Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

There’s something about things that are clean, smooth, unwrinkled and ready—ready for what I don’t know, but ready. Whenever I get up from our couch I plump the pillows. It’s automatic. Not something I consciously think about, but I can’t bare the thought of smushed-in cushions. Nor can I bear the thought of touching the subway poles (you can’t imagine how thrilled I am when the weather turns and I have to wear gloves. I love cool weather for a number of reasons, but the barrier between germs and me is definitely high on the list).

I think my preoccupation with things being clean might stem from the reality that I almost always feel hot. (Another reason I chose Stockholm over Sicily for daily life—100+F weather from June – October? That sounds like a nightmare to me!). And being the long-maned, thick-haired, dark-skinned half-Indian that I am, being hot means being perspir-y, and the ever-present, nagging suspicion that maybe my deodorant isn’t working as well as I would like it to. I can’t believe I just typed that, but there you have it. I hate germs and I’m always worried that I’m not as fresh as I’d like to be.

To combat a bit of that, I like to wash my hands. A lot. I like to take off my shoes when I come into my house because the tiniest smidgen of thought that whatever my shoes touched on New York City’s streets is now living and slithering over my floors, under my bed, below that tomato you just dropped and are now rinsing off and adding to the salad makes me feel that everything is lost.

So, perhaps you can imagine how well I’m holding up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

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I wasn’t living in New York during 9/11 or the Blackout of 2003. But, I was here for the blip that was Hurricane Irene (a blip in the city at least—it wrecked havoc on counties north). And, I grew up in Virginia near the waterfront—where the masses of humid, southern air and crisp, crackling storm fronts produced gorgeous thunderstorms, but regular Hurricanes and Nor’easters. I’ve been without power for many a day, but put me in a high-rise building on Wall Street without water and things get rough.

*sparklingly (
{ The Battery Park Underpass...flooded | 31 October 2012 }

When the power went out on Monday we didn’t just lose the ability to charge our phones and watch Netflix, we haven’t been able to wash our hands, wash our faces, brush our teeth, take a shower or…use our bathroom. Yes, we tried to fill our tub with water for manual flushing, only to realize just before the power went out that our stopper wasn’t working and our tub-that-we-thought-was-filled was actually empty. We do have gas to cook with and to heat up food, but with the contents of our fridge spoiling and our stockpile of cooked food sitting out for days, not to mention that we can’t wash anything that we use, I haven’t eaten anything from my kitchen in two days.

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Independently from each other, a group of friends in NYC, my immediate family in the States, and my family in Sicily all began calling me General J, The General and Il Generale at almost the same time two years ago. I can’t get enough of it. It’s so much more pleasant than previous nicknames (like 'Gilligan'—thank you, middle schoolers of Yorktown, VA!). And, since I’m strict, like things a certain way (my way), slightly regimented, driven, organized, a tad bossy, infatuated with schedules, calendars, budgets and timelines, and have little patience for (too much) raunchy, inappropriate, indelicate language, the name certainly fits. To be fair, that last bit, paired with my penchant for quiet evenings home reading and/or knitting with tea has also earned me the nickname Grandma/La Nonna from my brother and brother-in-law (oddly enough, also independently of each other). I suppose that means that these are spot on characterizations, and I don’t deny that they both fit me perfectly.

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When you stick General J in the middle of a disaster zone, you’d think she’d handle whatever went down well, no? I thought I would. But, I’ve been affected much more than I ever thought I would. I see myself as tough, feisty, hard as nails, but the pressure of keeping everything together and managing trying to work, finding cell signals, communicating with family here and abroad, staying hygienic, navigating 14 flights of stairs up and down multiple times a day with my father and my husband, all while I remain unwashed has really, really taken a toll on me. I feel like I’ve failed myself a little because I haven’t been as “general-y” as I thought I would be when something like this happens. I haven’t fallen apart, but I have complained a bit and been silent and stoic rather than pleasant and positive. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself.

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We’ve been told that power will be restored to Lower Manhattan by midnight tonight, 11PM tomorrow at the latest. My brother-in-law, whom I haven’t seen in more than a year, arrives from Sicily tomorrow at 9PM. For him, and for my own sanity, I truly hope that power will be on today. The thought of cleaning out my fridge both sickens me (the waste, the smells), but energizes me, too. I could make my home mine again! Cozy, fresh, vanilla-scented, warm, inviting. I’m dreaming of a thick steak, a dark smoky wine, an evening on the sofa with my husband and Netflix (and maybe a mini bout of knitting).

But most of all, I really just want to wash my hands.

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