Frankenwind Sandypants


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.

Another Bird in the Chimney

This morning we had another bird in one of the chimneys.  This time, I could not figure out how to let it out until I went outside and saw there was a clean-out within reach on the deck. It took a few minutes for the bird to realize it could fly free, so I was not sure right away that I had done the right thing.  But then, just when I was unprepared for it, out came the bird.  It flew away in a rising arc.  There is still a huge mess on the deck, since about a quart’s worth of wet ashes and soot fell out when I opened the clean-out.  It may not have been opened before. 


The owners of this house say they cleared a field by hand, found an old barn and had it dismantled, and built a large, casual family home to suit their tastes.  Many interior surfaces are wood, and a lot of that is antique.  There are two wood-burning stoves in the house, and an old-fashioned oven of the kind people would have used about 100 years ago.  
We are renters.
Because it is built around the frame of an old barn, the walls of this house enclose a huge interior space: four stories.  From the outside, it is barn-colored and large.  From within, a mix of old and new, all thoughtfully and carefully chosen like something my mother would have done.  I think my mother would have really liked this house, and I can hear her voice in my head, telling her friends at work the story I am about to relate to you.
Afternoons here are long. Someone finishes school early, and even if we have to go back to hand in the forgotten Math 8 Maintenance #3 Assignment (not because the backpack was disorganized but because it was hard to find because it was not printed on the special Math 8 yellow-colored paper), we are here, doing homework or eating snacks or staring at each other or turning the pages of The New York Times by early afternoon.  If we wait for the man who commutes by train to his job in The City, we might not eat dinner until 7:42 or 8:05 p.m.  During the day, the Red Barn House is filled with light by design (it’s the careful fenestration, don’t you know?). Once the sun goes down, it’s pretty damned dark.
One of us is reading Tom Sawyerfor school, and enjoying it quite a bit.  It is an engaging read, and hard to interrupt for snacks or staring or The New York Times. I decided to give the new squeegee a try while the sun was shining and my work might yield visible results.  Again the dogs did a lot of watching, and so did the cat, but there were no pet escapes this day.
At some point we were sitting near the stove snacking and turning the pages of The New York Times, and there was the distinctive sound of a live bird in the stove pipe.   The curious adults of the house have already seen for themselves that birds have come down the stove pipe before, since there is a dead bird in a pan inside the stove right now.   But this was our first live bird-in-the-house experience.  I heard the bird scrambling in the stove pipe. I think I said aloud, “A bird just few down the chimney.” The cat came flying at the stove, but we had not yet determined how it was to be released. 
I found a little clean-out hatch, but before I opened it, I locked the pets in a bathroom.  I opened the hatch, and waited.  After about an hour, the pets were unhappy and vocal about it. I reasoned that the bird was not smart enough to come out the way I had provided for it to come out.  I got busy doing something else, and when I heard the thumps and the scrambling pets, it took me a second to realize what it was.
I summoned every bit of help I could get, locked the dogs in the bathroom again, and interrupted Tom Sawyer to get some help with the cat.  The cat is pretty fat, so he was not very hard to grab.  The bird had flown upstairs and was sitting, wild-eyed and panting, legs askew on the sill of a window which cannot be opened. We opened another window and using the screen as a tray and a vacuum cleaner attachment as a prod, offered the bird a chance at freedom.  The offer was accepted, and suddenly all the excitement was over.
The lease of this house came with a few unusual stipulations, including the requirement that we employ a specific housekeeper.  She is good-natured and pleasant and does a good job, so we are happy to pay for her services.  We would have been happy to hire her had we been asked, and I am still puzzling over why it was felt to be necessary to legally compel us to do so.  Another day I will write about this more, but for now I am still wondering about it.  The next day when I spoke to the housekeeper about the bird in the house, and she told me that she had two birds in the house this summer, both times they came down the other chimneys, the one that caught a bird today.
I think when I see the owners, I will mention this, because from the ground the tops of all three pipes appear to have features which should prevent entry by birds, and clearly those features are disabled or not working.