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A Way to Shake Old Patterns : Lifestyles: The quake got many Southern Californians thinking about the way they live. Now some are making subtle--and not so subtle--changes.

January 27, 1994|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Jan. 16, Anne Fishbein reverted to her old ways. She slept with her pants off.

The previous week, because a swarm of small quakes had rocked the Westside, the Santa Monica photographer had pushed her futon into the center of her living room and had slept there fully clothed, with her shoes beside her. But on the eve of the 6.6 Northridge quake, she dropped her guard.

So, when her apartment building again lurched and shuddered, she wasted several moments rummaging frantically through her rattling closets in search of proper disaster wear.

Now, Fishbein says, bedtime again finds her "back to my National Guard attire."

Across Southern California, quake survivors consciously or subconsciously are altering their behavior and the patterns of their lives--and wondering how long the changes will last.

Eagle Rock resident Paul Vandeventer, for instance, has taught his 2-year-old son James to cope with the anxiety that rises up during aftershocks.

"Stop Earth!" the boy now snaps. "You bothering me! I mad at you!"

But Vandeventer, executive director of the nonprofit organization Community Partners, believes that he has also encountered a decidedly different type of coping mechanism.

While talking on the phone immediately after Jan. 19's 5-point-plus aftershocks wobbled through his 44th-floor office in Downtown's Arco Towers, Vandeventer's gaze drifted to the generally staid windowscape of the tower across the way. What he saw stopped the conversation mid-sentence.

A man and a woman had stripped off strategic pieces of their business suits, and were, Vandeventer says, "well . . . doing it. "

"I thought it must be an extreme manifestation of post-earthquake stress syndrome come to the workplace," he says, chuckling.

Other Southern Californians report more subtle changes. Commuters say they now refuse to stop under freeway overpasses (or they avoid freeways altogether). Parents say they willingly share a bed with their children (and, perhaps, their children's pets).

Shirley Wilson, the publicity director for I. Magnin, awoke Monday morning to find that her collection of demitasse cups had jigged off its shelves and landed a la Humpty Dumpty amid a heap of fractured china and crystal.

"The first thing that occurred to me is that these days, the way to live would be . . . in a very monastic way," says Wilson, who resides near Melrose and La Cienega. "I truly have no desire to collect objects (anymore) because I have so many that were broken. I'm going to replace the crystal with Libby (mason jars)."

Regionwide, values and priorities have shifted. Parents, for instance, report an abruptly raised safety consciousness. Kathryn Bikle, an Altadena director and actress, finds herself leading the 5-year-olds who come to play with her young children on pointed tours.

"If there is an earthquake, I'll be with you of course," she tells the kids, marching them from room to room and around the yard. "But make sure you stay away from the windows. Get under a door frame. Stay away from power lines. . . ."

At Arroyo Vista Elementary School in South Pasadena, students returned to classes the day after the quake. Since then, they've put their "duck-and-cover" training to good use, scrambling under their desks whenever a serious aftershock rattles the buildings.

And a variety of new "earthquake games," from rocking tables to playing rescue worker, have erupted in parks and playgrounds, parents and educators say.

Many of the changes adults made also reflect a certain stoic good humor. On the Wednesday after the quake, for instance, Fishbein recorded a new answering machine message. For a few days, anxious family and friends heard the shaken Chicago native's reassuring voice, with the Doobie Brothers' "Living on the Fault Line" as background music.

Now they hear the late Frank Zappa singing: "Moving to Montana soon. . . ." (Frankly, Fishbein says, she's not sure whether she means the message as a joke or a serious signal of more substantial life changes to come.)

Film critic Ella Taylor, on the other hand, represents the more complacent end of the behavioral spectrum. For a few days, the self-confessed slave to fashion kept emergency clothing bags packed and took only the briefest of showers, fearing that renewed quaking might force her into the street unfashionably, or simply unattired.

Now her showers are longer, and her attitude more relaxed. "I suddenly realized today how quickly I'd slipped back into denial," she says. "The more aftershocks there are, the lazier I get. I don't leap into doorways unless it's a 5.5."

*

If patterns from other quake zones are any indication, the style and longevity of post-quake change is no more certain than seismology.

"Some of us up here had slipped into old habits, bad habits, and we re-evaluated again after your quake," says Dave Elzey, a theater manager in Oakland.

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