Blow, blow, though winter wind. Thou art not unkind in intention, really, and that veiling effect of driving snow makes all the old red brick of this neighborhood mysterious and inviting rather than chunky and boring, but I’m not sure the little flying shards of frozen water you’re flinging into people’s faces at 20, 25 mph were the most fun I’ve ever had. Did I mention, it’s cold? Also the sidewalks and streets are sketchily cleared if at all and there’s a fair amount on the ground, only 3″ so far but drifts of 5-8 in spots (it’s windy in Bay Ridge, we have the ocean right by us), enough to make for some adventurous guessing of where sidewalks and curbs end. Weirdly fun but I’m glad to be back from the post office — 3/4 mile at snow walking speeds is enough my face is still tingling and I’ve been back 1/2 hour. Safe evening commute, people. Next fall, I WILL remember to order a balaclava and silk glove liners.
On a bed of bitter greens, layer leftover poultry (or beans and mushrooms, I’ll try that tomorrow) drizzled with good wine-vinegar and topped with some sort of interesting cheese, lightly melted. Probably good with any squash soup and those extra rolls from the back of the freezer. Stay warm. NYC is getting a break today, but I’m practicing warming food for tomorrow.
9/11: Six degrees of separation, everyone lost someone. I waited 3 days before my next door neighbor came home from the Pentagon. People in 60 nations lost loved ones on that day. But the biggest casualty has been our collective consciousness. America was a kinder country before that day.
There is still deep kindness. Fear and the instinct to self-preservation makes it easy to forget that to love, to relate, to respect the other — other nation, other race, other gender, other anything — requires being vulnerable to a certain extent. My prayer is to see the collective trauma released — it is not seemly to grieve forever — and to remember with love but also to live, into the future, with kindness.
Just after 9/11, we were kind. At least, common people were, I claim no understanding of politicians. My neighbor, a Marine Colonel, came back from the Pentagon, having stayed long enough to be sure one of his best friends made it, and his first concern was making sure none of the violent backlash hit a very nice, older Indian couple round the corner from us who spoke little English and always wore traditional clothing. They were great gardeners and cooks, entertaining their extended family to lunch every Sunday. I was too naive back then to think they might possibly have been at risk, but — he was military, he’d been in volatile situations before — it was the first thing his mind went to. And he said a word here and a word there and made sure our neighbors were safe.
I want that neighborly America back. I do not think this disrespects the dead. They were part of that kinder world. The America where, when I was a lost kid at Bennington, one older friend lent me her bicycle, another taught me to bake bread, strangers drove me to church, my professors lent me books I could not afford to buy, and on and on. A thousand kindnesses, and too little paranoia for me to notice. I’m sure it was there. I’m not asking for a community of angels. Just the community that was injured in 9/11. Time to let go and heal.
Someday this draft will grow up and become the beginning of a story, perhaps fiction, perhaps memoir. It is the beginning of one chapter of my story, returning to NYC after many years, reentering the dream that is this city:
Grand Central, the is-ness of the space… Streams of light coming in the upper windows, the space so solid and concrete, and yet really a cavernous hall floating about further levels of caverns and tunnels beneath, no one really knew, probably not even the engineers who were meant to know, where all the caverns and tunnels were.
Riding in the train into Grand Central, on the Metro North line from Connecticut with the rich bankers and the city wage slaves wedded to suburban living, was to pass through, on the final approach to this station, sudden openings out of the black tunnels the train was going through. This, starting about ten minutes before the train reached the station. It was the signal for people to get out of their seats and begin collecting themselves. There is a putting on of jackets and folding of newspapers and retrieving of bags and packs from the overhead racks – which, incidentally, are far too narrow for comfort when they’re loaded with heavy bags.
In the middle of all this bustle, for the most part ignored by those habituated to it perhaps from birth, the tunnel opens out into now one cavern, now another. These are neither lighted nor dark: from somewhere, reflections of reflections, scattered photons bounced off walls in upper, lit chambers and so down stairwells and down, finally to be trapped in these caverns, where perhaps there was no further down, and allow just enough diffuse light to glimpse dormant trains and ghosts of trains and other equipment slumbering in the shadows on sidings in the caverns. Passing just as the eye begins to parse the shapes, are darker areas in the dark grey, barely lit dimness. Trains. They seem curiously alive in their stillness, almost more alive for being still, the difficulty of seeing them clearly in the dim light making it seem as if they were on the edge of movement. And there are ghost lines, train tracks running this way and that, and further tunnel mouths.
And then the train we were on would plunge into a tunnel again, a moment of darkness while I wondered about the cavern just left behind, who built it, what those engines were for, why it was now dark… And then another cavern would happen.
And presently one of the caverns, the third or fourth or fifth one in, wouldn’t be dark, but lit by doggedly determined institutional fluorescents in a white, would-be glare that the soot from the trains and the black of the city coats and clothes subdued. And so out of the train, onto a cement platform, giant recycling wire baskets piled high with newspapers, up concrete stairs or through doors, up and out. The closer to the main level and the outside one gets, the wider and more comfortable the corridor or stairs. And then there’s the Deco opulence and high, high ceiling of the Grand Concourse: illusion of dream fulfilled, journey’s end that is really only journey’s beginning.
The place as a whole is a maze, a mountain, a mystery. From the outside, panting around on the wrong street, it can be just a blank concrete wall. From the right street, a building with a dozen openings, a clock-tower, windows….
It is the dwarves hall in the Lord of the Rings, that goes on further than one thinks in every direction.
There’s inside, and there’s outside. Inside of power. Outside in the cold.
Thursday afternoon, it was cold. Spring equinox, supposedly, but far from springlike in Manhattan. People were huddling against the wind, the lucky ones warm from still wearing heavy coats often discarded by this point in March. I had unfortunately believed the weather report, and was wearing only a light spring coat, no wool except for my hat, no fleece, the scarf around my neck and a pull-on hat the only real comfort as I walked from the subway to meet a friend at MoMA.
I got out of the subway at the bottom end of Central Park, on 5th avenue. The upscale part of NYC. I walked past high-end retailers, diamonds in the window in Bergdorff-Goodman’s (I think I’m remembering that correctly), status for sale at Louis Vuitton, and so to the upmarket church section: Presbyterian, Episcopal, Roman Catholic in a row, just a few blocks separating them. I planned, as I walked, a funny blog post about God turning off the heat in NYC and me wishing He wouldn’t because I was freezing.
On the sidewalk outside the Presbyterian church, I saw a homeless woman, and the joke stopped being funny.
The city is full of homeless people, and full of people walking past them. But this was different. In the winter, a lot of homeless people look cold, bundled in as many layers as they can get, stoically enduring. This woman wasn’t bundled. I do not know what she was wearing, because she was huddled in a canvas sheet, but it can’t have been much at all, because the whole of her, sheet and all, was slender. She was shaking violently. Not the shaking one sees sometimes in alcoholics or other addicts, but from the cold. How do I know? I’m no doctor. But I am human, and it was stunningly obvious.
Her eyes were clear, and conscious of all that was happening to her. Homeless people are sometimes shut down inside, by their eyes, long suffering having numbed them. She wasn’t numb. She was feeling every second of that horrid cold. She was sitting on a concrete sidewalk.
She was beautiful. About my age. Clear brown skin, expressive eyes, cheekbones that any artist would love to capture on canvas. An angel of God, a daughter of humanity, a sister. Our eyes met. And there was nothing I could think of to do to save her.
Her eyes expressed suffering: but no blame. I don’t know how that was possible.
She had short hair, in a spiky hairstyle. Bits of bare scalp showed in-between the thick curls. Heads lose heat. I pulled off my hat, gave it to her, and said, “Here, take this.” She pulled it on. The interaction was a natural one, in a horribly unnatural situation. Her hands were shaking. I knew I had to be out myself, late, and it would get colder; so I kept my scarf and gloves, though the real human thing to do would have been to hand her everything, coat and all. And then I dropped a dollar in her cup and walked away.
She is, was, Human and Beautiful. I pray she is alright, now. I was less than human. Every single person walking by her was less than human. If there had been a dog or cat there, stranded on that sidewalk shivering, a dozen people would have stopped, someone would have arranged a rescue.
I walked away. I did not know how to rescue her. Could one call an ambulance? Take her somewhere?
I walked the three remaining blocks to MoMA; across from MoMA there is a new building, or perhaps a renovation, under construction. It will be a luxury hotel. Presumably a thousand dollars a night, in that location. Louis Vuitton, 1K hotel rooms, 5th Avenue churches, among them my own, where well-dressed people will worship this Sunday, and Outside, in the cold, are the angels, abandoned.
In justice I will say also: those churches run soup kitchens, are active in helping the poor. Part of the reason I did not interfere is because I guessed she was in that location by choice, and presently would go to one of the soup kitchens for a meal. But dear God, it should be better than this.
“Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for …
we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.’
From ‘Dover Beach’, by Matthew Arnold.
The large black/dark grey rocks below the retaining wall are normal, the 1/2 to 1 football-sized rocks on the pavement etc are not! This bank was solid the day before.
Rocks and sea sand, a gift from Sandy.
This isn’t what the place usually looks like!
No idea what this pipe is.
The other end of the pipe. You can see the size of it by the garden chairs.
Rock stuck under the railing, and seaweed.
Kids returning stones to the sea. Super cute.
By the bridge.
The base of the tree.
The other end of the tree.
The second car under the same tree. End to end across the street, one car under each end. Yesterday I walked by and didn’t see the cars, which is to say apparently hurricanes leave one shaken up.
I just heard an estimate of 20 billion for Hurricane Sandy related damage. Is this non-business friendly enough for Republicans to now acknowledge climate change science?
10 years at NASA, and my first job was calculating what happened to clouds in the presence of greenhouse gases (roughly). This devastation needn’t be happening on this scale. I can’t reconcile ‘family values’ with people voting to doom their children to this and worse for the sake of a short-term bottom line.
I seldom talk about my NASA days, it’s not relevant to the present. But then I seldom feel like punching someone, or maybe half a country.
Minor personal note: there’s an absurdity to canceling an overseas vacation because I wasn’t sure I was well enough for the stress of travel only to have a hurricane come visiting. Which is to say, it’s time for me to rest and write for a few days.
11/6: Thinking of all those in 6 hours voting lines in winter weather, or struggling to get to the polls in hurricane affected areas with no gas: thank you. Stay safe.
11/7: Snowflakes. Fat snowflakes in between the drizzle. Please don’t let it snow on flooded people.
11/8: Sorry, but I’m just watching election night news now: FOX News said Republicans lost the election because the hurricane ‘disrupted the story line’? This is what they think is important about an event that smacked 60 million people upside the head?
11/10, morning: Subtle but pervasive shifts in the texture of life here, and weird dissonances. Life is back to near normal for some and still completely destroyed for others. Scarcity of gas makes it harder for those who would try to help and changes a million small things. It’s strangely difficult even to know what to think and feel.
A friend on the west coast asked me how things were in NYC and I just started to laugh and couldn’t stop. At this point zombies wouldn’t surprise me!
People here are comparing it to 9/11. I was in a healthier place on 9/11. Living near Fort Meade, lots of military families and a neighbor who worked at the Pentagon and didn’t come home for 3 days. I was healthy enough then to know that if one wasn’t experiencing the disaster, then emotion enough to help was useful but past the point of what one could do it wasn’t right to get spun up. A form of disrespect to the people experiencing the real trauma. Trickier as a writer, I’m feeling a need to record and monitor as well, which means resonating somewhat.
Trick is empathy exists to motivate us to help. Past the point we can help, it isn’t useful. Tired, so the boundaries are not as easy: human response here, nosey-parker writer there.
11/10, afternoon: Exterminator just came. He lives on Staten Island, works for the Department of Buildings. Talked of 20′ storm surge and 20′ wave behind that. That people ordered to evacuate stayed and are now bodies being pulled out of houses. I asked if they were given resources to evacuate with, and he didn’t think so. Now I am wondering about the income level in these areas. A horrid question. I’m sure some people stayed because Hurricane Irene was a non-event and so they expect Sandy to be a false alarm too. But there may have been others… Meanwhile the guy got here and was another familiar face not drowned, which is always nice.
Hot chocolate with salt, maple syrup, orange oil, cinnamon and vanilla, just perfect after a long, cold walk. Wind is still strong and cold down by the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. My neighborhood, and I, are relatively lucky. This is the bottom of Bay Ridge, facing Staten Island, what the cabbies describe as ‘under the bridge’. We have power. There’s a large downed tree uprooted from the sidewalk and fallen across the street fortunately just short of hitting the opposite house, partly because some branches broke off. Lying across the road it’s about the height of a man’s waist.
Down by the Narrows, there’s a large hollow pipe, half the width of this tree trunk but at least half again as long, lying on the rocks below the boardwalk and partially submerged. The exposed end is full of bolts and other fittings, I try to guess what it is: something from a ship, or a pier, perhaps? Somewhere a business is probably filing an insurance claim for this lost pipe. There’s a tremendous amount of debris in the water, from the expected plastic trash cans and traffic cones to what looks like someone’s kitchen table. A sweet watering can goes by, the kind with an embossed flower on one side. So many pieces of people’s lives washed into that water.
In return the sea has given what I think must be sand from the bottom of the water. The water is a browny-green, like tropical river water, and quite unlike it’s usual northern, Atlantic-coast blues. There’s sand deposited in curves on the boardwalk of the park, and across that and the bike lane and small road — a total of about 50 feet — on the surface of the parking lot. Stones, also, about 1/2 to 1 soccer ball in size, mostly of a color and shape not like the rocks against the retaining wall below the boardwalk. The sea and the storm have brought them from elsewhere. They are too large to have made it through the protective railing. I guess the water must have literally thrown them over the waist-high railing.
There are smaller stones. Several very small children, perhaps demonstrating the resilience of our species or at least of New Yorkers, are busily tossing the smaller stones back into the river. To them it’s a lovely game, a day when parents are unexpectedly and wonderfully at home.
All over the neighborhood, as I walk, is the evidence of hard working and determined people. I only managed to force myself out, pushing through the oddest panicky feeling, at a quarter to three in the afternoon. There were sounds outside from first light, and by the time I’m out much of the debris is done, miscellaneous debris bagged, tree limbs cut down to be hauled away. It’s still messy, but the piles of trash-bags and testimony to how much has worse it was. One house has a side covered with that plastic sheeting one sees on construction sites, either a very quick repair or an ongoing job, I can’t tell. Many stores, in this neighborhood which didn’t flood except down by the water, are open, all the ones where people live close enough to get in to work. There’s still food on the shelves, and no panic. I am not the only one taking pictures, though, and walking around marveling. We all know we’re tremendously lucky to be in a neighborhood that’s come off so lightly. I pass the subway station, and wonder when it is I’ll be able to get to the city again. It smells musty, or perhaps I’m imagining it.
I’ve heard from most of my friends in Sandy’s path, but not all. I am wishing this hadn’t happened, that the storm of the century hadn’t been bred by persistent denial of climate change. I’m remembering my NASA years and thinking how futile it is to know so much when we, as a country and a people, do so little. I am anxious too, remembering Katrina and New Orleans. I know New York won’t be like that, but don’t know what it will be. I’m wondering about life, and choices, probably in the same generally anxious and tired and not very smart way most people are today. The last days have been a blur of pre-hurricane prep, which in this city means hauling stuff around through the subway or on foot from stores, carrying water bottles and that last carton of milk and canned soups and such, all those foods one never buys except for such emergencies. Yesterday as the hurricane approached, and then during, there was the building and the howling of wind, and then more howling, and louder, a maddening sound that freaked out the body without stopping to consult the mind, and then there were the images and reports of horrible things happening, flooded streets and exploding power stations and fires…
I come home from my walk, and write this, and get ready to post my pictures, and wish I had something intelligent to say, a better closing thought than how to make amazing hot chocolate, but I don’t. There’s only waiting now.
One final thought. I am grateful, sitting here waiting to see what will happen to my city after a hurricane, that Obama is in the White House and not Romney, who would have us privatize disaster relief and who thinks climate change is a myth. I don’t want what Bush let happen to New Orleans to happen to me. Call me selfish. But it could be you and your city next time.
Be safe, you all.
It’s not everyday a girl finds a hurricane/nor’easter knocking on the door. Here’s what it was like in my neighborhood, down by the Verrazano Narrows bridge a stone’s throw from Staten Island.
10/27, 10:55am: Auxiliary IPhone battery yes, auxiliary battery charging cable no. Moving equals chaos.
10/28, 1pm: 1 block closer to the water than my place is in the zone B Eva area (not at all an issue this storm) but the point is, that’s the ritzy block, the super pricey, water view… block, and mine is where regular people like. Strange similarity to the areas of SF south bay where the crazy expensive places in the hills get hit by mudslides every rainy season.
10/28, 6pm: Wind is picking up and temp beginning to drop, lovely lovely bite in the air. Storm coming in from the ocean may be dangerous, but dear God it is beautiful too. Now if there’s just no storm surge into the sewers here (I’m v. close to the water) I shall be happy.
10/28, midnight: Internet and phone cutting out occasionally. Time to go to bed and hope not to be flooded or cleaning up from flooding soon. Goodnight, world.
10/29, 1:30pm: Walked over to the Verrazano Narrows bridge river park a little bit ago (around noon). Wind was still low enough people were out. We really are zone B and higher than Red Hook, high tide didn’t get over the wall. Looks probable storm surge + tonight’s high time will, but where I am (uphill from the river a couple of blocks) it’s only going to be potential nuisance stuff of sewer backups and power outages. Wind was getting pre-tornado-ish by the time I got home, and it’s getting stronger now.
10/29, 2pm: Okay. this is the water near by me now. High tide this morning, 9am, didn’t come onto the boardwalk, and at 12 noon when I was out there it was about 3 feet below the level of this pavement. I’m indoors now (2 blocks inland and UP, so no worries.) Wind is blocking harder. Indoors for the duration now, I guess.
10/29, 8pm: Got the Con Ed robocall. Still have power, but if it goes out I’m perfectly safe; will shut off cellphones and such to save battery and go to bed. So if I stop chattering…. Meanwhile the wind is crazy out there.
10/29, 11pm: Heading to bed. Goodnight all. Wind is still wuthering but I think a tiny bit quieter.
“Do you know what happened to me today?” This from a slight, well-put-together woman I smiled at during a walk. She said, “My job is so stressful, I just walked from…” 3+ miles, and she was in work clothes & shoes. She had meant it as a casual, would you believe, how funny, comment. But then she broke down. Not for long, she pulled herself together pretty quickly — 5 mins of letting it out, tops. But what are we doing to people, in this country? Millions and millions on the edge of endurance. I was home sick on Sunday, and read myself the service out of an antique prayer book. There are verses from the Bible read during services. The surprising thing was that this very old version of the prayer book had about 3x as many verses about the responsibility of the wealthy to give, share, sustain, as the contemporary prayerbook. God, despite the evil that is coming out of the far-right, is not a fiscal conservative. We are, in fact, our brothers (or sisters) keepers. I told her to make herself a cup of tea or coffee, eat, take a walk by the water and relax over the weekend, while I patted her arm and rubbed her back. We exchanged hugs. It was pathetically inadequate. I hope Paul Ryan imploded tonight, and lets the hatefulness of extreme conservatism show through.
“Your mother told you to buy two things.” Middle-aged lady in a Chinatown shop to a 20-something young man, as she holds up two fingers and shakes them in his face: public humiliation, a favorite teaching tool of the Asian Auntie. And yet, generation by generation, the kids are kind enough not to rise up and wipe us out. It is a miracle of love.
In that high vibrational state where either the arc of a project has to be completed soon or sanity will exit the body as most energy reserves already have. But, a happy, chilly, sneezy afternoon in Central Park yesterday with fellow lunatic and writer Sweta Srivastava Vikram (also warm, melty, fresh from the over densely chocolate cookies) and now, to borrow her accurate and unflattering image to describe the process, I’m off to sandpaper that open wound.
Back in the book, thank the Lord and all the friends whose art and energy keeps me alive. Oh, and btw, the gentleman cricket from the other night switched to the post-coital song by morning. I love a happy ending.
Night time waters under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, tonight pale salmon, brilliant white, blues from silver to night. Soundscape of water glugging against the foundations of the boardwalk, giggles of tricycling children, shushing of traffic on bridge… And now a cricket singing outside my window. I think it’s the quiet, courting song. I wonder if she will say yes.
Pizza delivery boy just knocked on my door with stitches in his head. Apparently mugged in this neighborhood on his way home from work a couple days ago. ‘Two guys beat the shit out of me and took all my tips,’ is how he expressed it. Kind of stunned. This is the sleepiest, safest area. I’ve gotten off the subway at 1:30 a.m. after an event and not thought anything of it. Cabs to this far out in Brooklyn aren’t all that easy to get late in the evening. Gave the kid a massive tip, but am a little perturbed.
Midnight and I am finally feeling words begin to come a little alive again. I have crickets to thank, and the accident of windows open just right so I happened on a spot in my apartment at the moment when two different cricket songs came in, to me, rhythmically alternating, over and over, in stereo. A tiny gift of energy from the natural world. I have missed it in this urban life.
Mounted mirrors for dance practice, or rather cooked a meal which induced a construction-savvy friend to do the mirrors. I dislike admitting to artistic temperament, but it really has been difficult, these past few months, to work while the space around me shifted like the inside of a kaleidoscope. Glad it’s almost over.
The joys of 1st belly-dance practice with mirror in 6 months: I find out I’ve forgotten how to stand up straight, also that someone has sneaked in and put my hips in a plaster cast at some point. The subtext to this is, it’s good to have a sense of humor. Also I am sweaty (NYC, August, no AC in the room with the mirrors) and happy.
Less than well. Sigh. On the plus side there is bakuteh in my freezer and I can hear a ship’s horn sounding in the Verrazano Narrows nearby. There’s something very joyful about ships. I think they make me think of my father.
Summer dresses expand in humid heat. The longer the wait in the subway the lower the neckline. Must find ultra lightweight scarves…
The trouble with reusing brown paper shopping bags in NYC is apparently that they can break on the 2nd trip, in the subway, just as one is about to switch trains. Fortunately there are fellow travelers with quick reflexes and generous spirits. I hopped in a cab once out of the subway and the male cabbie picked up the cold bag I carry over my shoulder and staggered. I am stronger than the average bear as well as sillier.
Steady spring rain outside the windows, rich with birdsong and the rushing of passing vehicles through watery roads. But a sore-eyed sort of day indoors, with little natural light to work with; which is to say we don’t spend our time right. This time and season are for gardening, not writing. A day to prune roses.