Brad’s Post-Disaster Community Newsletter -The Toast

Skip to the article, or search this site

Home: The Toast


Normally we here at the Boulder Acres Community Newsletter try to focus on the positive, but as you certainly noticed, since our last update, we’ve experienced a Federally-Declared Natural Disaster! (And do we have the FEMA leaflets to prove it!) The unprecedented floodwaters caused sewage lines to back up and even collapse all over the neighborhood. Many of us witnessed feces floating through our family homes. It’s hard to find the upside of that, except that things were so exciting last month, some of us made the national news! You may have seen our own Mindy Simmons on channel 9, waving from the ash tree she was clinging to above a raging torrent. She’s recuperating nicely, and wants to thank you for the baked goods.


1.  After the weather clears, you’ll be overwhelmed and confused about what to do first. If you wait until the roadways are safe, it will be too late. Rush to the nearest grocery or hardware store and start buying all the bottled water, bleach, electric fans, pumps, ramen noodles, beans, canned fruit cocktail and whatever else the store has stacked on huge pallets near the front, joining in the collective frenzy with your neighbors. It’s the Boulder Acres way.

2. Following your disaster, a series of inspectors and insurance adjusters in official polo shirts and/or windbreakers will come to call at your residence. They’re there to have a look-see, say, “Hooo boy what a mess!” point at stuff and remark, “All this is going to have to come out before the mold sets in,” and lower your expectations that insurance or FEMA will cover any of your damages. They’ll show you diagrams depicting the parts of the house insurance covers, which will be the exact parts of your house that escaped damage. (Isn’t that a stitch? Flood insurance does not cover the parts of the house most likely to flood! I’m still laughing about it!) But maybe they’ll let you play with the cool laser measuring thingy that they aim all the walls.

3. It’s really not productive to get envious of Mr. Moneybags down the street who was able to hire a 24-hour disaster emergency crew to assist him with round-the-clock recovery efforts, setting up klieg lights, Port-A-Potties, pumps, and massage tables on the street, and getting him back in his house within two days while you were still struggling to carry scraps of flood-wrecked carpet out of your basement with only the help of your seven-year-old daughter. (Note: Kent Wasserman, this is not about you. Can I borrow your generator?)

4. The first time you call your mortgage holder following your federally-declared disaster, you’ll hear an automated message: “Our system has detected that some portions of your zip code recently experienced a disaster.” They’ll use a warm, computer-generated female voice to make it sound almost like they cared. At that point you’ll be rerouted to the disaster management branch of the mortgage bank, where the workers will assure you that they want to help you through this difficult time by taking the pittance your insurance provider gave you and holding it because you can’t be trusted. You could blow it on slots rather than making every effort to restore your home to its pre-disaster value! They might release some of that money if you can produce a series of receipts, triplicate forms, inspection reports, and the tax-payer information of a licensed, bonded, insured, rolfed contractor who’s agreed to gouge you for repairs. But you know, it’s really up to them. Their name is on the insurance check because they’re the mortgage holder and you’re not.

5. When your child’s school is finally back in session, the kids will engage in a playground “Disaster-Off,” an informal storytelling session designed to prove which of them suffered the most. The contest will be won by the boy who claims his disabled dog drowned in four feet of raw sewage in his basement because his family couldn’t reach him through the bobbing filth, which is totally a lie. We all know the Waymarks would never let one of their dogs drown and that while Speckles has a slight limp, he’s hardly disabled. (Was that just his ghost that crapped in my yard yesterday?) But you have to hand it to the kid for his use of detail and character development. 

6. You might observe your small children playacting disaster scenarios with their toys, requesting books on floods, tornadoes, or other natural disasters from the library, and repeatedly asking you if any construction activity they see is related to the disaster. These are all perfectly normal and healthy signs that your child will be psychologically damaged forever. 

7. For adults, two months after your disaster is way too long to still be talking about it. Go back to talking about football like everyone else if you ever want to be invited to a party again. (Stan Weizenbaum, sorry about the buckled foundation bud, but somebody had to say it. Brewskies Friday? And can I borrow your drywall saw?)

8. Every FEMA representative you interact with will tell you, up front, that even though they are wearing a polo shirt with the FEMA logo embroidered on it and have business cards that say FEMA on them, they don’t actually work for FEMA. They are all independent contractors and while they have complete sympathy for you, they have no idea whether FEMA will decide to assist you because they have nothing to do with it. At no point when they are discussing what FEMA may or may not do for you will they refer to FEMA as “we” and “us.” FEMA is always “them” and “they.” They will allude to multiple branches of FEMA to point out that they work for the specific one that has no say over anything. 

9. Just to continue that thought, when you go to your local FEMA assistance center to appeal your denial, the workers there will instruct you to call the FEMA hotline from one of the telephones on their desks because, you guessed it, the FEMA-polo-wearing staff under the FEMA banner at the FEMA center doesn’t actually work for FEMA. The person on the phone will assure you that it wouldn’t be right for her to suggest what to do about the form FEMA said you didn’t fill out, even though she’s found a copy of your completed form in the system. The caseworker should have issued you an A-Doc, but she personally has nothing to do with it, and she doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers at FEMA. (Sue Waterstone, nobody is upset that you somehow managed to finagle a fat check out of FEMA when the rest of us didn’t. We have no idea who left that flaming bag of dog crap on what’s left of your doorstep.)

That said, I’m building a bonfire tomorrow in the hole where my garden shed used to be because my heater no longer works and there’s an autumn nip coming through my missing walls. All are welcome. Bring your own wiener-roasting stick. (Decontaminate the thing though, before applying it to food.)

Yours Truly, 


Jenny Shank's first novel, The Ringer, won the High Plains Book Award. Her satire, stories, and essays have appeared in McSweeney's, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Rumpus, Bust, Prairie Schooner, and The Onion.

Add a comment

Skip to the top of the page, search this site, or read the article again