It has been hard to bear the run-up to Hurricane Irene. Full-on Irene, Irene, Irene. Yes, Irene, all week we’ve been entirely monogamous with you. Joblessness, Libya and Palestine have been wiped off the screen. We hardly had to listen to those Repuglicans all week, except for the ones who insisted that there shouldn’t be any federal help during natural disasters.
The region’s retail outlets have been stripped of flashlights, candles, and food that can be consumed without cooking. Our bathtubs are now filled with cold stale water to use to flush our toilets, just in case, as per directions from TV and government experts. We have looked in on our vulnerable neighbors and we have dragged every last piece of crap off the balcony and into the crowded living room so no items will be flung too far or wide by this hurricane – which all the meteorologists promise will be a “monster.”
Why has this particular weather occurrence so warranted the somber attentions of the country’s officials, including the President? It certainly looks good on one’s resume not to have screwed up a disaster. Let’s not forget that a lot of politicians (but not enough) and other officials lost their jobs after the catastrophe called Katrina. So this wave of politicians has been busy out-doing each other in evacuations and preparations and exhortations. What a cascade of press conferences they’ve staged with mayors and governors in the middle surrounded by a gaggle of pale males – Coast Guard officers, generals in the National Guard, meteorologists, traffic officials and such.
My copious lawn furniture and usual apartment furniture are joined by we three humans - my California visitor Sandy Oppenheimer, the brilliant collage portrait painter who did the cover of my Sarah Palin book; Barry Hock, communications maven, editor of my Palin book and photographer; and me. Our biggest asset is my incomparable 7th floor balcony, now nude and very wet, overlooking a wide swath of trees. The tops of trees from up here are so much stormier and spectacular than they appear on the ground in windy situations. They make a noise of intense rustling that compliments that whistle of the wind. The tops of the trees sway and bend and carry on like a speed-freak diva with a hand fan on a scorching day.
It is from the balcony that I spy the tree sprawled across the road to the pond in the town where I moved a couple of years ago – the first middle-class setting I’ve ever rented in. The town had earlier sent an email with every conceivable emergency resource, including a number to report fallen trees. A guy answers right away, takes the details, and within a half hour three large vehicles are hoisting the tree trunk up into a big truck for removal. I try to imagine when it would’ve been taken care of in most other neighborhoods I’ve lived in.
Although we spend a good deal of time slipping out to the balcony to watch the torrential vertical rainfalls or the horizontal bursts of squall, but mostly to watch the trees dance and twist, we still get a bit of cabin fever by the afternoon and decide to brave the local bike path. We bundle up in crazy combinations – not really wanting to get dressed after so much lounging but not wanting to be exposed. So no bras, but Sandy insists on large scarves to wind around necks and ears. The three of us set out.
Down on ground level, it is warm, and there is barely any wind, compared to the 7th floor, and no rain. We are over-layered and giddy, all at once. It is a photo op and we make fools of ourselves pretending to hang onto trees and posts as the mild breeze blows us horizontal near the pond. We pose on the bike path with a few fallen branches and leaves as if it were the ruins of an empire (below).
My local area has suffered only mild damage and discomfort. By the next day we will realize, mainly via YouTube, how much horrifying flooding there was in NJ and Vermont, including Brattleboro where I’ve visited often since 1968. And then there are the millions of people without electricity – not a small matter. We now know dozens have died and many more have lost their homes and businesses. It’s a matter of location, location, location. We escaped.
A friend from London calls to find out if, as it seems from Europe, there has been more hype than hurricane. We talk about the lack of infrastructure commitment in this country, the vulnerable electrical system that is so easily and frequently disrupted. We mourn the millions of unemployed people who, with a governmental jobs program, might be doing something about the poor flood controls, the weak bridges and the wonky electrical wires.
For me it has been a week of triple disasters. First there was the earthquake on the East Coast that I felt quite intensely. In fact, I was sitting at my desk writing when suddenly my desk chair shot backwards away from the keyboard. I was stunned. I pulled myself back up to the desk, but the floor was undulating. I thought I was having a dizzy spell, the vapors. When the scarves I keep hung on the back of the closet door started flying every which way, I realized that it was an earthquake. I tried to stand up but the building was swaying from one side to the other. I mean seriously swaying. I thought the top floors would crack off. I left the flat to run down the backstairs, but quickly returned for my cell phone. I left again but came back up for my bag with all my ID. By the time I went one story down, my neighbor underneath was out in the hall and the swaying and waving had stopped. The 15-second earthquake was done. I called the office on the ground floor of the building. They had felt nothing.
A couple of days later the office called me. They asked me if I would remain in my apartment for a little while. I finally peeled it out of them that the guy across the hall – a vulnerable guy in his 50s who was always desperate to chatter – he was dead. Found after a couple of days face-down in his bedroom, probably as the result of a heart-attack.
So if you take the neighbor, the earthquake and the hurricane, that gives me three experiences that were more intense because of my living where I am living – up high. Good thing I love “intense.”
Thanks to Barry Hock for the hurricane photos.