What You’re Waiting for
I was in the shower measuring my pinkies when it happened. After five minutes of deliberation, they were deadlocked, but I wanted my left one to be stronger, thicker, and of better use. The water ran down in a manner all too casual and forgiving, I had just ended a relationship a week prior and whenever the thought of her had entered my mind I said, “To the shower and forever.”
Besides my fingers always seem so much longer in the shower.
I could stand here all day and measure all of my lefts against all my rights, and I could play favorites, and mostly, be a little less than lonely. My stomach growled. It was two thirty in the afternoon, and I had become rather hungry; I hadn’t eaten that day, just woke up from a nasty hangover in an empty bed and had said, “To the shower and forever.”
It was a busy year. It was the same year I had stopped blessing people after they sneezed. Winter had finally come on like an exhale, a long moist one. Maybe even a sigh, the kind you only do when you’re alone, in a closet, or a dark empty room.
The Consumer Electronics trade show back in June belted out something that changed everything. These scientists had finally figured it out. They could finally detect earthquakes. I had always figured that field of science to be dead and lost, that everyone in that big science building went down the hall to Cancer studies or to weapons manufacturing.
What doesn’t kill you?
It was slightly conversational and vaguely powerful.
Seismologists had built this machine and dropped it deep into the earth. It tugged and pulled at our continental shelves. The machine used magnetism, and when the shelves would give, the scientist all knew an earthquake was coming. It was like nagging your parents into spanking you. How much these devices caused or detected the earthquakes was unknown, but if they were the cause, the scientists just had to know it was coming.
The first problem was due to the depth of these charges. The signal would take five to ten minutes to reach the surface and so everything would be five to ten minutes too late. At that point it was telling us something we already knew. So they oversped the signal. Now everyone gets a warning of five to ten minutes prior to the earthquake. We call it “the window.” Everyone asks, What you did in the window? Everyone always remembers what they did in that window.
Pacific Gas and Electric bought up all the shares and installed these radios into every household, they looked kind of like smoke detectors, and if you don’t pay your utility bills they simply do not work. We were all afraid of not knowing, of the unknown.
It was either that, or you too can be alone in a city aware of a nightmare.
I was in the shower when it happened; the Moviephone guy starts yelling, “There will be an earthquake in five to ten minutes.”
I had only just figured out the length of my pinkies, I was to the shower and forever; he was slightly conversational and vaguely powerful.
I thought to stay in the shower and let it go; the biggest fault of this new earthquake detection system was that there was no way of knowing if it was going to be a bump, a thud, or a thunderstorm. We could know something was wrong but not what, or to what degree.
I have a shower radio with a clock. I was hungry and I had five minutes to get out and get dressed and run straight into Golden Gate Park, which was a two minute jog or thirty second sprint from my house.
I decided not to decide. My stomach still empty.
I found a vein, a thin blue one that ran up my left pinky finger, but with no twin vein for my right pinky, and after carefully studying them for two minutes I came to the conclusion we are not inkblots of symmetry; that scars, and well, life, save us from our own identities by identifying them.
“My pinky,” I said, “is my pinky’s pinky.”
Another big inhale.
And then I wondered if I was still drunk from last night, or hungover, or if my teeth hurt as often as they shouldn’t.
“Expect an earthquake in the next two to seven minutes,” blared the living room.
Now they will countdown to the window. It’s the five minutes of quiet when everyone waits, everyone either says “shhh” or “Did you hear that?”
San Francisco was the first city to install these devices, with unexpectedly peculiar results. Groups sprouted up, earthquake fan clubs, who, when they heard the five minutes warning, would run into their homes instead of out.
These people would run home and get naked and fuck in the window. That’s what they called it too, fucking in the window, some new kind of thrill seekers.
I know because I was one of them. I work up the street on 9th Avenue waiting tables and so did my then future former girlfriend, except she was on 8th Avenue.
When the alarms sounded, our co-workers ran to that baseball field off Lincoln Street. We would sprint home. The adrenaline from countdown was the greatest aphrodisiac ever invented.
Now she is gone, and I am alone in the shower with two minutes till the hiccup or the great collapse. I suppose I’ll wait this out. I start to think of all the other people in this city in the shower when the alarm goes off. I am, I think, with them right now. Or maybe I’m mostly alone. They are running down staircases or falling down fire escapes, some of them naked, some of them with towels, although most are probably naked.
There were these others too, like this group that started up on Craigslist. The guy who started it said that when the alarm starts he will have a light in his bay window, and anyone who wants to join him is welcome. He’ll have cookies and drinks because nobody should be alone in such a state of emergency. Others followed and it was a huge thing in the Castro. An entire dating scene started with lamps in windows. The lamps would be removed as soon as they were in a committed relationship, unless, you know, they were into that kind of thing.
I have heard of races to see who could build the biggest house of cards before the earthquake hit. Somebody said it was a metaphor or something. The first alarm being the starting gun, and what a whistle it was. I saw a webvideo of one contest, this guy was sweating so much the cards stuck to his hands.
After she left, I put a lamp out. Although the window only faced my backyard, and therefore could only be visible to surrounding backyards. It was there though. To be able to say that was enough, to remove it someday was enough.
The wedding ring you take off when you get married.
It is nearly insane how important these symbols become when we know our world is about to shake and change.
To fall apart. To stay the same.
Yet, here I stand, staring at my toes, with just one minute. I know my shoes, as well as the way I have walked for the last twenty-four years, have pushed my toes into different directions. I know about the displacement of weight, weaker muscles due to vitamin deficiencies, shallow bones. All these factors adding up to the difference between the left and the right. I got to wondering if babies are completely symmetrical. Symmetry correlates rather closely to beauty, perhaps, this is why babies are so cute, so beautiful.
I was once a baby too.
Alright, let’s do this.
I don’t dry off or put on socks. I don’t grab my phone or my wallet. When I’m running down the street the hard asphalt wears away at the tiny rings on my toes. As I chase crowds, the birds sing; my hands are in tight fists. On 8th Avenue I trip over an uneven slab of sidewalk and go down painfully hard. I fall hands first, sliding into the sandpaper of the street. The alarms they placed on most street corners are blaring all around me. The countdown is seconds from the five minute window, and here I am bleeding. I know now that the shower got me so far away from anything soft, or safe, or clean.
By the time I get to the park, I can see all of them, all of the singles, milling about with cigarettes like they’re waiting on test results. They stand around looking at their watches or phones, talking about the nothing before the big something. I swear it’s a bar without any booze in that field. No one thought to bring a kite or a football, nothing to throw around while the big one finally hits. This peasant crowd would rather be with someone in danger than to be safe, and alone. Many glazed-over eyes stare at a bright pink Victorian off of 7th Avenue and Lincoln where strangers rush in with the same speed I had rushing to the park.
I thought about safety.
I thought about hearing a tree fall in the woods and nobody believing you.
I have however, come to find that my broken bloody hands, and my pinkies, for that matter, look completely identical to each other after the fall. I can no longer play favorites. I have become a symmetrical inkblot, but a rather messy one at that. I feel born again. I fall back into the grass, the adrenaline coupled with my newly marred features leaving me breathless dizzy. I have my ear to the ground, dirt on my cheek, listening to the angry belly. Ants drawn to the sweet sugar of my blood begin to congregate on my broken wrists.