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Getting Ready

ART TIMES September 2006

YOU CAN BE sure there is any number of screenwriters busily working up scripts for a disaster film based on the infamous Katrina. They may hold off until the emotional heat has cooled down a bit, but I figure there are certain studios already oiling up their wind machines and filling water tanks — after all, these have been sitting idle ever since “Perfect Storm”. I can’t wait, however. You see, we Long Islanders are bracing for what we’ve been told is almost a certain hurricane this season. Actually, this warning is issued every summer, but this time we’ve been handed really good odds — an 85% chance of a smack on what is little more than a long and very narrow sand box that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Now Long Islanders do take some fearful pride in its 1938 Category 3 blow, and you can hear all about it should you have the bad luck to bump into an ancient who was present at the time. Well, I was myself, but I’m pretty modest about such things.

The first hint of what was to come arrived in early Spring with a Weather Channel’s special— a swell and unsettling digital depiction of a Category 3 or better plowing into Brooklyn.  A mess, I can tell you what with Wall Street buried in storm surges and all. “Deep Impact” in 1998 showed surges nearly up to the Catskills — still, that was a Hollywood meteor and not an official Weather Channel hurricane. We on Long Island were rather surprised to learn that Brooklyn is the Western end of the Island. The warnings after this came thick and fast, more as threats as if we more than deserved a Biblical size disaster after decades of slothful living, over development, and outrageous real estate prices. Even a major insurance company decided they would no longer insure Long Island homes. It was time to get ready, all right.

            It stands to reason that you can only stockpile flashlight batteries and cans of spaghetti for so long before considering other preparatory means. In my case I felt it would be a good idea to review disaster films to learn how best to handle things. The 1990s were good years for natural disaster films. I chose to ignore disasters caused by aliens, zombies, and mysterious viruses. Most useful to my research were “Deep Impact”, “Volcano”, “Armageddon”, “Hard Rain”, “Dante’s Peak”, “Twister”, and “Day After Tomorrow”. I could only locate one film dealing specifically with hurricanes — the 1937 “Hurricane” and, Dorothy Lamour notwithstanding, this wouldn’t be up-to-date on modern calamities. There was much to learn from these reviews, the most important of which is that there will certainly occur several situations in a pending disaster as well as its aftermath. You can be sure there will be a person around who runs about wildly proclaiming a disaster is imminent and no one will pay the slightest attention, thinking this person is a nutter and should just shut up, for goodness sake. In my town here in Eastern Long Island, that person would be my wife who even now has bags packed and extra gas cans loaded in the car. At the first report that an errant breeze is brewing off the coast of Africa she will be off like a shot.

            It is practically a guarantee, of course, that any one who has failed to heed the warnings — and that is everyone save the nutter — will find they are hopelessly trapped where ever they are and unable to duck. Long Island is ready made for this one, having but two highways leading out, both usually gridlocked day and night, and a population that has two cars for every man, woman, and child. It is a comforting fact, though, that in every disaster I’ve observed in film there is invariably an heroic figure who emerges at the right moment to organize things, calming the panic and distributing hope and good cheer all over the place. I guess somewhere there is a Pierce Brosman or a Charlton Heston or a Dennis Quaid when you need one — yet looking around me I’m afraid I don’t see any one who is going to fit this role. It won’t be my wife you can bet on that, and I won’t do it no matter how much I may be begged. No sir, I learned from “Earthquake” that the safest harbor is your local bar — arrive there early, get as deep in your cups as did Walter Matthau and wait it out in happy oblivion. Incidentally, Walter Matthau was billed in that 1974 film as ‘Walter Matuschansky’ but I don’t think a name change is necessary to survive. The thing is, nothing can happen to funny drunks in disaster films whether on the ground, the sea or the air — you can put your money on it.