It’s not as if my family went into Superstorm Sandy totally unprepared.
We bought six gallons of milk, because there’s nothing better than a powerless fridge full of warm, delicious milk after a week or so. We purchased plenty of bread, which, although no one was willing to eat it after day two, could have eventually proved useful: I’m pretty sure you can kill or stun a looter with an 11-day-old baguette by swinging it like a Louisville Slugger.
We even made sure we had plenty of candles, so we would be able to see the boredom and hatred on each others’ faces clearly, night after night.
We just didn’t, as it turned out, buy any of the things that actually could have helped us with this particular emergency. No generator, no extra gasoline, and not nearly enough of the really good Halloween candy.
Honestly, my family had a pretty easy storm. We were without power for only four days, thanks to living on a main road, in an apartment complex, next to a large hospital. There aren’t many advantages to living on a main road, in an apartment complex, next to a large hospital: Quick power reconnection after storms and quick treatment after domestic accidents may be the only ones.
But throughout the storm and in the weeks since, I found myself struggling with a quandary that’s been bugging me since 1999, and good old Y2K.
On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the guy who has dedicated his life and his savings to preparing for the post-disaster society. He’s got guns, bullets, a concrete fortress installed under the vegetable garden, and 14,000 cans of food. He’s got water tanks, gasoline reserves and generators. And if he set up his stash on the eve of the year 2000, he has DVD editions of “The Sixth Sense” and “Fight Club” to keep the family entertained post-apocalypse.
On the other end of the scale, you’ve got the family whose only emergency preparations are seven packs of Marlboros, a case of Fresca and the number “911” written on a Post-it note stuck to the freezer.
And we decide which of those guys is sane and which of them is crazy based on the uncontrollable occurrences, like weather, that actually happen to happen.
We laughed at the Y2K loonies because society didn’t disintegrate into madness on Jan. 1, 2000. If the computers had gone kerflooey, the neighbor I called “Bomb Shelter Barry” through the early part of this millennium would instead have been known as “Brilliant Barry,” and my wife probably would have sold me into his slave army in exchange for three cans of fancy cling peaches.
In a world of unlimited resources, the bomb shelter guys would be right. If we live long enough, something terrible will happen, and it’s better to be prepared for it than not. There’s no way to get prepared once the horrible thing happens, or even when it’s on the way. By then the gas, generators, batteries and “Fight Club” DVDs are all gone.
But we do not live in a world of unlimited resources.
So generators that cost $5,000 and hundreds of gallons of water and gasoline and piles of unspoilable food that must be stored have to be balanced against all the other things we want. Stuff like food we can actually eat today, and college tuition, and bicycles and cars and clothing and circus tickets.
If it were easy to buy survivalist gear when we need it most, we’d own a lot more of it. But it’s mostly only possible to purchase such stuff once the sting of unpreparedness has worn off. And the need doesn’t feel nearly as pressing when the heat is working, and the ice cream is staying frozen.
Generators? We don’t need no stinkin’ generators.
At least not today.