Tricks and Treats: Stress, a Super Storm and an Election

A long time ago—sometime in the previous century when we were just starting to figure out that we were not in Kansas anymore—when people got worried about things like jobs, the weather, storms, and strikes and health, they said they were worried, or nervous, and sometimes they might have a drink or two—on the sly, of course—to soothe those very same nerves.

Parents—not always, but usually—would never own up to it, even if they were home and not working, even if they cursed whoever was president, or not, even if they were clearly not feeling good, even as we were heading down to the basement in our home in Ohio because a tornado was coming. My stepdad liked Ike, he liked his Pontiac Bonneville beyond reason, he took care of us without ever loosing his air of steadfast good naturedness, at least in front of anybody. My mom was the nervous one—about just about everything.

These days, we’re not nervous any more. We’re certainly worried and concerned and afraid, but all of that now comes under the heading of stress, as in “I’m so stressed,” or “She’s really stressed out.” Me, I got the most of all possible worlds—I worry, I’m nervous—I pace and not just for the exercise—I try to put a stoic face on things, and I’m, well, you guessed it, stressed.

This week, everyone had a lot to be (pick one): 1, nervous; 2, worried; 3, afraid; 4, have a drink or two; 5, stressed or so stressed. You can’t think of a more stress-nerves-fear-double-shot-of-bourbon inducing combination than to have a thousand-mile storm, part northeasterner-part hurricane-part Frankenstorm approaching during the last days of a presidential campaign, about which just about everyone is already (pick one): 1, nervous; 2, worried; 3, stressed out, really stressed; 4, bored out of our minds; 5, wanting to become a Mayan, if not a Mormon, over.

Here, in Washington, D.C., it was bizarre at the center of the world, but not quite in the eye of the storm—aptly named Sandy—we watched everything play out on television, or on blogs, or on your phone, for as long as they lasted, because we had no choice. Until Sandy came along and passed by, everything in the Washington area was shut down: schools, the government, local and federal, any and all transportation, including planes, trains and Metro rail and buses.

We all hunkered down along most of the Eastern Seaboard as Sandy approached: we bought generators, we bought bourbon, we bought books and candles and batteries and food (non-perishable) and gasoline, and we checked out our insurance, which, for most of us, didn’t cover flooding.

We all hunkered down, in the towns next to the Atlantic, in Alexandria, where it always floods, in our neighborhoods, waiting for wind and rain, of speeds and amount never seen in the history of mankind, or trolls. Everything we heard from the weather folks suggested: to hell with stress, nerves and worry, be afraid, be very afraid.

And so it came to pass we hunkered down in our domiciles in fear, and we watched every five minutes to check the rain fall and its rate. We heard the wind howl through the treetops, and we viewed soaked reporters from beach fronts in Rehoboth, Dewey, Ocean City, and New York and New Jersey, as the storm mugged them. Sometimes, we turned the channel to a 2009 rerun of "Law & Order SVU" or "The Mentalist," or watched horror movies about zombies.

We watched another sort of horror movie, the endless parade of political attack ads—Romney’s and the GOP Superpac ads of worried small business men, worried women—so many, so suddenly many women in GOP ads—we watched the grizzled old workers saying (about Romney) that “He’ll give you what he gave us—nothing,” and the women worried about four more years of Obama, and Romney and his 47 percent and two ex-governors of Virginia running for the U.S. Senate seat, and the Independent millionaire (is there such a thing?) in Maryland and the back and forth over casinos in Maryland, and Julian Bond in his God-voice mode, pushing same-sex marriage.

If you wanted to get weather info, you got Romney and Obama, you got the woman who isn’t going to survive the next four years, you got them all, millions of dollars worth. It was a twofer—a perfect storm of another sort.

In the end, our region, our city, our neighborhood, our house was spared, and that’s exactly what it was. The waters not only receded, but did not come. Our worst fears were not realized. What happened in New Jersey, and the Jersey shore, in Atlantic City and in lower Manhattan and parts of the biggest city in our country, was not merely stress but a tragedy. It made you pray for people you did not know.

Being a print journalist, I normally don’t have kind things to say about the folks who work in television. But I did not envy the reporters in the field, their sleepless nights, their hours of getting soaking wet, while the anchors did not.

I have a special word for NBC 4’s Jim Rosenfield, reporting for days from the town of Keansburg, N.J., which has been devastated by Sandy and became, for much of its expanse, a sand city. This historic town was virtually destroyed, and that included a legendary amusement park. Rosenfield, the only reporter on site, reported the tragedy and suffering, the devastation of the town in a way that was muted, strong, factual, direct and powerful, with self-evident feeling that was miles from maudlin. Here’s my Emmy to him.

In the end, around here, we continued, and waited for the election. But on Wednesday on Halloween, the children, young and tiny and in-between showed up in their cowboy suits, their batman outfits, the girls dressed as Dorothy from Kansas and Alice from Wonderland. They came door to door in our neighborhood of Lanier Heights, once again, as if they hadn’t gotten the memo that there might not be a Halloween here. There was—our neighbors covered their yard in spiders, spooks and spun spider webs, our yard once again became a bloody cemetery, and pumpkins, goblin, Gotham at St. Joseph’s House, where the Joker was on a bloody poster. Georgetown’s Wisconsin and M intersection was once again festive and ghoulish. It seemed like a trick, this welcome treat.

And now, today, on a Thursday, the polls say the presidential race is tied, and the election is Tuesday. We are, of course, stressed.

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Fri, 29 Aug 2014 04:01:40 -0400

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