The Dark Zone

(Sketch by Jake Levine. Click the image for more about it.)

Just two nights ago I was reading by flashlight in our cold apartment, a boiled bottle of water under the wool blanket with me, caught in lower Manhattan with promises that our power would be back on “soon.” I’d felt hope in the morning when we heard on the battery-operated radio that most of Manhattan would have its power back by “end of day.” We took that literally and said to each other—“day!”—meaning we’d have power back before dark. We heard on the radio that the East Village got its power back. We heard that SoHo got its power back. We heard that Chelsea got its power back. Those are the neighborhoods above and below and to the east of us. We were surrounded by lights, but ours were still dark. It was ten at night. It was eleven. I began losing hope and thinking it wouldn’t be coming for us. I shivered under the covers and E boiled more water to keep me warm. We heard shouts in our dark building’s pitch-dark corridor and thought at first it was ConEd come to check that our building wouldn’t catch fire so they could turn the lights on—something we’d heard on the radio about why there were delays. It was only cops yelling, for some unknown reason, at someone in an apartment on the floor above. No one was arrested. Then quiet. And darkness, still. I went to bed before midnight, in defeat, the power not yet on.

Our living room, for 5 nights.

The power came back at 4:25 a.m. Saturday. I know because I woke up immediately, as soon as the overhead light came on and leaped out of bed in utter relief.

Washington Square West, morning after the hurricane.

We had no power in lower Manhattan for five nights. That’s all. That’s it. It’s a small thing to complain about, knowing what everyone else was dealing with… and still are.

Because on Saturday I emerged. And started reading and watching the news. I put pictures to the things we’d heard only on the radio, things we hadn’t before seen. And it was so much worse than I realized.

While we had no power, we also had no cell phone service in our apartment. For the first couple of days, we had to go outside and walk some blocks uptown holding out our cell phones for a roaming signal so we could text family and check on them upstate and in Philadelphia and let them know we were okay. (My mom also had no power for days.) But on that last night of the blackout, we discovered that if we restarted our phones, we had service for about 30 seconds before it stopped. In those seconds we’d send tweets or texts or download emails. Sometimes I’d catch glimpses of Twitter and realize how everyone else’s lives were going on just as before, mostly outside the Northeast, like this wasn’t even happening. It was a weird feeling. Then when I emerged and saw what was happening to others in other parts of the city and Long Island and New Jersey and Westchester and elsewhere, I felt bad for even being so upset and frustrated during the days we had no power.

Because we were lucky. So lucky. We had a gas stove we could light with a match and cold running water—a surprise, since the last time we lost power, the water to the building stopped. Every time I turned on the tap and freezing-cold water came out, I expected it to drip to a stop like last time and when it didn’t I was so grateful. We could flush the toilet. We could drink. We could take sponge baths. And we could warm ourselves by boiling water. We had Korean hot stone bowls full of boiled water on the floor by our feet. E washed my hair for me in the tub by pouring hot water over my head while I ran the cold.

When we ventured out in the streets, most stores were closed. On the first couple days, even bodegas were closed (unheard of!). But there were a few local restaurants that were open and cooking for the neighborhood by candlelight and I am so appreciative for the delicious warm meals. Thank you SH Dumpling & Noodle Bar and Ben’s Pizzeria for coming out here the day after the storm and staying and opening every single day until we had power back. La Lanterna was open and even had a cell-phone charging station set up for free outside for anyone who needed it.

A fallen tree near Houston Street

We got power back Saturday. Like I said, we were lucky.

One little hiccup is that my trip to the artists’ colony got delayed. I was supposed to arrive with all the other artists last week. I could have walked uptown out of the dark zone and made it to a bus, apparently. (We didn’t know much of anything in terms of travel or resources with our phones not working.) But even if someone had handed me a map, I wouldn’t leave E alone in this. There was absolutely no way I would leave him in the dark, in the cold, by himself, and gallivant off to a writing retreat he wasn’t allowed to accompany me on.

I feel weird leaving New York City now, at a time like this, even if I do have my lights back on. I should stay. But my residency couldn’t be rescheduled to next year (I did ask), and if I didn’t go, I’d lose it. So I’ll be on an abbreviated retreat a few hours north even if my mind is on other things. I’m leaving tomorrow and I’ve been scrambling trying to deal with everything I couldn’t get to when we had no power. I shouldn’t even be writing this blog post. But I wanted to tell you how strange I feel.

Thinking of all of you. Hoping everyone without power gets it back soon.

[Occupy Sandy Relief]

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