7 Things I Learned from Hurricane Sandy

Let’s clean up some myths first: Hurricane Sandy is not good for the economy. People in the media always claim hurricanes are good because of the rebuilding. This is bullshit.  Yes, people will be buying new furniture, etc. But if it were good for the economy I’d come and smash your house every other month and that would be even better for the economy. So that’s wrong. It’s never good to destroy hard-earned resources.

Second, Hurricane Sandy is not retribution for any societal ills. I’ve seen “gays” blamed and I’ve seen a “two state Israel/Palestinian solution” blamed and I’ve seen “global warming” blamed. It’s none of those  things. Death tolls per capita per natural disaster have gone down since the 1950s in developed countries so all of those suggestions are ridiculous.

(scary)

Third, 90 people have died and 60 million touched in some way by the hurricane.  There’s no way around it – natural disasters suck.

Claudia and I live right next the Hudson River. Early Monday the Hudson River was already climbing above the rocks and crawling it’s way down the street. That was eight hours before high tide and some guy was kayaking in the street while everyone laughed and the police begged him to stop.

My neighbors started taping up their doors and putting sandbags in front of them. I’m always too late to the whole “fix-it” thing so I asked someone if they were just handing out sand bags somewhere. He laughed and said he bought them at the Home Depot a week ago. “There are none left,” he said, and kept on taping. Lot of stuff to do. I pretended like I had something to do also. The alien mothership was going to land and destroy us all but I was embarrassed that I didn’t know what to do in preparation for it.

Time to get Claudia. We spent about three hours taping garbage bags to each door. She cut duct tape with her teeth. I tried to do that and got duct tape all over my mouth.

Then we put up bricks all around to keep the garbage bags secure. We did this indoors and outdoors for all three doors we have that lead to outside. Then we took all first floor furniture and put it upstairs. We took all books on lower shelves and moved them higher. My Go board, which rests on the floor, we put on the kids’ bed. We cleaned out their closet so nothing was on the floor. We moved everything in the refrigerator upstairs. We unplugged all the lights. Took showers to take advantage of any last minute hot water. We charged up all batteries on 4 laptops, 4 tablets, 2 phones that were also hotspots. We drove our car a mile uphill (Claudia drove). We were ready to camp out.

At that point something disastrous happened that I was afraid was going to jeopardize the entire marriage. While we were taping shut the outside door my wedding ring had fallen off and was now gone. By the time we realized, we couldn’t go outside and look. There was three feet of water outside and winds up to 50 miles per hour. That ring was gone. Claudia is definitely going to think this is symbolic, I thought. “It’s a natural disaster,” I said. Of course the blame for our marriage potentially collapsing under the weight of symbolism had to be the fault of a natural disaster named after a woman. “It’s Sandy,” I said, “she took it! She’s jealous.”

Claudia tried to tell me not to worry about it but I was afraid not what she thought right then but what she would think LATER. I was living too much in the future with a natural disaster happening right there.

When we thought we had secured everything, we relaxed. Safe. No way the water was going to get in. We were in there and the forces of Nature were OUT THERE. Then a fountain sprang up in the middle of our kitchen. It was like a baby penis peeing  into the air while waiting for a diaper changed. Then another one. Then in the dining room. Then in the kid’s room. Then the living room. Then more of them in the kitchen. Then a panel which led to the basement burst open and water started streaming out. All the water was coming up from underneath, not from outside. Zombies were vomiting hurricane filth out of the depths. Within minutes the first floor had a foot of water in it.

(right after it crept over the river, about 8 hours before high tide, 40 feet from my house)

Outside the window, around high tide, it looked like the entire Hudson River was sobbing past each house, surrounding them consuming them, all the way to the train tracks. A giant tongue from outerspace come down to lick everything in its path. Jonah being swallowed by the whale. We are between the train tracks and the river. About two feet of water was now making itself at home downstairs, checking all of our cabinets for food, our shelves for paper, our closets for clothes to snuggle into, our refrigerator for electricity. The first floor belonged to Sandy.

We did what every other couple in a once-in-a-lifetime worrisome situation would do: we relaxed, got in bed upstairs, and watched Casino Royale on the ipad until we fell asleep.

5 in the morning I woke up. No more rain. The streets looked dry. The water was gone on the first floor. But dirt, sludge, seaweed, slugs, insects, leaves, more dirt, more grime, were everywhere. All cabinets were filled with water. Some furniture that we were not able to move was ruined. All the doors couldn’t shut because they were saturated with water and grossly distorted from their original form.  I ripped up all the tape and threw it away. I started mopping the floors. Claudia got up and we did what every other couple in the middle of a natural disaster would do – we went out for breakfast. Then we got home and kept cleaning.

Now, a day later, I realize all the things that have been truly great about this storm. Things that would never have happened otherwise and I hope others were blessed with similar experiences.

A) I got to meet my neighbors. In the 2.5 years I’ve lived here I’ve never met them. Now I know their names. I can say hi to them. We smile at each other. Even the woman diagonally across the street who screams randomly into the night in the middle of the street at her baby and who I’ve had to call the police about several times came over to me and asked how we were doing. Nice lady with sad eyes that I never noticed before.

B) My pace slowed down. This week was supposed to be a busy week. Lots of calls. Lots of writing. Lots of “you should do this!” and “I’m going to do that!” Meetings  in the city. Lots of following up to do. I physically couldn’t do it from Sunday until now. My pace had to slow. My awareness of the outside world, as feeble as it usually is, became even more feeble. For the first time in two years I even took a break from writing every day. I made no phone calls, returned no emails, stayed off the Internet. There was nothing except getting on my hands and knees and scrubbing. And it felt great. I want to take a “pace vacation” more often.

(guess why there were no trains going into the city)

C) Learned about my house. I don’t know anything about houses. I only would know how to use a hammer to kill someone and that’s about it (I’m assuming you hit them in the head or throat really hard and repeatedly. I learned this by watching Showtime.). But I had to learn about things like gas leaks, boilers, how fireplaces work, how the pumps work, and so on. I know this sounds trivial to everyone else, but for me it was like a revelation. I thought gas and oil came from God. I’m a Mr. Fix-It now. [Don't even think about laughing, Claudia]

D) Threw stuff out. When I first met Claudia I owned one mattress, one table with no chairs, and one couch. I was living in a prison cell forged by depression and sorrow and loss. Well, now, over three years later,  that couch had to be thrown out. Soaked and no possibility of decent recovery. Also, sadly, several boxes worth of books were soaked beyond repair. So gone. This was a quick and brutal winter cleaning but worth it. I probably would not have picked through that stuff to throw them out. The neighbor who had sandbags taped up to every door? He threw out all of his furniture today.

E) Clean air. For better or worse, a hurricane with 80 mph winds will recycle all of the air around you. The next morning I had never breathed in air so fresh. The inhalation of the entire planet. I was like an addict for air, soaking it all in.

F) Temporary. Once again, the beauty of nature shows that everything changes, everything is temporary. Nobody can own this planet. The planet rents itself to us. These bodies, with their skin, and their shit, and their tears, and their toxins, just rent themselves to us. Our relationships are only rented. Our belongings. Everything. Mixed together, it all becomes nature. That’s what life is. Sometimes it seems no good. You can’t tape up sandbags  to protect yourself. Life will find the cracks and seep on through. Time to give up and watch Casino Royale while murderers meet their victims and hell meets heaven right outside your house.

G) Miracles. All night long the river surged past the house. The winds were between 30 and 80 miles per hour on the gusts. The rain pounding. Demons were  crying down the street, into the eye sockets of every house. A few towns away a boat ended up on the train tracks. When I woke up and went outside I saw benches from the walk by the river were ripped out of the ground and 300 feet from where they were supposed to be.

But I walked outside and right outside my house what did I find? My wedding ring. If you watch for them, miracles are everywhere.

 

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