Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Golden raintrees and blackouts

Then, in bloom, in June. Congress and Clinton Streets.

Now, full of little pale green paper lanterns.

The bad news is that Con Edison, our electricity supplier, has cut back on the neighbourhood's voltage to prevent a blackout. A nice Con Ed employee called Steven let me know that. The air conditioner is cruising on and off, distinctly below par, and the fan is whirring sedately, quite different from its usual Dakota-plane-about-to-take-off roar.

This little apartment at the top of the building is about 16" below the boiling tartop of the roof and heats up tremendously, so even with a/c, a day like yesterday and today can be a challenge.

Ah, memories of the Blackout out of '03:

My subway was stranded between stations then, at the Brooklyn Bridge stop in Manhattan. We squeezed through the pried-open door of the first car onto the platform. I joined thousands of people walking over the bridge, home to our Borough. The attempt to get cash for a cab failed, as the ATMs were down. The traffic lights were down. And the cab could not have moved. I was carrying my portfolio and was wearing pretty, little, impractical black shoes as I'd just come from a (successful, the shoes worked!) job interview.

We heard rumours on the bridge, from radios in the cars stuck in the gridlock below, that Ohio had no power. It was another perfect blue day, just like September 11th, and a small puff of black smoke hung near the east end of 14th Street, over the East River, where the power plant is. We all thought the worst. I took my shoes off and walked barefoot on the smooth hot planks of the bridge. A Rastaman offered to give me a piggy back on the far side of the bridge (why is it called piggy back?).

In Brooklyn fat ladies directed traffic with Puerto Rican flags. Store owners on the Fulton Mall pulled down their metal gates and posted guards.

My neighbour, Constanza, and I shared drinks (Bourbon, lemon, sugar, melting ice, windowsill mint) in her dark kitchen, and waited for her husband to come home. We grilled on the roof, but the awful landlady popped through a trapdoor and made us stop, screaming that the fire department thought there was a fire on the roof. The cat on his leash bolted at her voice and practically strangled himself. We managed to light the gas in the oven and finished grilling there.

Back on the roof, on camping chairs, we watched a big orange moon rise over the blue and white billboard for Bergen Tiles. Streams of pedestrians kept passing on the street below. On the rooftop, dark silhouettes of people appeared against the moonlight. City of no lights.

Those were the days.


  1. Interesting how every city and country has its own little (and not so little) hiccups. If you never travel find out what goes on in the world you always think your city/country is the worst.

    BTW Constanza is a beautiful name

  2. I was in Maine that night, in fact that summer. We at the program were well tied to NYC, so were well aware of the blackout and felt thankful that we were in the woods of Maine with our power on.

    Then, just after dusk, a car hit an electric pole in the area and blacked us out for the rest of the night. Like some sort of sympathetic power outage, we too suffered a dark night, but with only owls, loons, and imaginary boogey men to haunt us.


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