What I Would Have Posted on Facebook If I Had Had Power


Or, the self-absorbed diary of a stir-crazy New Jersey shut-in.

Day 1:

You know you’re on the right path, career-wise, when being prohibited from going to work makes you sad. Sorry, Baruch College Writing Center.

Devices charged up, lots of bottled water, ready for whatever but starting to have flashbacks to Irene.

My neighbor just knocked on my door and asked if Gian would be willing to help the guy on the first floor move a piano. “Gian’s out of town,” I said, “but can I help?” “Sure,” he said, “but put on some shoes. Not good shoes, because they’re going to get wet.” Ohhh, I get it.

Trying to lift a rented piano off the ground in the fast-flooding living room of basement-level living, along with eight other people from my building. Someone’s flip-flops float away.

Shin-deep water in the basement, forcing its way in behind light sockets and above the baseboard heater. Through the back windows, you can see it is four feet deep outside.  The lights are still on. Trudging through the water trying to rescue neighbor’s belongings. Someone realizes we should get out of there for danger of electrocution.

This is what they mean by a tidal surge.

Hope that gas-powered generator the building bought yesterday to power the basement sump pump works.

On advice of neighbors, venture out in storm to move car from perfect parking spot in front of building. “Grand Street is a river,” she says. Turn one way, water coming. Turn the other, water coming. Feel like I am in a bad horror movie. Find side street, return home, await disaster.

I am extremely grateful to live on the top floor.

I am a jerk for living on the top floor.

Silver Lining #1: Previously, my biggest worry about spending this week home alone was about getting a ticket for incorrectly moving a parked car.

Just heard a crash from the roof so loud I thought it was my neighbor urgently knocking on my door. When I ask him if he was looking for me, he gives me a sympathetic look. “Let us know if you need anything,” he says. “Don’t be shy; we’ll leave our door open.”

It’s 5 am, the fire alarm is going off. Should I worry? I get out of bed and put on pants, just in case.

Day 2: Tuesday

My neighbors are nice. Nobby in 4A knocks on my door again, just to see if I’ve made it through the night, which I deeply appreciate.

Sandy Lesson #2: We own at least three clock radios, all of which take batteries, but none of which actually can run the radio on just batteries, just the clock. Why is this?

The massive overbuying of beer for our Halloween party means that if I run out of peanut butter and beef jerky and leg of lamb, I could get all the calories I need right there.

Silver Lining #2: My apartment really does get a lot of daylight.

My car has become an expensive and highly inefficient way to keep some juice in my phone, and to listen to NPR. I am ashamed by this. I am not actually absorbing any information. But I find Brian Lehrer’s voice soothing.

Gave my last $20 in cash to the condo president so she could pay the guy they found to help bail us out. Hope other people have cash; he deserves a lot more than that.

Every brownstone in this block has someone standing on the sidewalk trying to get the water out of their basements. Can tell how long people have lived in Jersey City by whether they have gas-powered generators for their sump pumps, or buckets.

Walking around the neighborhood to see what happened, I run into Terry, former publishing intern, and can report she is just as friendly and cheerful in the face of natural disaster as she was for the man-made kind.

Stop by friends’ place to learn they’ve piled everything into the car and headed to the suburbs. They’ve been meaning to do that anyway.

Friends’ first-floor neighbor is tossing stuff onto the sidewalk wearing cleaning gloves. “It just happened to so fast,” she said. “You just can’t move a couch that fast.”

Every time I use this ultra-bright magnetic emergency light, I think of Joe Weiner’s crazy uncle Alex, who gave it to Gian as a present after Joe’s wedding. Perhaps, not so crazy.

Day 3: Wednesday

How long will it take for this New Jersey power outage to feel like a really cool writer’s retreat in Vermont?

Theoretically 2.58 hours of laptop battery should be enough to type up all my notes and draft two book reviews. But I’m still putting it off.

Lots of PSE&G vans on our corner, briefly optimistic. Turns out they were just working on gas, which actually never went out. Real problem is the substation that exploded, which will take a while.

Our theory that we never lose power because we live between two elementary schools and a hospital? False.

They better get that elementary school back in business by Election Day.

Looks like the Goldman Sachs building has power. Damn them.

Driving to check on friend’s apartment closer to the Hudson. Surprisingly, power returns. I have never been so happy to see a red light.

Down by the river, suddenly my phone says I have 56 new emails, all of which want to sell me something. Internet overrated.

Somehow my dad reaches me by phone three times in the three days I’m out of power. This is odd, because he never calls.

Feeling useless around my building, I volunteer to drive somewhere and get something somebody needs. Condo president says people need ice, I say okay. Locates large cooler to put in the back of my car. Then we both realize that ice will be the one thing everybody needs but no one can find. Feel like I’m in a condo meeting all over again.

Find myself in line at the reopened PathMark. All the refrigerated or frozen aisles are walled off with caution tape. And it’s packed. I am the dork getting cat litter and batteries.

Yesterday, I overheard a woman on the street bragging how she got a 20 dollar battery- powered radio for six dollars at “that weird little place on the corner of Grove, you know the one that advertises busses to Atlantic City?” I have been jonesing for that radio ever since.

Neighbor whose apartment is flooded to condo president: “Shouldn’t we take pictures down there before it’s finished pumping out? For the insurance?” Building president: “Oh no, the water line—the water and gas line—is very clear.”

Apparently fuel from our elevator leaked into the water in our basement. Now it is turning the sidewalk yellow.

Building president turned off all our electric panels so that when the power does come back on, they can control how we turn it on. Smart, so that we don’t spark a fire or short out everybody, but sad because it removes the faint hope that it will just come back all of a sudden without having to think about it anymore.

Was sort of hoping that no light at night would make me make better use of daylight hours—maybe even become a morning person? Not a chance.

Tomorrow I am planning a foray to the suburbs, where they are rumored to have power, and therefore ATMs, pharmacies, gas stations, Whole Foods and Starbucks. It is the only time in my life I have ever looked forward to a trip to the suburbs.

Wish I could send out smoke signals to let my therapist know I’m not coming in today. Hopefully, she’ll figure it out.

I’ve been in New York (well, the New York area) for 12 years. Every year, I say I will dress up for the Village Halloween parade. Every year, I plan my costume poorly. This year, I have been working on a paper-mache-fish-head costume that is very Bread and Puppet, and I have nothing else to do today but show it off, and they cancel the parade for the first time in 39 years.

Trick-or-treating before curfew is depressing. From across the street I saw a king and queen in royal blue capes and red crowns. Before I remembered it was Halloween, I thought they might be out surveying their domain.

Day 4: Thursday

Power has returned, hurray! Go around shutting off all the unneeded lights I had on Monday.

Theory that when we lose power we get it back relatively quickly due to sharing the electrical grid with an elementary school and a hospital: sustained.

Find a deli ATM that still works; put aside my usual qualms about using deli ATMs.

Finally find the place selling battery-operated radios; guy says I got the last one, price has gone up to $19.95. I take it, just in case.

Listening to radio, finally hear that people have died in this storm. Some children in fires. Hear about Staten Island. How have I missed this? Immediately re-evaluate my whole attitude and begin to count my blessings.

Got electric, now no gas. No boiling water or heat for me. TV on, but no cable. I am not complaining. Ever.

Brook Wilensky-Lanford is the author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden (Grove Press, 2011). An editor of Killing the Buddha, she lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Follow Brook on Twitter: @modmyth