Last year for Hurricane Irene, I was back in Pennsylvania, temporarily homeless after the house fire, and listening to the howling wind tear through the countryside. Even back there, it was pretty frightening, and I’m assuming the wind was much stronger where it first hit the coast.
And now that I’m on the verge of moving back to my apartment, after 14 months of waiting, we go and get nailed by Hurricane Sandy, which is kicking in right now as I write this on Monday in the apartment I’ve lived in for the past year on the edge of Queens. I’m starting to hear those big wind gusts every few minutes, and as the woman who lives here (and has to work today) has two gigantic oak trees in her backyard, you better believe I don’t want to hear that horrible cracking and slamming sound of a large tree falling down.
Got plenty of fresh water stored away, enough peanut butter, bread and power bars to eat a few days, two fully-charged Kindles with lights, fully-charged cellphone, this laptop with USB broadband plug, flashlight and a table-top radio with two sets of batteries. Check, check, check, etc. And all I’m going to do is sit down here and wait this bitch out, hopefully without drama. NYC Transit completely shut down today, wouldn’t be surprised if it was shut down tomorrow, too, so we’ll see how things stands then. I think the worst thing I’m worried about is a prolonged power outage which, forget about light and electricity, means no water, and going outside to relieve myself like a dog in the streets.
Phew. And I’m one of the more sane people you’re going to run into! I got groceries Friday night, knowing how the supermarkets would be yesterday, knowing full well how shitty people get in these situations. People around here can be shitty enough normally. There’s a Waldbaums about 10 blocks from here that is constant angst and bad vibes any time I go there, so I can only imagine how grotesque it was on Saturday, people with thick Long Island accents squabbling over meat, bread and milk. Yeah. Meat, bread and milk. Used to be cigarettes, too. Only four things you need in an emergency. Never mind if you don’t normally eat meat, bread and milk. Just fucking get it. And now’s a good time to start smoking.
But I did have to go out yesterday for batteries, which was an ordeal, as I made the mistake of going to the local Ace Hardware, which was picked clean like a roadside gopher carcass by crows. Ditto, Sears. As it turned out, no one thinks “rugged survival” when it comes to Bed, Bath and Beyond … and they had a surplus of the Size C and D batteries I needed. What blew my mind was most people were shopping as they normally would there: casually buying over-priced bedding and cookware. Now?! You’ve got a special fondue you make for hurricanes?!
Had a burger and fries at the local diner around sundown … me and about three other customers. I had noticed the place was packed in the morning, so I guess everyone wanted their cabin fever meal early. Hell, I might go down there later today, but would also rather hold on to my cash for the time being, too.
And I keep hearing this fucking portable generator, although there’s no need for it. Normally, that’s the dumpy 24-hour gyro cart across the street that drives the landlord here nuts, the doomed soul manning it running the generator for heat in the dead of winter. But that cart is long gone now, and I have no idea who has this generator going, which sounds like an idling mini-bike, must be one of the neighbors. Obnoxious things. I can see turning it on for an hour so everyone can shower, shit and shave, but otherwise, man, I’d go without. This is especially odd considering we have power, and whoever’s running that thing is just wasting valuable gas he might need later.
Went outside a minute ago to get a feel for this thing. I hate to say it, but it felt good. Wind wasn’t over-powering yet, strong, but not frightening. Light rain falling. Probably the same kind of feeling I got walking along the Scottish coast on a windswept day, gazing out at the North Sea. Bleak, but the sort of bleakness that suits your bones some days. I looked up at those towering oak trees. I can’t picture them coming down, they’re so damn big, but stranger things have surely happened.
I’m tempted to go out walking, but probably a better idea to stay put. I know I’d enjoy the walk in this kind of obtuse, rare weather, but I’d also have to consider people driving like lunatics and the possibility of falling tree branches/downed power lines.
All this pushes back the return to the apartment in Astoria. I’ve been going back there the past few Saturdays, unpacking my belonging from black trashbags and getting them back onto shelves and in drawers. It’s felt strange. Most of this stuff is dusty and grimy after sitting unattended for over a year, so I feel the need to get it clean before I get it set up. And I’ve spent the past year with so few possessions: clothes, cooking utensils, bathroom stuff, laptop, iPod, Kindle, DVDs, lawn chair and roll out bed with blankets. Period. I have to re-train my mind to get used to the concepts of real furniture, large CD and DVD collections, a lot of clothes, a normal bed. Just unloading books put me in a weird mood … most of them, I probably won’t be re-reading. And they’re so damn heavy to unpack.
There’s something to be said for freeing yourself up from possessions. I’ve always been a “less is more” person, but this past year has been A LOT less. “Psychic clutter” is the phrase that occurred to me while I unpacked: this stuff made my life feel heavier. I can only imagine what it’s like to have a house full of this stuff as opposed to a few book cases. Do yourself a favor and throw things out that serve no purpose – I mean that in more ways than one!
So, I took a few hours that first time back, got all my stuff unpacked and put in place, realized I’d have to come back again and do another big cleaning, then set about untangling the ball of cable wires feeding into the apartment by one of the windows. That took some doing, but eventually got the TV and computer cables separated, pointed in the right directions, now let’s get the cable TV box and DVD player, see if I can arrange the plugs in that magical configuration that gets everything working right, think I got it, good. Now, the TV set …
I couldn’t find it, because it wasn’t there. That was the one thing we didn’t put into a black trashbag back in March as it was too bulky. Landlord’s daughter recommended just turning it face down and leaving it on the cabinet where it was standing. That’s where I left it. Can’t recall seeing it again when I went back in September to give directions to the landlord’s nephew for the work crew on what not to throw out – then again, I wasn’t looking for it.
I’m assuming someone stole it after March – stuff like that doesn’t get accidentally thrown out. When I told the landlord, she slapped her head and said, “Ah-Billy, they-ah got some of my fine-ah Chinah, too! I-ah think it was-ah the bunch of Filipinos my-ah nephew got in here to clean-ah out the junk.” Yeah, well, there were any number of people who could have picked that thing up some quiet Friday evening and walked it out to his waiting car. I had thought since a family member as handling the construction that I wouldn’t have to worry about stuff like this, but I should have also considered that guy would be hiring any number of people to do side jobs: debris removal, plumbing, electrical, that could have conceivably left any of these workers in that apartment alone for hours.
Ultimately, I have to blame myself for being so lackadaisical with an item that cost a few hundred dollars and would obviously be eye candy to any schlubby, low-level thief. As it was, when I told the landlord, she said she’d try to get her old 42-inch flat-screen TV for me since she got a new TV under her insurance, which was very nice of her. We shall see. I shouldn’t get too upset. Here I am, espousing the joys of less possessions, when some low-level prick does me the favor of lightening the load by stealing a TV set that, for all I know, might have been water damaged. (It was positioned in that one area of the floor where water was coming through the ceiling.) I figured it would cost me a few hundred bucks to move back in, just in terms of replacing minor items like rugs and small appliances.
And I was back there Saturday, doing one last big clean, foaming down my easy chairs and scrubbing the year-long grime out of their fabric, dusting, mopping, getting the place as clean as possible, because that’s what struck me after the first visit, the place still felt dirty despite the landlord hiring a cleaning lady to go over the place a few weeks earlier. As far as I’m concerned, I got it just-so that day and am ready to go back …
… only to have this shithouse storm blow in out of the Atlantic and put everything on hold! That’s how life works sometimes. That’s surely how it worked the night of the fire, when I was standing on the sidewalk in a pair of shorts, holding a cellphone, and thinking that might be all I walk away with. One thing I noticed while unpacking my shoes was the pair of sandals that the couple down the block had given me that night, the first sign that other people were looking at me like a human in need and acting accordingly. I’m keeping those, and if I see that couple again while I’m out sweeping or shoveling snow, I’m going to go back in my apartment and return those sandals. Which I don’t wear anyway, but those things felt so good in my hands on Saturday, reminded me that not everyone’s a prick, and some people will go out of their way to help you. Things to keep in mind over the next few hours and days.