Thursday, November 1, 2012


Sandy is still wreaking havoc in its wake. First of all the death toll keeps rising. In some places nearby and not so nearby there are people still trapped by flood waters. Hoboken is the primary nearby example. People in the first floors of apartment buildings were told to evacuate but those on the higher floors not. The authorities assumed any flood waters would rapidly recede.

But they haven't, so there are folks trapped on higher floors with no power, running out of food, etc. and chest high water full of sewage and oil and gas etc. to wade through if they try to get out. They're talking a week to ten days before the power's all back on even in my little community. Traffic lights still out, gas lines at the few gas stations that can still pump it (the pumps are all electronically controlled). Etc.

But as in all natural disasters (like the earthquakes and California wildfires and other events I've lived through) the damage is always random. For instance yesterday my teenager's mother who has no power suddenly lost it in her car as well just as she was trying to get back to her small business which involves a lot of driving. It was like some cosmic joke, but turned out to just be a bad battery. The only problem was the auto shops and stores are mostly shut down.

But it turned out, thanks to a neighbor and friend we learned that Irvington, which is only a few blocks from the old house (actually a historic preservation site) her apartment is in had power.  It was so surreal to drive down the main drag that leads through Irvington into Newark (where the power is mostly off and people are also still trapped in their apartments in many instances) and see all the stores open and traffic lights working and people out and about like it was a normal day.

Irvington is a mostly African-American town and mostly working people and poor people, so there seemed to be some poetic justice in that. The auto store was jumping and a nice young man gave us  a lot of help, and there was also a freelance mechanic working the busy parking lot willing to put in a new alternator if that's what was needed.

It ended up taking a few hours and that neighbor driving down with a Black and Decker battery charger that also could test the alternator and a few exchanges of batteries (I bought a new one then they decided it was the alternator but the machine that tests them was broken so I got a refund on the new battery than my friend arrived and said the alternator was ok so back to the new battery etc.) but in the end her car is running and everyone was more than helpful and patient.

Got back to my apartment and a ton of teenagers with nowhere to go and not much to do (most of them from homes without power, and school canceled for the entire week due to downed wires and no power etc.). I had let some members of a poetry workshop I run in my living room Wednesday evenings know I had power if they wanted to come and discuss poetry, or just get warm and recharge if their power was out, and two members showed up from a nearby town where one had power and the other didn't. The latter was grateful to be in a warm place.

We talked poetry and other things while teenagers came in and out and my teen's mother too, who decided to skip the fierce cold at her powerless place and stay at my place. When they left another teen's father came over to charge his phone and laptop and watch the news and eventually our teenage sons and their friend (the others teen finally having left close to midnight) decided to watch the STAR WARS where Darth Vader becomes Darth Vader and were overwhelmed with nostalgia as they remembered their long ago youth (they're all around fifteen) and concluded that it was still actually a pretty cool movie after starting out hooting and laughing and making fun of their boyhood folly in digging it back then.

This event is far from over as anyone watching the news must know. The immediate effects will be felt by many for weeks, and for years for some. But the overall reaction I can only have is enormous gratitude that my family here is safe and sound and that my older children and their loved ones up in Massachusetts are safe and sound too. And I pray the same is true for you.

[Oh, and PS: Happy Celtic New Year (and for TPW happy birthday), and in honor of that here's a photo I took of my late Irish cousin Paddy in front of the ancestral home—where my Irish grandfather grew up though back then it was even smaller) taken not long after it was vacated after centuries of use so the thatch is already beginning to rot from the lack of a fire within and would soon decay and disappear leaving only crumbled walls today.]

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