When the lights went out

Manhattan, NY: Glasser on how Hurricane Sandy's power cut turned The Village's Halloween real devilish

Cameron Mesirow's apartment during the blackout, s
Cameron Mesirow's apartment during the blackout, shot by Cameron

I'm writing from an inflatable mattress, in a friend's apartment overlooking the East River, in south Williamsburg. There is a view here of the Williamsburg Bridge, half lit and half dark. I live in an apartment in the East Village of Manhattan, just east of the Bowery and far enough away from the waterfront that I expected no change at all to my routine. Friends came to me, and I was happy to be a host to them while they couldn't be in their own homes, either because they didn't want to be alone or because they had to evacuate. On the second night of our apocalyptic vacation the lights went out in the middle of dinner. We had been watching a black and white movie in the living room, when things began to flicker and we decided to cook and be more festive before it turned completely dark and chaotic. The wind was threatening. I put some very weak tape on the windows out of a feeling of helplessness. We all agreed that somehow we wanted something to happen, though we didn't want anyone to suffer from it. Now that feels childish, since so much has happened and – of course – many people have suffered. The lights going out in a city full of people in close quarters is enough of an event, I now realize, that we would have been satisfied with only that.

In the first morning of darkness, no windows had been broken, and we had a sort of camper's breakfast by candle light. Coffee without milk, and then it was time to throw out some raw meat that was in the refrigerator before venturing out. We walked first to one friend's house in Soho, and when there was no damage there we walked back east to the Williamsburg bridge, thinking that there might be power in Brooklyn, and also to check for damage at the studio where I have been recording. There were broken windows on the way. The traffic lights were out and we had to cross streets whenever there wasn't a car coming. Surprisingly, or not, very few cars were stopping for pedestrians to safely cross. Bodegas were giving away their ice cream before it melted. We tried to hail a cab, but the driver didn't want to take us to Williamsburg and drove North in a hurry. People were trying to hail cabs all around but there wasn't much luck with that. The feeling was of mass exodus over the river, so we decided we would brave the wind.

We came over the bridge after a deafening pass through its cage-like pedestrian tunnel, and discovered immediately that lights were on, and that there was far less damage than on the other side. We went to a Korean restaurant as soon as they were opening and had lunch with other wind-jostled people. It was so good to be in a warm and comfortable place, ironically away from home. The storm and damage was all anyone could talk about. We plugged in our phones, made calls to people, got calls from people. It was nice to see how people were taking care of one another.

After lunch, which was a bit on the later side, we all wondered what we would do, go back to the dark city or try to stay with friends who had light. In the end we decided to go back home to see what it was like. We caught a cab with ease this time and went back to my place and lit a bunch of candles and cooked and read to each other until is was time to go to sleep. When we looked out the windows to the street, there were flashlights shining everywhere from the hands of invisible people and dim lights in the surrounding windows. It was strangely alive, but the most quiet and the most dark that I have ever experienced. With technology cut off, it was only human noise.

In the morning, first a makeshift bath in a large pot of water heated on the stove top, and another less enthusiastic camper's breakfast by candle light, followed by another walk over the bridge. Forgetting it was Halloween, I was surprised by a guy on the bridge dressed as Bill Clinton with a blow-up doll he was pretending to have sex with. We went straight to the studio, plugged in phones which were draining of their power faster from searching fruitlessly for a signal. The day was spent recovering from the wind and deciding what to do next.

A friend who had had to evacuate from his Williamsburg apartment was coming home now in a car and offered to take over as hurricane host. He had power and space and was finally allowed back. He also offered to drive to Manhattan to pick up some things that we might need for the time away from home.

We drove back to the city as it was getting dark. It was the same dark place, but the addition of Halloween made for a more manic atmosphere, and I saw some things I have never seen before. There were people out in the East Village, families and teenagers and adults, many of them dressed in black, dashing across unlit streets in front of cars and into unlit businesses looking for candy. We drove past Tompkins Square park which was still closed off with branches scattered over the whole ground and in front was a homeless man sitting on the ground with a sign asking for money, dressed in a banana costume with more rats than I have ever seen running all around him! That was an apocalyptic scene if I ever saw one. I couldn't wait to get the hell out.

It should be noted that the irony of losing power and the use of the subway or taxi cabs when there are people suffering from a great deal more in the world is not lost on the New Yorkers that I have talked to during this time. Despite our exuberant willingness to be distracted by apps and other crap, we never stop being aware of our human qualities. That has been a sigh of relief and a dose of reality over the past few days.

Cameron Mesirow makes music under the name Glasser. She is currently working on her second album.

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