Learning to survive the rain of terror

Gene Weingarten on

WASHINGTON -- A few weeks ago, two things happened in Washington, D.C., on the same day. The first was an unexpected thunderstorm of such intensity that cellphones across the capital city detonated with flash-flood, storm-alert warnings: Run! Seek high ground! These alerts are loud and raucous and terrifying, by design. They triggered the second event: Utter panic among the three animals in my house, followed by a road map for world peace.

I usually have only two animals in my house: a dog named Murphy and a cat named Barnaby. But on this day I was also caring for my daughter's cat, Lyla. Barnaby loves Lyla with the kind of suffocating devotion typical of severely dysfunctional romantic relationships. He follows her everywhere. He sniffs her butt constantly. Lyla hates Barnaby, for good and obvious reasons. I believe she would kill and eat him if they weren't roughly the same size.

Anyway, on this day, the horrible cellphone klaxon alert occurred, which terrifies animals. Animals do not understand this sort of thing; they can't rationalize it. Thunder is not processed as a meteorological event similar to other meteorological events that happen regularly and are no threat to life and limb; thunder and lightning seem to be messages from God, directly to the animal: Barnaby, you are going to die, now. Prepare to meet your maker. Add to that the sudden phone blast, and you have a Total Disaster.

Animals are not complete morons, though. They have ways of coping. They adopt strategies. Murphy, for example, walked into the bedroom and instantly urinated on my pants. It is how she typically deals with stress, and it has been remarkably successful. Not once in her 14 years on Earth has her peeing strategy failed. The thunder and lightning always stop, eventually.

Now, I don't want to get all political here, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Murphy is exactly like Donald Trump. When the president of the United States undergoes stress -- say, at 4 in the morning, when he decides that some congresswomen are intolerably brown-skinned, he takes to Twitter and pees on them. It seems to work for him, too.

Here is what is interesting: After Murphy anointed my pants, I looked for Lyla and Barnaby. They were ... gone. I realized, to my astonishment, that they had apparently negotiated a detente. As outlined above, Lyla hates Barnaby, and Barnaby bedevils Lyla, but faced with the horrifying prospect of death by thunder and lightning, they joined forces. They understood, on some primitive level, that they were stronger together than apart. I found them in the basement, huddled together, their differences eradicated.


I hope you understand that there is a lesson in here, and it is considerably deeper than you might think. It involves geopolitics. And it is way deeper than the obvious fact that, when desperate, a writer can make a column out of virtually anything.


Gene Weingarten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group



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