Reality, Surreality, and Survivalistic Humor in the wake of Sandy

It’s a little surreal to get on Google Reader in the morning and see fashion blogs with fall trends and food blogs with fresh recipes and humor columns with new cartoons. It’s strange to get on Facebook and see election news and engagement announcements and witty remarks and snide putdowns. It’s bizarre to turn to CNN where the international version’s headline is “Mitt Romney’s Vision for America” and the US version’s headline is “US hiring increases.” The first page that pops up on Slate is “Should Your Digital Calendar Look Like a Real One?”

And this is what is happening here:

One block off the water in South Street Seaport 12 hours after the storm

From HKWF Photostream

Here, in New York, the reason I’m tired is because I spent most of one night transporting evacuated patients around in our eerily crowded hospital, and my roommate spent two over-nights volunteering at our local evacuation shelter.  The reason I’m behind in my studying is that we’ve had a rotating door of evacuees and friends and people in need of a meal, and it hasn’t stopped. More are coming in tonight. The reason my bathroom isn’t clean is because I’ve been running errands, driving into the disaster zone that is downtown Manhattan, making calls, coordinating new living arrangements,  checking on hospitalized friends, having long conversations with someone who just needed to talk, sending dozens of text messages, trying to turn the food I’ve randomly stock piled in my cabinet for the last three years into creative meals and wondering how to get the laundry done so that when a new person comes in through the door, they’ll have clean sheets and fresh towels. For once, it’s not because I’m procrastinating.

You know what else is weird? That I’m sitting in my apartment in Manhattan, typing this. We never lost power or electricity or even had water leakage through our roof that always leaks or around the windows that don’t quite shut. What they’re calling The Dark Zone is a 20 minute walk south, and that’s just an area without power. The Financial District, Chinatown, Staten Island, Redhook, Far Rockaways and hundreds of other places throughout the tri-state area are bona-fide calamities. People talk about ‘getting the power back on’ and ‘pumping out the water’ but I’m not sure most New Yorkers realize that the answer to our problems isn’t more power and less water. Flooding damages things. It destroys electrical connections and corrodes plumbing, eats into drywall and rots lumber used in framing. It shifts the ground underneath buildings, strains foundations, and weakens roads and sidewalks. It leaves behind debris and dangerous chemicals and strange bacteria. ‘Water out’ is the first step, but that’s a long way from being finished. I asked a friend yesterday if people in this area were used to flooding or knew about the ramifications. His answer “No. No one has any idea.”  Rebuilding isn’t a matter of the power on by Saturday (although that would be awesome, ConEd!) or the subways pumped out by next week. It’s a slow and painful process of going over everything the water touched, ripping out what’s not good and replacing the damage. It’s a psychological nightmare for the people who are used to well furnished apartments or running a small bodega or even being able to walk through a neighborhood park.

Flood chaos in lower Manhattan 12 hours after the storm

From HKWF Photostream

I know that disasters happen all over the world, and news media continues to cover them, but people move on to the next story and the latest headline. I do it myself. After an earthquake in China, I follow the news for 5 days or a week, but then it’s on to the next ‘important’ thing.

Living here doesn’t let me do that. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make dinner today because I might get called in to volunteer for a 12 hour shift at the hospital. I drove through the muck and horror of the Financial district less than 12 hours after the storm hit and walked into a building where the flood line reached the second story, creepily unlit stairwell. Lucky for me, I was the one doing the rescuing, not being rescued. Even in two or three weeks or months, or maybe even years, this city is still going to be mourning losses and scraping itself back together and trying to figure out what to do next time. I know that everyone in New York has a story right now – about watching the water rise and praying it won’t reach their apartment or losing their home to a fire or their children to a flash flood or working for five days straight in a shelter or handing out rations and water in Alphabet city or standing in a drug store, waiting for a chance at an outlet so that they can charge their phone. Their stories are on their own blogs, in local papers, on the news, quickly updated onto Facebook or sent through text messages and they’re all worth hearing. They remind me over and again – I am blessed.

All the same, there are some moments of brevity, like when I yell from the bedroom to the living room, “Hey guys, it might be standing room only in here!” There are already five of us in our 500 sq foot apartment with one usable bedroom and in the space of ten minutes, I got texts asking if two more people + a dog and two cats, one more person, three more people + 5 who just want showers – could they come join us? And I said of course I said yes, and then most of them very wisely found slightly less crowded accommodations.

These conversations:

Prior to the hurricane:

Cashier at grocery store: You know that most people are buying water and canned food, right? Honey, why are you buying molasses, nutmeg, and two pounds of butter?
Me: Because I’m out.

Roommate: We’re going to the store to get smores supplies!
Me: We’re the only ones out here in flip flops.
Roommate: Woah. Look at all the rainboots and massive coats and inside out umbrellas.

Friend: You didn’t buy bread?
Me: Why would I? I just put two loaves in the oven. Plus, the store was out because everyone else is planning to survive on PB&J.

Roommate: I feel like we’re prepping for the superbowl instead of a hurricane.

Me: The metro is shutdown, the schools have closed, the hospital is running on essential services only, but Amazon is still delivering packages.
Roommate: We should do the world a favor and let them know how awesome Amazon is.

Me: Is it windy outside?
Roommate: There’s a pigeon sitting on our windowsill, so I doubt it.
Me: Poor birdies. Do you want to come inside?
Roommate: They’re pigeons, Taryn. They’re evil, and yucky, and like the rats of the sky.

Me: I love how everything is shutting down today with comments that “we’ll be back up and running on Tuesday” and I’m like, “Hello. That’s when the storm is actually supposed to hit.”

Friend stranded in Queens: So btw… I dont think I’ll make it to your place to study today.
Me: Coward.
Friend stranded in Queens: Dude, the MTA is not running…

Cat meme: There’s a hurricane outside? And we’re out of tuna?
Friend: Priorities! Tell kitty it’s ok, Amazon will deliver some!
Me: It’s okay! I have wahoo!

Me: As Sandy has yet to hit, if you can make it to our apartment, you are cordially invited to a Hurricane Party which includes 40 Clove Garlic Chicken, Parmesan Roasted Baby Potatoes, White Cake with Chocolate Ganache, Bellinis, Molasses Nutmeg Gingerbread, Caramelized French Toast, and whatever else strikes our fancy as we get bored and cooking throughout the day.
Unwise friend #1: I almost want it to storm all over here so I can be as awesome as you guys.
Stranded second roommate: Sounds wonderful…wish I was there to partake in the festivities!
Friend: Dang girl….
Unwise friend #2:  Had I known about this, I wouldn’t have left!
Unwise friend #3: Would love to come! No flights available. Have a glorious time!
Unwise friend #4: Maybe I’ll grab a sail and jump up into the air and fly on over there to join you. This sounds pretty awesome I must say. You guys rock.

Me: Party at our apartment! Due to my irrational habit of stockpiling food, we are always storm prepped. We also have a bizarre number of blankets and pillows. And we have scrabble. So if you need to evac, you’re welcome to come. Or if you don’t need to evac, but you’re going to starve without bodegas and delivery. Or if you just wanna.
Roommate: We also have sugar. And ramen. And tootsie rolls, but don’t tell I told you.
Me: It’s fine if you know we have tootsie rolls as long as you know that the majority of them are mine. I will share a few.
Me: This apartment is now designated hurricane evacuation central for all people without homes, food, blankets, or candy.
Unwise friend #5: I wish I was there!
Unwise friend #6: You had me at “Scrabble”…nevermind that that was the last word in the status, it just means I knew I would be convinced eventually, so I just read the whole thing.
Uncle: But do you have Mango pops?
Unwise friend #7, but also stranded in Queens: I’ll just swim across the east river. I would do that for scrabble.
Roommate: If you did that, I would BUY you a scrabble board made of gold. Because you would be that amazing (granted, I already think you are that amazing, but I can’t afford the solid gold scrabble pieces to prove it at the moment, so I will have to think of another way…)

Me: Remind me never to do my weekly grocery shopping the day before a storm is supposed to hit again.
Wise friend #1: Stay safe!
Me: Don’t worry. I got everything on my normal grocery list except cream (forgot it) and in addition, I got tootsie rolls and cream soda, so we’re all good.
Me: But I also forgot popsicles.
Wise friend #2: You will be glad you didn’t get popsicles if the power goes out!! Praying for you. Be safe.
Me: If the power goes out, it would have been popsicle-eating-party!
Snarky friend #1: Do you want me to remind you now or later about the grocery shopping?
Me: Remind me next time the media decides to call something a “Frankenstorm” three days before Halloween.
Uncle: Dreyer’s Fruit Mango Pops. Just sayin’.

Me: We’re gonna be out of tootsie rolls by the time Sandy gets here.

During the hurricane:

Me: And…we’re out of tootsie rolls.

Me: I smell like garlic from making dinner.
Roommate: You smell amazing.
Me: I smell like garlic.
Roommate: Garlic is amazing, so you smell amazing.
Me: I smell like I could keep vampires away.

Roommate’s Fiancé: We should go boating!
Me: We could borrow the kayaks from Hudson River Park.
Roommate’s Fiancé: AND KAYAK DOWN BROADWAY BECAUSE I BET NO ONE HAS EVER DONE THAT BEFORE.

Roommate’s Fiancé: Fine. I won’t walk down to Battery Park to see what’s happening. You win.
Roommate: Glad to know I’m the ball and chain that will keep you from potentially dying.
Fiancé: Phooey. That argument is gone. Now all that’s left to do is drink and carouse.

Roommate: Nothing like a hurricane to bring on a little Seattleite reunion.

Evacuee: Are you really wearing flip-flops and legwarmers to walk down to the end of the block and see the flooding?
Me: Yes, I am. And I’m going to stand in the surge water.
Roommate: THERE IS AIDS IN THAT WATER.
Unwise Friend: Best puddle jumping EVER.Wise Friend: Go insiiiiideeeee!!!!! Roommate, fiancé, and you! I just met you. Please don’t die yet.

From HKWF Photostream

Mom: Parts of Connecticut are already flooding and thousands are without power. Keep us posted as you can.

Brother: There is no storm. I’m sitting on a roof holding a long metal pole. And tied to a giant kite.

Morning after the hurricane:

Dad: Brother, how’d the kite work out?

Roommate’s Fiancé: I wish we had taken a picture of something crazy happening!
Me: You mean like water flooding over the FDR and up the block?
Fiancé: *silence*

Roommate: Good to know there are not more windows now than when we went to bed last night. (In reference to this.)
Me: Or less.
Friend: Always clean your room before a hurricane.
Roommate: *Now* let’s go in and look for survivors because it’s much easier to see them from the outside.

Roommate’s Fiancé: Good morning, sunshine!
Me: It is not sunny out.
Fiancé to roommate: YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE!
*Roommate covers fiancé’s mouth with her hand*

Days following the hurricane:

Me: Someone stole my coke from my volunteer area. Hurricane looting!

Roommate: Some of these homeless guys at the shelter know *everything* and then they start talking…

Me: Still available for showers, power, homecooked food, phone recharging or sleeping space for those without.
Evacuee’s mom: Thank you millions! For providing shelter for my son. You’re the best! I was so happy today I had to dance in class.
Me: Anything to get someone to dance!

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