Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

The blackout

I haven’t updated for a while, because the shit hit the fan right after my last update on Tuesday the 6th. Where do I start?

Okay, on Tuesday, I left the house to eat in an air-conditioned restaurant, ride the AC-equipped subway downtown, and sit in a frigid movie theater, watching movie after movie until I ran out of money. I got all ready, hiked to the subway station, and found chaos. The escalators were broken, and I couldn’t get to a train. I live at 181st, which is the highest point of Manhattan, which means the trains are far underground instead of just a flight of stairs from the street. So I couldn’t just climb down a bunch of stairs and get to the track level. Oh well, I hoped I would be able to walk to the 1 train instead of the A and still make it down south without problems.

I went to the corner cafe, a dive I regularly frequent. The night before, Marie and I spent some time basking in their air conditioning. The place isn’t clean or a four-star restaurant, but it’s a good place to catch a quick meal. I got there, and the AC was dead. So was the soda fountain, but they luckily had some canned drinks. I ate a quick grilled cheese that could’ve cooked itself in the afternoon heat, and headed out.

There are two 181st street subway stops for the A, a couple of blocks apart, so I walked to the other one. No dice there either – the elevator was out, and some old-timer was saying it was a power outage. I figured that a capacitor or a transformer blew from the heat, and the station would be out for a few hours. A biggie, but not insurmountable. I walked to the 1 station, which is a few blocks away, also on 181st. This station just got closed for construction, and on that day it was all fucked up with moving trucks and reels of cable and jackhammers and the precursor to much more major repairs. Although it was supposed to be open, it wasn’t that day. It looked like the same damn problem – a power outage. Fuck it, I thought, I’ll just walk south until I get to an open station.

That wasn’t the wisest idea in the world. It was almost noon, and above 100 degrees, with a rapidly climbing humidity. With my medication, I dehydrate easily, and within a few blocks, I felt like I was 18 miles into a marathon. Luckily, I found a vending machine and bought a drink, and kept at it. I walked from 181st to 168th, descended into the hotter than hell station, and after a few minutes, got a crisp, new A train that just started its day with us. It was about 40 degrees cooler inside, and my body must’ve lost a quart of water weight in sweat almost instantly.

I went to 14th and switched to the L train, to go to Union Square. There, I got tickets to the new Adam Sandler film (it was either that or Star Wars again) and then wandered Circuit City and Virgin a bit. It felt excellent to sit through the movie, even if it was just a mediocre comedy with a predicable script and a few sort of-funny lines. The movie wasn’t worth $10, but the AC was.

I thought about staying to see The Red Violin, but it was about 4:00 and I knew I’d have to fight rush hour traffic home. So I got in a train, stood the whole way back, and got to the house.

It was hotter than FUCK at home. Our AC wasn’t doing much anymore, and even taking a shower didn’t help. Then, we had a serious brown-out that cut out and reset all of the appliances except my computer. I took that as a sign and powered down everything non-essential. Then I waited. Minutes ticked away like hours, and I counted them, hoping they would eventually lead us to January and sub-zero temps. I didn’t know how I’d ever sleep without our window AC pushing cold air into the room. So I waited, kept the TV off because of the brownouts, and hoped for the best. That didn’t happen.

At about 10:00, I was in the kitchen with the lights off, enjoying a very faint breeze that would come through the window every 10 minutes or so. It wasn’t enough to keep me cool, but it was better than nothing. As I looked out the window over Washington Heights, I saw the lights of the apartments, the projects, the streets and stores. And then I saw all of them go out in one fell swoop. The entire neighborhood screamed like something out of a jet crash. EVERYTHING went black – stores, hospitals, streetlights, everything as far as I could see. Actually, I saw a few things on the horizon, probably buildings way into the Bronx, but it looked like all of Manhattan had lost power at once.

We were fucked. We tried the tap water, and it was just spurting. We had maybe 3 liters of water in the fridge, and our fridge had also been on the blink. Marie found some candles, and got on her walkman to listen to the radio for any news. The apartment, now without any fans, quickly heated up well beyond the 100 degrees on the street six floors below, while we tried to figure out what the hell to do. We knew the power wasn’t going to click back on in ten minutes, and it would mean suffering through the night. Marie got a news broadcast that said ConEdison wouldn’t get things back online until the next evening.

We both sat in the living room, Marie on the floor and me on the couch, looking outside and trying not to move. We were both horribly scared for the cats – they were both terribly overheated, and even panting because of the temperature. Seeing a cat pant is a rare occurence, and looks terribly demonic. We hoped that the temp would drop a few degrees now that it was after nightfall, and that the four of us would make it until the morning.

I had a secret weapon of sorts: I didn’t take my medication all day. I forgot it in the morning, and I decided not to take it that night. I knew that I could go for 4 or 5 days without any serious problems, and the lack of lithium would help me survive the heat. And it did – I felt less of a desire to drink water, and the heat didn’t completely wipe me out. But it had me fucked – I was sweating buckets, and couldn’t do anything except struggle through it.

I watched outside for a while, looking at the bizarre landscape. There’s always noise in New York City, but then it was absolutely quiet. The only lights were the police riot wagons making slow, methodical sweeps of each block. Oh, and choppers were circling with their spotlights. It pissed me off that the police were more concerned about their anti-looting position than they were about actually helping people, handing out water and ice, or whatever. If anyone ever tells you that cops are there to serve and protect, they are leaving out part of the proverb – cops are there to serve and protect themselves.

I tried to sleep, but it was one of those nights where you look at your watch every hour. I sweated until I was covered in liquid, and I also had problems with the too-short futon couch. I guess I’ve had to sleep through worse, but this one was in the top ten. I think I sneaked in 3 or 4 hours, but I was up by seven or so when Marie got up. She was supposed to stay home to bitch at a refrigerator repair guy that was coming over, but with no power, that wasn’t going to happen. She went in to work, and I woke up and tried to think of a plan.

The power was down from 150th or so on up to the northern tip of Manhattan, which is 220th. The subways were running, but not in the blackout area. According to the news, MTA was running a bunch of shuttle busses to get people to their stops. So I decided to get the hell out again, and go to Jersey City for the day. The plumbing was back, so I got a cold shower, brushed my teeth, and felt somewhat better. I walked down to 168th street again, and it actually felt almost okay on the street. There was a little breeze, and the temp was closer to 90, so I made it without getting completely totalled. The bus shuttle situation was a mess, but I managed to get downtown and on a PATH train to Jersey without trouble.

The trip to Jersey City only takes a few minutes, but it felt like going through time to me. New York is all about big buildings and tiny stores and a totally different paradigm than what I got used to in the Midwest. But the Newport mall is more like what I’m used to: grassy strips along institutional boulevards, lots of parking, lots of standalone buildings in the middle of asphalt seas, and a few hundred stores in one giant building, with a food court and concourses and everything else that reminds me of Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, Washington.

And I was three doses behind on my medicine. This wasn’t enough to throw me into a full-blown psychotic attack, but it meant any edge on my depression was gone, and I really felt like sitting around and listening to Pink Floyd. I’ve been taking this shit for almost ten years, and for the most part, I have no complaints. But this was the first time since 1990 that I’ve missed more than two doses, and I could feel the difference. I was dealing with a lack of sleep, lack of food (that grilled cheese was the last thing I ate in 24 hours) plus the lack of medicine, so it could’ve been that, too. But nostalgia hit me like a runaway train, and everything reminded me of some other period. The walk through the mall concourse reminded me of fall 88, summer 93, seattle 98, portland 97, and so on. The mall vaguely reminded me of this place in Portland that I used to visit with Karena, but all of the stores reminded me of Alderwood in Seattle, And the whole PATH station smelled like my mom’s old car that I drove in the summer of 93, some kind of powder-fresh air deodorizer. The whole thing freaked the fuck out of me, even more than those things usually do, and it simultaneously got me thinking of like a dozen people that I used to love and would never see again, enough to really make it difficult to go in a Spencer’s and make fun of all of the Wild Wild West bullshit.

So I went to Burger King, for an uneventful solo meal and more recurring thoughts about my life. I decided it would be good for me to see the South Park movie again, so I bought a ticket, went in early, and listened to my MiniDisc while the stupid commercials played before the show. They played, and played, and played… and played. For 45 minutes, me and about 10 other people waited for the fucking movie to start. Finally, someone showed up with a handful of vouchers and announced that the projectionist didn’t make it. Great. At least I got a free pass to another movie, and I could use it at any Loew’s or Sony.

I tried to find something else to do, but the depression trip was laying on strong, and I didn’t know what the hell to do about it. I made a lap through the concourse, and then headed back to New York, vowing to take the lithium the second I got there. I did, and I made a couple of phone calls, since that still worked. Right after 5:00PM, all of the lights and fans and everything else bounced into action, and the entire neighborhood cheered like Sammy Sosa got traded to the Yankees or something. Everything was normal.

Actually, it wasn’t – I was so far off base with medicine, food, and sleep that it took me days to get straight. I’m still a little off, but I am doing a lot better. Today’s the first day I wrote on Rumored in I don’t know how long, though, so there’s a lot of missed time in there. The fridge got fixed, the cats are back to normal, and it’s so cool out tonight that I think I’m going to have to dig out a blanket before I go to bed. So how’s that for a happy ending?

I’m going to DC on Thursday, BTW – I got my tickets and I’m ready to roll. It’s a 4-hour bus ride, and then I’ll be at Larry’s, going to 7-Eleven and driving around aimlessly. I still need to do some quick research and figure out what I’ll be doing, but I will be gone until the 20th. Maybe I’ll update from there, he has a computer. Who knows.

For now, I need to get some shit done and then get some sleep…