[Rachel: But first, a little set-up.]

July 30, 1809. Went to my lodgings; all asleep and fast locked; tried at d'Aries's; ditto; knocked hard at each; no movement; resolving not to lay in the street. The old man came down in some trepidation, got light, and my bed was ready. Not a mouthful of bread or milk or anything eatable or drinkable to be had save pure water. Having dined on fillib [Bixby: His favorite filbunke] and walked at least ten miles, a supper would have been welcome.

Attacked by epinaises. [Bixby: For funaises. Bedbugs] Fought hard till 4, slaying thousands, but the number of the enemy increasing, resolved on a retreat. The sun had risen; began by taking the sheets, coverlid, and pillows out doors, beating and shaking them well; then stripped and changed my clothes, and laid me on the floor. Got a sound nap of five hours.

[This happened to me too, only it was ants. I had a cough, so I left a cough drop near my bed. Woke up coughing, stuffed it in my mouth, registered that it was acrid… and crawling… and so was I… I spat it out, leaped out of bed, and turned on the lights. Ants EVERYWHERE. I proceeded to enact exactly what Burr did, only with the additional aid of a water bottle. The ants won.]

August 29, 1809. I did go to bed at 10, promising myself a rich sleep. Lay two hours vigil; that cursed one single dish of tea! Note: My bed had undergone a thorough ablution and there were no bugs or insects. Got up and attempted to light candle, but in vain; had flint and matches but only some shreds of punk which would not catch. Recollected a gun which I had had on my late journey; filled the pan with powder and was just going to flash it when it occurred that though I had not loaded it someone else might; tried and found in it a very heavy charge! What a fine alarm it would have made if I had fired! Then poured out some powder on a piece of paper, put the shreds of punk with it and after fifty essays succeeded in firing the powder; but it being dark, had put more powder than intended; my shirt caught fire, the papers on my table caught fire, burnt my fingers to a blister (the left hand, fortunately); it seemed like a general conflagration. Succeeded, however, in lighting my candle and passed the night till 5 this morning in smoking, reading, and writing this.

[Rachel: Any story containing the phrase “And then I remembered that I had a gun” never ends well. It’s right up there with “Hey guys, watch this!”

I can’t decide what is most hilarious about this story. I mean other than everything. But just to start with, that does eventually occur to him to make sure the gun isn’t loaded but literally nothing else he does involves the slightest particle of “Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” that in however long it took him to make fifty tries at lighting the gunpowder it never occurs to him that there is a reason nobody lights candles with gunpowder, that despite being a combat veteran and a duelist he still hasn’t figured out what happens when you set gunpowder on fire, that he blames the completely predictable result on the amount rather than the fact of the gunpowder, that the candle actually did get lit, or that, once the candle was lit, he proceeded to use the light to immortalize his idiocy for posterity.

A legacy, what’s a legacy? In Burr’s case, it appears to be making himself surprisingly relatable to everyone who has ever accidentally set themselves on fire by doing something that was, in retrospect, guaranteed to do exactly that. The other thing I can’t decide is if this is more or less gloriously stupid than the time I set my pants on fire while I was naked and dripping wet. On the one hand, naked and dripping wet. On the other hand, his initial idea was to light the candle by shooting at it. This is why I don’t own a gun.]
If it wasn't for Hamilton, I would never have read Aaron Burr's journal. It continues to charm and delight; I will post more excerpts later. Like the entire last week and, for that matter, last eight months, today has been almost entirely taken up with medical stuff. I just got back from seeing one doctor and have to go do a test right now, which will take up most of the rest of the day. But at least I have The Secret Diary of Aaron Burr, Legendary Fuck-Up, to read in waiting rooms.

So far he has repeatedly lost his luggage, had his laundry held hostage, been chased from his bed by insects in the middle of the night and then lose a pitched battle with them, set himself on fire, and spent ten days obsessing over a blemish on his nose. Since all of this has also happened to me, this is making me feel slightly better about my own life. Like, at least I didn't kill the creator of the Coast Guard, New York Post, and America's financial system in a duel and then get tried for treason for trying to secede from the US and make myself Emperor of Mexico?
I began reading Aaron's Burr's diary while I was in a plane stuck on a runway, repeatedly delayed due to "rain in San Francisco" (not exactly a rare phenomenon), when I was attempting to get to SF for a potentially life-changingly crucial appointment that day. I had allowed myself three hours leeway in addition to the actual time needed to get to the appointment; those hours were rapidly ticking down as the plane was delayed and delayed and delayed. I later learned that there had been no rain in San Francisco at that time. (The plane was 2 1/2 hours late, but I did make the appointment.)

This proved to be the absolute ideal time to read the journal of Aaron Burr. It was written post-duel, pre-treason trial, while he is traveling around Europe to avoid being brought up on a murder charge. Theodosia Jr. is alive. The duel has not yet been mentioned (but I am skimming for the good stuff, and only halfway through, so I could have missed something.)

Burr's diary bears virtually no resemblance not only to any fictional Burrs, but also to ANYTHING you'd expect just from reading the events of his life. It is primarily about his hilarious travel misadventures, and in fact reads remarkably like a travel journal of mine just in terms of events - "it could only happen to Aaron." If you have read the excerpts floating online in which he sets himself on fire and obsesses about a zit on his nose, let me tell you, you have only begun to scratch the surface of the hilarity.

The version I have was put together in 1901 by William K. Bixtbt (typo for Bixby?), with a foreword extolling Burr and saying he was unfairly maligned, and noting that an earlier version was heavily rewritten and censored. So beware that one, I guess. He notes that Burr's handwriting is terrible, and that he uses many foreign words and also some private code, and that while he was more-or-less fluent in French, he also uses lots of words from languages he did not actually speak. The footnotes get more and more annoyed and snippy as the book goes on as the poor editor struggles to make sense of sentences which are 1) illegible, 2) written in three different languages, 3) in which every single word is misspelled, ungrammatical, or both.

I started emailing a friend from the runway. Here are a few of my emails.

10:03 AM. Transcription horrible. You must read anyway. It is hilarious. I am like five pages in and have already encountered the zit saga, which is even funnier in full, plus multiple complaints about bootmakers and much snark.

10:12 AM: He has now been going on about his nose for something like 10 pages.

10:27 AM: One of the very first entries:

Bootmaker a great liar; boots not done.

I feel that this [my plane getting stuck] is the sort of thing that would also happen to Aaron Burr. The nose thing is not actually a zit and the reason for it is HILARIOUS. He sounds like Cyrano de Bergerac.

10:32 AM: Burr is also having bad luck traveling:

After being two hours on the way, missed my handkerchiefs and, upon quiet examination, discovered that I had taken the wrong coat. What a curse to have two coats at a time!

It is like the time I arrived in NYC with no coat and two bottles of red nail polish.

10:51 AM: I am still on the runway. Meanwhile, Burr has somehow lost all his luggage and his carriage fare.

10:54 AM: Burr made it a few entries with no incident, but has now been hungover for two entries in a row.

11:00 AM: Burr is now hungover again. He drinks cream of tartar punch as a remedy. (Yecch.)

Also interesting, he really likes women. Not just to sex up. As people. He keeps noting whether they are smart, pretty, or both.

Resemblance to Miranda's Burr: nil.

Resemblance to Vidal's Burr: only in very limited areas.

11:03 AM: Burr just lost his umbrella and has taken (stolen? unclear) the umbrella of a friend. Fully expect him to lose that too.

Burr's Journal Online. Not sure if this includes the footnotes. I got my copy off Amazon for $1.99.
Vass asked about emergency preparedness, which is an interest (and former occupation) of mine. If you click on the tags, you will find a number of stories in which cars and other objects burst into flames (this seems to happen often in my vicinity), and in which I locked myself in my bedroom, set my pants on fire while I was naked and dripping wet, etc. (Moral: Do NOTHING before coffee.)

Information about the physical aspects of emergency preparedness (what to have around, where to store it, what training to get) is widely available and also localized. What you need depends on what you're likely to face. I have no idea what to do in case of tornados, because we don't get them where I live; a resident of Louisiana doesn't need to know about earthquakes. So I'll skip that part and instead discuss psychology, which is universal.

My experience is that not very many people are interested in emergency preparation, on any level, but that the people who are interested are very interested. And also that the people who are not interested tend to think that the people who are interested are deluded - that there is no actual value in being prepared, but that it functions as a mere security blanket of false comfort. I can't tell you how many times I hear, "Well, if it makes you feel better..."

Naturally, I find this quite annoying. I have used my training and equipment many times, and have very likely saved at least one life. It does make me feel better, but that's not its sole purpose. I also find it aggravating that the security blanket implication suggests that anyone who needs it is a coward. People interested in emergency preparedness frequently either have dangerous jobs or live in dangerous areas - that's how they got interested in the first place. If you ever take a class geared toward people who are there voluntarily, rather than being required for work, there tends to be a heavy emphasis on not being foolishly heroic. That's because the people taking the class tend to rush toward the danger, rather than running away. You don't need to warn people about things they'd never do anyway.

(Those of us who are interested can also annoy those who are not. That tends to go in the direction of "Just wait, you'll come running to me to save you when things go south.")

The most important aspect of preparedness is psychological. The place you start is believing that bad things happen, that at some point they will happen in your vicinity, that you may well be capable of doing something that will have positive results, and that you want to do so. People often don't believe (or don't want to contemplate) any or all four of those ideas. But once you consciously believe all those things, everything else follows.

(Number three is conditional because there's always the possibility that, for instance, the first thing that happened in the earthquake was that a brick fell on your head.)

The first time or first few times you're in an emergency situation, it's natural to freeze. It's also natural to freeze if something completely unexpected happens, no matter how experienced you are. If you deal with similar situations regularly, you stop freezing. However, the important thing to remember about freezing is that it's normal (so don't blame yourself) and it's temporary (so don't panic).

The freeze reflex is there, I believe, to force you to evaluate the situation rather than blindly plunging into counterproductive action. If you recognize it as that, you can use it to your advantage. So you're standing there thinking, "Oh my God, what's going on?!" Remember that this is the freeze response. Stay where you are (or take cover, as relevant) and see if you can figure out what's going on and what you can and should do about it. You only need a few seconds to evaluate. Take those seconds.

Many emergency situations are simple. Many useful and lifesaving responses are simple. Call emergency services. If someone's bleeding a lot, stop it. If someone's in danger of being hit by incoming traffic, stop the traffic and (if they don't have a possible spinal injury) remove them to a safe area. If someone does have a possible spinal injury, don't let them move. If things are falling, take cover. Stay away from live wires, including any conductive substances the wires are touching. If someone's having a psychological crisis, stay calm, listen, and let them see your sincere concern. Don't be afraid to ask if someone is suicidal. If someone says they intend to harm someone, believe them. If you're not sure whether or not someone is in trouble, ask. Etcetera.
Literally. This year's Hanukkah party was livened up when I smelled something burning. A search of the house (not my house) revealed that a decorative peacock feather wreath had fallen on to a sturdy metal candelabra and was merrily flaming away. I smothered it with a wet dishcloth.

A few Christmases ago (my step-family is Christian) I was at their place when a candle on a mantelpiece fell against a huge oil painting hung over the mantelpiece, setting that on fire. I smothered that one with a cloth napkin.

And then there was the incident which can be found by clicking the "naked and dripping wet" tag. There is a reason why I have a fire extinguisher in my car!
This weekend while driving in Pasadena I turned the corner and saw a plume of smoke. An SUV in a parking lot had flames erupting from the hood. No one was visible anywhere nearby.

I pulled over across the street, grabbed my fire extinguisher, and ran to the crosswalk. Two security guards ran up from the general direction of the burning SUV, and began stopping traffic.

I ran up to one and said, "Is anyone inside that vehicle?"

He said, "No. And I don't think you should get near it-- a fire truck is on its way, and that fire is getting bigger by the second."

I retreated across the street. There was a loud explosion from the SUV. The whole thing became enveloped in flames. The fire truck pulled up and extinguished it. They broke the windows and opened the doors, and smoke billowed out in great gray puffs. I then had a very bad moment when it occurred to me that I should have asked the guard the follow-up question, "Did you check?" But the firefighters didn't pull anyone out and I waited for quite a while, so I assume there had not been anyone inside.

When I later recounted this to Adrian (who is still in Denver), it occurred to me that perhaps burning vehicles are less uncommon than I imagined, and it is not so odd that I would have encountered this phenomenon three times.

"How many burning vehicles have you seen in your life?" I asked him.

"None," he replied. "So I leave for a week, and you get an earthquake and a flaming SUV... you just can't be left alone, can you?"

Public service announcement # 1: Vehicles do not normally catch fire following a crash! If a crashed vehicle is not burning and there are no other urgent safety hazards, do not attempt to extract the occupants or exit the vehicle! Crash victims should stay where they are and not move until medical personnell can make sure their spines are stabilized.

Public service announcement # 2: If a vehicle is already burning, especially if the engine is on fire, be aware that the fire can and probably will spread really fucking quickly. (This goes for non-vehicular fires as well.) I've now seen this happen twice. Get the hell out or get anyone inside out as fast as you can.

Scientific Livejournal Poll!

Burning vehicle poll )
Flimsy Staples bookcases cannot bear the weight of even a quite small and light adult woman, should she be so unwise as to stand on top of one to reach the top of the curtain rods and unstick the curtain. Goddammit. And also, ouch.
Several people have inquired about this icon. Here is the origin story for "naked and dripping wet."

When I was in grad school, I had a job interview at 7:30 am. I am not a morning person. I mean, I am really not a morning person. So when, having woken up that morning at 6:30 and found that my nice burgundy pants that I meant to wear to the interview were still not dry from having been washed the night before, I decided that it would be a really good idea to dry them as I showered by draping them over my tall halogen lamp.

Just as I began to shampoo my hair, the fire alarm went off. I dashed into the living room, and found that my pants, still draped atop the lamp, had burst into flames. I yanked them off the lamp, and they came apart into three flaming pieces, one of which remained in my hands but the other two of which flew off in opposite directions and set my carpet on fire in two places. I hurled the piece I was wearing into the kitchen sink, turned on the faucet, grabbed the second piece, which was by the front door, and hurled it into the hallway, where it set the hall carpet on fire and made the fire alarms for the entire building go off.

I ran into the bathroom, grabbed a totally inadequate towel to attempt to cover my nakedness, retrieved the third flaming pant piece from the carpet, flung it into the sink, dumped water over the carpet fires, went into the now smoke-filled hallway, grabbed the still flaming last pant piece, and hurled it onto the fire escape. People kept opening their doors, then closing them. I got more water, put out the hall fire, then went to the fire escape where the pants were still burning, but had not set the fire escape on fire because that was metal. Then I put the last flaming pant piece out.

I didn't get the job.

When I was later telling my grad class about the incident, one of my classmates interrupted to say, with a lascivious look in his eye, "So the whole time, you were naked and dripping wet?"

"Pretty much," I said.

The postscript to this story is that the apartment manager fled to Mexico along with his family and everyone's files seven hours before the cops busted in his apartment for selling crack out of his apartment. Consequently, I told the new management team that my burned carpet had been like that when I moved in, and that marked the only time I've ever gotten my security deposit back, although it was also the only time I've ever damaged an apartment I rented.

I have other tales of disasters that occurred while I was naked and dripping wet, but I have to get to work now. They all happened pre-morning coffee.
rachelmanija: (Ed among the ignorant)
( May. 26th, 2005 04:30 pm)
I posted this on someone else's LJ, but it was in response to a locked post, so I'm re-posting it here:

Once upon a time in Santa Cruz, which for those of you not from California is a college town filled with granola hippie artsy types, a group of hipper-than-thou theatre students decided to put on a performance piece that would really freak out the squares and prove how cool they were. The piece was called "The Mud People." They would strip naked, cover themselves in mud, and crawl from one end of the campus to the other, fetching up in the middle of the theatre department.

On the Day of the Mud People, the Mud People arrived bright-eyed, bushy-- um... perhaps I shouldn't go there... and early. They stripped naked in the woods (for UC Santa Cruz is built in and around a forest), covered themselves in mud, and began to crawl. They crawled and crawled, over gravel and brambles and other uncomfortable things, but soon became puzzled by the lack of mundanes to freak. Where was everybody? But the Mud People, of course, were too cool to use a pay phone (and had no change, anyway, for they had no pockets) so they just kept crawling. Hours later, they arrived at their destination, baffled and annoyed that they had met absolutely no one but an unflappable senior or two and a number of unimpressed squirrels.

The theatre department too was utterly empty. Thoroughly disappointed, the Mud People showered, dressed, and went home. It was not until the next day that they discovered what had happened. Being too cool to check the calendar or discuss their plans with others less cool than them, they had been unaware that the day they'd chosen for their grand event had been an administrative holiday.
The one with the liver-eating guy who could squeeze into your house through the vents?

This morning while I was in the shower, a movement caught my eye. I glanced at the windowsill, no more than three inches from my shoulder.

A TENTACLE was squeezing through the tiny crack between the closed window and the wall. A boneless red thing with a hideous blind snout, pulsating and writhing and pushing itself through.

At first I thought it was a centipede, but as I stood, frozen in horror, watching it invade my home, I saw that it was an earthworm. (More than four feet up from the ground!) When the whole thing emerged, I swept it into a box and dumped it in the garden.

I got dressed first.
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