A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 78

Hurricane Sandy in 2012. New York Daily News photo

Tuesday, May 26

Two more deliveries this morning, both for me: prescription drugs and a nonstick muffin tin. 

More and more, this East Hampton cottage seems like our true residence. We can only wonder what things would be like if we were still at our Manhattan apartment. How often would we encounter neighbors? Is everybody still maintaining social distance and wearing masks? Would we risk taking a potentially crowded elevator—or walk up and down a daunting 18 flights of stairs?

We managed those stairs during the electrical outage brought on by Hurricane Sandy back eight years ago. The events of that time were particularly surreal.

We were already concerned about increasingly severe hurricane seasons, but they seemed largely to affect Florida or the Carolinas. Then came Sandy, which tracked inland until it struck New Jersey and New York City. We were in Massachusetts as the storm approached, so (insanely) we hurried back to New York and arrived just in time to experience the punishing winds and the explosion at the 14th Street Con Edison power station that led to a blackout of lower Manhattan. 

The result was a divided city: Above 42nd Street, everything operated normally, but in lower Manhattan there were no lights, no nothing. One lasting memory is looking out from our 18th floor window at an apartment in Zeckendorff Towers across the way, where a tenant was wearing a miner’s hat with a light attached to the front. After dark, you would no longer see the person, just this ghostly light moving around in his space.

An 18-floor climb can be brutal, particularly if you are carrying food or other stuff. We did manage the stairs a few times, even slogging buckets of water up several flights since the lack of electricity meant our apartment had no water either.

The city ran its buses without charge. On a couple of occasions, we took a crowded bus up to 42nd Street and went to a branch of my gym there in order to take hot showers. Other people must have been doing that too: The gym ran out of bath soap, so I once washed off my body with shampoo.

Finally, as it began turning cold in late October, the lack of heat made us move out of the building altogether.

Here and now, there are many unreal aspects to existence as well. I don’t think in pre-lockdown life that my days were quite so centered on making dinner. Today, I’ve already begun cutting up vegetables and chicken for tonight’s chicken soup. And I even have begun thawing ground beef as I contemplate making hamburgers for tomorrow night. Weather forecasts play a role: Tomorrow afternoon is supposed to be partly sunny, so a cookout should be possible. Thursday is supposed to bring more rain.

Shortly, I am going out to the small Damark store to get stuff that Peapod failed to deliver: lettuce, carrots, yeast, rice, and the ever-desired, increasingly expensive toilet paper. While there, I will attempt to get more chicken stock and walnuts.

So, for dinner: avgolemono soup and salad.

Entertainment: the last episodes of Safe.

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