Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Candles on the mantle shed some light in the dark.
We were sitting in front of the tv eating pasta and watching Fashion Police on the dvr (guilty pleasure that makes us laugh) and the lights started to seriously flicker. Superstorm Sandy was roaring into town. "Please don't go out, lights!" we said, and boom. Total darkness and quiet. Blackout in NYC.

In all my years in New York, I have lived through only one other blackout which was in 2003, I think, in the summertime. At first everyone thought it was another terrorist attack, but the electric grid had gone down on the east coast due to the heat and high electric usage. My brother Thom was in town then, and my mother was in New York that day at a museum, and we all converged safely on Jane Street where TD and I were living. It was a warm and summery night, and we hung out on the stoops with our neighbors, and then crowds of people walked over to the Hudson River Park and sat on the green grass lawn and laughed because we could see the lights on across the river in New Jersey. The power went on the next day.

This time, we were not so lucky. At first, we hoped that Con Edison had turned off the power preemptively, and that they would be able to turn it back on. But we learned that a big explosion at a Con Ed station on 14th Street had taken out the power on lower Manhattan, and that it would take three of four days to restore. Besides power, we had no heat, but we were lucky because we had water, and the hot water worked.

Below 25th Street, everything was dark and cold. Above 25th Street, life went on as normal. It did remind me of 9/11 when downtown was completely locked down but midtown bustled as usual. Fortunately, my office on 36th Street was open so I could go to work, but TD's graphic design studio on 14th Street was out of commission. Every day, he walked up to my office to plug in his phone.

At nights, we would leave the apartment for a walk, because, honestly, there is nothing to do in a dark and cold apartment. The streets were pitch black dark. People carried flash lights. I did feel unsafe on the dark side streets, so we stuck to the wide avenues which headed north. As we walked uptown, we could see the red traffic lights and Times Square lights blazing brightly ahead. It was like walking toward Emerald City. Heading back home, we entered the complete black darkness again. It was the strangest experience.

At home after dinner we would sit in bed with the cats and read, holding flashlights aloft. I had the good fortune to have at hand Patti Smith's book Just Kids, about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Patti Smith is a wonderful writer, a poet. Her story is really about two young artists, she and Mapplethorpe, and how they worked and struggled and tried all the angles before they became successful and fufilled. And it really makes the reader nostalgic for the New York City of their era, which is long gone. I haven't finished it yet, and gotten to the end when Mapplethorpe dies... But I highly recommend the book.

After four nights, going on five, the power came back on Friday night. Glad tidings! And we were lucky because so many people suffered so much loss from the storm. It made me grateful though, most chiefly for TD, who is a joy and great jolly company through all of life's adventures no matter what comes. And it made me grateful to walk into the bathroom and turn on a light.


ArchitectDesign™ said...

Lemons from lemonade! Did you find your neighborhood a ghost town with people camping out uptown with friends/hotels or leaving the city?

Bart Boehlert said...

I think people were clearing out, but also a lot of people were still around. By Friday night we were looking for a place to decamp to but luckily the power did come on.

Divine Theatre said...

It actually sounds romantic! No obligations brought on by that interloper, electricity!
It is, of course, easy for me to say from this side of a warm, glowing computer screen!
The electricity went out about 7 years ago on a cold night in January. We lit all the candles on my collection of 50 or so altar candlesticks and read "Back Country Poems" aloud. I will remember that beautiful night for the rest of my years! Magical!