risotto, imagining yourself bringing it to an office that, for the time being, is nonfunctional and closed. How would you get there, anyway, without the train? Flying bicycle? Nothing has happened to you and you feel terribly guilty about this.

Ineffectuality and boredom and guilt means you can expect cabin fever to set in. Get really, really sick of your fiancee. And your cat. And your blankets. And all your stupid clothes. AND YOUR DUMB HOUSE. Seriously begin hoping that one of the people to whom you've offered your couch can figure out how to get to Brooklyn, so that you can have a sort of slumber party type situation for at least 24 hours, before all of the parties in the new arrangement become sick of each other. Have sex, or don't. You've been together for a couple of years now and you haven't combed your hair in days and his comical mustache that he grew specifically for his strong man Halloween costume is still perched optimistically on his upper lip, even though it's clear that you're not doing anything for Halloween. No one feels sexy. Even the cat who humps blankets like a fiend seems uninterested in his normal daily fap routine.


Read frustrated-sounding updates from your coworkers without power or water or internet and feel bad that you have power and water and internet. Plan on baking cookies. Donate to the Red Cross. Consider donating blood, even though needles make you faint. No, no, instead just donate a bunch of extra money. Donate a couple of towels, even though you totally need all of your towels because you threw away all of your extra crap because you've moved twice in the last seven months. YOU DON'T NEED A SEPARATE TOWEL FOR YOUR HAIR, YOU SELFISH JERK! DRIP DRY FOR THE TIME BEING!

Check in with your displaced friends for the seventh or eighth time. They will again decline your offer of assistance. There's nothing you can really do right now, except sit on your couch and rearrange the fridge. Look at the subway map and see that you're going to have to take a bus across the Brooklyn or Manhattan bridge to get to your job. Imagine spending November and December biking. Imagine your bike getting stolen. Feel bad for yourself, and then feel bad for other people.


Offer to help again. Your friends know you can't, but they say they appreciate your attentiveness. It's the thought behind the enchiladas that counts.

-Erin Gloria Ryan



Gotta admit, I've seen about enough wittily written first-person accounts of 'how the storm affected people who were not really affected'.