the blackout blast blog

When the power went off we were upstairs at the Metropolitan Museum. We had just finished walking through the extraordinary “Art of the First Cities” exhibit on one of its very last days, and I had picked up, but not yet paid for, a book in the adjacent little tie-in shop. That whole area of the Museum was immediately thrown into total darkness, but no one was the least upset, and once we were in rooms with natural light, most people, including the guards, seemed not even to have become distracted. There wasn’t a crack of light visible in the “Cities” galleries, so we decided to wander around the grand permanent-collection areas where there was natural light from skylights, until we eventually decided it might be more interesting, if not wiser, to be out on the street. First I slipped around the ropes blocking the men's room on the first floor (absolutely no light inside, but I knew it well, and I was to be very glad I did that!). I reluctantly gave up my book at another museum shop just outside.

Our only delay getting home was the line of hundreds of people wanting to pick up bags and other interesting stuff from the checkrooms all at just about the same moment. Even now, about a half hour into it, no one seemed to have a clue about the scale of the blackout, but I was beginning to suspect the worse (short of a terrorist attack, which somehow I did not think likely) and I asked a security supervisor about it, since he appeared to have a radio headphone. He told me, “the whole Northeast, including Canada, all the way to Ohio and Michigan." Heavy.

We walked home at a very relaxed pace, stopping for small meals along the way (gosh, I love hotdogs and brownies!), beginning in Central Park and continuing down 5th Avenue to 42d Street, then to Times Sq. and left down 8th Ave., taking pictures as we went. Arrived home early in the evening. The weather? Like September 11, a beautiful, beautiful day.

When we arrived home on 23rd Street, coming in through the lush interior garden from the north, we found ourselves in the midst of a residents and refugees garden party. There was lots of conviviality, the sharing of food, wine, flashlights and candles, much greeting and talking among people who had never taken time to approach each other before (and a certain number who had, of course), soft songs and one mandolin. We were almost half and half "boys" and "girls," but we agreed that it was still just about certain that there would be no new babies in this building 9 months from now.

Back in the apartment at first we even had warmish water for showers! We returned to the garden for a spell, until we became overheated by the zillions of tea candles and their truly monstrous relatives. We headed to the roof for a look at the darkened skyline and streets, and of course the Big Dipper, scads of other stars and red Mars itself.

We came down for a walk around the neighborhood where the real life was concentrated in and outside the gay bars on 8th Avenue, with hundreds of barely- (and bearly-) dressed Tom-of-Finland types hanging out in the dark. Pretty impressive group, even by Chelsea standards, but the most significant difference about the street on Thursday night was probably less the extraordinary subtle lighting than the relaxed friendliness and sociability of the guys. “Attitude” had taken a holiday. It felt like a steroid re-creation of the gyms and playing fields of my all-boy prep school or college experience, but here you could fearlessly look at the musculature.

In the end (if not at the very beginning as well), like those schools, it was a pretty dull scene without any women around. Eventually the cold beer ran out and the crowd started to thin.

On our way out the doors of our building we had run into our friend Glenn, and he was trailing a wheeled suitcase, having just arrived from D.C. in circuitous Greyhound routing. Since he lives pretty far out in Williamsburg and intended to go on to Texas the next day, he stayed here that night. The next morning he set off for the airport. We wished him luck. Hope he made it out that same day.

Now we all really understand why, pre-Edison, people went to bed early, and got up early. What do you do after dark, if it stays dark after dark? We tried sleeping, with only some success.

Friday we walked to our Hudson River Park (in the Village, since the Chelsea Piers corporation owns all of our shore in Chelsea), and had a beautiful day. The new park is wonderful. I hope it manages to be maintained properly. On the way back the power went on in the West Village, but we found it was still dark above 14th Street.

Later that afternoon, between 5 and 6, having just about had it with the information shutdown, I got on my bike and zoomed up and down Manhattan from 80th Street to the Battery, visiting both sides of the island. I found that the only neighborhoods which did not yet have power were either the poorest neighborhoods, or those which were the least important as far as corporations are concerned. Coincidence, political calculation, political reality or a reflection of where we build our substations?

Friday night I decided we'd have a relaxed supper on our own terrace, so I moved a small table and a couple of Windsor chairs out with the potted garden, along with some old candle lanterns, linens, and the food which might not last much longer (Italian salamis, cheese, bread, cooked broccoli salad, fresh plums, wine). Sweetpea joined us out there. It was a delightful meal, in circumstances which probably could not and should not be repeated.

I had reluctantly decided, very much against my nature, and for the first time since the lights and the hot water had disappeared, not to wash the dishes immediately. I was going to just rinse them in the dark and finish them the next day in light, with water heated on the old gas stove. But just after I had brought the dishes into the kitchen, I heard a loud roar, cheering actually, coming from the larger garden below, where there was the now familiar assembly of friendly neighbors being very friendly. The power had returned. Bingo! Hot water for dishes. And showers! We rushed to join the group, but by the time we got downstairs they had dispersed into the walls, and the now exotic hum of air conditioners already surrounded us.

Sleep came easily that night.

The images, from the top: tea lights in the garden, 23rd Street in front of our building, guys outside of Rawhide

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Published on August 20, 2003 1:07 AM.

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