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Sandy Does Swindlehurst: Part Three
A Jonesin' Journalist Emerges From The Frankenstorm, Soaked In Sewage & Farting Blood, Recounts The Disaster Movie That Became Americans' Lives
PART THREE: NOUVEAU RICHE NINCOMPOOPS, NASTY NOR'EASTERS & NEW REVELATIONS IN HOME DISSOLUTION
"Now the city was beautiful, it was still the most beautiful city in the United States, but like all American cities it was a casualty of the undeclared war. There had been an undisclosed full-scale struggle going on in America for twenty years—it was whether the country would go mad or not. And the battle line of that war (which showed that, yes, slowly the country was losing the war, we were indeed going mad) was of course the progress of the new roads, buildings, and supermarkets which popped out all over the cities of the nation." — from "In The Red Light: A History of the Republican Convention in 1964," by Norman Mailer
Americans as a people are, on the evidence here, the most callow, self-absorbed and spoiled dweebs the world has ever seen. It's not our fault. We grow up watching natural disasters on our flat-screen plasma television sets, sitting on our upholstered sectional recliners, feigning a connection, an empathy, with the destitute folks depicted in films like Slumdog Millionaire or the peasants of places like Bangladesh or Baghdad or Beirut, never once thinking that it could happen to us.
And, when it finally does, we dig our heels in and wait for aid, and we cry—not to be confused with CRI—about the consistency of our Catholic Church-issued fruit cup. I've seen it all my life, but I never had a name for it. A teenager from my neighborhood was once found sulking on my parents' stoop, eyes glazed over and chin quivering. When I prodded him he told me he was morbidly depressed...because his mother wouldn't give him the car to go get Taco Bell and another dime bag.
And it bears mentioning, too, that this same teenager surfaced like a common tourist when Sandy had passed, showing up on the demolished front yard to gawk at those personal possessions of ours that laid in waste, laughing and taking pictures with his camera phone. He lived in the house behind ours, and I never heard the grunt of any hard work over there. He and his Pabst-slurping mother and his live-in wanksta friends just dumped their pool table and lamps in the bushes like lazy gypsies, and went back into their backyard to pack up their second-story stuff and fuck off for a weekend getaway. Lazy gypsies.
But there was no time to be lazy now.
There are three things I will never forget about Election Day 2012: 1) The sight of an old over-the-hump hippie without eyebrows frantically searching for a rental permitting two massive bloodhounds; 2) a drunken old man telling a young spectator in a shiny Lexus to get the fuck off our block unless he lives on it, only for the well-coiffed whipper-snapper to get out of his car and attempt to act all hard while his little Jack Russell terrier hopped out the driver side door and nipped at his ankle; and 3) the sight of my voter ballot being sucked into a machine upside down while a pudgy stockbroker's ballot went in right side up.
I knew, from the get, that I was wasting my time at the polling place. But Hope, like Change, is a hard habit to kick. As I was standing in line, I spotted someone I vaguely recognized, a frumpy and pale forty-something woman in a tattered black sweatsuit replete with ostensible dingleberries, her raven hair encrusted with dandruff and matted to her face in thinning ringlets. She looked like someone straight off of Skid Row, an Aileen Wuornos bunk mate or something, but no. She was still recognizable despite the grime and the singed-off eyebrows; it was Geri!
"Holy shit!" I exclaimed within earshot of the purple-haired volunteers at the table before me. It was Geri all right, the little hippie lass who I used to rap with when I was a store manager at the 'hood's local dollar store, a woman whose exuberance about fuck near anything was like a powder keg. But on election day she was not exuberant at all; rather, her face had been cast in a pale of pure despair.
"How are you?" I asked, but I already knew what the answer was going to be. I just didn't know what level of horrific she was about to spew about.
"My house burned down," she said. "I have nothing. Just my man and my dogs. Do you know a place where we could stay that would take two gigantic bloodhounds? I have to ask everybody."
I gave Geri a number for a realtor who owned office space beside a friend's telemarketing firm, a joint with the bath, shower and heat amenities one would expect from a one-bedroom apartment, but once I handed in my ballot I had to beat a hasty retreat. It was too much to see someone like Geri suffering. I mean, after I bid her goodbye and told her I'd give her a call to see how she made out, this fucking woman actually said, "Peace and love and sunshine, Bobby!" I knew who she had voted for.
Obama hadn't come to the wrecked hinterlands of New York or New Jersey in those days after Hurricane Sandy. It would be seventeen days before he finally deigned to venture to Staten Island, to save face and see the worst of what she had reaped and to hug it out with fat white women. But he did issue a message in those first days, something along the lines of, "In these dark times your bravery and humanity shines a bright light as pristine as a unicorn's mane." But no mas. No bueno. NEEK HALLAK!
In The Aftermath Of The Aftermath, Wet Brain & The Return Of The Wretched
At first we witnessed an awesome resilience—legions of ordinarily apathetic people banding together and accomplishing Herculean tasks: out-of-shape desk jockeys lifting overturned cars; soccer moms loading up their mini-vans and sacrificing their nest eggs to drive across the state to hand blankets and hot cocoa to total strangers; even the odd teenybopper looking up from his iPod or blunt or Nintendo Wii long enough to help the elders overturn a putrid couch alive with incubating black fungi. But once a gas shortage became inevitable, once husbands tired of finding their unloved wives' septic vibrators floating in puddles on the front lawn, once minutes slogged into hours dredged into days disintegrated into sluggish weeks with no power, no Percocets, no b-ball on cable or "Broke Girls" on prime time, people reverted back to their putrid selves.
"Every day is another day" was replaced by "Every silent second is another century." "Keep hope alive" and "any time now" were swapped out for "Give power or die" and "Let's get ours!"
When electricity failed to be restored, the rotten took to raiding Radio Shacks. Hoodrats robbed shoe stores in Queens and other joints, and word was some ransacked church donation bins. While families mourned the passing of loved ones so stubborn as to literally go down with the ship rather than evacuate their homes, scumbags in mock power and water uniforms went to the houses of the bereaved and posed as technicians to con their way into soaking wet living rooms, taking anything that was left to take, sometimes with the threat or promise of violence.
Just like the jerk-offs who'd turned to waving guns around when making their way to the gas pump. Bread lines were choked with unseemly bastards whose homes were, in fact, never extant in the effected areas, just common opiate den junkies come to mooch off another Samaritan vein, chewing up in their crusty maws the mission foodstuffs meant for meeker mouths. Everyone could hardly breathe. Anyone could snap at any second, and all of them wanted answers they were not getting.
As of November 12th, 64,000 customers in Nassau and Suffolk were still powerless, not to mention rudderless.
And now for something completely different!
"The Frankenstorm's really brought out some mutants," I exclaimed as Freak motored to 7-Eleven for meat sticks and travel size body spray.
"Expound," he said. "I see only one mutant and he's blocking my view of the mangled rear view."
"It's like Alex Jones has pretty much been saying for lo this many years," I said. "Americans are on the whole a pack of mouth-breathing 'loids. First it was the fluoride in their tap water, now it's raw sewage. And they're pounding the pavement today, brother."
"I don't give a fuck," he said as the windshield frosted over before our bleary eyes, and I belched out the foamy ass end of the beer in my bone goblet. The goblet, a mug handcrafted by some granola-eating ceramics major to look like a human skeleton, was one of my few personal effects that survived the Superstorm. So there I was, for two-and-a half weeks, drinking uncleared tap water and Pabst Blue Ribbon from a chalice constructed out of heavy duty gauze, surgical tape and glue. It had been rescued from the drink and rinsed off thoroughly with a garden hose so that it appeared, by that time, to be fashioned from an old aborigine man's foreskin.
It was a solid fourteen days before word of mouth rolled 'round Wellwood, and I learned that I'd been brewing water tinged with excrement, literally boiling liquid shit, in the black-stained coffee kettle.
"I don't give a fuck," Freak repeated. "It's fucking brick out here. I say we take two of the biggest, fattest slobs we can find and bring 'em back to Daddy's office, and snuggle up like porpoises in hibernation."
"Right you are," I managed between chattering teeth, rubbing the tips of my fingers for warmth. "I'd just about let a fifty dollar hooker from Copiague sit on my face and sing the Mexican Hat Dance song right about now."
"Dude, have you seen what shaving in the dark has done to you?" Freak asked. "Your nappy facial hair is matted, Banana Tits. Your face looks like a black girl's box."
"Look who's talkin', Butt Nut." I was pulling out my finest mid-‘90s junior high colloquialisms for the occasion. Next up would be some reference to him being smooth like Ex-Lax.
"Nice," Freak said.
"Whatev, man. Right now I'd just about kill a man if it meant I could have some saucy Latin number riding my grill."
"But only if he came in your mouth, right?"
"Balls!" Freak shouted. "This little lady's blocking the exit!"
Sho nuff, just as we were attempting to pull out of the strip mall parking lot, a blue-haired woman named Ethel and another relic riding shotgun beside her, blocking the exit and honking their horn. Freak waved for her to back up and she did, after much bewilderment. Then, as we inched past her, Freak rolled down his window and laid an innocent grin on her, waving once again, this time to let her know it was safe for her to move along. Ethel just sat there, staring vacantly at Freak and yammering to her diminutive bee-hived buddy.
"Mildred, what's this? Mildred? Mildred?" Ethel asked her companion.
"He wants you to roll...down your...window, Ethel."
The blue-haired granny's window plummeted like pork bellies, and she stared Freak down. And then came the words from her wrinkled gob. "What's your fucking problem?"
Freak was a moment in responding, stuttering and stammering before, finally, informing her that she was about to get clipped from behind and better head forward.
"Worry about yourself, ya coupla common faggots!"
We looked at each other, mouths agape. "Uh..."
"Yeah, right, step off," she said, then threw it in reverse, nearly smashed into a construction van, then geared into drive and gunned it into the back of a bagel shop.
Another day in the grave new world.
BioSign Laboratory Corporation lists the following as symptoms of black mold exposure, all of them broken down into three levels, each more heinous than the last:
Level I – Sneezing, itching skin, redness and skin irritation, watery eyes, itching eyes, headache.
Level II – Advanced symptoms – constant headaches, nose bleeds, feelings of constant fatigue, breathing disorders, coughing up blood or black-looking debris, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, hair loss, skin rashes, open sores, swollen glands, sudden asthma, ear infections, chronic sinus infections, chronic bronchitis, pain in the joints and muscles.
Level III – Late symptoms – blindness, memory loss (long-term), bleeding lungs, cancer, death, brain damage.
There it was! Brain damage. An explanation for why my brother, father and I had developed what you might call a mild speech impediment, each of us slurring our words as we spoke, switching out letters in ordinary formations for whatever happened to be rattling around in the muddled recesses of our mucky brains.
"I don't give a fluck if the house is held together by termates, all I give a goll-dom about right now is that free blunch."
"Is that a new meal? Between breakfast and lunch?
"Fruck you, don't ridi-di-di-di-didicool me, ya fluck!"
It only got worse until, eventually, we took to communicating with each other in some primeval code of grunts and gurgles, a language somewhere between Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam and my father's demented snoring—a fit of interchangeable gargling noises, wheezes and guttural groans. Somewhere betwixt the simians in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the backwards populace of Mike Judge's Idiocracy exists a very plausible future where everyone might sound like us. Just dump mold like Agent Orange on the masses, and you've got yourself a new language that will easily embrace the bastardization of English already omnipresent in modern society. LOL. FTW. WTF?!!!!!
Seeing all the boarded-up storefronts and struggling working-class piss ants, hearing about how we're about to be plunged into an even deeper recession, contemplating the second Nor'easter set to hit before Thanksgiving, I thought of those gonzo fuck flicks where gaggles of goo-gourmands take to barbershops and auto body stops to bang the blue-collar boys on camera. That is the kind of relief we could've really used right then.
The consequences would be too dire, though, since most of the men would be afflicted with one form or another of black mold exposure. Getting a physical under those circumstances could only yield something more fit for a B-horror movie than a good porno. I could picture the grease monkeys standing around the girls with their C-clamps and monkey wrenches, only for the nurse to deliver the sheet and the bully of the group to yell out, "Ho daaaamn! Hector, you got AIDS, nigga! Har! Har! You got the CIDS, Hector, you fuckin' pud! Bahahaaaaaah!!!!"
No. No consummation for the collapsed. We'd have to settle for microwave dinners and, maybe, a sloppy BJ from a weathered crack whore off Backpage.com.