On Halloween night, my Keith Haring pumpkin (Keith-o’-lantern…carved Haringkin?) cast the only light in my blacked-out Lower East Side apartment. Hurricane Sandy was, and continues to be, terrible for so many people but my live-in man-friend and I were, thankfully, not among them. When we lost power on the evening of October 29, the first thing we noticed was the sudden absence of the city’s perpetual buzz, that near-imperceptible sound of urban life support in the form of countless whirring appliances.
In our neighborhood, people begrudgingly paid Hurricane-prices ($5 for $1.50 gallons of water, $10 for $3 pocket flashlights) at bodegas lit by tall votive candles plastered with neon renderings of saints. Un-showered hordes weaved through the streets with their cellphones raised to the sky, like inept treasure hunters, looking for signal “hotspots.” Meanwhile, the unaffected parts of the New York world turned. One day, after I’d gotten into a scream-fight with a querulous old lady who accused me of “using too much power” at a public uptown Wi-Fi station I had trekked to so I could email my panicked family in Sri Lanka, who were convinced my bloated body was floating down the East River, I found the first message in my inbox was from a friend in Queens asking if I were coming to her party that night…and I thought “No, wench, I am climbing several flights of stairs in the dark, carrying a bucket of hydrant water to flush my toilet.” Those were the bad times–in other words, not so bad.
What I remember better is wandering through the pitch-dark streets of an emptied West Village, clutching our $10 flashlights, and finding ourselves in a nondescript tavern, candles winking brightly from every nook and table. An older gentleman picked out classics on an even older piano. In the corner, a middle-aged woman sang along tunelessly, her Labrador merrily walking across the tables. The grizzled owners behind the counter offered us warm beer and pasta carbonara. They showed us the candle wax drippings they’d collected over the week and we all tried to guess what they looked like–a rabbit riding a horse, Abraham Lincoln. My man-friend began to talk with the only other patron, a rumpled young man who confessed he was ready to head for a powered haven uptown. I began to read A Tale of Two Cities (subtle, I’m not) by the light of an electric blue Virgin Mary candle. The young man took out his phone and began to type. I looked up and eagerly whispered to my man-friend, “Do you think he has service?” And before he could answer, I said, “Ah, fuck it” and turned back to Dickens.