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Posted on 2003-08-20 12:04:58 by Denver

Blackout 03
I was writing an email Thursday when the blackout started. There was a zapping, sucking sound at the New School Computer Lab like the oxygen had just been cut off and then a collective groan as people realized all their work had been lost and then silence. A loudspeaker announced that power had been lost in the building. A student had a portable radio with headphones and after a few minutes passed she notified the room of the larger magnitude of what was happening. We evacuated the building and I went home to turn on the battery powered radio in my room. The streets were filled with people milling, evacuating buildings, desperately looking for a cab. I wanted to get inside before something terrible happened (mass confusion? looting? A terrorist attack? The spread of a rage virus rippling through the streets?).

I climbed up the stairs to my Single Room Occupancy on 14th street and fell into an uneasy sleep. Hours passed and I was awakened by a phone call from my sister Elizabeth. She and her friend Dino were on 23rd street and wanted to meet me at the International, a dive bar in the east village. Dino was romancing my sister. We had met him through a friend of the lower east side violin repair shop crowd. He was a student at a boatbuilding school in Maine.

I first met him a year ago when he walked into the Lotus Club drunk and speaking in a strange faintly European inflected accent and got into a fight with one of my Yale School of Drama friends. He seemed resentful of Ivy league education. He also seemed like a bad drunk. We met again during his performance of Hamlet in my friend Ed Gillespie's production of the Luis Bunuel version of Shakespeare's tale. After the show I gave he and Ed my compliments on the production but there was something wedged between us though I was hardpressed to say exactly what. Soon after that I heard he was corresponding with my sister and writing her "beautiful" letters.

I was worried about my sister; she had just moved here from Chico to attend law school in Queens and she didn't know her way around. She didn't have a cell phone and she was temporarily staying in Flushing Queens which was made completely inaccessible by the blackout.

I met them at the International a half hour after I received her call. Elizabeth was already somewhat drunk as they had been forced out of the Buddha exhibition at the Met earlier (Dino had given her a guided tour of the Buddhist shrines and their symbolic context) and had spent the past three hours walking down the east side directing traffic at stoplightless intersections and buying beers at the deli to drink and pass out to the crowds stuffed into the transit buses who were fleeing Manhattan at a snails pace in a desperate attempt to get home to Queens, the Bronx, or Long Island. We met on the street and ducked into the International. We drank a beer and then we were emptied into the street by the bartender as the light began to fade at 7:30pm on a Thursday evening.

The streets were dark but alive with people walking home, playing instruments, observing the spectacle of a powerless New York City, and we decided to head further down into the east village. We walked to the restaurant where Dino's sister cooked, a palacial underground Moroccan place on 1st street. The place was closed and she wasn't around but the manager was bringing out melting ice cream to the residents of the Catholic Worker hospice next door. Some of the residents had arranged themselves in a guitar circle on the sidewalk and one man strummed and sang Moondance in a soft gruff tone.

My mother got through on my cell phone and I assured her of our safety and Lizzy grabbed the phone and began sharing our experiences with our parents. I sat next to Bill, a veteran of the hospice and he shared the history of the Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker and his own journey to New York City in the 70's. He invited me to Friday night meetings where they often had inspiring guest speakers from radical left politics. Dino walked across the street and pissed on a darkened storefront only to be confronted by the shop owner. He apologized but it wasn't good enough for the shop owner and they got into an argument with Dino offering his advice on how to get rid of the smell of urine off storefronts.

Lizzy continued to paint the picture of New York City streets on the phone and I heard about Bill's tenure at the Catholic Worker, his subsequent squat on Avenue C, the gentrification of the east village, and his various odd jobs. Eventually we moved off in search of food and drink. We saw a sign "$2 dollar beers during the blackout" and went down into a basement café on 2nd and 2nd. It turned out they were out of beer and we settled for three gin and tonics with very little ice. The place was so warm that we took them onto the street and sat on a nearby stoop. We left the café and headed down to the Indian cab stand on Houston- Punjabi - where we bought the last cold somosas of the evening along with a couple of plates of spinach and rice.

After the meal we decided to go swimming at a gated public pool down on Houston and Pitt. Dino knew where to climb the fence and evade the security guard. We picked up a couple of six packs of Tecate and climbed the outer fence and waited for Poncho and Kat to peddle over from Williamsburg to join us. After a while, tired of waiting, we started our climb over the ten foot gates. We were almost immediately spotted by a flashlight from the security guard's area and were forced to retreat back to the outer perimeter. A phalanx of swim suited Hispanic teens came running past us.

"Fuckers won't let us in." one said.
"yeah, we just got busted." Dino replied. A cop came from the pool area and picked up an empty beer bottle where we had made a quick exit. He shined his light through the fence on Lizzy.

She stuck out her middle finger. "What are you doing sticking your middle finger up like that?" the cop asked.

"Oh I thought you were the cops." She replied.

"I am the cops, you idiot."

We all put our heads down and waited for the worst. The cop walked away. We paused, and looked at each other. I looked at Dino and laughed out of relief and exasperation. He looked at my sister and then at me and then back to my sister.

"Elizabeth," he said, "you just moved here. Take it easy." We sat on the sidewalk and finished our beers as the lights from flares and emergency vehicles lit up the night sky.

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