June started out nice enough, with a bunch of Americans being jollied by the gate agents to form disorderly lines, shuffling with two personal items onto overbooked airplanes, occasionally being met by just enough staff to actually fly them, and jetting off to attend the improbable graduation events of their amazing relations capable of finishing degrees during Plague Years. Sure, a bunch of people got Covid, some of them for the second or third time, but by the end of the month no one would be talking about it. Not a word.
Why would anyone talk about an airborne virus we could keep from spreading by wearing the right masks, running a few tests, and taking common-sense precautions to isolate ourselves when we have six berobed demon overlords who have seized control through irreversible lifetime political appointments to the highest court in the land who, in the last couple of weeks, have ghoulishly weighed in on everything from whether women are people (no), whether states like New York should be able to have different laws about guns (no), whether gerrymandering is ok (it is if it oppresses non-white people), whether some bullying loudmouth coach can force his football team to pray to his god (heck yeah), something something Miranda rights (whatever favors the jackbooted totalitarian regime), and strips the Environmental Protection Agency of the ability to protect the motherfucking air (why not).
Did I think, last November, that I was starting this at the beginning, middle, or end of the coronavirus pandemic? Did I imagine the pages would get bigger and bigger? That I would use yard signs and cereal boxes? That there would continue to be inconsistent messages to Americans about wearing masks? That so many people would forgo being vaccinated in favor of just being demonstrably stupid?
Add to this the fact that our least democratically chosen and highest court in the land is now hearing another challenge to Roe v Wade and it looks like the decision will be in favor of the special religious interests and against the poorest women in America, who apparently do not deserve bodily autonomy.
I went to bed angry last night. And I woke up angry.
Don’t you dare tell me to vote. I voted.
An abortion is a medical procedure. A religious fringe group has decided that procedure offends them, and they’ve spent 40 years working to change laws in your state to limit your ability to have that procedure. The Supreme Court has been packed with justices hand-picked to make this decision in favor of the religious fringe, and, if the vast majority of Americans doesn’t like it, well, too fucking bad.
We were taught that ours is a system with checks and balances, and is a democracy, with liberty and justice for all. All.
No matter what I try to think about today, it is drowned out by the screaming fact that American women are not yet considered people. There is no liberty without bodily autonomy.
I will end with the cat. He likes to step on the work.
After Schwartz died, I was sad and furious and confused and within two weeks of his death, I had already asked my pilates instructor where the good cat rescues are around here. Because I am a fuckwit.
I got into an email exchange with one cat rescue operation that had an entire litter of black kitten gremlins with yellow eyes, and had “pre-approved” me to come visit the creature of my choice. I made an appointment, and my son wanted to come along. We were expected to drive to the rescue, and the kitten, named “Yodel,” chosen from the briefest description and smallest profile photo, would be brought to our car where we could meet him. If he met with our approval, we could take him then. The suggested donation was $200, payable via an well-known mobile phone payment app, which was not accessible at the rescue because of poor connectivity issues. No one in this part of Westchester wants the towers that reliable mobile phone coverage require. So we were expected to pay the donation in advance, using the an well-known mobile phone payment app, without having seen the animal. Or decided to definitely do this. I may be a fuckwit, but at least I knew to just take cash.
We arrived. I texted to let them know we’d arrived. We sat in the driveway, in awkward silence, for about 15 minutes. A teenager came out, and asked us which cat we had come to see. I stared into the trees and thought about how I could meet 100 kittens and none of them would be Schwartz. I wanted to leave. It was a terrible idea. Then, they brought out a box with a cat inside, and we were told to roll up the windows of our car, put the box in the car, and open it and hold him.
“Take as long as you want,” they said.
He was not Schwartz. He had a weird, two-tone meow, a long skinny body, and big ears. We took turns holding him. We gave them $200 and headed straight for Petco.
We bought food, and litter, and some small toys and a pink feather wand.
When we got home, the Bacon Provider was on the phone, working, so we took the cat that was not Schwartz to an upstairs bathroom. We set up a litter box, and fed him, and played with him. At dinner I began to wonder how I would tell the Bacon Provider what a fuckwit I was, and that I’d gone and gotten a new cat that was not Schwartz. I slept on it.
When I woke up the next day, I fed the new cat that was not Schwartz and carried him downstairs and woke the Bacon Provider who was still very much asleep. Instead of telling him, I handed him the cat that was not Schwartz.
“When did you get this?” he asked.
There was a bunch of other shit going on that week, so the new cat that wasn’t Schwartz had to stay upstairs and settle in. He liked the pink feather toy a lot, but also chasing balls.
On pilates day, I took the cat that wasn’t Schwartz to the room where I do pilates. He galloped around like a nut until he was tired, and my teacher was delighted.
Time passed. Eggi had her puppy. We let the cat that wasn’t Schwartz out of the bathroom, and he took to sitting at the top of the stairs, watching us.
He began expanding his territory by about 12 feet a day. He broke a lamp. The Bacon Provider grumbled, “I didn’t do it.”
He kind of has a thing for bathrooms and checked out all the fixtures.
The cat that is not Schwartz reaches under the door to the kitchen, and Fellow is obsessed with the idea that every so often there is a cat paw there.
At night he creeps around the house, making mischief, scaring Eggi, and enticing her to bark. Then he comes in our room, jumps up on the bed, and curls up between us. Just as Schwartz did.
He is not Schwartz. He is, nevertheless, fascinated by Dibs.
I was counting on Schwartz to be here this coming weekend, and was sure he’d have made himself annoying or useful. Annoying and useful. Or maybe just annoying.
I still see him in the front hall out of the corner of my eye. I would say that he left this life with unfinished business, but the dogs were my deal, not his, and he couldn’t have given a fart about Eggi having puppies; he never imagined it. He would have liked them, though, I think, in his superior way, and might have made a good tutor, which is what I had in mind.
And anyway, why am I saying “puppies?”
I am getting ahead of myself.
I am using the WhelpWise service, which was recommended by the reproductive vet. They send a uterine monitor and a doppler and you start using them at least 10 days before the whelp date. You upload the data from the uterine monitor and they call back, providing real feedback on contractions. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will be there to tell us if labor is progressing, or if it isn’t, and we can check the puppy’s heart rate as we go.
It took me a few days to be ready to open the box, though. Its presence a box on the doorstep felt like a scold: “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into,” it announced. “No going back now.”
We borrowed a whelping box and let the huge box sit in the garage for a couple days while we summoned the energy to set it up. All the coats and shoes (and shoes and boots and boots) had to go somewhere else. And the box needed cleaning. And we had to think about exactly where we wanted to put it. Fellow and the Wizard (who was visiting for the weekend) watched us work, interested. Was it for them?
Fellow gave it a try. He liked it. What was it for? He didn’t know.
Eggi needed to be lured into the box with treats. I texted my dog trainer. Did we need to feed her in there to get her used to it? I was told not to worry. She’ll use it when the time comes. The Wizard waited about a day to try it out for himself. It was to his satisfaction.
Suddenly it was definitely time to open the box from WhelpWise, and even read the manual and also watch the instructional video. Then I watched the pertinent bits of the video again.
I tried the doppler myself, and thought ok, I guess I found a puppy, maybe? but it wasn’t until I got the Bacon Provider to watch the video and try it for himself that I felt aha! yes! there it is.
And then, because the Bacon Provider was pretty good at it, we thought we found a second puppy next to the first, and for the rest of that night and most of the following day we were so happy with the news that there were going to be two. Two felt perfect. Not enough to be able to put a puppy into the hands of everyone we know who says they want one, but, still. Two. We were pleased.
Pleased until the appointment the next day with my vet for an X-ray.
Pleased until the vet tech brought Eggi back to the car and said she did great. Pleased until they said, puppy looks good, but there is only one.
So I was back to worrying about one puppy. Puppies need littermates, to get in their way, to play with, to negotiate for resources, to practice being dogs with. Puppies themselves signal to the mother when labor should start. Sometimes singleton puppies don’t signal enough, or get too big and are too hard to deliver. The advice rolled in. “Schedule a c-section,” I was told by too may people. People who know I’m in the care of a top reproductive vet. Out of concern. Out of an abundance of caution.
Now that we are within 5 or 6 days of whelping, we are doing uterine monitoring twice a day, for an hour each session. The best readings come from a bitch who is lying down, so even though there is a harness you can use to strap it on, our routine is to have Eggi lie down on the dog bed. I hold her head and she goes to sleep. And there we stay for 60 minutes.
I am not so good at sitting still for an hour, so I try to prepare, with the KenKens handy, and a pencil. Or some ink and a brush to do the Today is.
Captain will go to sleep nearby, and slip into dreams where he twitches all over and softly woofs. Fellow wants to be involved, wants to have a turn, never wants to miss out.
We had to pretend to ultrasound him.
Fellow has no experience with puppies, either, although I guess he was one, but anyway maybe he can pick up Schwartz’s unfinished business, being annoying and useful.
I don’t know where to begin so I am going to try to just start anywhere. I am terribly sad to say that Schwartz died unexpectedly Sunday; so there you have it.
It was absolutely unexpected. He had been perfectly healthy his entire life and I was counting on him to help me with Eggi’s whelping at the end of the month. I don’t even know how to write this. I tell so many Schwartz stories how can this be the last? I take so many pictures of him, in this post I am only posting the most recent, from the beginning of May onward. Take? Took. Sigh. Took.
I want to say Schwartz is a particular cat, which is to say Schwartz was a particular cat. But this is ridiculous. He was a cat, and all cats are particular. I am still convincing myself that he is no longer here. He was here a minute ago. The doors to our closets are still carefully closed, to keep him from going in and peeing on our exercise clothes (dirty or clean). Just now, I shut the backdoor when I went out with the dogs, because I didn’t want to let the cat out. The abstract cat, I guess. Last night we left the door to our bathroom ajar, in case he wanted in or out. I did pilates virtually, and left the door open for him. He never misses a session. Misses? Missed.
I continue to see him out of the corner of my eye, in the kitchen, on the stairs, in my husband’s office, on the pile of finished projects in the sewing room; there he is, the Void, lurking just beyond what you’re looking at. I almost fed him this morning. You want me to call him? He’s around here somewhere.
Schwartz noisily announced meal times and liked in recent months to have a little parade for breakfast and dinner and had been asking for his food to be put down here or there rather than in the one spot by his big big water dish as he had in years past. Having three dogs meant Schwartz always had to have his dinner and breakfast when they were locked in their kennels having theirs. He was always a good eater, though anything he left in his bowl the dogs would find immediately upon release from their kennels, the hungriest dog title going to either Captain or Eggi (Fellow is more a food stealer of opportunity than a premeditated taker of cat kibble).
So if Schwartz was eating less it would have been hard to detect in the hubbub of dogs cleaning up whatever he left on his plate.
I had noticed in the last few weeks or so that he was starting to lose weight, and maybe not getting around quite as well; but he was, after all, 16.
Among his particular feelings, Schwartz despised being put in a crate, going for car rides, and especially being taken to the vet, so we were a bit behind on ordinary wellness checks and vaccinations. (There are at least four other stories about Schwartz going to the vet: here, here, here, and here). He was an indoor cat, though, and seemed to be not especially at risk of contracting something.
He loved sitting at the human dinner table and having his share of roast chicken, lamb, eggs, pork chops, steak, bacon, pepperoni or sushi. He liked to be brushed until he didn’t. He consented to being picked up and carried, but would rather not. I recall that in Seattle he was a lap-sitter, but somewhere along the way he stopped asking, preferring to curl up near a person working on a computer. He was very good over the years at being well. And was never sick, not with anything, ever. He had an entanglement with a sculpture which almost killed him and pulled out a nail panicking over being in a crate, but that was the extent of his medical history. And the nail grew back after about five years.
He liked to try to run outside whenever we stood on the front porch to watch a thunderstorm. He loved sprawling on my sewing table. He liked to bite the dogs on their shoulders and hocks. He liked sleeping on the dog beds when they left one empty, and sometimes peed on a dog bed because he was a cat. He liked cat nip. And sun puddles. He posed for pictures, including Christmas shots with the dogs under the tree, and helped me write a children’s story. He liked drinking water from the far side of a large ceramic bowl. He slept next to the Bacon Provider, and took up half the bed when my husband was on business trips.
He seemed eternal.
Like the void itself.
Like the one character, Úrsula Iguarán, in One Hundred Years of Solitude that you forget about and then when she’s still there again and she’s like really, really old but you’re like, oh, yeah, her she never died, did she? Our oldest housepet.
Last week, I realized Schwartz missed a day of pooping. I cleaned his litter boxes daily (yes, two, side by side, because cats have very particular needs and that was what worked for him) and there hadn’t been a poop in a bit. This wasn’t he first time we missed a poop, because, of course, on occasion when he couldn’t be bothered to go IN the litterbox he would go BY the litterbox, and the dogs, having a keen taste for cat food also have a keen taste for cat excrement. But anyway, not pooping. And when I thought about it, maybe asking for breakfast and not digging into it. So, I got him a vet appointment, but seeing how it was going to be some ground to cover (him not having been seen by a vet in so long), I thought I would wait for a good time slot with my vet.
There was nothing until Thursday (today), which I felt would be fine. I was offered something sooner with another vet and I did not take it. While I was scheduling I made an appointment for Captain to have a checkup; he’s turning 14 this month, and has a quiet, persistent cough that has resisted all our attempts to treat it so far. A worrisome thing, but not as worrisome as the cat.
Saturday, Schwartz did not even go through the motions of asking for breakfast and then not eating it. It occurred to me then that it may not have been a picky cat thing of wanting something different and that he was sick. He napped the whole day. I checked on him. He seemed relaxed and peaceful, and not uncomfortable. Sunday morning I found him in an odd corner of the laundry room, and he complained at my harshly. He was in real pain. I realized my error and got ready to rush him to the emergency room.
I stuffed Schwartz into a kennel without any protest, another sign that he was in distress.
At the emergency vet hospital they did an ultrasound, found some masses in his abdomen. The ER vet suggested he was pale and needed a blood transfusion and hospitalization. She estimated the cost for me around $4,000-$5,000. I thought about what he would want, what was reasonable, and what was realistic. I asked if they could stabilize him and let him come home. The ER vet countered with wanting to do bloodwork and a chest x-ray; I thought that sounded like a good plan. Maybe then he could come home.
I went home to wait for the vet’s call, and the call came quickly. All Schwartz’s blood values were critical; he was headed for septic shock. The ER vet again suggested he could have a transfusion and be hospitalized, and have a diagnostic ultrasound Monday morning.
I said it sounded like it was time to let him go. I asked them to wait so we could come and say goodbye. I woke my youngest child, who wasn’t up yet, and so did not even know the cat was sick.
The receptionist looked as stricken as we felt, and showed us to a room. My youngest (who is 24) had never been to the vet before, and I blabbed at him about how in veterinary medicine you get estimates, alone with a diagnosis and care plan. I thought about other times I’d been at this vet hospital. I’d been lectured by a young vet in this very room about ear infections in dogs when I’d been dealing with them for a decade and knew as much as he did.
A tech brought Schwartz in, bundled in blankets, with an IV port in a hidden leg. We put him on the table and loved on him a while, and then I told the stricken receptionist that we were ready. The vet come soon enough armed with a handful of syringes which she laid on the table. She explained what each contained. That it would be painless. She asked if we had any questions.
In life, Schwartz was demanding and sometimes loud and uncompromising. He died with his eyes open, after suffering with secret cancer for weeks or months, and hidden it.
We are all smarting from the loss of him. I had tweeted that I was at the ER vet and that the news was bad and have been so overwhelmed with the kind, sad replies that I haven’t been able to bring myself to post the news anyplace else.
I keep seeing him here in the house. His litterboxes are still set up. I have several bags of his favorite food in the pantry because I didn’t want to run out in the pandemic supply chain interruptions. Every place he liked to sleep in the house (the top bunk in the guest room bunkbed upstairs, the windowsill in my bedroom, my grandmother’s green chair in the living room) still has the matted layer of cat hair. Eggi and Fellow still look for his food dishes, but Captain seems to know it’s not worth the trouble. He alone remembers that there can be pets here one day and gone the next.
So when Eggi won a major, she qualified for the Westminster Kennel Club Show, and about 10 days before it we had planned to do one last weekend at the Big E. I drove the truck because the Bacon Provider had taken my car to Vermont for a meeting. Eggi and I set off after dinner on Friday night, and it was a cold, dark drive, but the pickup seemed fine. In the morning we had an early start, since were first in the ring at 8 am. I started the truck early to let it run and warm up,. It was only 2F. I loaded Eggi, checked out of the hotel, and hit the road.
We’d gone about a mile when the engine died. With no engine the behemoth had lost its power steering, so I had to throw everything I had into the steer to pull over into a parking lot . I had no trouble restarting, and assumed the problem was the extreme cold. Or, like, it was an alternator thing. I still had time to make it to the show, and it was only about 15 minutes away. I let the truck run about 15 more minutes and hit the road again.
The engine died again.
I wrestled it into another parking lot (this time it was a veterinary practice that wasn’t open yet).
It was clear I was not driving even the few miles fromhere to the show. I texted all the interested parties (my husband, the breeder, my handler). No one could make it to me in time to get us there. The Bacon Provider suggested I get an Uber. I sent him a photo of the corn field I was looking at.
My handler suggested I call AAA.
AAA said they’d have a tow truck to me within the hour. Not in time to get us to the show, but I didn’t have another option. I texted my son and his GF and they said they’d come get us.
An hour passed. The truck was running, with warning lights about the battery not charging. I felt like I was right about it being the alternator. We were warm enough, and out of the way of traffic. The veterinary practice opened. Techs arrived, followed by patients and pets. No one asked if we needed help.
I checked with AAA. The time of arrival had changed. Another hour passed.
I heard from the breeder. Eggi’ sister Vivva had won enough points to finish her championship that day. My kids texted that they were an hour away.
Towards the end of the third hour, the truck started to get cold. It was still running but the fans weren’t blowing. The temperature outside had risen to the mid-20s. The gauges on the dash were no longer lit. I got Eggi out and walked her around. The tow truck finally arrived.
We climbed into the cab. Eggi sat on my lap. The shop was a six minute drive from the spot where we waited. The Graduate and his GF arrived to pick us up while I was giving the shop my contact info.
The next day I took Eggi back to the show, where she took second in her class. Her other sister finished her championship that day.
One of my new friends, a very successful breeder of pointers, told me that even with a really great dog you lose more than you win.
On Monday we went back to pick up the now-repaired truck. The shop said it was a frayed serpentine belt.
I arrive at the horse show in Vermont just before the horses do. It is raining vigorously. There are just two client horses coming with the commercial shipper, and I watch from inside the barn as they are unloaded. I lend a hand stretching a tarp over our hay. I step in to help carry a big box of tack.I unwrap my horse’s legs.The show groom tells me where I can find scissors to cut the twine that holds a bale of hay and asks me to give a couple of horses a flake each. She also confides that this is her last show with our barn because she is giving notice on Monday and moving to a new job. I don’t want it to be true, so I quickly decide I must have misunderstood her. I want to wait for my trainer to show up with his horses before I get on, but I can lunge. Gidget stands quietly for a quick grooming and I walk her to the lungeing ring.
She reacts to the new place, giving the rain-gorged creek her most crooked parrot-eye, answering the whinny of another horse, letting a passing tractor blow the wind up her skirt. The show facility has a new lungeing area, shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. I’m clumsy with the gate latch. I walk Gidget into the center of the lungeing ring, into the bend in the bean, and stop her to adjust the side reins, which are new, so I’m guessing at what hole they should be on. I remember to walk with her in a large circle, showing her the situation counterclockwise and then clockwise. Gidget settles into working on a circle, trotting and then cantering, with me in the center. A big truck blasts by on Route 106, and my mare celebrates with a buck and a fart and a surge of galloping with her tail straight up. I hold on. I get her back to trotting, and then ask her to walk. I stop her and adjust the side reins again and take Gidget over to the other side of the ring shaped like a rectangle on three sides and a bean on the fourth,making room for our trainer who has arrived with his horse.
A friendly staff member of the facility comes and asks how the new footing is. We tell him it’s good. He explains how the lungeing area ended up shaped like a rectangle on three sides and curved like a bean on the fourth. We both finish and go back to our barn to take off the side reins.
We get on and ride into one of the show rings, because this is what everyone does on arrival day at a show. The same friendly staff member comes, shouting and shaking his fist at us, saying that the ring isn’t open, and we’re gonna ruin the footing, what with the rain. I go tour the property instead, letting my horse see everything I can. She snorts like a crocodile at the dairy cows at the farm across the street. When it’s time to put the horses away, I think about when the friendly staff member had almost finished the new lungeing ring and had three straight sides of fencing up and someone came along and told him that people want a curved shape for lungeing. I wish I could picture him farting and running or snorting like a crocodile, but I can only see him raising his eyebrows or shaking his fist.
I think Vermont is still one of those places that we’re supposed to write poems about. You’ve got time to, if you live there, because mobile phone coverage is spotty at best, and high speed internet is a rare and prized luxury.I lived there in the eighties, before I cared about the internet and I still wrote poems regularly. My poems were about the biting black flies in the mountains and the crabby yankees who were my neighbors in the city and no one ever read them. Then I got a paying job, and threw myself at adulthood, and (mostly) stopped writing (but especially poems).
Gidget marched around the show ring six times over the next few days, and by the last trip had mostly gotten over the creek, and the tractors, and the too-fast trucks. The cows will still be there next year. I did not misunderstand the show groom, and I will miss her.
Was it Friday or the following Tuesday? I don’t remember. September was a bit of a blur. A friend quit her job around the middle of the month, and after that, all hell broke loose. I cancelled my trip to Berlin and Prague (and I was looking forward to my trip to Berlin and Prague). But it had become obvious that I needed to figure out some serious shit, and, like, immediately. I called P., who took me out house hunting a couple of times, but she kept showing me ugly houses and then even uglier houses, and would occasionally ooh and ahh and I could never tell if it was for my benefit, because I was so unexcited, or if it was to reassure the other real estate agent.
I saw myself reflected in the seriously shiny gray Formica of the curvy cupboards in the dining room, floating on an acre of white shag wall-to-wall carpeting, hovering above the sunken living room, and escaped, stumbling, to take one more look at the view of the tennis court from the oversized master bedroom. I decided two things: first, that we needed to go outside; second, that I needed to stop working with P. as soon as I could manage.
When did I indicate that this was the kind of house I was looking for?
I started over with another agent, M. M. understood that I needed to see three or four houses a day until I found something, and we weren’t screwing around. Our lease had a month left.
The first day, M. and I met at the first house on our list, but we got there before the listing agent and couldn’t open the gate across the driveway without the code. It was a narrow, wooded lane, and for lack of something more important to say, I asked, “When did it become fall?”
“Just today,” M. answered. Leaves blew around her navy chinos. Soon, she’d have to start wearing socks with her loafers again.
The second house we saw looked like a French chalet from the front, but around back it was a great, brown, plywood box. At least it had a nice pool.
I picked up my first acorns in front of another brown house, overpriced for what it was, with a decent patio and pool, cheery, light-filled bedrooms, though the kitchen was uninspiring. A black lab lay in a wire crate in the living room, not making eye-contact or noise. I wondered if he was on drugs. He seemed so sad and withdrawn. My dogs sleep in crates, and eat their meals there, but when someone comes home they look at people, make noise, and ask to come out.
The acorns I found were perfect little giants, with the caps on, some green and others brown. They were so lovely and intact. I used to want to be able to eat them as a kid, until I got one open, and did. I shared one with M. She accepted my gift without condescension.
The last house M. showed me that day was a humble, tan and brick house, low slung, with a steep, wood-shingled roof. It was on a very quiet, dead end road, surrounded by woods. The front doorknob was tricky to open. We walked into the front hall and there, beyond the entry, was a large living room, fully furnished in chairs with needlepointed seat covers that might have been made by the ghost of my grandmother N. The kitchen was large, with cherry cabinets and 80s vintage appliances. It wasn’t anything special, but it was clean (really, really clean), with spacious rooms, hardwood floors, and, you know, potential. We headed upstairs. There was a small white button on the wall by the front door. I ignored it, and looked at the rooms upstairs. There was an upstairs room with a sloping ceiling that seemed like it wanted to be my sewing room. It had a lot of ugly wallpaper, but also a lot of closets.
The next day I finally got in to see a house I’d been waiting to get into for over a week (some bullshit about renters not leaving until Labor Day). It was special, with a rambling floor plan and a lot of interesting things like a pretty view, a big porch, and a workable kitchen. There was a fireplace in the master bedroom and an obvious room for my sewing stuff. Bonuses like a workshop and an apartment over the garage. But it was more money, and the neighborhood wasn’t walkable. To be honest, its woods were creepy.
I arranged another visit to the bland house that reminded me of my grandmother. I brought the Bacon Provider to see what he thought. My husband was unimpressed. He saw six kinds of ugly wallpaper, thirty-year old AC units that needed replacing, and clunky old storm windows. The owner had already moved to a condo, leaving furniture in only a few rooms. So, while my husband wondered if we could agree to a price, he voiced his suspicion that we might be able to make a deal with a quick closing.
We headed upstairs. There it was again: that small white button on the wall by the front door. I’m not sure why I might have thought it was a doorbell. Or if I thought it was a doorbell. It obviously wasn’t a doorbell. It was some sort of other button. I pressed it without thinking as I went up the stairs. The house was practically empty. What harm?
The real estate agent M. caught up with me on the landing. I asked her what she thought the button on the stairs was. “That’s a panic button,” she said. “You didn’t press it did you?”
“Oh no,” I laughed, meaning, “Oh, shit,” but sounding like, “Oh, of course not.”
Then I said,“Well maybe,” and then I added, “Well, if I did we’ll find out if it worked.”
It did work. A local Bedhead Hills policeman was at the door, within minutes, his hand on his gun and a look of concern on his face. The front door was sticky and hard to open. I explained that it was my mistake. M. gave him her card. She pointed to me, “She’s a child.”
I had a warm check-in email from the Super yesterday, full of details about alarms going off in this and the other buildings he cares for, a picture of some almost-NYC-marathoners he met, best wishes to JP for his 30thbirthday, and love and hugs. Of course, I don’t know a JP, 30 years old or otherwise, and don’t believe that my super has even one warm feeling for me at all. Nor is he, as he signs his note, my dad.
But this apartment is now my home, and I have been living in it for two long months. In my dreams I still live in Seattle, or in that funny house up a dirt road in the country that rambles on and on and has wallpapered rooms beyond rooms beyond rooms. Two nights ago I spoke to one of our old Seattle neighbors in my dream, and when I woke up I was in a hotel by Lincoln Center, having fled the cold and dark apartment with the kids for a few nights of electricity and room service.
The storm warnings began the week before. The media was calling it a ”Frankenstorm,” a triple whammy of a late hurricane, merged with a Nor’easter, coinciding with a full moon and high tide. We were supposed to get ready. We felt ready; we had candles.
Water supply, 10/27/12
Saturday the 27th we had a nice Italian dinner out and stopped at a supermarket afterwards to buy some water. Already the shelves were emptied of certain items.On the way home, we saw a guy parking his BMW motorcycle on the street, testing its stability and analyzing its chances of staying upright.
By 5 pm on Sunday the 28th the city had published a map showing that Zone A was a mandatory evacuation area. I spent some time convincing myself with maps provided by several sources that we were a few blocks from Zone A (and were, in fact Zone C). While the wind started to blow, we went out for sushi, thinking that we should eat the fish that would most certainly spoil if not consumed before the storm. The red Japanese paper lanterns swung erratically while we ate.
School was cancelled Monday the 29th, in anticipation of the storm, so we slept in. Walking the dogs around noon, we could hear a loud whistling sound that seemed to be coming from the construction site of the Freedom Tower, a few blocks south. The Hudson River was much higher than normal, and green, and angry-looking. Plenty of other New Yorkers were out walking, too, and no one hesitated to duck under the strips of caution tape tied across the paths leading into the park by the river. It was obvious to everyone that if there was something interesting to see yet, it would be behind the yellow plastic caution tape.
Lots of wind, a little rain
As the storm arrived, it was mostly wind. One of the dogs dug herself a den in the couch, pushing all the cushions aside and settling in, surrounded on all sides. The cat watched with all that creepy cat excitement as the water droplets ran down the windows. Out on our street, a large piece of sheet metal landed on our street and thrashed around out there for hours, finally coming to rest under the bumper of a minivan. Our power went out around 8:30 pm, and we went to bed pretty early. The dog had a nightmare and woofed and growled in her sleep.
Broadway near Worth, facing north, 10/30/12
Tuesday the 30th we still had no power, little mobile phone reception, and I invested a bunch of time and phone battery into trying to see if Con Edison had an estimate for restoring power. The answer was that they didn’t know. Our unreliably delivered daily New York Times arrived (along with Monday’s paper), and though we would see no mail all week (until Saturday), that newspaper came every morning. We recharged our phones off of my weird Japanese model Panasonic Toughbook, which has a long battery life, is supposed to be able to survive a bad fall, and even has a tiny drain hole under the keyboard so liquids spilled on it won’t ruin it. Everyone complains about my machine because it has a wacky Japanese keyboard, but it still had juice Thursday when we gave up and headed for a hotel uptown.
Tuesday we enjoyed the novelty of life in an apartment with no power. We played board games, burned candles, and ate things we could cook on the stove. We walked the dogs, getting in and out of the building via the emergency exit stairs, which are dark, steep and spooky. Everything was a big deal. The BMW motorcycle lay on its side, leaking oil. The traffic lights were dark, and the buildings were dark, and mostly there was the sound of generators and sometimes sirens. Businesses were beginning to clean up their broken windows, pump out the water, throw out the spoiled food. Every few minutes the police came silently up the middle of Church Street with their disco party lights bubbling.
On Wednesday we woke up and it was colder and not as much fun. The Bacon Provider started scrambling for a hotel room, but in the end he and I took a cab uptown and went grocery shopping instead. The cab ride made me very car-sick, and had I not been on the verge of barfing, I might have gasped at the hustle and bustle of perfectly normal-looking midtown Manhattan. People were on their way to the gym, sight-seeing, and shopping for fancy shoes. Though I did not care very much about it when I saw it, we got to see the brokenconstruction crane at 57th street which we had heard caused many buildings to be evacuated, and we got some new food to carry back downtown.
Dangling crane at 57th 10/31/12
Schlepping several blocks to escape the gridlock, we snagged a cab around 44th Street. The taxi driver took us back to TriBeCa, passing the threshold of civilization at 34th street (where the stoplights stopped); at this point he simply drove down the West Side Highway as fast as he possibly could, through multiple intersections. That night we made grilled sausages and artichokes and the Bacon Provider stood, stirring his risotto by candlelight, and it was perfect as always. After dinner we played Loaded Questions again, and laughed our heads off.
By Thursday the iPads were dead, everyone badly needed a shower, and we packed overnight bags and took a cab uptown again. Once in a hotel room, we took turns in the shower, charged our stack of devices, and had a decent dinner across the street. The Bacon Provider went back to the apartment to feed the cat and walk and feed the dogs. It had dropped into the 50s (F) in the apartment so he slept in a big pile with all the pets on the bed.
Frog skeletons at AMNH
Friday the boys and I went for a walk, thinking we could go to Central Park, but the combination of New York City Marathon preparations and the damage from the storm meant the Parks Department had erected barricades to keep everyone out. As we made our way up Central Park West, a long line of media trucks was assembling, firing up their generators for a weekend’s coverage of the marathon (which was not yet cancelled at this point). Knowing that pretty much everyone below 34thstreet was still without power (not to mention the flooding and homes destroyed in New Jersey, Staten Island and Long Island), it seemed to us that the resources being poured into the marathon set-up alone could be much better utilized lighting a dark hospital or pumping out a flooded subway. In search of a distraction, we ended up at the American Museum of Natural History, where we looked at an Ivory Ornamental tarantula and some hominid skulls and a giant crystal and a turtle skeleton and some taxidermied tigers and marveled at how most of this museum is like a time machine that takes you on a science filed trip to the 1950s. On our way back up the elevator to our room, some enormous and fit Dutch people lectured us about American politics and the decision to cancel the marathon.
Saturday we packed up, checked out of the hotel, bought groceries, and got picked up by the Bacon Provider in our own car, because the power was on at home and at our garage. Now we are back in the apartment, which was 4 1/2 days without power and yet the milk never spoiled. Halloween never happened. As glad as I was to get here and see the lights on, it still feels like part of a long, bad, weird vacation.