Last week Carty convened a meeting of the Hardyville Y2K Emergency Preparedness Committee. So there we all were -- half the town at least -- assembled in the big meeting room at the back of the Hog Trough Grill and Feed.
Now, you might have noticed that the Y2K emergency ... well, to put it plainly, wasn't. Not to mention that it's been five years since the wasn'tness in question.
But if you've brought up such minor points, then obviously, you don't know Carty. When Carty says convene -- Sir! Yes! Sir! -- you start convening.
He stalked up to the lectern, tattoos rippling, shaved head gleaming, radiating Marine toughness (I used to say ex-Marine, until a few Marines pointed out to me that there's no such thing as "ex" in their business). And he boomed:
"You people been slippin' up. You been lettin' down. You been messin' around and you been glossin' over. Time for you to shape up."
The response was silent, but could have been described as a respectful Huh?
"I mean," he went on, "That you been lettin' your preparedness go, just 'cause the world didn't end exactly on schedule five years back."
"Haven't neither let down," Marty Harbibi insisted.
"Tell me, then," Carty demanded, "You got a well, right?"
"Sure do. Five gallon a minute, 310 feet deep, no city water mains nor bills nor bio-attacks on city water supplies to worry about. That's security."
"So," Carty asked, "How d'you pump that water if your 'lectricity fails? What do you do after your holdin' tank empties and you don't have water on site to fill it with?"
Marty looked a little consternated.
"And you," said Carty, meaning me. "All those six-gallon pails of dried lentils you keep talkin' about. How much d'you cook with 'em?"
"I don't cook at all with the pails," I said, grammatically covering for the fact that I wouldn't know what to do with a dried lentil in an emergency where I had limited power and water to work with and had to figure out some recipe I've never used.
That got a laugh, though not particularly from Carty, I admit.
And on he went, singling out every weakness in planning he knew and guessing at a few he didn't. And although it pained us to admit it, with a few exceptions (like old cowboy Nat Lyons and the plumply domestic kitchen wonder Mrs. Nat) we had all kind of let things go since the great catastrophe turned out so catastrophically silly.
"And why?" Carty demanded. "D'you suppose that when Y2K didn't crash and burn that God declared a moritorium on blizzards, hurricanes, power outages, unemployment, earthquakes, catastrophic accidents, frozen plumbing, terrorist attacks, strikes, washed-out roads, financial collapses, bio-war, natural plagues, other sicknesses, and general total screwups by politicians? -- all of which things might make you want to call on those Y2K supplies you laid up so frantically and have been spending the last five years trying to ignore?"
We hemmed. We hawed. A lot of us kept our preps up in some areas. But most of us have let down in some. And really, after all that effort five years ago, it doesn't make sense to just let all that work and money sit there getting old.
I mean, think about the last hurricane in Florida, whichever exotic name it might have had. FEMA comes rushing in, right? Usually about five days late. Or some government or another shows up on time, only to put half its efforts into things like keeping people from selling water to their thirsty neighbors. Or arresting homeowners trying to get in or out of their property.
Yep, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."
Wherever we are, there's something, big or small, that can go wrong. For me last week it was burst pipes. And I'm pleased to admit that that was one little emergency I was prepared for (er ... aside from not being prepared for the pipes going blat in the first place ...); a week's worth of drinking and wash water was stashed under the table.
But oh, if I'd had to use those lentils, that would have been trouble. And it's also true that the well at the desert homestead where I'm currently bunkered would have been as useless as tits on a boar hog had the power failed.
So ... even though we've been through this before a time or two, it's that time of the year again to revisit our emergency preparedness supplies.
All these admonitions, of course, don't apply to you people who just naturally prepare - who home can, who are diligent about Mormon food-storage planning, or who live lifestyles in which preparedness is natural (like an acquaintance I just heard from who reminded me that, where he lives, grocery shopping is a quarterly occasion).
None of this applies to Jackie Clay, goddess of permanent self-sufficiency.
You're in a class by yourself and the rest of us can only aspire to admire you and have you grind our corn finto meal or us when we discover, too late, how nastily it sticks in that little hand-grinder thingy we got for such a bargain price.
But for the rest of us - we who prepared, then tended to forget - I pass along these words of wisdom from Carty:
- If your long-term storage is all lentils and whole grains and you don't cook like that routinely, go to The Internet Grocer and order yourself up some pails of spaghetti, oatmeal, germade (fancy name for Cream of Wheat), taco-flavored TVP (meat substitute), and other things that are easy and handy to cook. Or go for simple, cheap grocery-store items like store-brand canned refries, ramen noodles, mac & cheese, canned fruits & veggies, etc. (You may die from a diet like that in the long run, but in the meantime, you'll live.)
- Check the supplies you laid in five or six years ago, and either eat up or throw out all the stuff that wasn't designed to last: store-bought canned goods, powdered milk, powdered butter, margarine, cheese, etc. Don't even think about eating food from a swollen can. And if you bought dried banana chips five years ago as part of your preparedness planning? Toss that can, unopened. Trust me; if you ever want to think about eating a real banana again, you don't want to smell what's in that #10 can five years past Y2K.
- Next, make sure you have enough water on hand - whether in plastic jugs (stored in a cool, dark place, please), big plastic gravity-fed water tanks, or a well that doesn't rely on grid electricity to pump. And keep your water clean, sanitized, and frequently renewed.
- Make sure your emergency cooking fuel and equipment is in good shape and well supplied.
- Ditto, emergency lighting. The Lehman's catalog is especially wonderful for this. But a good flashlight with fresh batteries will do.
- Then make sure your emergency home-heating fuel and equipment is in good shape and well supplied. This has always been a toughy, since so many alternative heating methods that seem tempting for emergencies (e.g. kerosene stoves) aren't really for indoor use. But now there's a selection of (relatively) safe-for-indoor gas heaters like the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy and the new Big Buddy that fill the bill if your regular source fails and you don't have a traditional backup like wood.
- Know how to use all that stuff. In the dark. In the middle of the night. With the heat out. And the plumbing frozen.
Just doing those seven things will go a long, long way to keep you secure and reasonably comfortable in many emergencies, no matter what those famously tricksy gods of everyday life, Loki, Murphy, and Coyote, throw at you next.
And finally, just before Carty stalked off, no doubt to go wrassle bears bare-handed, he added, "You have some time off over the holidays, right? Good. Go. Now. Check those supplies. Your Christmas tree might catch on fire and you'll need to cook a TVP Christmas dinner on your Coleman in the snow."
Just In Case You Haven't Done Anything ...
Carty also had a word for the few (and it is just a few, right?) who haven't prepared at all: "Get off your butts and do something." Even a small something. Now.
Many BHM readers are gung-ho independent country folk for whom this message is redundant. (You guys can stop reading now.) But I know that about half of everybody reading this article is in a city somewhere, considering the independent life from afar. Somehow a lot of us (especially "nester" types like me) feel guilty because we're not rugged mountain persons, skilled, practiced, and prepared to survive for years in the woods with nothing but pocket lint and a broken magnifying glass (with which we will slaughter deer, tan hides, and build our own weatherproof shelters). So we shrug and don't make any preparations to take care of ourselves because, after all, somebody else will surely take care of us under most circumstances and nothing we do could equal the self-sufficiency feats of Eric Robert Rudolph.
Some wise person pointed out, sagely and practically, that we should prepare to survive in the place we intend to be. Sure, maybe you'll accidentally end up needing to survive in the woods, and then you'll be SOL if you're not Jim Bridger or Jeremiah Johnson. So then you call for help on your cellphone and hope it arrives. But if you spend most of your time at home, at work, or on the nice, civilized, well-traveled road, those are the places to focus your efforts on. And initial efforts don't have to be spectacular.
A three-day kit in your vehicle can serve either as your road emergency kit or your three-day grab n' go if you must head for a shelter. Have at least rudimentary supplies of easy-to-prepare foods and water at home - something that requires only a few extra dollars a week added to your grocery shopping. Then keep a little emergency food and water in your desk or your locker at work. Maybe a flashlight with fresh batteries in your desk, too. (I'd hate to have to get out of a big office building down a smoky stairway or with the lights out in a typical windowless cubicle warren - as too many people discovered on that disaster-for-real, 9-11.)
Next time, Carty and the Hardyville Y2k (+4) Emergency Preparedness Committee will have some thoughts on slightly more advanced or unusual measures - things that don't necessarily cost a fortune, but can give you that extra measure of comfort and security should the S hit the F during your lifetime. Or even should the ice hit the power line. Or should the earthquake hit the water mains. Or should Loki, Murphy, and Coyote ever decide to enter into grand conspiracy against you - as those gods of everyday reality are so devilishly inclined to do.