About a week before Hurricane Sandy, I had what I can now only think of as a foreshadowing event.
I arrived home exhausted from a surgical procedure in the hospital. It left my arm bandaged, and I was sent home with a warning: Whatever you do, don’t get it wet.
I meticulously wrapped my arm in a substandard cling-wrap product and duct tape (it was raining and I couldn’t risk getting it wet so I had to make do with what was available at the downstairs bodega) which took about 20 minutes.
It had been a long, grueling day and all I wanted was to take a hot bath to soak the hospital smell away.
Confident that if I kept my arm out of the tub, my makeshift plastic cast would keep any rogue drops of moisture away, I eagerly turned on the water. But all that shot out was black, rusty water.
I figured some sort of pipe issue had occurred while I was away and that I would just have to let it run for a while to get clean water to pour out.
But after 20 minutes, I admitted defeat, painstakingly pulled off the duct tape and plastic and went to lie down. As I shut off the bathroom light, the switch cracked and the light flickered as sparks flew.
It’s not called Hell's Kitchen for nothing. I gave up and went to sleep.
The next morning the light went off and on sporadically because the plastic switch had cracked. Thankfully the water in the bathroom was back to being clear – or at least a sort of beige-ish color---and I finally got to bathe.
Refreshed, I called my landlord and explained while not an emergency, he’d need to send someone eventually to replace the switch. He said Javier (who had misdiagnosed a previous leak in my ceiling twice (!)) would come to fix the switch.
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That next day was a hectic one. I had a visiting nurse coming to change my bandage and had IV medication waiting in the fridge; she’d show me how to infuse into my arm to hopefully cure my Lyme disease. (Although irrational, I somehow blame this apartment for my Lyme disease as it surfaced just as I moved here.)
Javier arrived and got to work. Soon I heard a tiny explosion, saw sparks and the electricity in my house was gone in an instant. He never had bothered to turn off the electricity before messing with it. Apparently it wasn’t just a simple fuse he blew but something way worse that he couldn’t figure out how to undo.
He said he would have to fix my own personal blackout after the weekend, on Monday.
I explained that I could not go the whole weekend without electricity, especially because I had IV medication in the fridge that would go bad and that I had to have electricity to adequately clean my IV line.
He didn’t seem to care and left me in the dark. A frantic call to my landlord produced a real electrician, and my power was back on by the end of the day.
Flash forward to the approach of the hurricane approached a little over a week later. I was ready with extra cell batteries, battery-powered chargers, batteries of every size, candles, food that could be eaten without electricity and tons of water.
The wind howled as I texted with friends and one by one they texted me that they had lost power. On Twitter, tons of those I follow announced their buildings had lost power also.
I sat watching TV thinking it was only a matter of time before I lost electricity, cable/wifi or all.
The night wore on. The bodegas that flanked my building remained open through even the worst part of the storm, and I could hear people hanging out outside them under my window all through the night!
It occurred to me that the city should be run by bodega owners; they are like the black box of the food industry. Nothing seems to be bad enough to make them close.
I irrationally feared if I fell asleep, the power would go out; that by the mere fact that I remained awake somehow I was keeping the power going.
So many friends were stuck in the dark with no way to even make a warm drink or shower.
My dog and I laid in bed, surfed the web and watched bad tv while eating all my emergency food. (In related news, this storm made me fat.)
Over the next days people came here to sleep, eat, use the Internet, charge phones or just shower.
For once I was living in the fashionable area---simply because it was one with power and conveniently close to one without. Gone were the eye rolls at my crappy stairwell and odd super, and instead huge smiles of relief spread on their faces when they heard the TV blaring in the background and the smell of cooking when they walked in.
Several friends wrangled hotel rooms in Hell’s Kitchen because it was one of the few areas that remained completely intact and would marvel when they arrived here from The Dark Zone or SoPo (South of Power) saying that it was amazing how many people and cars were out and how all the stores were open.
I’m so thankful my crappy little walk-up made it out of the storm completely unscathed and that it could offer comfort to those who did not.
Also by Kelly Kreth: