Last week I waited for the elevator with a lady who was so mad because the elevator was all the way up ON THE SECOND FLOOR.
“This is ridiculous, I don’t have all day!” She exclaimed.
I said nothing, but I wanted to punch her repeatedly until she lay bloody on the ground. I’m not terribly proud of that thought, but I had it, and held if for several days after. It wore on me over how impatient and, quite frankly, out of touch she and others like her are in this city. People literally act like children when they don’t get what they want, when they want it, here. The age of instant access has got us behaving like babies with a urine soaked diaper. Just take a look at me when I try to send an email via my hand robot (my smart phone) when the wireless drops (yep, count me in as a baby eau du urine).
It would take a damn hurricane to get that impatient lady off my mind. Well, a hurricane came. Sandy roared through Metropolis like a banshee with rabies and a bad rash. Thoughts of punching ladies in elevators, along with all meaningless thought, disappeared, vanished, like so many things did during this terrible storm. My thoughts, when the wind kicked into high gear around 7pm on Monday were only about flying glass, flying roofs and high ground. What if the roof goes, what do I do? Go to the hallway. What if the hallway goes? To the stairwell. What if the…
I weathered the storm at a friend’s loft apartment in Greenpoint, the northernmost neighborhood in Brooklyn. The wind whipped at the building, shook the walls, and the roof swelled, giving off very unnerving creaks and pops. Around 8pm, the wind started to come through the brick wall. I can only describe this as THE F#$%ING WIND CAME THROUGH THE BRICK WALL. That was when my friend and I decided to camp in the expansive living room, her eyes and mine constantly glancing at the window at the other end of the room. For about three hours, I wasn’t sure the windows would hold, and several moments during that time I thought the roof would go. But the windows held and the roof stayed put. At some point we got used to the wind, which was bad, because the wind would die, and you wait, just wait, just wait, then it comes and dig your nails into the couch cionush, or the arm of the friend with which you weathered the hurricane. But all things pass. The wind died down, and sleep was rather easy to come by, until the smell of smoke came through the brick wall. However, I got used to the smoke and managed slumber. How luck was I, to be sleeping while others were losing there homes in a terrible fire in Breezy Point, Queens. I woke up after the storm. The people of Breezy Point never slept, and they’ll probably never get used to smelling smoke.
The next night the subway was still down so I decided to walk to my neighborhood, Bay Ridge, in south Brooklyn. It’s a 9 mile jaunt through the heart of Brooklyn that I managed to make 10 miles because my hand held robot ran out of battery power (silly robot). But I wasn’t mad, didn’t complain. I was safe. I’d weathered a storm, and I was somehow restored the patience I had before the robots took over.
I walked down Flatbush avenue, through the Hassidic community. Old and young men, yarmulkas and long curls of hair from their temples, fluidly moved down the street. They were all dressed in the traditional garb, black suits, white shirts, some had porkpie hats. Only rings or a watch, or eyeglasses, gave them their individuality, in regards to their appearance. But they all had the look of cautious calm as if they were saying, “Yahweh, please don’t give us more than we can handle.”
I turn South onto Vanderbilt, through Clinton Hill and walked among caravans people walking together to their neighborhoods. All seem to have the same look and vibe, a little laughter, but no one was taking for granted the peace to be felt. The winds were calm, that was all they needed for a definition to the term “Joy.”
I turned here and there, many trees were down, millions of branches scattered along the way. Everything glistened with moisture. Brooklyn smelled like wet leaves and mud. I turned onto 4th Ave and began my ascent to Bay Ridge. Members of the Latino community in Sunnyside huddled together on street corners and outside of bodegas. They all had the same look as if they silently saying, “We are safe now, but, no mas, Dios, por favor?”
I got home. No flooding. Still had power. My feet and my back ached, but I saw Brooklyn in a way I couldn’t have planned. I was lucky. On Saturday, I had to go into Manhattan, so I decided to continue the walking. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time. I got lost in the fractal imagery of its cables. It was so mezmerizing. The huge granite towers that support the suspension cables were giants wading in a stream. Each tower has a tiny little American flag atop them, which to me, is what America is all about. Huge bricks, real things, put there by immigrants (real founding fathers) and the children of immigrants (everybody else, including you and me), with only a little of the Myth of America fluttering above. Real America is the bricks and cables, it ain’t the songs of our history.
But enough of that. On Sunday, I rode into Staten Island with a friend. Her brother’s house was gutted by the storm and we helped him scoop his and his wife’s, and their two children’s, belongings – their home – out to the street. Hundreds of houses were gutted. The homes, the rubble – once the safest place these people could be, where they could shed worry and fear – was piled high on the street, taller than a person. Down the street as far as I could see. Bulldozers came, scooped up those piles, dumped the homes into a truck, then dumped the homes into a huge dump pile by the ocean, to be landfill upon which the homes of others would most certainly be built.
Military choppers soared through the beautiful blue sky, constantly. The National Guard came by asking if we needed anything. Then, car after car of regular people came by, offering coats, water, warm food. It was a highly emotional scene, but not hysterical. Those that lost their homes haven’t begun the real crying, the shock is still high and they are just trying to survive right now. What was so emotional was feeling and absorbing the generosity of those giving, and the gratitude of those receiving. It was all so simple, humble and kind, but truly profound. New Yorkers are beautiful people, hell, people are beautiful people. My friend’s brother, Seth, stood next to me while we ate free donuts. He was weary, wearing the same warmups he had on the last few days, and was holding a coat a good samaritan gave him. He looked at me, then at the ground which used to be a lawn but the grass was long gone.
“Well, I bet my neighbor won’t mind if my dog pees in his yard now.”
His neighbor probably wouldn’t, because that neighbor happens to be staying with Seth at Seth’s parents. There’s a lotta good people out on Staten Island. And as blown wide open as it is out there, it is a prime example of another attribute of that Real America, where people put the make believe life down and take care of their neighbors no matter what. In Real America, people don’t fight for what’s theirs, they give.
Real America doesn’t fight for freedom, it gives to achieve freedom of the soul. It’s hard to write a song about that kind of freedom though. Wait, no its not, Woody Guthrie wrote plenty them. I guess they’re too hard for a marching band to learn.
But enough about that. I don’t have any regrets in life. But if I was to relive the moment with the old lady complaing about the elevator, I wouldn’t fantasize punching her into hamburger meat. Nope. Instead, I would put my hand on her shoulder and smile. Then I would suggest she, in turn, put her hand on a stranger’s shoulder and smile. It won’t just make her feel better about herself, it will be her salvation. In Real America, we’re not afraid of strangers, we crave to know them.
Whatever storm you are weathering, I wish you safe harbor…