Part I- The Storm
I've done many introductions to this blog, because my circumstances continue to change daily. It's Monday morning, 11/5/12 at 2am, and I'm sitting on the wheelchair in the bellman's closet. As of now, my apartment is rumored to be condemned for up to 90 days. At first it was 3 days, then two weeks, then three. Now with the three-level basement, which holds all of the building's electrical equipment, along with tenant vehicles, completely flooded, they're telling us that two months to move back in would be "overly optimistic". I'm not sure how I feel about this yet, because while I'm technically homeless, I have the resources to keep myself afloat for a long period of time. My parents have opened their doors to me once again, and I have a plethora of generous friends who have offered up their couches. I'm very fortunate... and grateful. I've been through this once before, and I'm going to be fine, but I was absolutely head-over-heels in love with that apartment. It's tough to say goodbye so abruptly, but after what I've seen this past week, I have to say that I'm one of the lucky ones.
New Yorkers are, to put it gently, tough motherfuckers. When tragedy strikes, no one comes together like we do. This, like 9/11, again proved just how special the fine people of this city are in the face of a crisis. As expected, we took the punch, spat blood on the floor, and gave Sandy a hearty New York "fuck you." And it's not only New Yorkers. I've heard that guests in the hotel whom were supposed to run the marathon ran to Staten Island to volunteer on Sunday. (For the record, I'm convinced that Mayor Bloomerg had every intention to cancel the marathon but wanted to cash in on the revenue that we desperately need. The marathoners were all here, pumping money into the city by the time he canceled. A dirty trick, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Just a theory.) When I came to work, the night doorman was valeting 15 pickup trucks from a group of 50 volunteers that were heading out to Rockaway Beach at 5:30am. They'll be here for a week. It's a beautiful nation that we live in.
Hopefully that will be the last introduction. Here's my Hurricane Sandy experience:
11:30am: I wake up, having spent the whole night playing wingman for a friend. Wingman may be a poor word- I sat around and drank by myself while he dazzled a floozy from the bar with my panty-droppingrooftop view. He didn't close, because she was a virgin. A waste of a night, indeed.
11:33am- I kick down the door of one of my roommate's unoccupied room in which my buddy is sleeping, scaring the shit out of him. I fart in his face for keeping me up all night while he brought a virgin home. Fucking amateur.
11:34am: I jump on his bed while screaming "B-R-U-N-C-H! BRUNCH! BRUNCH! BRUNCH!!!"
11:35am: Friend reluctantly gets out of bed.
I forgot to mention that I was really in the mood for brunch.
12:00pm: Thumbing the brunch menu in the pizza bar below my apartment. Friend looks like a guy who drank too much and brought home a virgin last night. The special is unreal- all you can drink mimosas or bloody Mary's, with a meal, for $16.95 from noon-4pm. Had this been any other day, I'd be dead by 3pm.
12:02pm: I order a "hangover pie": white square pizza with french fries, pepperoni, and hot sauce. Friend does the same. Sports coverage on the TV is interrupted by breaking news about this storm, saying that the subways will be shut down at 7pm. I had work at midnight, so I needed to process this.
12:03pm: I instead opt to mercilessly abuse my friend for bringing a virgin home.
12:25pm: Food comes, and I begin eating like a savage.
12:27pm: More breaking news about the storm. I ignore it, while shoveling my 3rd slice of pizza down my throat.
12:32pm- I belch loudly after dominating the pizza pie and ordering my 4th mimosa. More coverage on the storm emerges on the screen.
Friend: "Do you think this will be serious?"
Me: "Is that what the virgin said to you last night?"
12:40pm: I get a email from my building, informing me that power may be shut off and ordering an evacuation before noon on Monday.
This is going to be bullshit, just like Irene I thought, as I polished off another mimosa and called my hotel asking for a room.
Manager- "Pack a bag and be prepared to stay here for a few days. We need all hands on deck!!!"
Oh, fuck no. I'm leaving Tuesday morning for my car on Staten Island, and getting the hell out of New York to go to Maine for four days and eat lobster with my best gal. I won't be stopped by some exaggerated state of panic.
12:55pm: This guy shows up:
1:20pm: After watching the New York Jets prove to be the worst team to watch in football, my friend gets nervous and asks for the check, so he could go back to Staten Island.
Me- "Oh, come on!!! We just got here!!! Don't be a pussy!!!"
As I slammed down what had to be my seventh mimosa. Not only was it cheap, but the server just kept em' coming.
2:00pm: We return to my place after two hours of gulping mimosas and booing Mark Sanchez. My roommate is there, packing.
Roommate: "Just got a call from Con-Ed. They're shutting the power off tomorrow morning. We have to evacuate."
Me: "This is ridiculous. Same bullshit happened last year."
I grabbed a bag, threw in a pair of underwear, socks, a Knicks jersey, and a t-shirt thats says "you stink and I don't like you." I'll be damned if I took this seriously.
2:05pm: Roommate suggests that we go to a bar near my hotel to watch my beloved New York Football Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys. FINALLY, someone says something that makes sense.
3:10pm: I check into my hotel, and facetiously ask the front desk agent, whom doesn't recognize me without my doorman uniform, for a "bell boy" to help me up to the room with my duffel bag. She rings the bell, and I run away giggling.
4:10pm: We're at the bar. Roommate is pouring pitchers of beer down my throat. I'm ossified.
6:10pm: The Giants are blowing a 23-0 lead to the fucking Cowboys. I can barely see straight. I remember that I have to work at midnight. Believing that eating 15 buffalo wings will sober me up, I begin stuffing my face.
6:30pm: Roommate comes over with a shot of Jameson. I'm convinced that he wants to kill me, so I dash out of the bar and jump in the first available taxi, asking to take me uptown to my hotel.
6:32pm: I forget that I'm not going to downtown to my apartment, and I think that the taxi driver is taking me for a ride.
Me: "WHY THE FUCK ARE WE GOING UPTOWN?!?!"
Cabbie: "You said 53rd and 6th!"
Me: "Oh... right. My bad."
6:38pm: I give him a $10 tip because I feel bad for yelling at him, then get Halal food, like an asshole.
7:01pm: It's 24-23 Cowboys, and I've passed out with a half-eaten plate of lamb over rice next to me.
11:35pm: I get a call from the Bell Captain's desk, asking if I wanted to go out. I remember that I have to work at midnight. I grunt and cough loudly, then hang up without giving an answer.
11:50pm: I stagger through the lobby like a zombie, wearing a stained undershirt, flip flops and basketball shorts. The front desk agent looks at me like she would a homeless man with his scrotum hanging out. I head into the locker room to change into my uniform for the overnight shift.
I had to work from midnight to eight as a bellman, go back to my room and sleep for a few hours, then come back down to work 3pm-midnight on the door. I had a long 24 hours ahead of me as a result of my borderline alcoholism:
12:00am: I punch in. The overnight managers notice my bloodshot eyes and reek of booze and continue with their work, because overnight managers don't give a shit about anything but finishing their paperwork so they could take turns napping for the rest of the evening.
12:05am: I check my phone and see that the Giants won in last-second, dramatic fashion. Of course I would fucking miss that.
12:15am: Step outside for a little air and notice that there's no rain. This annoys me. The subways were shut down at 7pm, and there's still fucking no rain. Not even a little gust of wind. I'm convinced that the hurricane, like Irene before it, has been completely overhyped.
1:30am: I've performed Al Pacino's pre-game speech from Any Given Sunday, Edward Norton's "Fuck You" monologue from 25th Hour, and every anti-climactic Joe Buck call from the last decade in front of no one, because there's no one in the fucking lobby.
2:30am: I've made zero dollars and the halal food, buffalo wings, beer, pizza, and mimosas from the previous day are all sloshing around in my belly. I step outside again, where the streets are eerily calm.
4:15am: My co-workers, who are also staying in the hotel, come stumbling in from a night of dancing and drinking. They all had a gay old time. I hate them.
5:30am: Still have yet to have made a dollar. A delivery pulls up, and it's a motorized scooter for the elderly or people with disabilities. I sign for it and wheel it into the elevator.
5:32am: When I get to the storage room, I notice that on the panel, it has two pictures on opposite ends of a dial: one has a turtle, the other a rabbit.
That's cute, I thought. It must go pretty fast.
5:34am: I'm gunning it down the hallway at a healthy 20 MPH. I'm at about 3/4 speed, just hovering over the rabbit zone.
6:12am: I'm at full-blown rabbit on the 17th floor, looking over my shoulder at the pretend John Travolta chasing me in a jet ski with an AK-47.
6:40am: Finishing off my last round of donuts in the main storage room with the speed just in the center of the rabbit and turtle. I lose control, and crash into a rollaway bed.
6:42am: After doing a spot-check, the scooter appears to be unharmed, but after rebooting it, I noticed that I drained at least 1/4 of the battery. Fuck. When I stand up straight, I feel a light-headed rush, which makes me dizzy.
6:45am: Every bit of comfort food and booze that I put in my body the previous day comes to the surface, and I scream-puke my guts out into a hallway garbage can.
6:53am: Toss the garbage bag full of my fluids into the dumpster outside. I notice the breeze has turned to wind, which brushes me off-balance and sends a string of vomit-drool from my bottom lip flailing into the wind. A woman walks by looks at me like I'm the most specialest of bell boys.
6:59am: I return to the lobby, where neither of the overnight managers have noticed my nearly 2-hour absence, because they're both sleeping.
7:00am: The morning bellmen come to clock in, and I leave and hour early without permission. My first zero-dollar day ever.
7:04am: Strip down to my underwear and crawl into bed. I hear the winds howling from outside.
7:05am: Out like a light.
7:10am: The winds whipping outside abruptly wake me up. I can feel the cold breeze through the air-conditioning vents.
Whenever I was finally able to doze off, I would be awakened by the harsh winds beginning to form. This happened on and off till I had to get ready for my 3pm shift.
2:30pm: I hear a loud crash outside. I wait about three minutes to make sure that my building isn't going to come down, then I exhale.
3:00pm: I clock in to find that the main entrance door is taped off. This only leaves the revolving door on the side, which is the designated smoking area. The manager tells me to stay inside and just keep people calm.
3:02pm: People are not fucking calm and it's very difficult to calm them down when I don't speak their language.
3:05pm I walk outside to see what all of the commotion is about. A large crane that was left 75 stories high had snapped and was dangling in the wind a mere 2 blocks from the hotel. Every street within a three block radius has been taped off, including ours.
3:06pm: I notice that, as expected, none of these idiots have any regard for the danger of a massive piece of machinery whipping around like a flag that can come down and annihilate everything in it's path.
3:10pm: I'm one of those idiots, trying to sneak a peak and get a picture.
3:12pm: A large gust of wind comes, blowing the crane around like it's nothing. Cops start yelling for people to start walking south. No one listens. A Lieutenant then runs over from across the street and screams, in the loudest, scariest New York accent: "YO!!! EVERY START MOVING, RIGHT NOW!!!" Whatever it was about this man's voice made everyone sprint down the block while looking back like a Hollywood disaster movie. I play it cool, like a New Yorker, of course, but I'm scared to death. I do a sissy speed walk/light jog to the door.
3:30pm: A guest asks if there will be Harlem Gospel tours tomorrow. I stare at him blankly, then walk away.
3:50pm: Asked when the hurricane will be over for the 100th time. I finally snap, saying that if I could predict the weather, I wouldn't be a doorman. The guest gives me a dirty look. I don't care.
4:15pm: A guest asks if Macy's will be open tomorrow. I explain that the East River and East Village are merging. Guest doesn't get it. I walk away.
4:30pm: A guest inquires about the emergency protocol. I say you're looking at it and that he should stay calm and remain in his room unless informed otherwise. Unsatisfied with my answer, he asks the security guard next to me. Security tells him to go into his room, and turn on the television, which will make him just as informed as us. He still isn't satisfied. Guest complains to management about "stupid employees whom don't care about the safety of the guests." We all have a good chuckle.
4:45pm: A guest, wearing a poncho, asks where to find the nearest hop on, hop off bus stop. I ask her if she knows what's going on outside. Her response is "I'm from England, it rains all the time."
5:00pm: My friend from the other night texts: "Are you okay?"
Me- "How many times did you ask the virgin that the other night?"
5:10pm: An old man emerges from the elevator in the scooter that I took for a joyride during my overnight. Since we can't use the exit with the ramp, I need to have 2 guys from security help me carry it down the steps, so he could exit through the gift shop. The man tries to give me a five, which I politely decline.
Security: "Yo, why didn't you take the five?"
Me- "He's done enough for me already."
5:30pm: Asked when the subways will be running for the 100th time. I explain that if I had the power to drain the decontaminate the subways, I wouldn't be a doorman. Guest is not impressed with my answer. I don't care.
5:45pm: MOM calling.
Mom- "Oh, good! You're alive. Listen, don't go outside until they fix the crane. They said on TV that if that thing falls, it will go through the concrete like a knife through butter and it will hit the gas tanks underground causing a huge explosion so promise me that you won't go outside. Ok, my phone is dying. Talk to you later. Don't go outside. Love you!'
6:00pm: I realize that I have been acting unfavorably with people and that I should have more patience. After all, these people are stranded in a strange city in the midst of a disaster. I make a pact with myself to be nicer.
6:02pm: A guests asks if it's too late to go down to the Statue of Liberty. I ask if he has just awoke from a 2-day nap. I give him five seconds to respond. He doesn't, so I walk away.
6:05pm: A guests calls downstairs and asks if the hurricane is over. I say "no". She asks what time it will end. I put her on hold and walk away from the phone.
6:06pm: I rescind my pact to be nicer to these fucking clowns.
6:55pm: A fat fuck French woman, who I had repeatedly asked to not smoke in front of the door during her entire stay, lights a cigarette inside. Like she's earned the right to smoke indoors because of the natural disaster going on outside. Fuck her. I walk over, and before I could get out a "Ma'am", she makes a horrific sound and walks out the door. When I say "horrific sound", I don't mean a groan and a grimace, I mean a sound that you hear a cow make before you have to shoot it in the head and put it out of it's misery. I wish horrible things upon her.
7:00pm: I hear screaming coming from outside. Everyone rushes out the door, including me. When there's a natural disaster outside and violent screaming is heard, why is it human instinct to run toward the danger?
7:01pm: I remember the hex I put on that fat bitch, and get scared that I just successfully willed death on another human being. When I get outside, I see a teenager keeled over, with blood pouring from his face. Apparently debris, from a building that wasn't ours (as per the engineer), fell from the sky, shattered on the street, and hit this poor kid in the face.
Oh, thank God, I thought. There was only one guy from security outside, and he looked at me and said "we need to get all of these people the fuck off the street."
The two of us begin trying to get these morons off the street, with little success. Everyone is too busy looking up and taking pictures of the falling sky. After a few minutes of begging and pleading these people to not make us liable for being impaled by falling chunks of brick, we were able to get everyone inside, so we closed the exit and stopped letting people out.
You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to keep people from danger when danger is so evidentially clear. Gozdilla could have been waiting outside with a sign that said "I WILL BLOW FIRE ON AND DINOSAUR RAPE FIRST FUCKER THAT STEPS OUT HERE" and a forty-foot line of people would have formed with iPhone's ready to roll. Every time someone would come down the steps, I would explain that the sky is falling, that there are bricks raining down onto the sidewalk, hitting people in the face, and would get nothing but attitude.
I'm sorry, I didn't realize sparing one from a gruesome death was a dick move in your country.
After fifteen frustrating minutes of this bullshit, an older gentleman made a move toward the door. I blocked it with my arm:
Me- "Sir, you can't go out there."
He stared at me with a smile from ear to ear, then tried to walk around me. I stood my ground.
Me- "Sir, you don't want to go out there. There's debris falling. It's very dangerous."
He laughs and tries to walk around me again. Maybe he doesn't understand English. So in my best, chastising, talking-to-forgeigner voice:
Me- "THERE-ARE-OBJECTS-FALLING-FROM-THE-SKY.... IF-YOU-GO-OUTSIDE-YOU-WILL-GET-HURT"
Still all smiles, he pats me on the shoulder, says "see you later", and limbos under my arm, out the door.
Me- "Alright, don't say I didn't warn you when you get killed! JACKASS!!!"
Security runs over and asks who I'm yelling at. I point outside to the guy, who is looking up at the building with a flashlight.
What's some idiot tourist doing with a flashlight?!?
Me- "That fucking asshole."
Security laughs a very boisterous laugh.
Security- "Yo, that's Pavel, the chief engineer!!! You dumb motha fucka!!!"
Pavel made it back alive, and I apologized and introduced myself to him later on. He was really cool about it. For the rest of the night, every time he would pass by me, he would shine his flashlight on my crotch with a creepy smile. I have no idea why.
The remainder of the evening was pretty uneventful. Mostly the same moronic inquiries over and over. After work, all of the front office staff staying in the hotel hung out, watched Ted and drank beers . From the looks of it in midtown Manhattan, I didn't see what the big deal was. Yes, the crane was scary, some shit fell from the sky, but all of my friends and relatives whom I kept in contact with were fine, and I didn't hear anything about major damage.
As we all know, I was sadly mistaken. I had no idea what I would be in store for in the next few days.
Part II- The Recon Mission
Let's bring it back to Monday night, where we left off. I had just finished my tenth straight day of work, all so I could take a road trip up to New England with my best gal. For weeks, all I looked forward to was the four day trip that would have me sipping New England craft beer and eating butter-soaked lobster like a monster. Now, I'm waking up in the very hotel in which I work, trapped in the city that I desperately needed a break from, unable to get out. Since it was day one of my "vacation", I decided to take it easy and hang out in the hotel room.
I headed out to get some stuff from Duane Reade. It had stopped raining, and all that remained was a slight breeze. I crossed the street and looked up at my first daylight-view of the crane:
Looking back, it's pretty fucking scary. I wish I had video of how it was flailing in the wind like a goal post wind flag. Had it come off and flew in our direction, we'd be fucked. Mom was right.
After buying the bare essentials for the day (Brooklyn Oktoberfests, beef jerky, and Arizona Green Tea) I went back to my room and watched the ongoing coverage of the Hurricane aftermath.
As time went on and I watched more and more, I realized that was far more serious that I had initially thought. Flooding and fires had destroyed Rockaway Beach and Breezy Point. The boardwalk of Seaside Heights, where I spent nearly every summer of my childhood and college years, was washed away in the Atlantic Ocean. Manasquan, NJ, where I spent every summer of my adulthood, was under four feet of water. And, most importantly to me, Staten Island was in shambles. My family and friends were okay, but the death toll steadily rose by the hour. Most of the people that I was in contact with had lost power and had dead cell phones as a result of broadcasting their every move on Facebook and Instagram.
Hours went by and I was still glued to the TV. I get a call from the Bell Captain's desk. It's Marty, my fellow doorman buddy who lives in Hoboken, NJ with his fiancé.
Marty- "Dude, do you need to go back to your apartment?"
Me- "Yeah, I'd like to get some stuff. Why? You have a car?'
Marty- "Yeah, I've got the Jeep. We could go after midnight."
Me- "Perfect, I'm in!"
Marty- "Awesome, we just have to make a quick stop first to get my girl in Hoboken. It'll be a little recon mission."
Hoboken got CRUSHED by the storm and was under several feet of water.
And that's the genius of one man manipulating another. He offers me something I need, then casually mentions a hideously dangerous task while sprinkling an cool phrase like "recon mission." This will be the first of many tricks to manipulating a man with cool manly things that are mentioned in this blog. Take notes, ladies.
Me- "Recon mission? You bet your fucking bippy! I'm in!!!"
I throw my half-full beer into the garbage, then take a nap to rest up for the recon mission. At some point during my nap, the front desk manager calls and asks if I want to work overtime the next day. I accept, because I have nothing better to do.
12:00am: I'm waiting in the lobby, eagerly awaiting the recon mission. I was mostly excited about getting into my apartment, grabbing clothes and cleaning out all of the meat in my fridge that was undoubtedly going bad. At that point, they had anticipated us being back in the building by that Friday, so all I needed was a few more articles of clothing.
Marty comes into the lobby, in his street clothes, and we begin our recon mission.
Please note: as you read this, you'll question the sanity in our decision to take this adventure. I'm fully aware that it was a stupid thing to do, but I'm alive now, so go fuck yourself.
We head toward NJ in Marty's jeep through the Lincoln Tunnel. No cars on the road, no water in the streets. This may be easier than we thought. We roll into Hoboken without a hitch.
After about ten blocks, we start to run into a couple of inches of water... then a foot... then two feet.. then three. Eventually, I can see steam rising from the headlights, which means that they were underwater.
Me- "So, umm... Where's your place?"
Marty, as cool as I've ever seen him, assures me that we're fine, and the apartment is only a couple of blocks away. He's an auto-mechanic by trait, so I trust him.
The block before his was under at least four feet of water, so we needed to find another route. He begins backing up one-ways, driving on sidewalks, and plowing through garbage cans and other floating objects in the street to find a way to get to his woman. Their power had been out for days, so she didn't know he was coming to get her. A grand romantic gesture to say the least, but I was getting scared. All I kept thinking about was the phone call that I was going to potentially make to my Old Man:
"Hey, Old Man! What's up? So, remember when I was safe in that hotel room with electricity and heat, away from the eye of the storm? Well, I'm in Hoboken now, floating on top of a Jeep. Funny story..."
Just as that thought enters my brain, I hear gunshots- at least twenty fucking gunshots that had to have come from within a few blocks from where we were.
Me- "What the fuck?!?! Were those gunshots?"
Marty- "The apartment is right on that corner. You think if I jumped out here, I would make it over there without going underwater?"
Me- "YOU'RE NOT LEAVING ME HERE! DID YOU NOT HEAR THOSE FUCKING GUNSHOTS?!?!"
Without answering, he puts the car in reverse and floors it back up the block, then plows through another three feet of water to the next block.
We stop to contemplate our next move, and a light blinds my eyes. Someone is flashing a flashlight in my eyes from the 3rd floor of an apartment building. This is becoming post-apocalyptic, "Walking Dead" scary. I've seen enough end-of-the-world films to know that a chance encounter with other refugees frequently end with bloodshed.
Me- "Holy shit, we're going to get car-jacked. They're gonna come down and shoot us."
Marty- "Shut the fuck up. We're gonna be fine."
Me- "Dude, this is a mistake."
Marty- "Shut up! I'm not leaving without my fiancé. We'll be fine, I promise."
I gotta admit, I was terrified. We hadn't seen a soul for miles, apart from this faceless person shining a flashlight. Oh yeah, and there were fucking gunshots in the vicinity. Marty, however, was cool as a cucumber. And he's not a calm guy- his temper is twice as bad as mine on a good day. But he kept it together. If it weren't for his Eli Manning-like calmness, I probably would have had a panic attack.
After another series of backtracking and nearly sinking the jeep, we hopped the curb and drove on the sidewalk to the front of his apartment. Marty turned the lights off, jumped out, and locked the doors.
Marty- "Don't open the door for anyone but me."
Like I'm his six-year-old son. I deserved it, because I was acting like a pussy. Looking for a distraction, I start thumbing through Facebook on my phone. It's the same as it was the last 50,000 times I checked it- people pissing and moaning about losing power while they waste their phone battery, which they probably need in case of an emergency, uploading pictures of their dark houses, food, and alcohol that they stockpiled in the fridge. After about ten seconds, I was already deep into my own head:
"All alone. No big deal. It's just Hoboken. All young professionals. You have lot's of friends here. I wonder if anyone from the shore lives on this block. I hope they're okay. I hope they didn't get robbed. Oh my God, what if one of my friends got robbed? What if they got robbed at gunpoint? Holy fuck, there were shots fired! Fucking gunshots! Oh my god. Oh my god. That person in the window is gonna find the car and try and kill me because we didn't stop to help. I'm gonna die! I'm gonna-"
I hear a loud THUD on the hood of the car followed by an "OPEN THE DOOR MOTHER FUCKER!!!"
I scream and cover my face. My phone goes flying out of my hand and into the backseat. I frantically turn to grab it, so I can call 911 or Marty or whoever, praying that I don't get shot in the back of the head in the process.
Before I could get to the phone, I hear laughing coming from outside.
Son of a bitch.
Knowing full-well that this is one of those incidents that will haunt me forever, that will result in years of ridicule and abuse from all of the guys from work, I turn to see Marty, laughing like a hyena outside the car.
Marty- "Dude! I've been here the whole time. I'm sorry, I had to. Okay, gonna get my girl now."
He runs inside. The bastard crouched down, waddled all the way around the other side of the car, in two feet of water, sat in said water for at least three minutes, just so he could scare the shit out of me. I could picture him, giggling with his balls dunked in the flood water, knowing the discomfit of having wet pants on the ride home would be well worth the price of seeing the look on my face while my life flashed before my eyes.
Well played, sir.
No more than two minutes later, I see a truck coming from the rear-view mirror.
Oh, fuck. What now?
It's moving slow. Creeping. I'm edge, to say the very fucking least. The truck stops right next to mine. A flashlight, the same one from the building, flashes in my eye.
Alright, this is it. I put my hands up, trying to block the light. The truck isn't an ordinary SUV- it's much bigger, twice the size of the Jeep.
Man in truck- "You alright, buddy?"
I roll down the window, and the man points the flashlight down, towards his jacket.
Army fatigues. The fucking National Guard!!!
Me- "Yes, sir! Thank you! Thank you, sir!"
I salute, like a god damn idiot, because I wasn't sure what to do. Not an honorable looking salute, either. It was one of those open-finger, open-mouthed, cross-eyed, salutes that looked like I was mocking them. Just an over-eager, "oh, he must be special", jerk of the hand from my forehead. They move on after humoring me with a salute. I'm surprised they didn't invite me up to try on a helmet and sit behind the wheel.
After what feels like five hours, Marty and his fiancé finally come down, and we head back to Manhattan, where he bragged about scaring the Christ out of me and I told the story of the National Guard thinking I was retarded. When we got into lower Manhattan, it was a ghost town like I'd never seen. No lights, no people- only scattered police cars and taxis.
I live(d?) in the Financial District. After 7pm on any given night, the neighborhood is dead, but I've never seen it this dark and erie. Our building has been keeping us in the loop, slightly, and I was under the impression that we were going to be back in the building by Friday. All I wanted to do was get another change of clothes and clean out the fridge.
When I get to the apartment, the smell of oil nearly knocks me unconscious. The lobby is pitch black, and there are a bunch of workers wearing gas masks. I see Kenny, the overnight maintenance guy, who I'm friendly with because I'm not a snooty little trust fund brat like a lot of the pricks that live in my building. He sees me and gives me a hug.
Kenny- "Yo, Doorman! How you doing?"
Me- "I'm good, man. How long have you been here?"
Kenny- "Since Sunday, bro. Shit's fucked up over here."
Me- "What do you mean?"
Kenny- "Let me show you something. Just keep this shit quiet."
And here's why you need to be good people who provide a service for you. Instead of bullshitting me, he showed me what was going on, right away, even though he wasn't supposed to. After leading me across the lobby, he opens the door to the basement:
See at the bottom of the steps, where it gets dark? That's water.
Kenny- "The basement is three stories deep, and it's filled to the top. All of the electrical equipment is down there. I don't know what you came here to get, but you better pack a suitcase."
Me- "Thanks, bro."
Marty and I climb up to the steps to my apartment on the twelfth floor. Breathing in the fumes, along with my nine-month absence of a cardio workout, makes for a miserable five minutes that nearly results in me puking my guts out. I vow that if I ever am able to get back into this building, I will start working out again. Please, someone hold me to that. I'm still in my twenties, and after twelve flights of steps, I was sweating like a hostage.
Luckily, my apartment was completely unharmed. I grab a suitcase and pack for a week while Marty cleans out my fridge. It was the least he could do after nearly giving me several heart attacks. Before leaving, I stop and take a long, hard look at my place. Getting down the steps is much easier.
On the way out, we give Kenny and the other people working in the building a case of water and snacks from Marty's trunk. I shake Kenny's hand and thank him, wondering if I'll ever see him again. For months, we would make small-talk in the garden area while he cleaned up and I wrote my blogs. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, and has a band that's been together for years. He's just another dude, stuck in a job and trying to make it, like me.
Marty, his fiancé, and I headed back uptown. The car ride was mostly quiet. After stopping at the pub for a beer, we went to sleep at 4am.
Recon Mission: Accomplished.
I worked OT the next day and mostly dealt with the same bullshit that I did during the hurricane. My family was safe, as was their houses. When I finished up my shift, I needed to get the fuck out of Manhattan. I was supposed to be in Portland, ME, eating lobster and having lots of sex. Not stuck in my hotel, worrying if I'd ever be able to enter my apartment again. My best gal went to work that day and met me at the hotel, where we scored discount tickets to Once and traveled back to her place in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which was miraculously untouched by the storm.
We decided that if we weren't going to have a vacation, we would make the best of it, and had an awesome couple of days. I decided that I was also going to take a vacation from Facebook, which I like to do from time to time. We went out to dinner, watched movies, and slept in for two days. For a brief amount of time, I turned off all of the stress of the storm, and was able to recharge my body.
All was going well, till I decided to check my phone on Friday. Staten Island was in shambles. While my family was okay, my friend's families were far from it. Facebook is almost always a very poor place to obtain information, but this time, it was the only place where I was able to find out what was really going on in my hometown.
People were posting pictures of their destroyed homes and cars. Entire sections of the island were still completely flooded. Children were still missing. I saw some of this on the news, but not to this extent. The Red Cross and FEMA still had very little presence, if any at all, in the most hard-hit areas. It was really fucking bad.
As Best Gal and I sat down in a douchey Williamsburg cafe to have a douchey lunch with giant, douchey, $6 cappuccino's, I was glued to my phone. As I had to give my order off the chalkboard wall to a douchey waiter wearing a flannel shirt, tie, scarf, and wool hat, I overheard two hipsters talking at the table next to me:
Hipster Girl- "This storm is totally fucking up my shit."
Hipster Guy- "Seriously, I had to ride my bike to the studio yesterday because the L train is still not running."
After just reading an article about a mother losing her two infant sons in the storm, I fought the urge to flip the table over and bash their heads together. I turned to Best Gal:
Me- "I have to go to Staten Island."
And I did just that. She understood, because she's a saint. We left the Fucktard Cafe without canceling our order with Shiloh the Barista. I called my roommate, who was on her way back from Cape Cod, where she was stuck all week, to grab as much gas as she could and scoop me up on the way down. I called out of the work for the weekend, and was coming home.
Part III- The Recovery
Almost a year ago, I couldn't wait to get the fuck out of Staten Island. Having spent my whole life there, never leaving for any extended period of time, I was done. My friend's were all getting married, having children, buying houses, starting their lives, and I was still in pursuit of a childhood dream. I had outgrown it, or it had outgrown me. After my initial hellish experience moving into the Manhattan, I settled in and made a life for myself, leaving the forgotten borough in the rear-view, vowing to never come back. I never wore being from Staten Island as a badge on honor, particularly since I moved away, because reality TV ruined that for all of us, but I never forgot where I came from. After this experience, I find myself humbled and prouder than ever to be a native Staten Islander:
It's Friday night, and I had just called out of work on Saturday and Sunday to help with the cleanup efforts on Staten Island. Apparently, FEMA and the Red Cross, which collected endless donations in the wake of the storm, was nowhere to be found, and the residents themselves banned together to organize their own recovery. At no point while I was volunteering did I see any Red Cross or FEMA trucks helping out. It was all residents and volunteers, all day.
Best Gal and I shopped for food, toiletries, work gloves, and just about anything we could get our hands on while I waited to be picked by my roommate, who was bringing about 10 gallons of gas from Massachusetts. After we part ways, Best Gal spent the rest of the weekend volunteering and collecting donations in Lower Manhattan.
A group of guys I grew up with, who requested to be called The Top 140, banned together and aimed to meet at 7am sharp on Saturday morning:
(Yes, I am one of the men in that picture. No, I will not tell you which one.)
The plan was to hit our buddy's cousin's house, then hit up a few houses in the area to see who needed help. For the past few days, looters were dressing like Con Ed and FEMA workers and robbing houses, so we were turned away many times while going door to door. The first house we went to had most of their possessions, completely waterlogged and destroyed, already out on the lawn. While we waited for the dumpster to arrive, they asked that we bring up the large appliances from their finished basement.
Whenever you get a ban of people together who aren't used to doing manual labor, there tends to be a lot of cooks in the kitchen. While I'm fairly handy, I know that I'm there to lift things, because that's what I do. The first hour or so was sloppy, because everyone was eager to help and there was no plan- guys were wondering around aimlessly with nothing to do, getting into arguments, and just trying to find their place in the job with little success.
Then Uncle Lenny showed up.
God bless Uncle Lenny, because everyone has an "Uncle Lenny" in their family. You know, the underachieving uncle that only shows up on holidays, who means well, but drives everyone fucking nuts?
We all had a thought process in this whole thing, because the job that we were doing was dangerous. When performing any arduous activity, there's an inner-monolugue that happens in our head, which analyzes everything that's going on regarding the task at hand. Uncle Lenny had one of those, just like everyone else, though every word of that inner-monologue was live-streamed through his mouth:
Uncle Lenny- "Alright we gotta get that fuckin' fridge in the basement out the door ova hea! How the fuck are we gonna get it out the door? We should take the doors off the fridge. Actually, no, fuck it, let's leave the fuckin' doors on. It'll be too much work to take them off. Alright, we need a hand truck. Oh, we have one? Alright, let's get a bunch of guys and get it up the fuckin' steps. We're gonna need at least 5 guys."
Relative- "THEY ALREADY DID THAT UNCLE LENNY, SHUT THE FUCK UP!"
And we did. We had a massive fridge that we brought up the basement steps, but couldn't get it out the screen door because we cut corners and neglected to take the doors off the refrigerator. Now, we were trying to figure out a way to get it out of the house. Uncle Lenny was literally standing in front of the door that had the refrigerator blocking it, saying all of this.
Uncle Lenny- "Well let's get it out the fuckin' door then! We got a lot of young guys standing around doin' nothin'. Let's get it the fuck out!"
He gallops to the fridge and begins tugging on the hand truck with no success.
Uncle Lenny- "Holy fuck! This thing is fuckin' heavy!"
Relative-"YOU'RE NOT GONNA LIFT THAT THING ON YOUR OWN, YOU FUCKIN' ASSHOLE!"
Uncle Lenny- "Well we got all these young guys standing around, doin' nothin'! Come on, guys! Help me out, ova hea!"
We had just spent the past half hour trying to figure out how to get the fridge out the door with no success. It was clearly wider than the screen door, and Uncle Lenny didn't realize that. For some reason, several guys ran over to help, as if they thought Uncle Lenny had some magic solution to shrink the fridge by two feet.
Uncle Lenny- "Alright guys, on the count of tree- one, two- WAIT! Hold on! I gotta get a good grip! Okay, let's go! One, two, tree!!!"
Uncle Lenny lifts the fridge incorrectly with his back. The younger guys at the bottom push as hard as they can, and it smashes him right in the nose with a loud "THWACK"!
He drops the fridge, takes a step back with his eyes shut, and begins tearing immediately. Blood begins to gush from his nose. He picks his head up, staggers to the left, then adjusts his glasses and continues on like nothing happened.
Uncle Lenny- "Okay, that didn't work." As blood poured down his lips and onto his yellow teeth.
Relative- "YOU BROKE YOUR NOSE, YOU FUCKIN' IDIOT!"
Uncle Lenny- "No I didn't! I'm fine!"
He looks down at his gray sweatshirt, which is already drenched in blood.
Uncle Lenny- "Oh, fuck! I'm fuckin' bleedin'! Why didn't anyone tell me? I gotta go get cleaned up."
And down goes Uncle Lenny.
We eventually were able to get the doors off the fridge, and carry it out to the lawn. The dumpster arrives, and we all finally find a work balance. It's a sobering thing to watch all of someone's possessions be shoveled away into a dumpster. More and more people arrived to pitch in, and after about an hour, we fill the dumpster to the brim and then some. At one point, we had guys on top of the pile, jumping up and down to compact space. Miraculously, we were able to get everything in there.
The owner of the house treated us to coffee and donuts, which we graciously accepted. While we were eating, Uncle Lenny comes chugging around the corner with bloody toilet paper stuffed in each nose.
Uncle Lenny- "Holy fuck! The dumpsta is here? That's a big fuckin' dumpsta! Okay, we got a bunch of young guys standin' around, doin' nothin'. Let's start bringing the shit-"
Relative- "WE'RE DONE, YOU FUCKIN' ASSHOLE!!!"
We moved onto the next house.
That house was just like the rest, that we would ensure that day, though it had these things in the wreckage that just killed me. Kids of the 80's will understand:
The guy that lived in this house was a pretty successful DJ, and he had converted his basement into a studio. All the equipment he had bought and worked for over the years was completely destroyed. We spent a good two hours there, throwing out water-logged speakers, records, and antique souvenirs. Losing your possessions is bad enough, but he seemed to be a proud collector, and everything, including his business, was gone.
After about two hours and another full dumpster, we were all starting to get a little tired and decided to take a lunch break. Since there was really nothing left from the house to pull, we opted to move on. Then the father of the house stopped us as we were leaving:
Father- "Hey, you guys wanna rip down a ceiling?"
Whenever you want to keep men around for anything, promise demolition and breaking things. Sometimes, men just have to break things.
We went into the basement and got to work. I was able to effortlessly put my hand through the sheet rock and pull down entire sections of the ceiling. The insulation was water logged as well, and we had to wring it out before putting it into a contractor bag. It was horrible. With everyone doing that, the floor gained another inch or two of water.
After about an hour of that, we moved on, with every lawn in the neighborhood looking like this:
Still no signs of FEMA or Red Cross.
We hit three or four more houses after that. It was all the same- people's lives spread out all over the lawn, waiting for a few helping hands to throw it away. People, just like us, walking around and offering help. I'd never seen Staten Islanders come together like this. Folks we driving around, offering soup and sandwiches to volunteers. It was incredible.
When we finished up at the last house, I went to a drop-off station to donate the food and toiletries that Best Gal and I bought. The person in charge was this guy Mark, a guy I went to high school with. We used to fucking hate each other. He ran up to me and gave me a hug.
Mark- "Doorman! What's up bro? You need anything from here? We have plenty of stuff!"
Me- "No! No! I have some stuff to donate."
Mark- "Oh, man! Thank you so much bro! We really appreciate it."
At that moment, I couldn't, for the life of me, remember why we didn't like each other in the first place.
It was there where I snapped the picture of the day. That's a volunteer:
At sundown, we decided to wrap up. In the end, we hit about five houses, all of them completely devastated by flood waters. We all showered and convened at Pier 76 later on in the evening and drank the night away, telling embarrassing stores and abusing each other, just like old times. (Tourists- if you take the SI Ferry over to see the Statue of Liberty and want to experience some of the best pizza in the city, make the short walk across the street and eat there. 76 Bay St, hence the name, Pier 76. You're welcome.)
As much as we got accomplished, we didn't put a dent into what still needs to be done. If you want to come help out on Staten Island, and aren't sure where to start, please email me at TBoneHotel@gmail.com and I'll direct you to the right people.