November 5, 2012

After a few hours, during the first night the lights went out, it became increasingly difficult - impossible even - to stay indoors huddled around candles, eating dried guava. So minus a flashlight I ventured out my front door, and walked slowly down my block to the corner in utter darkness. At the risk of resorting to the most available cliche, the experience was, at least for me, nothing short of apocalyptic. Not only were the streets pitch black. The wind continued to howl. The rain gently fell. And it was incredibly silent. There were a few other stragglers out, a number of them with cameras on top of tripods, aided only by the flashing red lights of cop cars that occasionally passed. Knowing, of course, how words fail to describe the experience of the fallout from Hurricane Sandra, at least as I humbly experienced it, (i.e., no loss,) its easy to understand why someone would be brave enough to go out taking pictures in the darkness. I just had to go out and experience it for myself. What I remember most vividly that first night was seeing shopkeepers on guard in my West Village neighborhood from behind their shop windows looking out for looters. As they silently watched me walk down the middle of Bleeker Street I felt something I hadn't felt in a long time: that it was ok to love my city again. It was jolted back, helplessly, to some primitive makeshift of humanity. I swelled with tears. I also knew I couldn't leave by going uptown to stay with friends where city lights blazed on in full, albeit normal, glory. I didn't want to lose or let go of the fear.

But my anger and contempt for this beloved city would shortly return. As I write, (now after a full day and a half of having electricity restored,) there are still countless others in the Rockaways and Staten Island who not only still lack power but are having to endure hunger, looting, cold, and probably worse. There have been some informal reports via email and Facebook attesting that various forms of aid is finally arriving, (after nearly a goddamn fucking week!,) including The National Guard, FEMA, Occupy Sandy & a legion of other charitable souls. But I am still astounded at the lack of outrage - especially during the homestretch of a Presidential race - over the delay! "When are we gonna get some f%@#ing help?" as one resident from the Rockaways put it to the Mayor. Or as another more mainstream source explained more generally of the Rockaways: "Residents said they had not heard from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, nor have they seen a single representative of the Red Cross or the city." And so, the public infrastructure would fail us once again - this time only more flagrantly. Is this only a more banal occasion of Disaster Capitalism? A "mini-Katrina," as one local representative put it. According to another assessment: "The crisis in the Rockaways remains severe, and it's looking less and less like a natural disaster and more and more like a failure of the state."

While it was clear from the first night after Sandy hit that NYPD would never be far from sight, as it drove by in cars or idly stood by on street corners, Herr Kelly and Moneybag$ Bloomberger couldn't seem to muster the forces to even start directing traffic in any coordinated sense with red flairs and those yellow reflecting jackets.... until Thursday!People were starting to grow impatient but they still remained remarkably calm. But how long would it last?

Price gouging by local merchants was pretty rampant, whether it be with batteries, egg sandwiches, or cauliflower. A few were nice enough to allow me to charge my cell whenever I had the energy to schlep to midtown for bananas, pasta, and drink. I repaid the favor with a purchase and change. Something similar has been said of a particular Chase Bank branch as well of the W Hotel on Union Square. Wholefoods was also nice enough, at least on one afternoon, to give away free apples and pears outside their store on 23 St., thus attracting a small mob of some odd thirty people. Of course, there were far more hideous sights, like two elderly people one afternoon going through a garbage can, one drinking the remains from Johnny Walker Red, as a young woman jogged by with complete utter fucking indifference. Dumpster Diving has been reported as well. I also remember seeing an old woman with a bloody nose being helped into a chair on a Chelsea street corner after having fallen in the dark in a bodega; as well as watching an uppity young couple with a small child walk being led out of their building in the morning by their ingratiating doorman who went about hailing a cab for them as they ambled in utter oblivion of their neighbors who gathered in the building's lobby.

What is it that makes people avert the eyes of others? What is it that makes us avert a glimpse of darkness? Are we still capable of surprise? More specifically, what would New Yorkers take away from this experience ultimately? Perhaps an interest in Climate Change? Perhaps no longer a denial of the importance of both environmental politics and public infrastructure? Of how powerless we are? Maybe we'll have a greater awareness of each other even?

Despite the shitheads and moments of despair there was also occasional romance in the air. Friends and neighbors ventured out into the night with flashlights and their survival instincts to gather intimately in bars & restaurants that were illuminated only by candleight and their imaginations. I happened to catch Francois Moutin, Anne Sila, and Lew Soloff @ Bar 55 for some of the best unplugged jazz I've ever heard. I also happened to come across a makeshift Halloween parade consisting of over a hundred people with marching band. As you can imagine, it drew the attention of NYPD in no uncertain terms. The ballsiest move by zombies and ghosts I've seen yet!

So the lights are back on! Warm showers too! And the election is tomorrow! And if there is anything that could get this city & country back to business, back to normality, if not a good marathon, its a good election! Go Jill Stein!   


  See Nick Sherman's photo stream on Flickr.

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