You will have heard already about Hurricane Irene because, after sending their expensive anchors to evacuation areas to expensively report from them, the networks absolutely wouldn’t stop talking about it under any circumstances whatsoever (like, for example, it really not being all that bad). And you’ll have read about New York’s recent earthquake too, because nothing ever happens in New York without New Yorkers’ boasting about it afterwards (and kudos to those of you who might just recall me doing exactly that myself).
But there’s some kind of chance that you won’t yet have gotten the lowdown on last weekend’s freak October snow-storm. Even though – from the vantage point of this still chilly writer – it was far bloody worse.
Long story short (don’t worry, the long story’s coming right up!), it snowed a lot in the north-east last Saturday, and then my little home was without power for three days, and without heat and hot water for four. And tomorrow, believe it or not, my wife Jackie will be easing herself into a fourth-straight day off from work – on account of it being otherwise “unsafe,” and, presumably, still too snowy.
Some people (collectively known as New Jersey Central Power & Light) have been blaming the whole thing on leaves. Too many of which, apparently, are still on too many trees, thus collecting too heavy a load of snow and then falling to earth not the old regular way but, you know, still attached.
Looking out the window of any New Jersey train, however, is quite enough to know better. Falling trees and such might not have helped, but from where I’m sitting so many power lines collapsed for the more simple reason that they were only ever about 1/4 standing. No, in a country that’s demonstrably too chubby for its own good, little things like power lines always show the strain. In seven years now, I’ve never seen a single one that didn’t look a stiff breeze or the leaning of a fat child away from ruin. And for mile after mile outside of New York, most pre-empt winter’s fouler weather by assuming the horizontal a lazy, ‘who-gives-a-damn,’ first – through swamp lands both actual and inhabited.
But enough about the ‘why.’ Let’s hurry back to how it made me suffer.
The power went out for good about 6.30 p.m. on Saturday – and bravely me and Jackie faced an evening together without television. Even worse was to follow, however, when we woke up on Sunday to find our place still likewise deprived. And bewitching cold. (Or so, at least, it seemed; when checking on the wellbeing of our elderly neighbors downstairs, we were greeted by an 80-something man wearing a short-sleeve shirt and the kind of smile that surely said, ‘I fought in the war and, please, this is nothing, you whippersnapper weakling, you.’)
Sans further fuss, we hurried off to warmer climes down south (the in-laws near Princeton). Only – the first of my mistakes – I didn’t go prepared. We ended up staying the night and I had to do without the essential apparatus of my fussy – some might say effete – sleeping ritual: Tempur-Pedic pillow, soft-cotton eye mask, ear piece for the listening to of podcasts, and a second, cylindrical pillow for the purposes of snuggling. I didn’t sleep a wink, but at least I was warm.
Then came my rearranged Monday morning commute. From a manic Princeton Junction platform that clearly had many more people on it than there would be available seats, momentarily, on the slowly approaching train. As an hour of standing loomed, I jostled for position, nudging out of the way the vulnerable, women, and the elderly. What can I say? Mine was one weary bottom, and well did it rest.
Not that I ended up getting much work done, mind you – in between reports from Jackie that, yes, she was still luxuriating at the start of her unexpected holiday, and, no, according to her inquires, our building still didn’t get its power back.
I left early, still wearing yesterday’s shirt and bummed that the usual lot of miles west had only to be added to by a whole bunch more south (my regular train line, indeed, still naughtily “suspended.”) One Thai green curry later and, at last, the wheels of our Honda Civic journeyed homeward bound. Through frigid country lanes, detours, and the ever-present threat of too curious a deer – me with the high-beams on, loving it, and channeling the ghost of Aryton Senna, and Jackie wondering aloud if I’m not, possibly, perhaps, thrashing about a little too brazenly on the rapid side of swift. And also pointing out along the way, with insistent frequency enough for it to be no longer illuminating, ‘they’ve got their lights on… they’ve got their lights on… they’ve got their lights on…’
You’re ahead of me, I’m sure. Our lights were still off and, if anything, the whole place was even colder than we left it. And presently we discovered what defrosted beef stock and fish stock and chicken stock smells like, when intermingling and dripping into a shallow pool on the kitchen floor. It all seemed pretty grim alright, and no amount of one-dollar cinnamon candles were about to fool us otherwise.
Until – no more than five minutes after our return – the quick, whirring sound of power coming back. And Top Gear playing in the background…
(Turns out we never turned the telly off.)