Sunday, Sandy -1
The city is hunkered down. The wind is howling but I am safe in my apartment. My evening plans have been cancelled. I do not need to be anywhere.
Monday, Sandy 0 hour
I have managed to get out today to visit a friend in the hospital whose husband cannot make it into the city (no subway). The wind is still howling but no debris flying around. My neighbor, Gail asks if I want to watch a DVD, which I do. Con Ed calls to say the power will go out. I fill the bathtub and pots, expecting, perhaps a ½ day without power
To bed early with the rain and wind blowing hard. Around 8:30, Ellie barks at a beep. The power is out. Go to sleep.
Wake around 11:30. Fortunately, had charged up the devices, so I read Henry James by the light of my iPad. Living in the 19th and 21st Centuries, at the same time.
Tuesday, Sandy +1
We are back in the middle ages. No light, no tv, no news whatsoever except what is brought by the town crier—my neighbor, Gail. She has climbed the 18 stories down and up, to walk the dog. Gail says we will either get power back by late afternoon or not for a week. Just spoke to a friend uptown (by cell phone—the regular phone is down) and she offers shelter, if I can find a cab.
I will wait to see how bad it gets.
Prisoners of the 18th floor—a meditation
It feels like something out of Bunuel or Hitchcock. Only instead of turning into savages or uncovering the savagery of others who are like ourselves, we prisoners are coming face to face with our weaknesses and strengths. We have not suffered but we are suffocating. To escape ourselves we must climb 18 stories. For many of us, for me, it is preferable to live with ourselves.
Being literally off the grid means no distractions. We are thrown into our heads. Yes, there are the cell phones, computers, iPads, but their power must be carefully husbanded. And they do not bring us the world outside. We talk only of our predicament, when it will end. The everyday concerns that keep us so busy are now at a remove. Appointments cancelled. Acquaintances not met. The value of friendship measured in flights of stairs. Neighbors on the 18th floor become our entire world. And yet they are also locked in themselves, probably looking for distraction but not seeking it out with us.
The routines have broken down. So what do we do? First, we nibble. No proper meals, just bits and pieces thrown together, neighbors sharing. The stove works—we can make a cup of tea or heat some soup. But water is too valuable to use for cleaning up. We are guarding the water as jealously as the power in our devices. So meals are bread and cheese and the leftovers in the fridge. When there is no room in the dishwasher, we use paper plates. The garbage piles up or neighbors carry it downstairs when they walk the dog. I have a dog, but she does not need to be walked. So I don’t go down the 18 flights of stairs.
The greatest discomfort (to me) is the inability to flush the toilet. The bathtub is filled with water, which I can pour down the toilet but I must be careful not to use too much. Just enough to carry the ugly pieces down, leaving the toilet paper floating in the bowl.
Living alone, the only thing to do is read and chat with neighbors and sleep. A very 19th Century existence. I have a radio, lent by a neighbor, but the reception is poor and the stations are only talking about my dilemma. It is as if we were in a cave.
During the day, there is a choice of books but it is hard to concentrate. Then we find ourselves strangely focused on a book that would not normally envelop our attention. It is the same as on an airplane, you read because it is what you have. But now, there are no distractions, nobody offering you a snack or a movie. It is just you and the book. A history of Paris from pre-historic times. It doesn’t sound promising, but you are finding yourself getting your head around the Capetians and the Carolingians for the first time. There is a quality of concentration unlike even the airplane. You are reading for dear life.
At night, your reading is circumscribed by what’s on your iPad. Short stories don’t work. You read one and it’s over and now you have to begin another. It is too disruptive—you want to be completely immersed. Henry James turns out to be perfect: The American. A world you can crawl inside of. It is a novel meant to be read by a person who has the time and the willingness to completely immerse oneself.
The dark is not so frightening. Partly because the city is brightly lit—it is only your small neighborhood that is dark. And your apartment on the 18th Floor—the completeness of the darkness is, in a strange way, comforting. We don’t notice all the lights that are around us during the night, the glow from the cable box, the green lights from the modem, the breathing of the computer. Now all is quiet and we can sleep in total darkness. There is nothing to keep us from sleeping all night.
Wednesday, Sandy +2
A productive day, considering that all I managed was a shower, getting my e-mail and having lunch. Had to go up to 45th Street to do even that. Down to 12th floor to drop Ellie with a neighbor. After a half hour wait, managed to push my way onto a Madison Avenue bus. To health club. Fortunately, I got there before the rush. Shower, partially replenished my phone and iPad. Got my e-mail. Some well-wishers from abroad and nearer by. One from a woman in Paris, desperate for news of her daughter and mother. I managed to get that resolved for her.
The Chinese restaurant on 45th street has no chef but does have soup.
Bus home. Climb 18 stories. Puff. Puff. Gail had picked up my paper this am, bless her. She has really been a godsend. Radio. Batteries for the flashlight. May or may move uptown tomorrow. Crave normalcy but hate the idea of losing autonomy. Still, the ETA on restoration of power isn’t until Saturday. We’ll see. Cannot get Ellie back up the stairs, so once we go down, that’s it.
Getting dark and getting ready for bed. It is a very simple life.
Thursday, Sandy +3
Out of food. Out of water. Out of patience. A cousin in midtown has invited me up. I carry Ellie down the 18 flights. My flashlight goes out midway and I wait in darkness until another refugee emerges and follow her light down.
The streets are deserted. There are no traffic lights. There is a cab. I woefully overtip him, because I am so glad to have gotten one.
Arriving in Hell’s Kitchen is like what it must be going from North Korea into South. The streets are crowded, the shops are all open.
The first thing I do is take a shower. I did not realize how small my cousin’s apartment is. I am in the way—both he and his girlfriend work from home. I take Ellie out for a walk. We have lunch at an outdoor café, pick up some necessities at the drugstore, buy some wine and cheese for aperitifs.
I drop Ellie back at my cousin’s apartment and head up 9th Ave. to a movie. But the crosstown bus takes forever—57th Street is blocked by a crane that fell. I miss the movie, so walk up Madison Avenue. The shops are open but empty of customers. But the Frick museum, where I end up, is crowded. All the tourists are stuck in New York with nothing to do. I ran into some British women at the gym yesterday who were supposed to leave on Monday and now are stuck til next Sunday. They are surprisingly cheerful, considering their hotel is downtown and they have to climb up and down 11 stories. But they do have any emergency generator to flush the toilet, so that is something.
I get back to my cousin’s and we have the wine and cheese and then go out for a very good Mexican meal, with more wine and tequila. It is a celebration—like being released from jail.
But it’s a long night. The dog is nervous. We are on the second floor of a walkup and she barks every time a neighbor goes past, waking me and my hosts. The apartment is steam-heated with clanking every time the furnace goes on and off. That sets the dog off as well. It is so hot in the apartment that we keep the window open and she barks at the noises from the air shaft. It is like being in my college dorm again.
Friday, Sandy +4
I am trying to find another place to stay. My friend uptown has given my bed away to some people coming in from Chicago for the NY Marathon. Every hotel in town is booked solid, overbooked with those stuck here by the storm and those coming in for the marathon. I luck out—some friends are away in the country and their place on 72nd and Third Avenue has a free bed.
Ellie and I have breakfast at the outdoor café—half a melon and a bagel with cream cheese, around $7. It is getting expensive having all my meals out but I wanted to get out of the apartment while my cousin and his girlfriend were sleeping late.
I am discovering New York, as a refugee. Hells Kitchen is lively, filled with ethnic restaurants, some derelicts, dirty streets, large scruffy dogs. Ellie is delighted to find an entire slice of pizza on the sidewalk. I overhear a woman say to a man, “I’m trying to find something I like about this neighborhood in case we can’t afford to buy where we want to live.”
I meet my Paris friend for lunch at a Southern restaurant on 9th Ave. and walk her over to 8th Ave where she and her granddaughter are taking a New York tour bus. Despite the fact that they are staying in the Village, they are cheerful. They have not been able to do much sightseeing, but are happy just to walk around.
Around 4, my cousin helps me find a cab. They are now out of gasoline and getting scarce. Again, I overtip. The Upper East Side is still another world entirely. Despite the devastation in parts of New York, the sidewalks are spotless, not a scrap or crumb. Ellie is disappointed, although the dogs are all well-groomed and unthreatening. I buy two containers of yogurt and some fruit at Grace’s Market for $12.
I have climbed several rungs up the social ladder. From a tiny one-bedroom to a spacious three. Doormen, elevator operators. My own corner room, with a sofa bed and my own tv. I haven’t seen the news since Monday and it is all about the storm. But they are not telling me what I want to know—when can I go home? There is a report that the Lower East Side has its power back, but they do not tell me what the boundaries are. No info on Twitter or the Con Ed website. I call Gail around 7. Con Ed has promised to get the power back by midnight, but it is still out. I feel a world away. I take Ellie for a walk on the quiet, meticulous streets, eat my yogurt supper and am happily asleep by 9:30 pm.
Saturday, Sandy +5
I wake at 4:30 am. It is too early to call Gail but I later find out that the power has come back on exactly at this moment. Perhaps Con Ed has sent me a telepathic signal. I walk Ellie—the streets are deserted at this still dark hour and it has gotten cold. I have not brought a heavy coat. There is no where to get coffee, but I finish my fruit and yogurt.
7:30. I talk to Gail. Electricity is back. The elevators are running. I jump into a cab and rush downtown—overtipping once again. Now I am just so happy to be home. I hug the super and the doormen. They have been working round the clock, making sure everyone is ok.
I throw out a freezer and refrigerator’s worth of food. I run the dishwasher, which has started to stink. Gail tells me the Greenmarket has moved up to 23rd Street, so I take Ellie up there and refill the larder. At least there I can rely on the food being fresh.
It is over for me. But there are many who are still in the wilderness.