Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The New York Cherney Journey: Good Night, Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene took me completely by surprise.

Before you say to yourself or anyone within earshot, “What a maroon”, don’t waste your breath. I already beat you to it.

On the Saturday night of the Main Event, I stood gazing out the kitchen window of Lindsay and Chris’ Park Slope apartment as said Stormus Maximus was about to make her grand entrance and introduce us all to what Lindsay sardonically, though rather guardedly, referred to as the End of Days. What appeared to be just a heavy rainstorm, not unlike the same as when we arrived, had the potential to be even more devastating, the very least of which causing major flooding, not to mention what wreckage the winds might incur. Yeah, an honest to goodness extreme weather event and I had a front row seat. Lucky me. And I hardly saw it coming.

Cue Bugs Bunny: "What a maroon! What a gull-i-bull!"

Was I totally oblivious to what was happening in the world at this time and place? Well, yeah. I was on vacation. I made pretty much of a big deal out of the fact that I was going to be “off the grid” for the two weeks we were going to be away…just like anyone on holiday really should. All that really meant was staying the hell off the Internet and all of its ramifications. As it turned out, this also included no TV as well, an unexpected provision of our living accommodations. There were a few passing glances at the days’ events, such as the East Coast Earthquake (much ado about nada), but other than that, ignorance was bliss in NYC. I glanced at some headlines announcing the Big Storm, but I dismissed them as so much tabloid hysterical hyperbole courtesy of the New York Daily News and New York Post. They also carried front page stories on the Kardashian wedding, so why should I have taken them as creditable sources? Besides, once I looked into it a bit, Miss Irene wasn’t scheduled to arrive until the week following our departure. As the time grew neared, so did the storm system and the hype. It even had a name: Irene and she was not only moving faster, but had also become categorized into a full-blown hurricane, Category 1, maybe even a 2. She might even touch down over the weekend.

So? We were leaving early Saturday afternoon. We’d miss it entirely.Uh-uh. Didn’t work that way. Friday around noontime, all flights out of the East Coast were cancelled. We were officially stuck until who knew when. Could be a few days. Maybe even a week or more. This was a hurricane after all. Does the name Katrina ring a bell?

So began my first experience with disaster preparation beginning with mucho shopping for emergency provisions like food, water, batteries and candles from the local supermarket, corner bodega and 99 cent store. At home, we moved our bed away from the windows, then filled the bathtub with water for cleaning and toilet flushing purposes. We also loaded up about a little over a dozen Mason jars with H2O in case we ran out of the bottled stuff, just in case the water system went totally out. The jars were lined up in the hallway and reminded Laurie of an art installation.

At the same time, the entire region was bracing itself for the worst case scenario. On orders from Mayor Bloomberg, evacuations began in the lower lying regions of Manhattan. The subways would shut down Saturday at noon. The lights of Broadway would be dark at least for the weekend. Even the block party (with pony rides!) on Lindsay and Chris' street had been postponed. Businesses taped their windows, some anal-retentively uniform, other very hap-hazard, probably all in vain should the winds really tear through. The streets began to clear as everyone got down to some serious hunkering down.Our evening ended with what might have been the last Chinese food take-out delivery in Park Slope and very soon after that, bedtime at at 8pm. What? 8pm? On a Saturday night? In New York City? What the hell did people do at night in the old days when they couldn't go out or had to do without TV or radio or (gasp) the Internet? Oh yeah. They would read.

I dove head first back into the book I had saved for this trip: Michael Chabon's THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY. I could not made a better selection. Set in New York City of all places, Chabon's American epic of the early days of comic books turned out to be the perfect travel companion. Performing double duty, the story held me in its grasp from page one while providing a running commentary of almost everything I experienced the time we spent in NYC. These tales of a bygone era enriched my day-by-day New York experience even more than it had been already, but eventually I realized that even without this trip, KAVALIER & CLAY stands alone as my favorite novel of the past decade.

After a couple hundred pages, I put my book away since my mind began to wander a little too much to what was happening in the outside world. You'd be a little distracted yourself by the possibility of a tree branch sailing through the nearest window at any moment. That didn't keep me from looking outside. (Shut your piehole, Bugs!) The trees were a'swayin' in those high winds and the rain just kept on keepin' on. (Why do I keep hearing Lena Horne?) Still, it didn't seem to have the intensity that had been promised. It could have been too early to tell, but I began to lower my expectations...and paranoia. There seemed to be a good chance we wouldn't all have to sequester ourselves in the bathroom should the world suddenly come to an end-and that meant all of us: me, Laurie, Lindsay, Chris, sweet baby Aefa and lil' ol' neurotic puppy Millie. We may not have to evacuate to the emergency center set up at a local high school a few blocks over. Frankly, the Storm of the Century wasn't enough to keep me awake much longer. So I too crawled into bed, realizing that things could still get worse at any moment but not at that moment.

By morning, the worst wasn't so bad after all, at least in our neck of the woods. Irene lost much of her oomph by the time she blew into town, downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm. It was almost as if this Grand Poobah Bitch-Diva was about to kick open the doors with all her fury when a mighty voice, one all too familiar to me from 36 years hence, suddenly boomed throughout the city:

"DON'T YOU FUCK WITH NEW YORK!"

With that, it was apparent that Irene was full of hot air. tiptoed through town, peeing her pants here and there, then skipped out the back to take her nasty-ass aggressions out on Vermont like the cowardly bully she truly was.

Chris had gotten up a few times during the night to video Irene for posterity, but even had been resigned to the fact that all his efforts were for naught. The end result was HURRICANNA-the world's worst disaster movie.The rain had ceased and the sultry summer weather returned, so I decided to survey whatever damage there might be in the neighborhood. I first came across a sandwich board sign outside of a local tavern that read: I SURVIVED THE DRIZZLE OF 2011. A few branches fell hither and tither, but nothing major seemed to have occurred and a sigh of relief was heard throughout Park Slope and surrounding areas. At least it shut the cicadas the hell up. Ultimately, we all dodged a bullet from Miss Irene's gun, a mere water pistol by the time she reached us. We should just consider ourselves lucky.

But then again, we were pretty blessed the entire trip. We had some setbacks for sure like a medical emergency that turned out like the hurricane: A whole lotta nothin'. This was one incredible Cherney Journey. I am fortunate to have seen the New York City of my dreams and brothers and sisters, does it ever live up to its reputation. I basked in the magnificence of the iconic landmarks I had feasted my eyes upon in the last two weeks: All the major buildings like Empire State, Flatiron and my all time fave, the Chrysler, Grand freaking Central Station, Madison Avenue, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, even the Statue of Liberty on the horizon. It went on and on and, like a weathered hand in Palmolive Dishwashing Liquid, I was soaking in it. We were in culinary heaven experiencing, Ma Peche, Mario Batali's foodie playground Eataly, paella in Port Jefferson on Long Island, pork buns in Chinatown, superb smoked fish from Russ and Daughters, delicious cheeses from Stinky, I finally got my slice AND my Nathan's hot dog. And of course, my first Broadway show, THE BOOK OF MORMON. So much more to see, but just like the old show biz adage states, "Keep the audience wanting more."

But naturally, the best parts remained the real reason Laurie and I came to New York in the first place:
the times spent with Lindsay and Chris and of course to introduce to the new love of our lives: My Angel Baby Aefa. This magical symbol of the future combined with all the history and nostalgia I had been surrounded by made for a glorious present.

Just like South Africa had done nine years ago, this place entered my bloodstream. I can still Ol' Blue Eyes belting out:
"I wanna be a part of it...
New York, New York!"

I was a part of it and it became a part of me.

In retrospect, maybe I'm not such a maroon after all.
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