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“It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.”  – Confucius 

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What To Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

Something bad or unfortunate has happened to someone you know. Here’s what you say. You say:

“I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how difficult this is. I’m just really so sorry.”

That’s it.

If you can go the extra mile and send flowers, drop off a lasagna or offer a shoulder to cry on over high-quality whiskey shots or drinks featuring artisanal ingredients someone made up in Brooklyn just last week, great. If that is not appropriate – because you are uncomfortable with emotion or marinara sauce or giving 1800-flowers $75 for some tulips you could get at Trader Joe’s for $20 – that’s fine. You have added to the sum of kindness and courtesy in the world and your work is done.

In case you had any second thoughts or objections to that course of action, here are the answers to those: 

1. “I’m not sure what exactly to say so I’m going to avoid the whole thing and say nothing.” Most people don’t say this in as many words but act like they did. Stop it. Just stop. The only truly bad option is to say nothing. Silence is the kind of thing that is remembered, not awkward phrasing.

2. I’m pretty sure I’ll say the wrong thing or in the wrong way, and that’ll be worse than saying nothing.” No. That is incorrect. However profound  your fear of saying the wrong thing, see above: there is nothing you can say that will be as wrong as saying nothing. Unless you are just a terrible, offensive person. Which you aren’t. We both know you’re not. So be a mensch already and say something nice.

3. “S/he is a really a private person and I don’t want to intrude.” Respecting people’s privacy is admirable but overrated. (Unless you are talking on a cell phone in Starbucks, in which case you should seriously fuck off already and respect everyone’s privacy because this is not your living room.) I am a private person and have been on the receiving end of many explanations of why I was deemed too private, too calm or too competent for someone to reach out to me, and here is my answer: compassion is always welcome. I and my kind may not choose to confide in you beyond saying, “Thank you,” when you are nice to us, but your effort is noted and appreciated.

4. Do not be nice to someone having a hard time and expect that s/he will then confide in you. This is not Oprah. No one is walking away with the answer to all their problems or a Pontiac. Try to tamp down your expectation of any particular response or resolution. The nature of having a hard time is that everything is weird. Any response is fine.

5. If that response is weeping and telling you the whole story from the very detailed beginning, it is OK to just listen. You do not have to fix this (and you can’t, even if you tried). It’s also OK to have your own limits and set them calmly and firmly, like excusing yourself for a voluntary root canal. Pre-planning a simple exit like this is fine.

6. Even if you think you can imagine how hard this is, even if you have been through something you believe is very similar, do not bring it up.  Every disappointment is a unique (if unfortunate) flower. Commiseration and comparing notes will come later (at his/her discretion). The universality of pain and/or recovery is likewise not relevant right now, so keep that to yourself. Phrases to avoid: “We all suffer,” “This too shall pass,” and anything beginning with, “My brother-in-law…”

7. Do not assume that everyone already has someone to say kind things to them or that they can be heard enough. You never know. Erring on the side of generosity is always the better choice.

In short, “Do unto others,” etc. If you were in her shoes, would you want a kind card? A supportive word in passing? To be told that you are thought of when things are hard? Yes. Yes, you would. So let’s all make a pact right now that we will step out of our days, our concerns and details, our, “I am really so very busy…” and, “I wouldn’t know what to say…” and just say it anyway. It matters.

10 Tips for Nannies and Babysitters

Mary_PoppinsWe’re just coming out of another round of hiring a part-time nanny/babysitter, and I’m struck again by how challenging and sometimes ridiculous the recruiting and ramp-up process can be. Unless you’re paying a service upwards of $2000 to help you find the right, professionally trained and background-checked match or are on the market for one of the round-the-clock celebrity super nannies who make more than you do, you’re navigating the process on personal recommendations and instinct and then leaving your most precious possession in their charge while you’re not there. Harrowing.

Of course, the match-finding and settling in with a new family can be a challenge for the nanny too, and usually with very little context: kind of a worst case for starting a new job. So with both sides doing their best to find the best fit and then fit in, what are some of the things that a nanny can do to make the process go more smoothly? (I have some thoughts for the families too, also based on my errors and successes – those are for a future post.)

Just a quick caveat: I know a number of these suggestions fall into the category of “basic professionalism” but I’ve been surprised by how often they’ve come up as issues. Maybe it’s because the job feels highly personal and therefore casual, or just because the basics are often overlooked over time so they bear repeating. Whichever it is, I hope this is helpful!

Interviewing

1. Be honest in interviews. This process is already difficult enough without the addition of interviews with candidates who have misrepresented their availability or are really looking for something different than what we’re offering. This isn’t to say you should never interview for a job you might not keep forever: we happily hired a wonderful sitter over the summer knowing she would be taking a teaching job this fall. We loved her and, knowing she would only be with us briefly, we were able to set our expectations accordingly. Just try to be clear about where you are in your search and plans. It’s a good place to start with a future employer.

2. Be someone I will want to hang out with. I know this sounds a bit vague and personal. What I mean is, “Be interesting, attentive and courteous.” Don’t misrepresent yourself, but, assuming you are not naturally an offensive jerk, your best bet is to be sincere, focused and have a real conversation with me at the interview. You’ll be hanging out with me and my child, after all: we want to like you, so show us what there is to like. (See here for more on this point re: hiring. We also heard this from an admissions director of an exclusive preschool recently, so I’m definitely not alone in prioritizing this vague qualification!)

Punctuality and absences

3. Be on time. Bonus points if you can be 5-10 minutes early. Babysitting is not one of those new-industry jobs where showing up approximately on time is fine. This is a job where I am counting on you to show up on time so I can show up somewhere else on time. I will absolutely book enough buffer time to get my little one settled and me out the door and where I’m going, but I will not continue to hire a sitter if I have to book (and pay for) the extra time his/her chronic lateness requires to make sure I get there on time. It is just too hard on my nerves, those ten minutes of wondering if you are going to show up at all! It just starts the shift and the day off on the wrong foot.

4. Texting to confirm your shift ahead of time is a great habit. We’ve recently had two sitters who confirmed by text every time they were scheduled to come. It is wonderfully reassuring. Of course, if you’re the full-time nanny, this isn’t necessary but for one-off date nights or part-time nannies where schedules seem to be constantly shifting and parents may be juggling a couple of different caregivers and two parents’ schedules, it is a huge relief to get a, “I’ll see you at 5PM this evening,” at 10AM that morning.

5. Get in touch the minute you start to feel ill or think you won’t make your shift. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, and it’s now an upfront policy with everyone we hire. Calling ten minutes before you were supposed to be at work to say that you’re feeling unwell and won’t be coming makes me nuts! It’s not that I don’t believe you – I do – but I’m betting you felt ill an hour ago, three hours ago, or last night the way I do when I’m getting sick. Call or text with a heads up as soon as you start to feel sick so I can move things around in case you aren’t able to come. If you feel better in the morning, great: I’ll still be happy to see you. If you don’t, I’m still minimally covered.

To be very clear, it is not a courtesy to follow the logic, “Well, I might feel better in the morning, so I’ll just wait and see and not bother anyone.” Bother me. Period. I would so much rather be bothered now. Really. If you can’t afford to not get paid for the hours and that’s why you’re taking the risk, let’s talk about sick time (or make-up shifts if you’re not full-time).

Communication

6. When in doubt, ask. I would rather answer a quick, “Does A. like mayo on her sandwiches?” than hear that she skipped lunch. I know some parents may differ with me on this, but my policy is, “I would rather field a question now than a crisis (even a small one) later.” All parents want our sitters to be self-sufficient and competent, but, especially early on, I expect to provide some guidance and course correction: it’s how we all ease into new jobs and situations. Caring for my child is a team effort and that means you should feel comfortable reaching out when you need a hand. (I also don’t want you going without caffeine because you don’t know where I keep the coffee. Ask me about things for yourself too.)

7. Related: don’t spare me the bad news. I expect things to go wrong. They go wrong for me all the time! Really. I want to know where and how she got that scrape on her knee or that something weird happened on the bus. Trust me, now that she can talk, she’ll tell me herself. Before that, I’d probably hear about it from someone else, and that is the worst case for employer/employee trust. I will trust you more for giving me the bad news as well as the good.

And, corollary, I want you to consult me immediately when things really go off the rails rather than being shy about bothering me. I trust your judgment, but this is my child, so if you’re stranded at the park with a dead battery at nap time, call me. I can help. Really. You aren’t on your own.

8. Provide notes of what happened and when. This is most important when nannying for an infant: how many ounces the baby drank and when, plus when and how long she slept are essential to a parent’s planning after you leave for the night. (A Post-It will do.) I like to get those updates on my preschooler as well. If she didn’t eat much lunch, I’ll plan a big and early dinner; if she didn’t nap, an early bedtime, and so on.

9. Related, texting during your shift to confirm that things are going well is a nice touch. It’s enormously reassuring to me, as the parent of a child who can get anxious easily, to know that everything is going smoothly or just to know what she’s up to.

10. Be tactful with parents and their guilt about leaving their child in your care. Some parents are super well-adjusted about their career and care choices and bravo to them. But many aren’t. These are some of the things I’ve heard from other moms: “I want him to be happy with you – but not happier than when he’s with me!” “I want her to miss me but not to the point of being unhappy,” etc. You see what I mean? I had one nanny tell me she just skipped telling one parent about missed milestones because the mom took it too hard. The baby would just do it again on the weekend and that was that. Most parents don’t need that kind of extreme care, but regardless, it’s a tightrope for you, the caregiver, I know. Just do your best to help a mom out where you can. Provide details but don’t brag too much about a child’s wonderful days without his beloved mama!

And finally, keep in mind that some people just aren’t a good fit with each other and that’s OK. No harm, no foul. Follow your best judgment, and know that sometimes things don’t work out and you just have to cut your losses and call it a day – by giving plenty of notice in the most professional way possible, of course.

Infiltration Is the Answer

I read another column by Cass Sunstein this week on how you can’t convince anyone of anything, and I woke up yesterday morning wondering how I can get around it. The basic (proven) theory is that if you present someone with strong opinions with a balanced representation of the facts, a.) they will only hear the facts that support their own position, and b.) being confronted with the facts on the other side of the matter will only cement them more firmly on their own side of it.

Sum total: once people believe something, it’s unbelievably hard to convince them of something else and using empirical evidence to do so is more than pointless, it’s counter-productive.

Since I think I’m super right about a lot of things – like that Dunkin Donuts is the best coffee and that tearing down the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas is a goddam travesty – this is obviously distressing. How am I supposed to get people behind me when I start my army to settle this, “It’s fuck all hot around here so can we all just admit there’s global warming?”

Sunstein says there’s one exception to the depressing rule: if someone like you, who believes things you believe and who you view as essentially an ally, purports to believe something you don’t, that dissonance may cause you to re-think your position. So, if you’re in the Fox News camp, and Karl Rove came out in favor of puppies after years of lying, cheating and puppy-kicking, you might consider getting a dog. (I mean really: who doesn’t think Karl Rove kicks puppies? Back me up on this.) Or if I started saying that I thought, yeah, San Francisco might be a real city after all even though everyone has a #$?! garage and what kind of self-respecting urban density is that?, you might reconsider too. That kind of thing. (Not that anyone agrees with me on that San Francisco thing, which I don’t understand at all, but there it is: life is full of mysteries.)

So the upshot of all of this is that if you plan to take on Uncle Al at Thanksgiving dinner about whether Obama is actually an American citizen, you better get Donald Trump on your side and bring him along, ’cause that’s your best bet. See also: “How to Have a Memorable Thanksgiving.”

I don’t fully understand how you get the turncoat over to your side in the first place, but maybe Sunstein covers that in his next book. My completely-not-a-conspiracy-theory is “long-term infiltration.” E.g., Trump spends a lifetime building a tacky real estate empire, a silly television show, and a ridiculous haircut as prelude to the moment when he goes, “OK, yeah, I saw the birth certificate and it looks real. My bad,” over lemon Jell-O mold and stuffing in your Nana’s dining room. That is totally going to happen. I can feel it. This is your year.

In the meantime, I guess we should all just try to be a little more suspicious of our own personal echo chambers and give our moderate friends a hug.

For the record, though, I still think that you should invite Trump to Thanksgiving. And me. I’m totally coming too.

Top Five Better Vice Presidents Than Paul Ryan

On Saturday, Bland White Dude in Waiting Mitt Romney announced super-aggressive youngster Paul Ryan as his running mate in the 2012 presidential election. Ryan’s platform of hard-core Catholicism, guns are great, gays are bad, women don’t matter, and fruitcake ideas about how to manage our budget aside, I would not have chosen Ryan as my running mate if I were Mitt. Why? Because he could have done better. That’s all I’m saying.

Top Five Better Vice Presidents Than Paul Ryan

1. Michael Phelps. Right?? I know!

The only job of the Veep, besides hiding a hopeful grin whenever POTUS trips on the carpet, is breaking a tie in the Senate, and Phelps wouldn’t ever let it get to a tie in the first place. He’d either hand them their asses out of the starting blocks or he’d out-touch them at the wall with that albatross wingspan of his. I have no idea what that means in the Senate, but I guarantee you this: Phelps is gonna win whatever it is hands down. That is one winningest motherfucker and Romney needs a piece of that action.


2. A gun. Admittedly this choice would upset some people, but those people weren’t going to vote for Romney anyway. Bonus: the Take Our Country Back-ers who’ve been on the fence about the Mitt-ster would be so excited to see someone they recognize up there on the campaign float next to the horse-owning, boat-sailing, northeastern millionaire that they don’t. A shiny Smith & Wesson would do the job. No need for an actual assault rifle. That would just be dangerous and unnecessary overkill, right? No? Oh. OK. Sorry.

3. Sarah PalinIf you thought she was a surprising pick for McCain, imagine how surprised everyone would be if Romney picked her too. I for one LOVE a good, heart-attack-inducing, no fucking way surprise.

Romney’s campaign could use a jolt of the paddles to the chest and Palin could be it. She’s still super maverick-y on things like basic facts and what’s an appropriate use of Facebook and – bonus! – she doesn’t have any pesky un-vetted secrets anymore now that Bristol’s got her own show and Levi’s shown his, um, colors in Playgirl.

Besides, 30 Rock is coming up on its last season, so we all could use a little more Tina Fey in our lives.

4. RafalcaRoy Rogers had Trigger, The Lone Ranger had Silver and Mitt Romney has Rafalca. I know a horse is kind of a stretch for the vice presidency, but come on: it’s a dancing horse. That shit is Uh. Mazing.

I know Rafalca’s been a bit of a Richie Rich problem for Romney, so putting her on the ticket would be the ballsy, call out the haters move. Plus, she’s a girl, so he might win some ladies back to his side. Or some twelve-year-old girls.

While we’re on the subject, I honestly can’t fathom why Romney won’t just release his tax returns: with a dancing horse and a car elevator, we all know he’s just one chocolate waterfall away from Willy Wonka wealth, so he should just post his, “I’m a crafty, paid-no-taxes bastard,” docs on WikiLeaks and let’s all move on the Rich Man’s Carnival also known as the Republican National Convention. Bring your horse. I’ll bring the hookers.

Which brings us to our fifth awesome candidate:

5. Gene Hackman from The FirmHackman is the whole package. He’s like the second coming of Dick Cheney without the pacemaker and that weird man-sized safe.

First, if Romney really doesn’t want to release his tax returns, Hackman’s got him covered. He already has a condo in the Caymans chock full of super secret off-shore documents. What’s another box or two? Also: good place to hide bodies or “ladies of the night” or whatever else you got going on.

Bonus: Hackman’s got that guy from Quaker Oats on his payroll and that that dude has some hidden security skills, no Secret Service required.

See? Five super duper, perfectly viable candidates I bet Romney didn’t even consider. All of them right up on that “notice me” edge. I’m not saying Paul Ryan is a bad choice, I’m just saying Romney could have done better. He’s got a couple of weeks before the Convention to reconsider, so have at it. You’re welcome.

In Praise of Stalking Your Ex

I’m puzzled and impressed when people tell me they’re still friends with their exes. When I’m done, I’m done. I stay in relationships so long that all the despising and recovery happens while we’re still together. By the time the bags are packed, a handshake will cover any remaining need I have for closure.

It might not be the best strategy – it’s pretty time-consuming – but it does leave me with a slate clean of regret, which is a big plus. No post-break-up hook-ups and drunk dials: I’m out. (Insert sound of mic hitting the floor of that beautifully renovated dining room floor in the apartment my last ex and I lived in. That place was great. I missed it way more than I missed him. Big sigh. San Francisco real estate can be so cruel.)

There have been a few poorly defined, unfinished relationships that have stuck with me past the departure date though. Those are the ones where I’ve found that some mild cyberstalking can really put the lid on things.

I know this doesn’t sound right. The usual thing is the Facebook pain of old flames with lots of money, a fabulous life and a wife much hotter than you, but that hasn’t happened to me. Everyone I’ve looked up has turned out to be satisfyingly, um, what’s the tactful word? Unappealing? I can think of other less tactful ones, but, for the sake of maturity and diplomacy, let’s go with “unappealing.”

It’s awesome. At least for my peace of mind.

If you’ve been holding off on Googling that pesky ex who won’t make his way out of your emotional peripheral vision, my advice is to have at it. Look him up and let the waves of relief wash over you.

Exhibit A 

A year or two ago, I got an invitation to join a Facebook group of alumni of a top-notch arts program I attended ages ago. That got me wondering about the guy I’d fallen for there. He was an Adonis brimming with well-placed self-confidence: handsome, rich, ridiculously privileged and smooth like creamy Jif. We had a brief thing – nothing official but enough to make my heart pound. I was stunned by his bright light and good luck. I yearned, he wrote me a song, we had a lot of awkward phone conversations, and then our connection faded in among all our travels and transitions.

And his girlfriends at home. That too.

I’d heard a a few details – college, traveling, brief artistic success – and then nothing. It’s not that I thought of him often – maybe once every year or two – but those occasional thoughts always had the same unpleasant taste of insecurity they had when we left off.

Thank you, Facebook! A two-second search turned him up and any regret I ever had, any what-ifs, were answered by the picture he’d posted of a 20-something in a tiny bikini and the profile words, “I love women.”

Let me pause here. Have you ever heard a guy – any guy: an older one, that kid on Modern Family, the college professor you thought was maybe hitting on you – say he loves women, and it didn’t sound creepy?

I’m not saying there aren’t men who genuinely love women. I’m saying if you say, “I love women,” you probably mean, “I love hot chicks in bikinis,” or, “I love having sex and if I play my cards right, you’re next,” or, “I have unresolved issues with my mother that have led me to idolize women in a way that will make our relationship weird and lead to peculiar sex. Oh – and I might be gay.”

Anyway, it turns out that the creamy Jif  passed its expiration date a while ago and is now covered by a layer of weird oil. The suspicions that were raised by that kick-off have been confirmed by his subsequent posts. Today’s? “I bet women who work in lingerie stores just wanna have sex all the time.”

You’re killing me, dude. Killing me.

What was charming and age-appropriate at 18 – all that ego, wealth and potential! all those cars and bikes! – seems to have remained unchanged and, at 40, is just…odd. To me, at least, several years out.

And not “odd” in that, “Gee, I wish I still had that!” way. “Odd,” in that, “Why are you still doing that?” way. Like losing my passion for Lincoln Logs when I was ten, I’m not into the same things I was when I was 18. Don’t get me wrong: I still respect my choice to build my dolls an unstable home with pre-whittled wood, but I’ve moved on to other interesting things (or, in the case of things I’ve always loved, different versions of them).

Of course, I’m not saying unequivocally that he hasn’t – what do I know from Facebook feeds? I’m not sure I’d want to be judged on mine (which is probably why I don’t post that often) – just that whatever it is he’s evolved into publicly isn’t something I feel any pangs about not being involved with, which is a great feeling of freedom from the pervasive adolescent sense of inadequacy that trailed out in the wake of our unfinished relationship.

Exhibit B

Every year or so, I’ve been feeling rotten about this other guy. Not an ex-boyfriend but still an ex. An ex-friend, I guess. It ended badly. Maybe my fault, I’ve thought. Probably my fault. Karmic burden and what not. So I finally tracked him down. (We’re talking less than five minutes of effort here: I’m not Colombo.)

After a startling wrong turn into the gay marriage announcements – they sounded really happy and upbeat and I was genuinely happy for the guy for a minute – I located my ex-friend and his email.

Here’s what I found out.

      1. His computer apparently still doesn’t have a caps button, which makes his emails less like bright e.e. cummings poems and more like deciphering the phrasing of a heavy metal song: baffling, prone to error and requiring more effort than seems reasonable.
      2. He’s the same guy he was back then.

At least to me, that is. Sure, yes, maybe he’s a changed man and has a wonderful, envy-worthy life. But with each other, we are – and maybe were – awful. In the space of a few hours I was reminded of all the ways we sucked together: he’s withholding and provoking which, in turn, brings out the worst in me – judgment, disapproval – and the whole thing is a car crash of unpleasantness for everyone involved.

It took a jolt of the self-awareness I’ve accumulated since I last saw him not to fall back into our old habits, and after a few carefully civil words on my part and chilly ones on his, my insecurities about the whole thing – how it ended, if I could have handled things differently – were all tucked up in bed, their little chins on the edge of the nicely folded sheet, put to bed once and for all. That brief reintroduction was exactly the reminder I needed of why we don’t hang out anymore, and I’m honestly grateful for both our sakes that we don’t.

So here’s my point: stalk it up. Not a lot. Just a little. Trust me: you’re both different now. Put that annual 5AM wondering behind you already. You have awesome things to do with your time, right? Worrying about how nice the decking maybe was on that already-sunk battleship is not one of them.

Disaster Preparation – Part 1

airwayscrash.jpg(For the intro to this series on disaster prep, click here.)

Remember that disaster preparedness is playing the odds and reaching compromises. You are never going to establish a plan and policies that will keep you 100% safe from disaster and its effects. Know that up front. This is about spending a reasonable amount of time and money doing practical things to protect you, your honies and your stuff. Trust me: you don’t want to live with the guilt of knowing that a weekend trip to Home Depot to get a couple of smoke alarms could have saved your family. That said, you probably aren’t going to drop $2000 on an executive parachute to get you out of your office building either. Unless you have a spare $2000 in which case you should send it to me. It’s none of your business if I spend it on an executive parachute of my own.

Personal Disasters – limited to you and your property

Fires

For the record, in a fire, you can’t take anything. Ever. Period. Don’t try. Fires move so fast that even when you think you have time, you don’t. You have 30 seconds to 2 minutes to get out and erring on the side of 30 seconds could save your life. If you want to save anything, plan ahead and get a fireproof safe or keep valuables (like photos and computer back-ups) off-site. (Not that that location is guaranteed not to burn to the ground too. That’s how I think. Welcome to the inside of my head.)

• For starters, get a smoke detector. This would seem self-evident, but it’s not. Tons of homes don’t have them. Incredibly, my grandmother’s didn’t.

• Second, get at least one fire extinguisher so you’re prepared to put out small fires, like on the stove. There are four different kinds – A, B, C, and D – which are designed for four different types of fire (wood, grease, electrical and chemical). Long story short, you can get one rated for ABC that should cover all your bases.

• Make a plan. We have so many exit points in our apartment that it’s like some kind of circus clown set-up. We have more doors and windows than we do wall space. Most places don’t, so spend ten minutes figuring out how you’d get out of any given room in your home, keeping in mind that the fire might be on the other side of your first-choice door. Then spend another ten minutes methodically practicing and committing to memory how to operate that exit. I’m not kidding: smoke is profoundly disorienting. You may not remember, in the smoky panic, which way to turn that window latch or bolt lock that you’ve sorted out in daylight 1000 times, so learn it now.

  • If you don’t have enough reasonable exits, think about getting an emergency ladder. If you’re above the first floor, that is. If you’re on the first floor and you think you need an emergency ladder, go get a cup of coffee – decaffeinated – and pull yourself together.

• Do not plan on taking anything. You will need your hands to get out, so they can’t be carrying things. If you haven’t moved your valuables into a fire safe or someplace else entirely before the fire, leave it. (Think about overcoming the instinct to collect things now.)

• Do not stop to call 911. You don’t have time. Saving your stuff is not worth your life. Call 911 once you’re out.

• Never, ever move into a space where there’s fire unless you will die if you don’t. If you open a door into a space – a room, an enclosed porch – you will feed the fire oxygen and it will grow instantly. Always choose the exit furthest from the fire, even if it’s not your instinctive choice.

• Before you open any door, feel it with the back of your hand to see if it’s hot. If it is, back away. If it’s not, go for it. And please, please, please use the back of your hand when you feel the door – searing the skin off your palm is a terrible handicap in your escape and afterwards.

• Remember the mantras from elementary school. If you’re on fire, stop, drop and roll. Don’t run – that makes it worse. And stay low. If there’s any breathable air in the space, it’s near the floor.

Plane Crash

• Read the safety brochure. Every time. Exit doors are different on different planes and you don’t want to be the jerk trying to push a door out that should be pulled in.

• Check for your closest exit, including the one in front of you in business or first class or behind you in coach. Count the rows to that door. Always. Make it a habit. Same rules apply as in a fire: you need to know how to get out before something happens because once it does, everything recognizable will be unrecognizable.

• Do not plan on taking your luggage with you. That carry-on that barely fits into the overhead bin and annoys everyone waiting behind you in the aisle? You brought that in case the airline loses your other bag and “lose” does not include “incinerates in midair.” Again, if you’re worried about what you brought, a.) don’t bring anything you’d be sorry to be without (your ten favorite pairs of earrings , your really expensive, irreplaceable velour jumpsuit), and b.) make damn sure that you understand if your personal insurance policy covers travel disasters.

  • Related, if you’re interested, you can check out airlines’ coverage policies. Stunning. They cover almost nothing. So make sure you’ve got some kind of travel insurance if you’re worried. Best case for your stuff: your personal policy, not your credit card’s policy, since that will cover you in any location – plane, rental car, hotel, park bench. (Credit cards’ will cover what you bought on them only.)

• Here’s my plan: if I’ve got some time while the plane’s going down, I’m taking out my ID and some cash and putting them in my pocket. Also, if you’re one of those weirdoes who pads around the plane in your socks, this would be a good time to put on your shoes. I also plan on making cell phone calls, since that whole line about cell phones interfering with the plane’s operation will be pretty much moot.

Next Up: General Disasters – you and your city are affected as a whole

Disaster Preparation – Intro

risk.jpgBig new reason to live in New York? Because there’s the Hudson to land your plane in. Within four minutes, the passengers were all out of the plane and boarding the cutters. Four minutes. That’s staggering.

On the other side of it, four minutes to a crashed airplane passenger in freezing water is a long time.

I’ve been sorting out a disaster plan since I was in college. My roommate and I used to sit around in the summer evenings discussing the layout of the apartment and what we could manage to take depending on where the fire started. My Rollerblades made the cut every time, including in the scenario where I was asleep naked and had to make a choice between clothing and skates.

I’ve spent a lot of time putting together a multi-scenario emergency plan. So much time, in fact, that it’s still not done. Ironic, isn’t it? To save you from the same fate, I’m posting my round-up below. While writing this, it’s become apparent that I have an almost ludicrous amount of info in my head, so I’m going to post it in segments. Also, disclaimer, this is, of course, my information, not everything there is to say on the subject or even the official last word.

Most of what I’ve read is a jumble of too-detailed information for your average citizen or too-general info for your slightly paranoid neurotic (me). Those sites have lists of what to do, what not to do, what you should buy, and so on. Usually those lists are separated by type of disaster and include both “think about this” items and “you need to actually go do something about this” items, so after running through each checklist separately, possibly including making 17 trips out of the house to collect different things, you walk away with a vague sense that you’ve forgotten at least one key piece of the preparedness puzzle. Which is not the comforting result you’d like from the exercise.

So I’ve tried to do that work for you. First, read through everything. Don’t do anything. Just read. Osmose. At the end, there’s a section of checklists and things to do (in order) that cover prep for all the disasters I’ve listed. Hopefully, this will eliminate for you all the doubling back and circling I’ve done.

Next Up: Personal Disasters – limited to you and your property