(a very biased view from a neighborhood on a hill)
It began, for me, with a worried phone call from Lisa late Saturday afternoon. I was working all day at the library and she, our Sunday supervisor, had just read that the city was leaning towards calling for a transit shutdown starting early the following evening. We started making staffing contingency plans: what to do if the library closed, what to do if the University demanded we stay open.
That night was my Nick's bachelor party, and quite the party it was. Intimately small and filled with such warmth and affection, but involving copious amounts of alcohol and karaoke caterwauling until 3am and dragging ourselves to bed a mere hour before dawn Sunday morning.
Sunday morning, it was gray and damp but not yet raining, and we had guests coming over for brunch. After our ridiculously late night we were both feeling a little worse for wear and it wasn't until nearly noon that I started putting together our brunch and Evan ventured out to the store for a pack of veggie sausages.
(Apple German Pancake: slice and saute a couple apples in a little butter, with a bit of cinnamon, chopped candied ginger and brown sugar; mix 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 6 eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; spread apples into a greased 9x13 pan, then pour batter over the apples and bake at 450 for 20 minutes. Serve with maple syrup.)
Evan texted me saying the stores were out of bread and the lines wrapped around the aisles. All that afternoon we chuckled (scoffed, really, it must be confessed) at all these people hauling around cases of bottled water and armfuls of hummus and baked goods. Oh these hysterical urbanites, we thought, and patted ourselves on the back.
The University finally announced that all classes and events for Monday had been canceled. Moments later the call came through that the libraries would be closed too. (I don't know that my staff have ever been so happy to get a call from me before as they were this week.)
We ventured back to the store early that evening, pleased with our purchases of half a pound of whitefish salad and a couple pumpernickel bagels for breakfast the next morning. We cooked up some black beans and rice for dinner, with enough leftovers for lunch the next afternoon. Lisa stopped by with a pomegranate.
And then there was this peculiar moment Monday morning, as the clouds thickened and the air started to feel oppressive, when we looked at each other and said, almost simultaneously and with a certain embarrassed anxiety, "What if all those people know something we don't know?"
I pulled out our largest stockpot and filled it to the brim with tap water, set it aside just in case the water went out. We started going through our refrigerator and cupboards, pulling out bags of greens, a couple squashes, a bag of beans that my brother had given us for Christmas last year and that had been lurking in the back of the cupboard ever since. We decided we better cook up whatever we had.
(Back-of-the-Cupboard Bean Soup: In a 5-quart pot, rinse the beans, cover with water and bring to a boil for a couple minutes. Turn off the heat and let soak for an hour. Dump out the soaking water, rinse, cover again with fresh water, bring to a simmer. Peel and smash a head's worth of garlic cloves, toss in the soup pot. Also toss in a handful of sun-dried tomatoes, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a couple bay leaves, a dash of cayenne pepper. Let simmer for a couple hours, stirring occasionally, adding water or broth as needed to keep the beans covered. We added a couple of Evan's vegetable stock ice cubes (you can use any broth you want or just water) and some juice from a can of tomatoes. Add salt and black pepper to taste, serve over rice. This made enough soup for days and days.)
We munched on pumpernickel bagel and Franks Market whitefish salad while Evan cooked up all the bunches of greens and I set the soup to simmering. Early in the afternoon we went for a walk up to Fort Tryon park and back. It was just beginning to rain and the wind was picking up. The bridge, my beloved bridge, looked gorgeous and haunted in the diminishing noonday light.
Later that afternoon we stocked up on a couple bottles of wine and a bag of popping corn, and Evan dashed down the hill to Buddha Beer Bar for a growler of PumKing. (Clearly we had our priorities straight.) Early Monday evening we cooked up some white rice and Evan's pumpkin stir fry. I spent most of the evening watching old Law & Order on Netflix, knitting, drinking wine, and eating the pomegranate Lisa had brought over the night before.
(Pumpkin Stir-Fry: peel and cube pumpkin and steam till tender; while pumpkin steams, lightly beat a couple eggs; fry pumpkin cubes in oil over high heat, adding a dash of soy sauce, a little fish sauce, and a handful of coarsely chopped scallions. Serve over rice.)We waited and waited, perched up on top of this hill not far from the northernmost tip of the isle of Manhattan and one block away from the highest geographical point in the borough, for things to get bad. And strangely, eerily, they never really did.
The rain picked up a bit but then tapered off. The wind rattled the windows for a few minutes and then tapered off. The cat freaked out, of course, and kept nosing into the vents in the air conditioner in the bedroom as if she could sense something strange, something malevolent, seeping in.
We waited and waited, chatted with our west coast relatives, reassured them all was well. The news started to darken though, both literally and figuratively. Friends on Facebook started posting about losing electricity everywhere: downtown, Brooklyn, Queens, Westchester, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts. Eventually, getting on towards midnight, our lights began to flicker occasionally. I decided it was time to go to bed.
I kept jerking awake that night, sitting up in bed and straining to hear anything at all -- pounding rain, gusting winds, sirens wailing in the dark -- but mostly there was just silence. The university had decided to batten down the hatches one more day but I woke up pretty early Tuesday morning anyway. The eerie quiet continued, exacerbated by the profound silence of a city without traffic. No garbage trucks, no shrieking kids, barking dogs, blaring car horns. I crawled out of bed, walked out to the kitchen, listened to the humming of the refrigerator with an uncomfortable mixture of gratitude and guilt.
We had a quiet stay-at-home morning. Cups of tea and hours of the guilty pleasures that are Nashville and the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. Beans over rice for lunch (oh the ridiculous amounts of beans and rice we had!). Eventually we decided to venture out for a walk down towards the river. It was misting out, and the air felt heavy and damp and clean.
Water dripped from everything and we sloshed our way through downed leaves and branches and puddles of mud. Perched by the river, the little red lighthouse seemed to glow in the surrounding gloom. And the river itself, well, it had retreated mostly back to its rightful path but was broiling and muddy and inconsolable.
We wandered down by Columbia-Presbyterian and looped around and headed north. Eventually, 5pm, we met up with a couple neighborhood friends for happy hour drinks and shared horror and dismay at the pictures coming out of neighborhoods to the south. Friend Zak, fearing the morning commute sans reliable public transportation from his neighborhood, made his way up to join us at the bar, and then came home for dinner and a night's sleep on our couch.
The next morning, Wednesday, the M4 was running, if packed to the gills, and it took no longer than usual to get to the library. What seems shocking, frightening, to me is how normal things were, and have continued to be, in the face of so much devastation mere miles away.
To get a sense of it abstractly, one need only take a look at this map from the MTA, wiping out access to huge swaths of New York City. But even this doesn't describe the feeling of otherworldliness as we stand on subway platforms listening to announcements that there are no trains south of 34th Street, as bus operators announce that all transit fares are being waived, as stories come out that gas is running low throughout the tri-state area. (Yesterday, as I passed a gas station on my walk to the train after work, there were cars lined up around the block and police vans closing in with megaphones blaring instructions to disperse, the gas had run out.)
This Sunday Nick is getting married in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It sounds like quite a few of their guests will not be able to make it after all this craziness, and I can only imagine how heartbroken he and his Sarah must secretly feel about this. But I asked him today how he was doing and he, in his ever succinct way, said there's a certain romance in getting married in the wake of disaster, of "love among the ruins and all that."
I have been stressing out all week about getting to the garden from way up in Washington Heights, enduring the lines for shuttle buses and stumbling along Atlantic Avenue in my fancy strappy shoes. But if Nick can be so pragmatic about carrying on, (and yes, if thousands of patient New Yorkers can so calmly carry on), the least I can do is get myself to my best friend's wedding on time.