Then What Do We Do? The Sandy Diaries

Outside, all stores are shut and dead asleep. The windows of every tall building are flat black. The air is swirling with fierce punch and magic force. We find neighbors clustered in the middle of 1st Avenue, a gaggle in Burberry rain gear, pullover hockey windbreakers and UGGS. Near and above them is a dangling WALK sign, creaking like a horror story broken door.

Nov 7, 2012 at 1:30pm | Leave a comment

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On Sunday night, David, our landlord, says, “Nothing to worry about. This apartment never loses power. It’s practically charmed.”

After it does, 12 hours later, a quiet dark fully flooding our rooms, he screams at my roommate Harry through the phone, “Well, never in 30 years!” 

Reception goes out shortly thereafter. 

********

Quickly restless, hearing Sandy beat hard against the building, Harry, “my new friend” Jim and I bundle up and take to the streets. Can’t be 9 o’clock. They fill a coconut water bottle with gin for themselves. I take my video camera.

Outside, all stores are shut and dead asleep. The windows of every tall building are flat black. The air is swirling with fierce punch and magic force. We find neighbors clustered in the middle of 1st Avenue, a gaggle in Burberry rain gear, pullover hockey windbreakers and UGGS. Near and above them is a dangling WALK sign, creaking like a horror story broken door. 

“What the fuck do they expect us to do?” asks a Chad. “No lights.”

I suggest, all smart, “Shall we play lacrosse?” and choke, immediately muffled, by a wild whipping chop of the wind.

A parade of 12 ambulances and 5 cop cars rings down the middle of the street. Their red lights froth and briefly bleed into the atmosphere, bringing with them the sound of sirens that still, days later, has not completely stopped. Behind me, a silhouette runs by screaming, “We’re in Gotham!” We approach three hulking men on a stoop, attempting to smoke cigars. They ask us, laughing, why the hell we’re out. When Harry shields himself from airborne signage, the coconut water gin sprays through the air and wets, reeking of pine, the whole of my face.

We go home then, at 10:30, and lay down with the dark to fall asleep.

********

Tuesday, grey mid-morning, I dress for work. Harry escapes to his Uncle’s. Jim and I take a $12 car to the video store to see if I’ll be renting out Prometheus on blu-ray by candlelight. My co-worker, Brion tells me, “Alan’s Alley NEVER closes.” Open during the blackout, the last hurricane, and every Christmas on record.

Granted, my boss is Jewish.

Today when I roll up, the gate is down. 

No plans, Jim and I take a long winding walk through Chelsea near the high-line, figure we might find some good loot. Later I hear some galleries won’t return from the damages, that their money is in the art, no room or insurance for disaster. Are paintings floating, punctured, decomposing in dirty water? Sculptures broke and damp? 

A few blocks down is a trashcan filled with journals, some perfectly dry, some with blanched pages and the ink let out, leaving bare suggestions of words. Little truth bits carefully collected that have broken apart again, been re-dispersed and re-possessed by Mother N. I thank The Great Grandma my journals are safe in my brother’s southern attic. Wouldn’t want to lose that ’99 poem about birds on Prozac. 

I learn, days later, a friend has lost, in a wiped-out storage unit right near there, a collection of 40,000 records.  

********

Later on we get supplies for macaroni, gas stove, at the market on my street corner.

“What are you doing with all the dairy?” I ask the counter woman.

She shakes her head, shines her flashlight at the fridge so I can see the butter and sighs, “Losing it.” 

I get a vision of all the yogurt in Manhattan just then, all the remaining pints of ice cream oozing out of cardboard, all the piles of sweating Ore Ida and softening spinach blocks, all the warm deforming Sunshine burgers.

Next to the corner store, I notice a man lying in a green-glassed bank lobby pleasantly asleep against an ATM wall. He’d been there yesterday too. 

“Not a bad place to wait it out, I suppose,” says one of two teen boys leaning against TD Banknorth, smoking. 

In the kitchen, Jim’s hand crank radio flashlight reports of Rockaway houses that have burned to the ground. We hear of people smacked senseless, worse, dead, by the impact of flying debris.  Two little kids in Jersey stepped into a puddle, got electrocuted and didn’t survive. 

Sitting on the windowsill in the kitchen, our lone standing light casting our gargantuan shadows against the outside of the back building I ask him, “What do you think brought us together now? At what seems to be the beginning of the end?” 

“Don’t know,” he says, furiously winding the radio. I hear the grumble of male voices outside, the sweet scent of pot rising from below. “Maybe to take care of each other.”

********

On Halloween morning, tired, Jim and I walk uptown, and somewhere around 40th everything returns to normal. We go into the lobby of an upscale hotel to charge Jim’s phone and get reception. An older couple and a businessman are waiting for rooms, the hotel overbooked and the computers are down.

The wife, looking face smacked and standing defiant, asks the receptionist, “What do you mean there’s nothing to do but wait?” Her husband fingers the edge of an olive Barber coat.

The businessman, clean cut in well-fit pants, sits in a corner diagonal from where they stand in battle, charging his iPad, sipping a coffee, and shaking his head.

The receptionist just looks hard at the wife but doesn’t move, doesn’t blink, doesn’t answer her question.

********

When we return to my apartment, downstairs is a small woman, say 65, frantically buzzing the door. I let her in and she tells me her sister is upstairs, she needs dialysis, she hasn’t been able to reach her, no one has been by to check on her, she usually has a nurse, she could die if she doesn’t have it.

“Thank you, sweetheart.” She looks at me with wet eyes as we come up the stairs, “I’ve been so scared for her, I’ve been so scared.”

She bangs on her sister’s apartment, screaming, “Let me in, Dolores!”

Finally, I suppose, because I no longer hear the knocking, Dolores does.

******* 

That evening Jim and I escape from Manhattan. Spend dusk walking from my chilly unlit apartment on 18th across the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s swarmed, everyone going one way. Swaddled couples with plastic bags and backpacks, babies cooped in strollers bobbing asleep, men walking bikes, young ladies rolling suede green luggage. Leaving behind the sleeping buildings, nearing orange light and vibrant signage I think, dumb and dreamy, of crossing Checkpoint Charlie.

As if he knows I feel depleted, midway through the bridge, Jim opens a candy bar, takes my palm to his mouth and kisses it. Ole “I Don’t Date” Stinson, infused by affection. Feeling lighter in the spirit and warmer in the skin. 

********

On the other side, sitting on a barstool in a cerulean sweater surrounded by costumed dancing strangers, I get all my voicemails, 16, friends and family all worried. I finally reach my boss who tells me, yeah, power's out but the store is back on, if I want to come in with a lantern, the more the merrier.

Brion’s right, Alan’s Alley never closes.

When I tell him I walked to Brooklyn, he says, "Just take care, keep in touch," call if I need anything.

My friend Lola texts me about a party in Bushwick, so tired-Jim and I make our way. It's in a basement and hosted by some wild artist, she says. One more little street surprise, a few blocks away, we find a pile of unopened fun size candy on a corner, as though a child dumped their pumpkin in fury. We stuff our pockets, and run through the street.

Arriving at the party, slow-mo making our way down basement stairs, a man face-paints my eyebrows glowing orange in the doorway and I take off my sweater. It’s a sight down there, completely installed, a day-glo psychedelic wonderland. Literally glowing brightness. The walls and ceilings are covered, everything is neon, buzzing, cut glass and dipped glowing toys. Eerie, rather perverse juxtaposition to a post war Eastern European morning.

My friends are all dressed up. Two laundry bags and a neon-haired Grease’s Frenchie. A sexy ghost and a white clad Disney Prince. They say, “It’s weird, we know all these people are without, but everything’s pretty normal here. Just can’t get anywhere. Perpetual Sunday. People are drinking at noon, brunching all day.”

I see Jim across the room and I see my reflection in fractured in glued glass bits on the wall. People just dance.

In the bathroom line, I hear a guy tell his girl, sort of a thick accent (I can’t tell at first if he’s faking), say Staten Island is truly fucked, worse than we imagine, his grandma’s house was ravaged, most of her stuff is ruined, she doesn’t want to leave.

“Well, what can we do?” A girl dressed like a 50’s cheerleader, letter jacket and pigtails.   

I want to scream, in jest, jokered and hyped up by this strange place, “Tonight, we dance!” 

I hear him instead. A sudden drop in his face as he responds slowly, shrugging, looking down at the floor, answering a question I’ve heard more than once since Sandy began. “Just gotta make our way over there. Just gotta see how we can help.”

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