Filler: Sandy begins to fray family nerves

People line up with their gas cans hoping People line up with their gas cans hoping to get them filled at a BP station on Hempstead Avenue in West Hempstead. (Nov. 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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Lane Filler Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. He came to Long Island in 2010

In the wake of "Not Quite a Hurricane but Boy Did It Blow" Sandy, many Long Islanders are debating the line in the sand, the signal they must abandon dark homes in search of power, hope and a working blender.

The sensible answer is this: If anybody in the household begins referring to the days of open schools, heat and streaming Netflix programming as "the beforetime," you must go.

It sounds extreme, I know, but if we're not careful, things could go downhill quickly. It was just a few days ago that the rumors spreading from neighbor to neighbor were fairly normal: "I hear it could be a week until we get power back, and there may be a shortage of gas, so brace yourself."

Now?

"I was just talking to my friend Shirley. You know, the lady I've spoken to once in the 27 years we've lived here, when she ran over our garden hose and we sued her. Well, Shirley says the power in Smithtown could be out for three years, and there will never be train service again. She says the bridges have tumbled into the rivers and the tunnels are filled with magma spewed by an angry God. She got it from her brother-in-law, and he ought to know, because he used to work for the electric company. Or dance the Electric Slide."

Just as bad as the rumors are the confrontations such stress exposes, inside the home and out. A situation like Sandy doesn't create fissures in family and societal structures: It reveals them.

Wife: "I told you we needed a really huge generator. And 1,000 pounds of ice, 16 gallons of milk and 21 loaves of bread. But you just sat there, watching The Weather Channel, shushing me. Well who's shushing now, mister? (Tearfully) WHO'S SHUSHING NOW?"

Husband: "Shush. I did not sit around doing nothing. I bought a case of Scotch, 350 pounds of charcoal, and a hand-cranked radio to listen to football. That covers grilling, chilling and cheering. We're totally set. You should thank me."

Also bubbling to the surface are resentments between stay-at-home parents and their working spouses that normally go ignored.

Husband: "I have to go to work, so you and the kids have fun playing Twister, weeping and pulling each others' hair."

Wife: "Work? Work! You are always running off to work. Your office has no power, and it's under 27 feet of water. Why don't you stay here and help me take care of our children? You could tell them stories, play dolls, or even help organize a tea party."

Husband: "Hmm . . . no. That sounds great, but I really think I need to row down to the office and catch up on my paperwork. Don't wait up. I may be late. Or electrocuted."

And just as rough as the clashes at home are the inevitable conflicts that spring up in the outside world, as people jockey for position and spoils.

Jerk: "I know everyone needs gas, but I really need to go in front of the line. I'm a doctor, and I could have an emergency at any moment."

Guy in front of jerk: "Phil, you have a PhD in Old English literature. Unless Grendel shows up and Beowulf takes a beating, you're not going to have an emergency. Now get in back of the line before I Canterbury your tail."

Tempers are fraying like a Billy Joel sweatshirt from "The Bridge" tour. Things are falling apart. You need a plan, because any day you could hear this:

"Tell us another tale of the beforetime, father. Share once more your stories of 'Thursday Night Football,' 'The Daily Show' and the legend of Conan the O'Brien."

And when that happens, you'll have no choice but to pack up and seek a new Shangri-La. Or at least a fully operational Sheraton.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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