Maybe it’s just the compulsion of the storyteller, but Sandy brought out the documentarian in me. Whether racing from one responsibility to another or calmly watching the storm and the damage it wrought to our city, I kept coming back to the fact that there were thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of stories swirling around like the headwinds of the hurricane itself. I was just a bug in its path—an active participant with the morbid curiosity of a gawker. Surely this strange concoction of perceptions has something to do with my relatively recent change of area codes—even with the lights going down on Lower Manhattan, my experience had little in common with those stark, harsher realities faced by so many of New York’s Zone A dwellers.My tale starts, like so many others, at a bar: GMT Tavern to be exact, the drinking hole closest to my Shire. There, on that fateful Monday, I met my friend K., mere days since repatriated from a three-year adventure working abroad. Just in time for the latest Storm of the Century—which we, of course, laughed off as we sipped our tall pints of English ales. K., who was still in the process of resettlement and apartment hunting, took a cab from the Midtown extended stay bastion of comfort that was his temporary home. Earlier that day, we’d both received very clear word from our respective employers—there’d be no work tomorrow. Not an hour passed and we were parked on our GMT bar stools, watching round-the-clock previews of the storm and toasting to media hyperbole.
We kept drinking and the afternoon wore on. The the wind outside picked up, bushes and plants in Laguardia Corner Gardens across the street yielding to its commands. As we started swaying in our stools, so did the large elms and honeylocusts, and even through our alcoholic haze, we knew this joke was starting to get real, fast. Barflies were disappearing one by one and daylight was on the wane. Warily, we watched a steady stream of people pouring out of Morton Williams, my downstairs supermarket, loaded with grocery bags. Still, we were trying to hold on to our last hurrah of carefree bonhomie and nonchalance.
“You think the store is going to stay open?” I inquired of K. “I’m cooking dinner tonight for my brother and his girlfriend. Need to pick up some stuff for the risotto.”
“In an hour, we’ll be smashing our way into Morton with these bar stools like a couple of wolves,” he joked. I laughed and finished my drink.
Minutes later, K. wished me luck and went circling the block for a taxi, wisely deciding that if Judgment Day was coming, there’d be fewer cabs around. I paid my tab and lurched out toward Morton Williams. My phone pulled up some recipes for risotto and I started collecting gourmet items: Arborio rice, white cooking wine, chives, and so on. All around me, people were scrambling to fill their carts and baskets with basic staples for survival: bread, peanut butter, cans of soup, and jugs of spring water. Meanwhile, I was comparing prices on olive oil and chicken stock. When I had all I needed, I called my brother just to confirm our dinner date.
“Pfft, some Storm of the Century. So, do you guys want to come over to my place, or shall I come and make prep in your kitchen?”
“Uh, you know, maybe we should take a rain check on that dinner and wait out the storm. It’s supposed to be hitting any minute now.”
“Sounds good,” I replied, with the breezy, casually drunk detachment bred by a mere 4 months of living in Manhattan.
No sense wasting the shopping trip, might as well grab these and cook dinner the next day. At the register, there was some disagreement on the price of one of my items. I took out the circular and started brushing through it fastidiously, sending my cashier to the manager’s booth for a price check. The 24-hour store was closing early, in five minutes or so. Only the cashiers remained, checking their watches, whispering in Spanish with hushed alarm, anxious to get out and onto the subways, back to their homes uptown and in the Bronx. And there I was, a drunk dick insisting on verifying the price accuracy of extra virgin olive oil. I stirred and called off the investigation, paying quickly for my gourmet dinner and a sack of tea candles, the only responsible purchase I was making.
As I walked down the Laguardia Community Gardens garden alleyway, the wind had picked up more and our tall trees were starting to show some serious bend. Even my ubiquitous homeless neighbor Delfine, he of the ankle-length dreadlock fame, had batted down the hatches, locking up his carts, wrapping them tightly with tarp, while seeking refuge elsewhere. This was a man who never leaves, and to this day Sandy was the only time I’ve ever seen him gone for any significant period of time. Maybe there was something to this storm thing after all.
Upstairs, I was settling in for a quiet evening of storm-watching and Netflix binging. After all, there’d be no work Monday, which would surely be spent laughing with friends over the absurdity of it all while our responsibilities were on pause by official decree. I got in bed with a bag of peanuts and my laptop–one of my favorite guilty pleasures as a bachelor. I turned on the news coverage and leisurely watched Apocalypse descend on New York City. A few minutes later, my laptop died abruptly and so did the lights in my room. I checked the breakers but it was no use. It wasn’t just me. Lights all over SoHo, that neighborhood directly across the street from me, were going out.
Looks like there’ll be some adventure after all, I thought, pouring myself a beer. It wasn’t all bad–a rare chance to reconnect with antiquity and life before 24/7 media ubiquity and unplugged entertainment. As I tried to insinuate this into my Internet-addled brain, the terror of this new dystopic reality gripped me. I grabbed another beer and drank nervously, under the covers. As I contemplated the terror of being alone in the dark with nothing to do at 8 pm, the tempest outside was reaching a crescendo. Trash was swirling through the streets and trees were starting to limbo under the pressure of hurricane gales. It’s amazing how safe you can feel in your bedroom.When Judgment Day comes, I imagine we’ll all be in our beds, watching the Horsemen lay waste to the world, secure behind our locked doors.
Sandy was providing all the entertainment now. Even with the blackout now in full swing, a few pedestrians were rushing to get home as ambulances and fire trucks started to take over the streets. My large, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, were now the screen to the this spectacle. There was no warning when the giant old tree in our backyard garden, provider of shade, collapsed over the garden fence and covering the westbound lane on Houston, closing off all traffic. I watched it happen in slow motion, thinking that if it had gone the other way, toward my second-floor apartment, my neighbor and I could have become a headline in the next day’s Post.
Alone with my thoughts now, I pulled up the covers and closed my eyes, waiting for sleep to come, like a 19th-century Russian peasant…