I’m sitting with my laptop in Starbucks, because as much as I hate to admit that I support corporate coffee culture and hate the decaffeinated hip muzac, it provides a refuge when in-house teenage hell becomes unbearable. Also, because my overworked no-view apartment gets no more than a small shaft of reflected light for about thirty minutes a day, I can re-charge my solar-powered watch in their all-glass hideaway, not to mention occasionally cop some highspeed internet time.
All of a sudden the room and my screen go dark, we feel this rumbling underfoot and although well-protected by headphones, I can lipread the staff screaming GET OUT!!!
MOVE! And thwack goes my headset, grab the laptop as an explosion rips across the street—black smoke, a manhole flying…we are running, girls in green are screaming, women are crying… and I have one of those moments which creep down New York spines frequently since 9/11…where you see your life and your city flash before you…. and I am thinking, yes, the media has been repeating—‘it is not if…but when…’ and you think about children and feel guilty, and you have read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and maybe thank God in the back end of the split second that you will be blown away and not have to roam a desolate and terrifying landscape scavenging for a mushroom, an untainted can of beans, a scant ounce of kerosene….
And while the smoke clears, from one block away….no, people are laughing… walking… the Starbucks girls are still shaking like green leaves, but the traffic is moving….here come the Firetrucks—one after another… the comforting heroes with the clothing that weighs more than the average Upper East Side woman….and no, it is not a bomb, no act of terrorism—but a simple manhole incident—the melting snow, the salt, the insulation, the methane gas—whatever… and all is well… and your coffee is annoyingly there in the locked store, and you can’t really admit that this is one fifth of your daily food budget and you want it…but the girls do retrieve your jacket and keys, and it is not quite safe to go back… But you can go home, upstairs to the endless HipHop Saturday soundtrack---except-- wait—no electricity… well, no problem…you are alive, you are well, no one even stole the $5 from your coat pocket…. And no HipHop. And the kids have no distraction but cellphones, so they go off, and it is dead quiet, because rich and not-quite-as-rich in my building—everyone flees to the country on weekends or maybe pretends to. Anyway, I go out in twilight, remember to leave a flashlight in my mailbox, and return to absolute darkness of stairwell and hallway, with Con Ed putting up barricades—not a good sign.
Last week on our block a massive sinkhole which could have buried an SUV (wishful thinking) opened up. This has happened before. I call it the ghost of 96th Street. Many nights I have strummed a guitar in my building and experienced light dimmings and a feeling of cold. A Russian composer once lived in my place, I have learned, and she occasionally critiques my musical abilities.
I realize I am going to have to cook up the perishables, which will set our poor household back… I hook up the old-fashioned phone I save for these emergencies, and I light some Christmas candles. I feel good.
Kids return; much whining—no NCAA playoffs, not much of anything but pounds of chicken with pasta, and huge bowls of yoghurt. I am offering bonuses for extra milk drinkers. I hate wasted food. Con Ed is digging in…I am set for a few days of this…
Admittedly, it does get tired—I misplace my glasses and cannot see well enough by candlelight to find them… annoying to light the stove with matches, I lose some work due to lack of phone machine, can’t recharge my laptop, get sick of playing guitar, can’t find anything, can’t distinguish between black shirts…really, really suddenly crave Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde, some ice, whatever…
Kids become exhausting and exhausted… by midnight they pass out, and suddenly—the power is back—I spend an hour resetting computers, stove-clocks, answering machines, etc… go out to high-five the Con ed guys, take one last longing look at my cold coffee still locked up in Starbucks…and venture into the elevator where draped over the railing of our funky 80-year-old Otis is a pair of elbow-length, white kid gloves, fit for a Princess.
Is this a joke? A souvenir? Like a forgotten glass slipper, there in our elevator which has been useless and unoccupied for the past 8 hours. My Russian royal composer? The Ghost in the underground? The Manhole poltergeist? Something evil? But they are white—so white.
I leave them there, make some winking Cinderella remark to one of my neighbors who returns on Sunday evening to find their clocks reset, strange electronic glitches in their
appliances…. By Monday the nouveau rich (intentional deletion of the ‘e’) investment bankers who are trying to take over the building have theorized that the whole thing is a hazard, we must knock down, mortgage, renovate, whatever… anything to purge the building of writers, musicians and sub-billionaires. I try to get my Con Ed guys to testify that it had nothing to do with our old wiring and medieval plumbing but even they are a bit baffled by the fact that only our building had been without power.
I of course know that it was just ‘winking’ at the posh pretentious brand-new neighboring buildings. An elegant ‘note’ in the elevator, left just in case someone didn’t get it, sticking its ghost-nose in the air to these people who fail to respect the hundreds of venerable and dead and un-monied but clever old-Manhattan tenants who spent nights with candles, without television, certainly without the internet and maybe without telephones or central heating. This is, indeed, and will always be, a ‘white glove’ building.
The gloves have vanished. I wonder if any of the nouveau wives or daughters tried to stuff their greedy fat hands into the delicate fingers. Bob Dylan, so many years ago, knew about these debutantes.