Papers didn’t come today, but your interest is the news is already reduced to a point of indifference. However, an item brought home from the office yesterday is a pod-style radio. Rather than sit with headphones on, you dig out an old pair of Radioshack desktop computer speakers which run on both A/C and batteries. The fact that they are C-cells gives you some encouragement; most things these days use either double-A or D-types—those that would be sold-out more often.
On the way down the stair you find your under-neighbors exiting, happy to know there are still at least three occupied units in your building. The hardware on 1st and 14th is letting customers in one at a time—cash only—and they have exactly two C sets left.
But before checking out the airwaves you realize how this has become a city where bikes rule in absentia, and decide to borrow one from the basement to expand the range by a factor greater than foot.
What comes to mind first is that every street is strewn with leaves. It isn’t just that they have been unraked but more, not even driven over that much. In a strange way, it feels more like a forest floor than a concrete jungle, lending it an ever-deepening sense of abandonment. One can’t help accessing memories of these post-WWIII and eco-disaster flicks of the last survivors eking out a subsistence on the remains of civilization. (Lurid can be fun.) At the East River, all the oldest and tallest trees—almost to a man, so to speak—are knocked over from the roots, dislodged so neatly that you wonder if the Parks Dept. might be able to crane them back into place and repot them…so to speak. By the time you exit the bike path at South Street Seaport, the movies have given way to an old novel, J.G. Ballard’s “The Drowned World”. Prescient enough to speak about the life on our planet after the ice-caps have melted, the book has one scene in particular which imprinted itself on your early sci-fi mind: the Financial District, wherein a free-sea pirate has sealed off the spaces between buildings and pumped out the water, being made into this surreal party zone. Everywhere you look today the gutters run with hoses and torrents.
On the ride home, you watch a chassidic couple filling plastic jugs from an open hydrant.
The batteries in, you tune the dial and stop at the first clear signal: WBGO, the jazz station. Interspersed with bits from NPR’s news division, the day now becomes smoother and less lonely, hence richer, for having live and looped updates on the post-storm story. The repeated tales of hardship—a woman hauling water up to parent’s apartment on the 15th floor, and her own in another building as well; day-long waits at stations for only one gallon of gas; the devastation of Breezy Point and Staten Island—all convince you that suffering is relative. Yet, even with resources stretched thin, the marathon is going on? Shocking. Almost as much as Christie coming down from his high-horse to tour the New Jersey shore with the President. It is more news than you can use.
But the beauty of the Blues hour—all live cuts, going from B.B. King’s “Blues Power” to a sidelong jam of the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East, both which you had long ago memorized note-for-note—provides fine accompaniment for the afternoon. It reminds you that, while AM was your first love, FM was the grand passion; the post-juvenile romance that made your ears into arbiters of truth and art, of radio when it mattered. What better way to slip back into the young adult traumas of Katniss Everdeen as she transforms from antisocial, maladjusted teen into our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart? As the day draws to a close, Piano Jazz is like having an old friend drop by with a new acquaintance, one chatty, well-informed and oh-so-talented. On this occasion, the guest is Tammy McCann, one of those octave-mad singers who came to jazz out of opera, and offers up a set from Broadway to standards, which all mesh beautifully with the dimming into twilight, including a delightful version of the Gershwin’s “But Not For Me.” Just what you need to gather provisions from out the window and start dinner. The mid-evening set DJ’s expected guest didn’t make it in due to the emergency, so he says to his intern, Why don’t you go over to the library and pick out some things and YOU do a set? This is what live radio was meant for: a chance to get something totally out of the blue. And what the first selection consists of is a live Cannonball Adderly set (so deep ‘60s you realize you may be one of the few listening who get the references to Senator Dirksen) with vocal by Lou Rawls and Nancy Wilson. This is why we would call then “on-air personalities”: they are as real as someone sitting on your couch and yet curators as much as any gallery or museum directors. A perfect accompaniment for two hours of ferrying scalding hot pots from the stove to the tub. Perhaps you are turning into the perfect housemate but what of it—the comforts of home are not to be compared with else. All those who have found other places, couches, spare bedrooms—they may not be impositions, may even be welcome diversions from their own troubles—yet their time is not their own, nor is their space.