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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shakedown + 20: Day of the Flying Goldfish

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2009 at 4:30 PM

Living on the edge -- of the San Andreas Fault
  • Living on the edge -- of the San Andreas Fault
The afternoon of Oct. 17, 1989, is marked for me by one of those brief and intense visual recollections that tend to define childhood memories: A pair of goldfish hovering in the air above their bowl.

I was nine years old when the Quake of '89 hit. I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, and like any native Californian, I'd lived through plenty of earthquakes. Loma Prieta was something else entirely. I was home alone with the family mutt, an affable and deeply loyal terrier mix named Lucy, when the shaking started. My brain didn't immediately register earthquake, as it might have during the several-second episodes of jostling that I'd come to associate with that word.

Something in the world was unmoored. The wall-and-ceiling-framed scene in my family's TV room lurched in every direction; it was as though a giant had taken the house in his hands like a shoebox and was violently shaking it. Then I saw the goldfish. The force of the quake had caused the water to slosh up the sides of their glass bowl and rise skyward. I remember their small orange bodies suspended in the air.

During elementary-school disaster drills they had taught us to crouch under our desks or stand in a door-frame, then proceed calmly outside once the earthquake was over. That always seemed crazy to me, so I scooped Lucy up in my arms and ran out the front door into the street.

After the shaking subsided, I stayed out there for a while. My mom and sister, who had been running errands, promptly arrived home. They'd been driving when the quake hit, and, amazingly, hadn't felt anything -- but my mother saw a set of traffic lights swaying wildly, deduced what was happening, and beat a quick path back to our house.

Oddly enough, none of us can remember what happened to the goldfish.

Photo   |   jblyberg

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Peter Jamison


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