In predicting that our next big earthquake will come on March 10 this year, I of course did not expect to be taken seriously.
I hoped only that in giving this inevitable event a specific date I would be giving it a kind of theatrical reality, and that I might move people to get ready, just in case.
Unlike our seismologists, who will say only that the Big One is coming "any day" within the next 50 years, I stuck my neck out.
But anyone who knows me knows that I do not believe in psychic powers, much less imagine that I am endowed with them myself. I do not have much faith in predictions of any kind. I do not believe there is a "foreseeable future."
I am amazed to learn that my prediction actually frightened people. On a much smaller scale, I have achieved the result that Orson Welles achieved with his famous radio broadcast of the Martian invasion in 1938.
"Your article on the Big One," writes Roz Press of Reseda, "was sick. . . . I was a resident in the Sylmar earthquake . . . and I was never so frightened in all my life; and then to read your prediction! People make predictions all the time, but to actually pinpoint March 10, which happens to be my 50th birthday, was insensitive and frightening. . . . You can be sure you have lost one reader today."
Happy birthday, Mrs. Press!
"Wow!" writes Betty P. Roget of Brea. "You really know how to strike terror into a heart! On that other March 10 in 1933 I was 8 years old and living in Compton. We were eating dinner when the quake hit. Our dishes flew out of the cupboards, the chimney fell on our 1927 Chevrolet, and I was knocked under the cook stove. . . . I realize that you wrote that column with tongue in cheek, but you did strike a nerve!"
Charles Montgomery of La Quinta, a retired attorney, tells me I might be close to right, and wonders whether I used astrology in making my prediction.
"I enclose the charts upon which I base my earlier date of March 3," he says. "However, the March 10 date is also a distinct possibility. . . . I am hoping I am wrong this time, but it does look pretty ominous."
Since I believe in astrology no more than I believe in psychic power, I am not alarmed by Mr. Montgomery's prediction of March 3. However, that date is a distinct possibility.
Betty De Mille of North Hollywood is another survivor of the 1933 quake. "I lived in Highland Park on the second floor of a big house. Downstairs my mother had her beauty shop. She was giving a permanent at that hour. Remember the old permanent wave machines that had a lot of wires dangling down to the lady's head? That lady almost took the whole machine with her trying to get away. . . . "
Every disaster has its comical aspects. I remember walking down Long Beach streets in the 1933 quake and seeing apartment buildings whose brick facades had fallen into the street, completely exposing bedrooms and bathrooms. I wondered how many people had been caught in embarrassing situations.
Lee Hayashi of San Gabriel notes that he is scheduled to appear in the downtown Criminal Courts Building on the morning of March 11 and wonders whether he should bother to report.
I'd wait until the morning after the earthquake and then give the court a ring and ask if they're going to be in session.
Patricia Gazin of Hermosa Beach applauds my prediction: "What a mind. By setting a date for the next big earthquake you have simultaneously provided us all a public and private goal, something to look forward to; something to plan for, something to count on. . . . The California world is in your debt, Mr. Smith. I humbly suggest that we dub March 10 Jack Smith's Earthquake Day. . . . "
Now that's the attitude I had hoped to inspire.
George Matter of Fullerton has taken a ploy from my own game:
"I counterpredict your prediction that the big earthquake will come on March 10, 1987. I predict no large earthquake will occur on March 10, 1987, in the Los Angeles area."
I'm sure Matter is aware that for years I have been counterpredicting the predictions of all the big psychics and I have never been wrong yet. He's just giving me a dose of my own medicine.
Anyway, I'm changing the date. Of all the letters I have received, the most touching one comes from Josephine Keeler of Irvine, who was present at the really big one--the San Francisco earthquake of 1906--as well as the Long Beach quake.
She makes a good point:
"Having been through both, I would prefer another month over March. It helps to be able to keep warm. As I am 97 now, I don't like to be chilly. The weather was most unusual for San Francisco. I went over to take some food to my cousin who lived in the third story of a three-story flat near the park. She had just had her first baby and she was carried out and put on a mattress with her baby. The Army was feeding people in the park. I can see those stoves to this day. It is something I will never forget."
Out of respect for Mrs. Keeler, and her age, and her memorable experience, I am altering my prediction.
I now predict that the Big One will come on July 10, 1987.
I don't like to be chilly either.