Friday, November 16, 2012

Journal of the Storm Week, Pt. 4


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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Journal of the Storm Week, pt. 3


From the window you can see buses coming up Avenue A. Knowing this, she decides it is worth the effort to get to her office: no matter what else needs be done, the chance to recharge our phones is a primary concern. (What you found out later is that the time it spends searching for signals is also what drains the batteries.) You think of the clusters of people you’d seen yesterday about the generator the Irish bar on 13th had set up for people to get some cellular power and the prospect of a similar vigil leads you to agree with her. And this will also afford a trip to the Whole Foods around the corner on 57th to restock supplies. This reminds you of the semi-prophetic song “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads, with the verse that ends: “I’ve got groceries/Some peanut butter/Should last a couple of days/But ain’t got no TV/Ain’t got no headphones/Ain’t got no records to play.” If they were up for a rewrite, it might be more pointed to revise: “Ain’t got no smartphone/Ain’t got no signal/Power’s dead anyways”.

A rendezvous is set up for 1PM at “a Chase bank between 53rd and—no, between 54th and 55th…” as she can’t remember her office address just then. It is only later that you will realize she didn’t give you the cross street. Morning calls also confirm that there will be another business holiday and your Brooklynite friend expresses, for the first time in history, sympathy for your plight of living in Manhattan.

To make the scheduled appointment, you have set aside an hour-and-a-half, thinking that a prudent reserve. When you get to 1st and 14th, however, you realize there is nothing prudent in anything today. As two buses approach and a third stands stalled, you see you are one of dozens, probably closer to 40 or 50 people, all swarming in on the latest arrivals, most of which are so full they can’t even open their doors to more of the horde. The bus starter the MTA has placed here is one of those veterans who know how to appeal to the better instincts of mob scenes—via the now-trademarked, long-suffering Queens—with a combination of humor, gentle persuasion and simple repetition. “Room for one more? Ok. Another? Over here. Squeeze in. Please get a little closer so we can close up. Little more. Think ‘intimate’. Bit more. Ok, close ‘em!” The mass moves in gnat clouds, trailing the buses while they roll to a stop; it reminds you of nothing so much as a those pictures of 3rd world jitneys where frustrated commuters sit on top or hang off the sides rather than wait on possible space. You hear a mother apologizing to her son for missing their opportunity at a cram-in because she was out-of-place when the window presented itself. “So, you were following another guy with a backward-turned baseball cap—LIKE I’M NOT WEARING?” Even when three arrive at once, the gaps of departures are filled before they can clear the portals by the fast and unencumbered. The helplessness on faces are as eloquent as the dispatcher’s sighs.

You drift down to 8th Street, thinking that you might upstage the later streets but find that all buses are now express and don’t even stop there. You briefly debate whether you might have better luck going down to Houston but that’s no guarantee either. You weigh the cost: you could walk down and try for a better position, or simply start now and walk up, but in the eventuality that you’d have to walk home with a full backpack... While these factors are spinning around in your head, you notice a taxi stopping about a block away to answer a hail. Words are exchanged with the driver and you can see others already inside moving over.

This was a YELLOW taxi, a fact in comparison that triggers the instant comprehension that the local economic model has changed. Today rides are a Seller’s market. The 20-something has stepped in front of you and flagged the next, and asks: “Can you take me to 73rd and Broadway?” The Indo-accented driver says: “I’m only going up to 83rd and 1st and no place else.” I hold out a twenty. “55th is fine with me,” which gets me the front jump seat. The backseat is already occupied by a waifish blonde who smiles and nods. Once we get above 23rd we pick up a guy with a Northern Euro accent—maybe scandian, who’ll settle for 59th Street—and the jam begins. But the driver is adept enough to do a bit of weaving and when he sees other driver’s taking the bus-reserved lanes, he follows suit. Pointing at the dead traffic lights, “If the lights don’t work, neither do the cameras.” Of his license plate, of course. Another part of the new economy. He says it is like this all over; it took him 3 and a half hours to just get to his garage from Queens, most of that walking. He got lucky and saw another cab from his fleet and got a lift just before he hit the TriBoro Bridge.

As is often the case, emergency situations makes everyone more liable to talk to one another. “What news?” “I heard six days.” “I was told a week.” “Well, you should probably split the difference on that one. Its like when Kirk would ask Scotty how long it would take to repair the engines this time, he gets told one number and then asks again later and its done. So he says: Chief Engineer, why is it you always tell me twice the time it will take to do the job? And Scotty says: How else will I maintain my reputation as a miracle worker?” This gets a chuckle from the backseat and even a smile from the driver, but probably more out of nervousness than recognition: none of them was born when this first aired.

Just below the UN, the snarl doubles as the driver has to make a choice between underpass and over, like it matters. But the one thing to be said about the over: you get a choice of lanes NOT to be moving in. The Euro guy can’t wait any long and asks what he owes him. He gestures vaguely at the running meter and says “Whatever.” He forks over two singles and a five, and you wish you’d waited on that twenty.

As it is, by 50th Street the clotting has become thick enough for curds and the driver says he’s going to take the FDR at the next opportunity so you can hoof it at any time. Crossing the avenue is no different than a parking lot. You wonder where anything is moving. Which is also the subject of a couple of stroller moms and a matron, and some German tourists you pass in you line of march.

When you finally figure out that the cross-street is missing, you have to say: How many Chase outlets could there be on the East side, between 54th and 55th? Well, she originally said 53rd, but made you cross that out on the envelope with the grocery list, which might be a factor. Then you have to double your immediate possible choices as it could be either side of the street. This process requires drifting into the center of every avenue to scan the storefronts for any sign of the bank logo. And there are a LOT of banks. When you find one on Park Avenue that fits the description you are certain…except that after ten minutes, the obsessive-compulsive significant other is nowhere to be seen on HER schedule. Taking a risk, you ascend from the ATM lobby to the second floor. The place is practically deserted: one or two tellers, and a couple of guys that look like desk clerks at a Marriot stand at the help island. Surprising as anything these days, they not only check the listing of branches between the specified zones but offer to call her as well! “…beep beep beep beep…” “We get a lot of line failures in this area.” Lacking anything better to do, you go back to the lobby and wait another ten minutes before trying again. This time is works. And she insists you weren’t listening when she gave you the cross street of Third Avenue. You point out to her that, according to your new best buddies at this branch, there IS NO Chase on Third between 54th and 55th. “56th” she says, as if this will explain YOUR mistake.

While waiting in the ATM lobby of 56th and Third, you notice all of the people who sit on the floor to use the outlets to recharge their phones, and the steady stream of a new person coming in every minute or so to use the branch facilities only to jerk on the door handle and read the sign about being closed due to the emergency. All that is offered is money and power: the latter being, if only for this moment, of equal worth…and free.

Your only quick study of shopping at Whole Foods on 57th is that, among the perishables,, you get one of the last three romaine lettuce heads. And that they have no more dinner candles. It comes as no surprise but only induces that buy of a small superlumens hand flash at the Duane Reade. Along with extra batteries.

The singular delight of getting on the M-15 and beating the mad scramble is to find seats still open. Catching an older fellow’s eye, neither can resist silently congratulating the other for such a coup. On the ride down—much quicker now, which you also realize applies to anything further from the river—you make phone calls and try to avoid the envious stars of the SRO crowd, none of whom appear pregnant, wounded, infirm or otherwise unable to handle their burdens which are no more than yours. Exiting at 14th you become more and more aware of the solos and couples all heading in the opposite direction. As you pass by the Stuyvesant residential police you can hear them ordering up additional security details to watch over the vacated buildings.

At home you realize it is time to abandon all hope that the fridge will do anything but keep stuff warm and transfer every item within, along with today’s purchases, out to a large metal-lined tea-box you’ve maneuvered out to the fire escape. The daytime temperature is listed in the paper as 56 degrees, but the night will be 39—no different than the deli case at the grocer’s. Enough to keep the water cool, the veggies crisp and the dairy from spoiling too fast. As you stow the precious commodities out in the air, 30 feet above the street, you look to see if anyone else has thought of this simple solution. No other fire escape appears to be used as a cooler. And still the rolling stock of caddy-people head west.

“The Hunger Games” has begun to become something of a disappointment. The text o the second book, “Catching Fire”, spends so much of its time recapitulating the events, emotional relationships and attendant histories, peak experiences, descriptions of outfits, meals, etc., of the first book that the actual range of activities is limited to a very few scenes of brief passion, snap judgments, split decisions and sudden revelations that have been so thoroughly telegraphed in advance you’d think it coded for transmission by Western Union. You can’t be sure whether the author used a template, a cookie cutter or a Chinese menu (one from column A, one from column b, one from column C, etc.) as her structure, unless this is some new form of app that creates genre novels for the historically uninformed.

Your first nightfall without her is when it hits you: there are dramatically less windows candlelit than even yesterday. The East Village is becoming depopulated as Stuyvesant. Then there is the choice to be made whether to light one candle  or just prepare dinner by flashlight. Not for the first time in days have you thought about your lifestyle” Amish, by all intents and appearances. You think of the strange attraction of the illuminated Vermeer-like scenes of the farmhouse in “Witness”; how even someone as cosmopolitan as John Book could feel drawn to the simple acts of uncomplicated labor—carpentry to milking. You feel it even more as you notice how quiet and immediate the conversation over meals has become. Very little opinion offered about the upcoming elections, or abstract thoughts about anything, except doing chores, tasks, maintenance of facilities. This is what they called “plain”—not with any form of pride but acknowledgment of accomplishment. This is what it means to reduce media down to a few hours of mp3’s drain on the iPods and even less of mp4’s on the iPads.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Journal of the Storm Week, pt. 2


There’s no point in starting the day before the sun is up, so it’s nice to play the iPod until morning light. This is when the taste of coffee is most satisfying and you want to make a joke like: “Honey, now THAT’s good coffee!” as Harrison Ford did in “Witness”, but would probably get the same look of incomprehension as he did from his Amish hosts. The fridge is still cool and the milk is fresh.

The first order of business is, of course, business. The office, being on 53rd, might be open. (You explain that there were lights to the north last night.) Her Blackberry can’t get a signal and both your phones read “NETWORK FAILURE” for every attempt. Out on the street you see others doing the exact same thing: walking along, stopping, then going forward again, all with eyes fixed on their palms—everybody’s dialing and nobody’s talking.

The obvious endpoint for the stroll is the Con Ed plant at the end of 14th. Which is also the destination of everyone else. But before then you say. “Let’s see the river.” The ramble through Stuyvesant town shows a lot of downed limbs but otherwise displays no ill effects. Which is sort of how and why you need to see the monster again: as a doctor would want to know, what was the last temperature before the fever broke—how bad was it?

As soon as you cross the FDR service road it is plainly a disaster of epic proportions. It is said that one indicator will tell you all you need to know about the subject, if it is significant enough. As if placed there by gods with a slapstick sense of humor, a large steel I-beam, attached by massive rivets to two broken wood pieces—one is part of a dock, the other the top of one of it’s pylons—sits high and astride  the metal railing to the first garden patch of the copse. At any other time you’d’ve need a crane. And behind it, about five to seven feet, sits one of its fellows, only this lays flat against the brink of the sea wall.

This is when a new revelation strikes you: people who are taking pictures are also sending them. By the river, you can pick up Brooklyn towers. She immediately begins e-mailing her office and you speak to yours and are told “looks like we’re on holiday. There’s no power south of 34th Street.” Not to mention that the subways are filled with overflow. And the tunnels for the cars too. And basements all over the Financial District and Battery.

So it’s home to read until lunch. That’s when you finally decide to get down to the young lady’s request—the office mate with who you share peanuts, secrets and the bay—to read “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. You saw the movie but that hasn’t placated her. She insists that you read the trilogy so you can discuss the…socio-political ramifications of it? You had often reminded her of the fact that while you greatly respect her taste and opinion, your interest lay more in science right now than young adult fiction—however excellent it may be—which is just not your forte. You’ve even cited her championing of the “Twilight” series and the Harry Potter phenomenon. But she continues to insist that your prejudice is unacceptable.

Which it is, given that you’ve really got nothing better to do.

So, with the Kindle having a full charge and the .mobi files sitting in the “TO BE BURNED” folder on the iBook for the last six months…what better way to pass the time than reading a post-apocalyptic novel, than when you are in—basically, agenda-wise, environmentally, and if not socio-economically back to a barter system then for all immediate intents and practical purposes—a similar state?

By 4PM, you’ve read more in three hours, continuously, than you’ve read in years. The beauty of the Kindle is that you can open any book any time and for only one or two pages and that’s fine. To read a novel, however, is to surrender a small portion of yourself to that other consciousness; something, a talent or determination perhaps, not often given to the modern urban, where there’s always someplace to go or something to do of equal importance, and of limited duration of existence. As she has been writing her article, in longhandhand for later entry, it seems to be time for a break before the dusk falls, and to check in with the Verizon towers of Brooklyn again. Right outside your front door, the next door restaurant is just finishing its free lunch and putting away the steam tables. A little miffed to miss a delicacy you ask: What WAS on the menu? “Everything we had. Better to give it away than let it spoil.” You have to love a rationalist approach to rationing.

This run you encounter a pair of police officers directing traffic at—of all the odd places—Avenue B and 14th. As apropos a moment to speak to anyone in authority, you sidle up and ask: What’s the deal? The elder Irish white one has the cherubic demeanor of someone who’s got no answers and had to give then too often to take the questions seriously any longer. So he just indicates you look around you. And then it hits you: almost everyone you’ve passed on the walk over has been going in the opposite direction—west.—and all with backpacks, overnight shoulder bags and just as many pulling caddy luggage as not. And those are the same resolute faces you see streaming out of Stuyvesant village.

“We should get out of town?” “If you got somewhere to go,” he shrugs” “Yeah.” “So?” “Word is six days to a week.”

This is not what you had anticipated when you ground yesterday’s coffee for today’s breakfast.

Conversation at dinner is muted. She has been referencing “The Road”—specifically, the movie version starring Vigo Mortgensen and not the novel by Cormac McCarthy. You would rather talk about “The Hunger Games” and its relation to a possible Romney presidency. This appears to make her even more depressed. It is agreed to spend the remainder of the evening getting a hot bath. This requires heating water on the stove and carrying the kettle and three pots, still bubbling with scalding hot menace, to the bathroom, the other lighting the way with the flash, in constant rotation for over two hours. This also heats up the room—which still has the ambient temperature of early Fall—to the point where the windows mist up with condensation the way they used to when your mother would cook all day for Thanksgiving dinner. There is a lot to be said for natural gas and running water—including flush toilets— as the epitome of civilization. But hot water on tap should be right up there with them.

After a long soak there is no need for any media-enhancements towards sleep.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Journal of the Storm Week, pt. 1


The problem with symbolism is that the more you read into something, the more of it shows up begging for your attention.

I wanted something to take my mind off the election, and, for my sins, I got. It was served up on a silver platter, complete with garnish, trimmings and even a dipping sauce—one of confusion, growing dread and moody references to an apocalypse, and one, if not already now then pretty close to here.

To express the strange, ominous approach of Sandy is to reference less of Rod Serling and more of David Lynch. Like “Blue Velvet”, the mask of normalcy hid beneath it a disaster of epic proportion, yet, from outward appearances, you’d have to wonder what all the fuss was about. The Sunday shutdown of the subway for a storm that wouldn’t be arriving until Monday? Even Irene didn’t go that far. Of course, the obligatory panic-buying spree at the Associated didn’t help, nor the constant features showing lines outside of Trader Joe’s outlets, carts full of bottled water crates, still done up in shrinkwrap. But this was all old hat. Every time a big blizzard or nor’easter comes along people do the same things. What then had us joining the milling throngs at the supermarket queues? Presentment, or merely wanting to participate in the fearfest? Whichever, one is always thankful for the innate politeness of fellow shoppers at such times. No one descended into the base instinct until the last loaf left the shelf; no one cuts the checkout line…at least not until it comes to something more important than food—like gasoline. The paranoia then comes upon entering the streets and recognizing that you share the exact same attitude as everyone else, all out on the exact same mission: either traveling to it, increasing the pace of steps from deliberate to hasty, or strolling back from, now with micropore plastic sacks dangling from fists. Then, every slight dapple of wet on the wind, every breeze that rises up enough to rustle the dead leaves, send a cold chill down the spine, and—even with some hours to go before the scheduled shut-down of the transportation system—contributes to her shrill warnings that has you cancel a planned attendance at a housewarming party up top at Inwood. “That’s fine for a Sunday excursion but what if you can’t get back?” is the summary argument.

Still, the inescapable logic of your position can’t counter the dire predictions on every channel which crawls up her intuition in tendrils of dread, wrapping around every impulse, fed by every report. When, by Monday afternoon, there is nothing on any of the major networks but ‘Eyewitnesses’, ‘Trackers’, or ‘Our Channel __ Storm Team’, etc. This is when the details begin to emerge from the background noise of babble from these mike-wielding cassandras in weatherproof logos: high tide…full moon…backend surge simultaneous… This becomes less a matter of sensationalist storymongering and more one of Arithmetic: one plus one plus one, subtract nothing. That’s also when the anchors—who yesterday were teasing their co-chairs with labels like “Hurri-ween”, “Hallo-cane” and such variants—cease all banter and stick to the service advisories and weather bulletins, noting such obscuranta as the millibars of pressure being at the lowest recorded for an eye.

The beaches of Virginia and South Carolina we’ve seen churned up countless times before; you could almost run a loop of library footage and it would be the same. New Jersey, is another matter. Now even the AC casinos are closed—first time in…who knows? since 9/11?—and this is the upper Atlantic seaboard, an area abandoned after Labor Day. This may be from the tropical waters of the blue-green Caribbean but you couldn’t tell from the footage. Its surf, never more than a clear brown in sunny June, is the same dirty grey as the sky; and roiling—nothing to suggest its preternaturally calm demeanor.

And New York? It can’t happen here…

And for so long, it doesn’t. We seal up the sidewalk vent to the basement, set out cardboard and duct tape in the hall in case of broken windows, make sure the stairwell is cleared in the event of a quick evacuation—all the things good coop owners are supposed to do. And then…

Stay tuned for further updates.

And that is all you get. One shows the water at Battery Park, already up to the railings, railings you have stood at so often to watch the sunset over Lady Liberty and Hoboken, railings that you have never seen nearer to the harbor than six feet below, now getting a dribble of bay through their gratings.

You wait for the rising wind to howl and shriek with banshee terror wails. You wait for the droplets to become splatters to transform into sheeting rain, to arrive sideways with debris clouds picked up from street litter. You wait. And then, the curiosity gets the better of you, and you go out. It still feels like any other October evening, more September, despite the fallen leaves. Inexorably, it seems, you, like many other Apostles of Doom, you Doubting Thomases are drawn to the source of all their dire predictions: the East River.

To one who knows it intimately, it is a tranquil, even placid body, rippling only when a tanker, speedboat or sail craft comes along. Most of the time, you can judge it best by how much of the tiny spit of sand and concrete and wooden posts—the remains of a pier and ancient water main about six feet down, extending out 15 feet or so—is covered by the waves, and how much is covered by gulls, pigeons and the occasional cormorant. That the redevelopment of the area, from the Con Ed plant at 15th to the south to the ritzy Water Club up at 24th north, into the new park kept this tiny bit of unreconstructed nature adds an endless charm to the whole; a diamond in the rough. You always call it “the beach”.

And it is gone. No, there is still just the barest top of a slab showing, looking more like something seen off Newfoundland or the Norway maelstrom than anything you’d recognize. Where did this raging torrent come from? This is New York Harbor chop on a very bad day, but a half mile north and six feet higher than you’d ever seen before. Having spent the previous weekend in Easton, PA on the campaign canvass, you’d talk to Dave, your driver, and had exchanges with the locals who answer your knock on College Hill, and each and all confirm that the lazy-looking Delaware, snaking along some 40 feet below your march, will certainly rise up like one of Poseidon’s chariot-shell sea monsters, and inundate all the environs you cross before heading into your district walk. It becomes easy then to envision the ancient’s myth of Leviathan. And the Christians too: once Doubting Thomas was offered a chance to put his fingers into the stigmata, and his hand in the spear wound, he too believed Jesus had risen.

Once you have seen the river like this—four hours before high tide—you know that whatever happens, it WILL happen. When you get home, there is no more talk about ignoring the warnings. When the word comes that Zone 1 is to be evacuated, you have the mild relief of knowing it stops one block away at Avenue B. This probably defines “cold comfort” for the families living in the projects on D and C. No one wants to become a displaced person (“DP” in WWII-speak), or worse—a refugee. So you count yourself lucky.

So it is the most awful cliché you can think of that comes to mind. The windows are open with screen in for an almost balmy evening. The bar-hopper-murmur as they sashay up and down Avenue A. The way the sky is dark, but threatening neither torrent nor tornado. This is the way is should be for the Wednesday parade or ghosts, goblins, ghouls and anything conceived in the imagination of costume designers up to and including plastic injection molding. But the only thing that comes to mind is: “Yes, It’s Quiet…Too Quiet.”

She has a sudden desire to make a crock of rice, reason being that the yield is near 6-to-8 balls which make hand-dandy microwavable meals out of the freezer. Now you realize that the self-induced panic of yesterday has come full circle; this is practical planning-she has entered the stage of a siege mentality. She then orders all the cooking pots to be filled as she does the same with the bath (from memories of the Fukushima tsunami). You dig up an old pocket flashlight and find that it still works with new batteries as she pulls out the few remaining table candles as you put the votary—purchased at a bodega on the walk back from Leviathan—right at the corner of the bathroom sink with a box of matches inside: easy to find and light by knowing an exact location in advance.

She’s cooking when the call comes in from your lesbian friends, ex-Manhattanites—in Florida, asking if we’re prepared. “You know what I miss most? (Shirl says, about losing power) I can’t have my morning coffee.” That’s when you call her in to take the phone while you stir the beef-&-squash combo in the wok. And grind some coffee beans.

At this point there is nothing else to do so you get on with whatever you were doing, most of which involves computer, DVD burners, TiVO lists, etc. Where choice is a matter, one does other things. Dinner would normally be at eight, but the rice delays the schedule. What you’ve been told is that high tide is between 8 and 9 PM, and that’s when you catch the eyewitness report of NY1 reporter Dean Meminger watching waves go past his front porch in Far Rockaways, much more subdued than the confident, assured newscaster doing stand-ups at fairs to crime scenes and the general gamut of any on-air personality. His normally unctuous tones are now unmodulated and candid. “No one here has ever seen anything like this.” You stare at what he stares at and wonder when you’re going to receive a piece of that action. You’ve done everything to prepare for it. Which way is it going to come?

And that’s when the lights dim for the first time. You recognize this from the blackout of 2003, and a few more recent summer brownouts. The voltage drops so precipitiously you can only stare at the bulb and try to will it back to brightness again. And it does! It is 8:30PM, more or less.

Then you hear the first explosions, to the east. “What was that?” “Transformers, I think.” More of a bang, really. And then some pops. The MSNBC guy is now saying the three steps from the Battery Plaza War memorial have been lapped. Then comes a few fireworks: roman candles, ladyfingers and whistlers. “What was that?” “New Yorkers.” Then comes another bang, one that is more of an explosion.

And the lights dim again. And then glow brighter.

Then black.

It is about 8:45PM, you guess, but since you can’t see the battery-powered travel alarm you use—and every other LED readout device is dead—you don’t know. But you have other things on your mind.

You head straight for the votary candle and the briefest funny flits across your brainpan: Oh, so who are you praying for? And… “Did you move the candle in the bathroom?” “Yes. I put it so it wouldn’t fall.” Marvelous. And no time for an argument. The flash finds it soon enough.

“Let’s have dinner.” A couple of espresso saucers from the never-used set make excellent set-ups with a few drops of wax as an anchor. But, before you sup, like all Doubting Thomases, you have to look out the window. We all do. The first flickerings of light dance on panes and ceilings across the street, people hanging off of eaves wave flashes. All the streetlights are out; now is the time for good manners and courtesy in all traffic situations. Dinner by candlelight isn’t romantic, under these conditions, but it is alright to pretend it was her idea.. Afterwards, you wash up as fast as you can before the hotwater goes. Nothing saps morale as fast as possible as floor clutter and dirty dishes in the dark: you’ll never know where the smells are coming from and if any little visitors might now be enjoying the atmosphere’s natural concealment assets.

Still, the night is still. The bar downstairs is rolling down its metal shutters. The Avenue A strollers thin to a trickle and evaporate. Only headlights show up and pass by. No rain, no wind. Only the dark. And now the quiet. No booming cars stereos. No sirens, yet. Just as black and peaceful as a country home in the woods. Curiosity overcomes you and what you see as a chance to get a perspective on history she sees as an opportunity to get blown off the roof” “Do what you want, I’m not coming with you.” Rather than advise that THERE IS NO WIND, you go the two flights up and find things even eerier. The odd gust, but nothing looks like it does on TV. The major observations: the white sky of Manhattan to the north; the roseate blush of Brooklyn to the east…and a high-rise on the Hudson with a white belt around its middle. And everything else as much as nature made it. And made it again.

She does consent to walk east, however, and as you exit, the neighbor across the hall evinces an interest in the same. While you two have thrown on windbreakers, he is still in t-shirt. It is that kind of air. Some people are still on the sidewalks but just as many join you in the center –of-the-street march towards Avenue C. And everyone is in silhouette.

Past B, you can already see the light shining from the headlamps of this SUV-type vehicle attempting to probe the depths. As soon as you arrive at water’s-edge, the car begins backing out. Storm drains never back up like this and you know the power plant is flooded.

Home to evening tea and cookies, she starts making shadow puppets, as if discovering something in a single candle not often found in an incandescent bulb. Pictures on a wall. In bed, the iPad options are offered: the 1960s Astroboy cartoons, Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire d’Cinema or the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure. She opts for recent history, the hit show set around a Jewish Columbia med grad, forced by special student loans, into indentured servitude for 4 years to the town of Cicely, Alaska. This episode is “Northern Hospitality” wherein the local psuedo-ditz bombshell, Shelly, now a new mother to the daughter with her common-law hubbie Hollings—proprietor of the Brick, the only diner/bar in town—has had vague stirrings of national pride in her Canadian identity and becomes annoyed at the prospect of American Exceptionalism (more or less). The second version of the title involves Joel, the doctor, being shamed as a “schnorer” and, attempting to and failing to give a decent dinner party due to his standard niggling, fressing and overall schlemiel attitude.

Neither of you make it to the end of the 43 minutes. Darkness prevails.