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Sandy Does Swindlehurst: Part One
A Jonesin' Journalist Emerges From The Frankenstorm, Soaked In Sewage & Farting Blood, Recounts The Disaster Movie That Became Americans' Lives
PART ONE: PROLOGUE TO A PULVERIZATION
"Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them." [Mark Twain]
"All my friends have made a cyclone." [Cold, "Goodbye Cruel World"]
The neighbors don't like me. Some give me a nod, others a nervous smile, maybe an occasional "Hey," but by and large, the slocums and suckbags of Swindlehurst (aka Lindenhurst, New York) would rather not deal with me. On any given day I might shoot their wives a wave and receive an all-too-obvious shunning in exchange. I can stand two feet from them on the muddy curb as they cross with their shit-machine dogs or weathered baby carriages, and they pretend not to notice me.
Ever since fate (i.e.: a lease-breaking flaky ex-girlfriend and a broken windshield) found me moving back into my warring parents' house in Lindenhurst, in "tony" Babylon Township, New York, I've been received with indifference, upheaval or muted disapproval by damn near every agonizingly upwardly-mobile and all-too-normal suburbanite in the immediate vicinity. Which is odd when you consider that I'm a recovering alcoholic (read: "dry drunk"), and an ordained minister who has never been convicted of a sex crime (not yet anyway). And what's more, my "rehabilitated" ass is living off a section of Wellwood Avenue where one street houses Section Eight stem-suckers and the next—the Anthony Drives and such—are lined with the domiciles of Superior Court Judges and career mafioso types. For every registered sex offender—and there are many—there is a retired police detective or a master electrician. In a word, eclectic.
Nevertheless, people talk. And the people of South Lindenhurst send more gossip out into the world than TMZ and Perez Hilton in the throes of amphetamine psychosis. They all front like they know and love each other, but corner one with a good can of cheap pilsner or the offer of loaning 'em some power tools, and jaws start flapping faster than greased lightning about what one has done to the other, about how much the other guy sucks, what a cheapskate, what a drunk, what a douchebag. Did you know he hates women? Did you know he likes women? Did you know he thinks women should be allowed to talk, much less think?
The busted-toothed tattooed twenty-nine-year old with the pugnacious parentfolk is doubtless among those topics.
Maybe it's the influence of the retired police presence, the ex-cops and their fancy computer monitoring technology and the fact that they never really retire. So when they should be honing a new hobby like whittling a loon or watching birds, they're whiling away the wee hours of the morning sifting through the seventy gigabytes of exotic filth I have filed away on an external hard drive or the folders of terrorism research amassed on my Notebook.
It's only natural to try and shield your fifteen-year old daughters from funky older boys, or to make sure that weird gentleman in patterns of arrested development stay away from your wife and her Chanel purse. But the contempt of these clowns has always seemed to run a bit deeper than most would expect. Granted, most wouldn't have butt-loads of bukkake and Lovecraftian genkai porn backed up on a plugged-in Smut Drive that runs more regularly than his alimentary canal, but America is all about diversity and these gents have just never seemed to embrace that fact.
Maybe it was the face-full of fishnet footjob my ex-fiance and I exposed them to when we got randy in her Nissan Sentra, while parked in front of the house on a well-lit and lazy night. Or it could be the all-American barbeques I crashed as a teenager, where I straddled a Cat-Lick Schoolgirl like a pornstar before landing, grill gooey and grinning, in some perfect Partridge Family clones' quesadilla-and-nacho platter. Whatever the incident, they had long since grown to loathe me.
I'm not the first. You see it all over, among and within. Jack hears the landscaper John hired to clean up his front lawn, and immediately Jack is out of his house in a sprint, sweat shooting off his face as he pants and pants and power-walks his way over to the shed to snatch up the lawnmower he doesn't even know how to properly empty, cartwheels over to the dividing line between their homes and starts weeding and wacking up a whirlwind—all in the name of community competition and green envy.
Neighbors really hate each other and community is illusory. It's the reason why fences were built to keep the "strangers" off your property. It's the reason town halls pass zoning ordinances and why "public safety" officials enforce them. It's the reason you thank the McKenzies for their Christmas card when you chance upon each other in the street, and curse that "goddamned unreliable post office" for "losing" the invitation to your holiday hootenanny you had "sent out" to them "weeks ago." In the words of the Lizard King, "People are strange."
Until force majeure fucks them in the face and drops a bulkhead where they park their BMW's. Then, in the time it takes the Hindu goddess Kali to pussy fart all over your pension plan and uproot your carefully-plucked petunia garden, the weird-hating regular guys and gals of GoNowheresville tumble out of the taverns and townhouses to take refuge at your walkway, wondering, "Hey, how did ya make out last night? Geez! Ya know, ya got it almost as bad as me! Say, ya haven't mighta maybe, I dunno, seen the stern of my cigarette boat in your backyard anywhere, have ya? You'll let me know if you do, right? And man, if ya need anything, maaaan, I'm right over there, 'kay? Just maybe bring me my mailbox once you've removed it from where it's embedded in your cat's chest cavity, cool? You the man!"
Niggling neighbors become fast friends for fifteen minutes when, like I say, they lose everything in a "Frankenstorm." I know this because I was there, man. Just like our grandpappies used to say about "The Big One," just like my father used to say about 'Nam, just like countless crunchy, bead-wearing, benwa-ball-carrying Krishnas have spouted to me at Vans Warped Tour when the subject of Woodstock is forcibly slipped into an idle conversation at the concession stand. "Maaaaan, ya really shoulda been there, man." Yep. Saw it with my own bloodshot blues and lemme tell ya, brother...it's even uglier than "the man" said it was.
THOSE DICKWEED METEOROLOGISTS ARE ALWAYS WRONG, HOW BAD COULD IT GET?
"Leave the fire behind/Swim out past the breakers/Watch the world die."—"Santa Monica," Everclear
October 29. The Category One "Superstorm" churns through the East Coast at ninety hell-for-leather miles per hour, that tropical twat, and she triturates fuck nigh everything in her path, as she passes through like a scorned woman, slit-thick with hate in her heart for everything prefabricated and organic alike.
Funny. So many of us thinking she'd be like Irene, a sassy little slut heavy on the bark but more overbite than full-on fang bang. But, like Chino Moreno said in his post-Deftones outfit Crosses, it was a trick. "Something's changed in your face, I notice/A different sparkle in those crazy eyes/Your unmistakable charade, I know, it always tricks me every time/A million tears, a trillion times/I've seen that glaze and glitch in your eyes."
Sandy's on the rag and on the war path and we're all fudged.
Massive trees are hurled across broken avenues, land on patina-eaten sports cars overflowing with refuse which catch fire as the trees take down power pilings with their tempestuous momentum and ignition is a success! Car catches fire, house catches fire, block catches fire and a minotaur-size power outage is meted out for miles upon miles. The stubborn scatter like embers in a wildfire; the sick, sore, lame and disabled refuse to evacuate, dig in, and find themselves floating on a foamy skin of seaweed and septic ick.
Everyone tries to batten down the proverbial hatches, but there are no hinges left, unless you want to wade through the waves that have rolled up around your tool shed and taken Barbie dolls, dildos and disposable dental dams down the road for a ride on the ultimate freewheeling rapid. So you take shelter in the upstairs, if you're fortunate enough to live in a two-story dwelling, grab your personal effects with two clenched fists cold and cramped, arthritic from the Barometric pressure, and you wait it out.
If you're like me, you venture downstairs to try, as best you can, to collect those embarrassing artifacts that might find you in even more awkward standing with what will be left of civilization around you—one last staggering search through shit-brown muck-water for the Sybian machines or marijuana seeds or secret collection of sacofricosis vids you ripped from a fetish forum (Timberlake and Andy Sandberg will understand).
Anything that might put clean-up crews ill at ease when sifting through the wreckage. And let's just say you're lucky to make it back up the stairs when the tide rises over and into the wall outlets, and the crackling starts. If this ever happens again, and I hope that it won't—even as the fatal realist in me is assured that it will—I highly recommend that every reader remember to first smack that master switch on their home breaker box. It just might save your life and the life of your beloved battery-powered latex Joanna Angel conjugal love companion.
And just as soon as It has roared through, just as soon as you've allowed your eyelids to slam shut while your wet brain reels with thoughts of waking with water in your lungs, the bitch has passed and it's time to survey the damage. It's times like these, and only times like these, that it's nice to know there are fanatical evangelist Christians roaming from heartland to hinterland, sharing everything from chicken parm heroes and hand warmers to baby powder and bags o' bagels in abundance with those in need. But even God doesn't know why these things really happen.
BITING HANDS THAT FEED, SLURPING CERTAIN UNCERTAINTY
On the afternoon after Sandy split, as I was helping my aging parents assess their property damage, and as folks I hadn't faced in years scrambled through the muck-water to peep our pile of rubble like any respectable salvage inspector, my brother Freak came wading 'round the bend with a pizza in his hand and a half a bottle of Absolut for the off-the-wagon alkie. I was relieved by the sight of the spirits, since Sandy was second only to my experiences at A.A. meetings in terms of psychic skull-fuck. But the pizza perturbed me. Who could be open right now?
The water went all the way up South Wellwood Avenue, my parents' cross-street, and it seemed unabated. The tide had not yet retreated and every Tom, Dick and Hussein from here to Hellzapop appeared to be without power or heat. Some Sean Penn wannabes were kayaking out of the area to seek higher ground, while others dragged generators through the scum-pond expanse.
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," Freak said, shaking the seaweed and scum from his size thirteen shit-kickers as I let him in. "The eye-tal-yons are clean by me, Burt."
This was true, since Broseph lived in Massapequa, three towns away, but only true for the moment as we would later come to realize. Very few independent business owners—or even corporate franchises, for that matter—were able to keep the shutters open in those initial enervating days of the Frankenstorm Aftermath. It would be the last decent meal we'd eat for many moons. Like all good consumers, we devoured the pie in five point five minutes, throwing the crusts in the drink so that they floated past bloated facedown G.I. Joes whose positions in the rusty abyss made them look like miniature models of Joe Gillis from Sunset Boulevard.
My deep, dark secret had been unearthed once the waters receded that afternoon. Where others might have a "pet sematary," I had a toy cemetery underneath my parents' back deck, a wooden structure that came down when an overzealous Freak followed me out onto its already Sandy-slanted panels, and decimated the by-then-crippled patio with his three hundred thirty pounds of fierce weight, taking my kneecap with him as he fell. Now the remains of Beetlejuice and Beldar Conehead and Arthur Fonzarelli's cottony innards were as plain to see as the blood seeping through my pant leg, and I was fated to join my brother's lady friend's pal Gladys as one of few people without kneecaps.
To wit: earlier in the day, when an appraisal of the house's damage had yielded evidence of black mold and the epiphany that breathing raw shit was unhealthy, we determined that Freak's freaky little live-in fuck buddy would have to stay with some friends. The nearest and closest in the general area was Gladys, an elderly bat from her office who, together with her haggard husband Jared, had escaped a dangerous religious cult and retreated to an apartment above a warehouse on the outskirts of Swindlehurst. They were accustomed to taking in wayward women for undetermined periods of time, and their enigmatic religion favored altruistic acts over damn near anything else.
No sooner had baby girl packed up and plunked herself down in their lair, when Gladys shared with her a myriad of physical peculiarities she suffered from, the most prominent among them being a claim that she had absolutely no kneecaps. "They're gone, that's why I waddle."
Gladys, a rosy-faced schoolmarm type with mammaries she could literally tuck into the side pockets of her ever-present mu-mu, also claimed to be afflicted with an extreme glandular disorder which, naturally, contributed to her substantial girth. It was either the glandular defect or the deep-fried donuts. She never made clear which came first. And now I was one of her ilk, an injured man gimping my way around the perimeter of the house as we laid out our plans for the next morning's clean-up.
Later, on Day 17 of this extended debacle, Fox News would air a televised segment on a disabled wheelchair-bound man with some aggressive form of palsy, who crawled into his attic to survive while the tempestuous twat swallowed up his house and drowned his electric wheels, and I would be guilt-stricken for daring to refer to myself as "gimped out" in those first hours of post-Sandy fatigue. But at the time it seemed all too fitting.
So Gladys and I had something else in common. Neither of us liked to cop to being obese. But where I would simply tell people, as demurely as possible, that my fibromyalgia had caused me to "let myself go," Gladys was fond of telling her nearest and dearest that she was "pre-hypoglycemic."
The first van of Evangelists were turning off of Wellwood Avenue with their free foodstuffs when I heard this supposition for the first time. Freak was swift in proffering an alternative when my mother shared this with me the next day.
"She might be pre-hypoglycemic," Freak said. "But she's post-fat." In any event, he enjoyed the red velvet cakes she insisted on cooking for us in lieu of putting us all up in their Bat Cave.
Digression. It's something that would happen more and more in the days that followed, ass-breaking and ineffably excruciating days of shambolic affairs and numbing sub-degree nights, filled to bursting point with disappointment and delay. My train of thought recoiled almost as fast as my penis in the cold and toxic environs.
The first taste of free food arrived via a lanky boy of no more than sixteen with wispy blond hairs on his chin and below his eyes. He said he was with the Evangel Church of God and was eager to talk to me about God, even though the more pertinent subject was very obviously the unclear origins of his meatballs. In his out-thrust palm, pink and sticky like those of any cheesy pubescent rosary-clutcher, was a Styrofoam container containing cement-thick mashed potatoes, a portion of three beans (all of them blotchy as Church Lad's rosacea) and a sizable heap of little gray gristle orbs that reeked worse than the crotch rot the Freville Men would manifest mere hours later. No hot shower for three weeks equates to genital grime.
My brother's remark about a gift horse's mouth seemed apropos as I swallowed the spurious beef balls, and choked down the whole mess like a just-sprung convict at a roadside rib palace, chasing the slop with a short can of ginger ale from Our Lady of Perpetual Help and thanking my Lucky Stars—in the spirit of agnosticism—for the bounty our brethren had provided. After the night's living nightmare and an afternoon spent in a horrifying waking dreamscape—the sight of all your personal effects and precious goods and security blankets and other assorted amenities totally obliterated and splayed out on dead grass for public scrutiny—it was heartening to hear the hark of latter-day Samaritans come to provide supper...indigestion or no.
When destitute, devastated and desperate, you'll eat anything someone puts in front of you, if for no other reason than it might be the last meal you enjoy for a good, long while. Evidence of this fact is etched in the cocksuckers of the queasy googly-eyed Lindenhurst residents who marched in the gelid night to a waiting Red Cross trailer idling in the empty lot out front of waterfront restaurant Chateau La Mer, where more Styrofoam containers of dubious origin were handed out at the advent of Sandy's aftermath; those who sucked down the containers' contents—bitter three bean portions (again), stale sweet rolls, and spurious and smushed "ravioli"—can attest to the appetite of the dismantled.
My father, a corpulent man with a kisser eager for any snack foods or hearty sandwiches put in front of his puckered lips, was already well into the first course of an MRE meal when Freak and I returned from the Red Cross truck with three Styro containers in our hands, and tales of what our long-estranged neighbor Muddy had looked like when we encountered him before the trailer window, a bottle of Grey Goose clutched in his pinkish mitt. Ever since Muddy and his teenage daughters had dared to place two parking cones in front of his own house, to occlude the other Wellwood denizens from taking his favorite spot, our Pops had had a puss on his face at the mention of Muds, but tonight he was all-too-happy to hear about the guy with the Grey Goose on his cold breath if it meant more meals.
But, just like everything else you hand over to the average middle-classman, the free food and generosity was promptly taken for granted, and the old man grunted in blatant disappointment when he cracked the Styrofoam container's lid and found the soggy pasta wanting. Two bloody-looking bites of oily, red gravy and watery beef particles in the man's crusty gob, and he was shoving it away and reaching for a box of crackers with which to cleanse his prejudiced palate.
"Fuck do they think that is?" he hissed. "'Cause it certainly ain't fucking ravioli. For fuck's sake!"
"It's the Red Cross," I said as Broseph shook his head and dug into his own dish. "You can't expect a Zagat rating."
"Well they fucking well should have some fucking standards," the old man shouted, by now half-dead with shock-borne rage and nearing the end of his bankrupt wits. "We're all gonna perish in this fucking hole and the coroner's gonna find this fucking sediment in our intestines?! Fuckin' pathetic!"
Most likely the man was way out of line on that one; however, the record would later reflect that his remarks bore some validity, at least insofar as the gross potential the food could have on the body's inner-machinations. When you find yourself hugging porcelain for twenty-four hours after just as many hours of ingesting mass quantities of unspeakable eats, perspective on the church and their culinary intentions can shift faster than shit on the seepage.
The food and goods fiasco had begun and, just like getting head from someone fuck-ugly as the anus of Hell, its appeal could only last so long. Sure, someone's fellating you, but a couple loads later and it's still just some behemoth blowing you. We were blown...metaphorically speaking.
October 31st found the Freville fellas sweeping out sewage from the fucked garage, flushing out mushy boxes filled with four-thousand odd surgical gloves used in the automotive trade and facing the possibility that, when all was said and dried out, we'd be looking at personal and business losses of more than seventy-five grand.
For the better part of two years ("better" being a queer word, used here faute de mieux), I had been part and parcel of Professional Tools & Equipment, a silent partner of sorts and an all-purpose helping hand to padre's floundering Brooklyn tool route, a gig that put me in charge of such things as securing the physical integrity of things like a work van and four-thousand dollars’ worth of work gloves in the event of something odd and unforeseen...like a natural disaster of Biblical fucking proportions. Sandy certainly qualified as an example of this and, thus, I had taken care to set the boxes up on a high fiberboard table before driving our reliable war machine, the rouge-colored '95 Chevrolet G20, up on metal ramps and extending it with a 4-ton floor jack and two heavy-duty stands.
Alas, no measure of preparation can prepare for a precedent that hasn't yet been set. Not since the New England Hurricane of 1938, which snuffed out fifty people and turned Montauk into an island, had New York seen anything on this scale of suffering. So it was that we didn't know what we were getting into and I, for one, damn sure didn't expect waves indoors strong enough to topple tables and send Work Vacs surfing past rusted cans of semi-gloss paint, as feet of shit-water sucked up and rusted out every Allen wrench and oversize battery tester in our arsenal of occupational goodies.
The experience of dismay here was nothing, though, compared to the humiliations that would follow as the impecunious Freville addle-brains gimped our way back into the crib, and found ourselves with no choice but to commission ourselves to draft the clean-up in lieu of funds to hire an indie contractor. While ripping up saturated carpet and janky lining that looked like the shit someone would've used as a filter for an air conditioner in 1981, my overzealous brother yanked off a piece so aggressively that the muck-water splashed up in an arc and sprayed me in my eyes and open mouth as I huffed and puffed over a stapled section of sloppy rug. "Ugh!" I cried as he fell back, doubling over with asthmatic laughter at the sight of me compromised.
"You dirty fuck!"
More laughter from the meat-headed Freak. "You fucking got me!"
"That was the fucking money shot!"
We were good and fucked.