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Sandy Does Swindlehurst: Part Four
A Jonesin' Journalist Emerges From The Frankenstorm, Soaked In Sewage & Farting Blood, Recounts The Disaster Movie That Became Americans' Lives
PART FOUR: HOW TO GET BY WHEN RUNNING ON FUMES
At the advent of the hurricane storm surge warnings, I recall having a dream in which a massive wave rose up, Wolfgang Petersen epic in scale, and washed us all away completely. At moments throughout the maelstrom of mud-covered death frozen over, I wondered whether or not that would have been a simpler fate, but as with the prospect of picking up cheap poonannie, there was precious time in which to be picky. Take what you can get was the modus operandi.
As we were chiseling out tiles, yanking out refrigerators and punting the entire heap into the front yard, our next door neighbor, a master electrician with two summer homes- one in Connecticut and another in East Hampton- gathered his family behind their reinforced stainless steel fence and watched the floor-show: me and Freak barreling out of the house with furniture, knees buckling and necks gleaming with sweat and muckwater from oozing carpet rolled up haphazardly. Mick, the nouveau-riche electrician who turned his technical know-how into a lucrative chain of North American electrical outfits, had quarreled earlier in the year with Daddy-O over his decision to hire contractors to build a patio whose design, apparently, required the contracting company to splatter dripping paint over the peaks and nooks of our own fence.
The whole argument—and the old man's threats of the time that he would poison Mick's dog, a dog that, unbeknownst to him, had been dead for more than a year—seemed completely moot at this point. Still, the undying vendetta was obvious, sparkling fucking clear, as I lugged mountains of contractor bags and floor paneling across the lawn and endured overt smugness from the entire yuppie clan, each of them standing there in their Giorgio Armani and Martha Stewart best, smirking and staring at the poor idiot working man with the curved spine and dirty fingernails.
We would have to deal with plenty more of these bloated heaps of hot shit in the ensuing days, but nothing matched knowing that New Money could afford to stand around and clock the neighbor boy, while they could call a clean-up lady to come and hoist their own barely-broken patio furniture up onto her back, and toss it all into a green dumpster another of their neighbors had paid hard-earned money to rent.
The only incident that came close to matching this for out-and-out audacity was Freak's encounter with the Lipless Man. He was a flabby, neckless, Long Island Power Authority rep, sitting in a Volvo with a young boy (as was, no doubt, his constant want), and he sounded as though he were swallowing his lips each time he uttered a guttural word from his blotchy gullet.
Freak pulled up alongside him on November 12, on the street in Massapequa where he rented an apartment from a wealthy contractor. We were still without electricity. He asked the Lipless Man if he knew whether or not the house he was renting was serviced.
"Nah, nah, I dunno," said the Lipless Man, massaging the thigh of his young ward, a rail-thin whelp with puddles for eyes and sideburns too big for his fuzzy little face. Then he smacked his clipboard against the steering wheel that was overflowing with mounds of his fat and looked directly ahead, averting his eyes from my brother.
"Hey!" Freak shouted. "I don't understand, how can you be here, servicing the houses and you don't know what's up? You don't know whether you cranked my house or not?"
"I don't have a computer, so I can't acccccess joze friles," the Lipless Man hacked.
"Well, can you call someone who does have the technology then?"
"I can't help you, sir. There's nothing I can do here. I'm without the necessary equipment."
We were railroaded, run roughshod over, and Freak fucking well knew it. "Thanks for all your help, fuck-o!" He screamed, then burned rubber about fifteen feet and came to a screeching halt in front of his rented dwelling, just close enough to the Volvo to see the young man with the sideburns and sad eyes flash him a thumbs up.
We were back in Massapequa to feed Freak's two fat cats, overfed felines fond of shitting all over the rug and pissing in closets. The power was not on.
A Swan Song For Sandy
About the only creatures that made it out of this thing with their dignity and day-to-day amenities more or less intact were the animals. With the exception of my elderly neighbor's canaries, both of whom perished when their cage fell into the drink, the furry and fuzzy ones made out on this deal. Our Lady of Perpetual Help saw to it that they got the best and biggest bags of Iams and Friskies money could buy, and we even chanced upon five green parrots feasting on sunflower seeds in our own patina-laden, iron bird feeder.
The Freville House drew attention on November 13 when a male and female swan took up residence on our lawn, and we started giving them bowls of dry cat food and garbage can lids full of sink water. Their natural habitat had been done in by the storm, and their white and gray feathers were stained from the oil slick that resulted from overturned boats.
The swans became our residential mascots and, for several nights thereafter, my brother and I kept ourselves warm by swigging from the Castillo Silver and tossing fresh Styrofoam containers of corn and "chicken breast" to the two Anatidae, hoping a close vigil would see them through until it was tolerable to go back in the drink.
The swans had even become a tourist attraction, with teenagers coming by regularly to get a good look at 'em, yuck it up and even, in some extreme cases, permitting one of the swans to bite them for gits and shiggles.
"Oh, it only hurts a little," a kid in skinny jeans and a Fargo hat said when I found him submitting the sleeve of his hoodie to the male's beak.
Everything must be spoiled, though, and no sooner had we gotten used to the sight of one of the swans outside our door in the morning, than another turbid shit-heel neighbor decided to co-opt the goddamned things. Ned- a mustachioed redneck ex-hardhat with a salt-and-pepper buzzcut and a thing for dazzling his teenage daughter's little friends with acts of blue-collar macho prowess- cuts out of yard work early to flex for the American Beauties perched on his porch, and there goes the swanhood.
"Why are you shaking your head like a spastic?" Freak asked me when he came down the stairs wrapped in his Red Cross blanket. I was standing by the back door, looking out through the muddied blinds and reeling with anger and upheaval.
"Your best bud Ned is attempting to ride the swan."
"He's straddling the swan. Or trying to. I need a drink."
"You're spastic," Freak insisted, crossing the room in bare feet that were now exposed to the fungus that toes and lungs are most susceptible to. "You gotta have fucking bulging fontanelles or something. You got a crink in your neck. Gladys says, you got that fuckin' meninghitis, kid."
I just stared at him. "The damage is done. But your pal from across the way's got some bulging balls. Maybe I should call the ASPCA."
We were all a touch uppity by this point, so it is possible I was overreacting. Regardless, the statement was true enough. The damage was done, we were just locked into a K-Hole of loss and apoplexy.
Just after the inevitable Nor'easter had slung the Island over her icy back and peppered us all in white powder and sludge, we called in Freak's friend Joe and his little workhorse brother to tear out the useless boiler and hot water heater, only to find out that we had major pipe leakage filling up under the house, and to be told that there'd be a ten-day waiting period for a new burner, due to the scarcity of material.
The government's utter failure to get involved proper, and at the right time (flashbacks to Katrina unavoidable), resulted in a shitty situation being made that much worse, and all we could do is bundle up and pray to a many-tentacled Vishnu that the whole state would be leveled by that formidable current from the distant fantasy long-since dissolved, the dream of utter immolation I'd suffered earlier.
On the 19th day there was still so much left undone, so many lawns and driveways to be re-paved, so many houses left to be restored to power, too many piles of refuse to count. And the people, not the government, were still there to offer succor in the form of hot meals off Wellwood Avenue. Vision Long Island, a non-profit organization, was even sending multitudes of concerned citizens around to tidy up what was left of people's yards, to rake the piles into bags and work on sprucing up what remained of the jaundiced grass.
There's a point at which good will, like everything else under the Morningstar, can and will be abused. It's not hard to surmise a post-Sandy world where, on any given Tuesday, the ingrate shit mites of this country might plunk themselves down in their friendly neighborhood Wendy's and yowl, "Where in the fuck is my free Baconator?! C'mon, chief, I've had a pisspoor day. Work was hard, my girlfriend won't give it up! My life is in ruins! Hook me up with that Redhead!"
I pray that this is not a premonition. I hope for the change to come, as Sam Cooke once promised, as Barack Obama banked on, and I wish that I won't have to go to Hess or Gulf and find booted construction workers standing in filling station lines, fellating each other for a ration of crude.
But I'm not a moron, at least no more than my fellow Americans. I've been to that place where Dubya said "wings take dream." It's a sad state, a boggling Bizarro World, and it's right here, boo. In the hub, in the metropolis, in the backseats and front ends of every rusted-out jalopy.
Another part of me humors my inner-Tyler Durden, and questions whether a restoration of the average status quo is really what's best. An ineffable depression engulfs me when I finally arrive at the prospect of returning to the realm of whiny Tweets, worthless "reality" television programming and narcissistic Facefuck stat feeds. But first, one last taste of life off the grid and in the smoldering rubble.
And then the pants come off and up comes the tire iron as Freak and I take to jumping on the hood of a BMW and tea-bagging the gleaming hood ornament—the Brillo Bushman and the Bald Butt Nut dumping buckets of shit on some salaryman and demanding he give us his humongous lady friend for bedtime favors.
This was my new fantasy.
200,000 without power two weeks after a natural disaster? Switchboards lighting up and customer service reps "uh"ing and "ah"ing 'cause they ain't got a clue? We're talkin' highway robbery, blotchy-skinned sexually-dysfunctional devastated masses blues here, brutha. And where we're from, us New Yawkers, that means the bell has rung and it's time to go lootin' again. 'Cept there ain't nothin' left to pilfer, pal. The government's pillaged the Reserve themselves and now the whole machinery is without its WD40. Can ya dig it?
The first thing to go in a crisis such as this is privacy. When you're sleeping in a hallway mere feet from your father's bedside, you can hardly risk a fracas with the homemade frankfurter. This applies to citizen journalism as much as it does to the meat beat manifesto. Hence, the denouement to this dastardly turn-of-events was compromised by my living situation and, if the climax was interrupted by what might seem like a tacked-on cop-out, you only have the patriarch to blame.
"What's that you're doing, boy?"
"Writing about you," I said. "I'm twenty-one pages deep into the doldrums we've been mired in."
"Oh, yeah? Well, someone's outside humping your llama. You better hurry the shit up."
"I would," I said. "But I don't have an ending."
"Good," the old man crowed. "There is no ending. Not with your story, not with life. It just moves on and keeps on going."