So Much On My Mind That I Can’t Recline [On Hurricane Sandy]

Jose Vilson Jose

Hurricane Sandy Hits South Carolina Beach

The new moon rode high in the crown of the metropolis,
Shinin’, like “Who on top of this?”

– Mos Def in Blackstar’s “Respiration”

Flashlights. Bottles of water. Cereal. Baby food. Milk. Batteries. Charged devices. Landline phone on deck. Ready-to-eat foods.

As we went through the list at the supermarket, I found myself feeling stupid for thinking it wasn’t going to be that bad. Chalk it up to a New Yorker’s bravado. The citadel that survived the riots of the 70s, the drug wars of the 80s, the Giuliani “clean-ups”, 9/11, the 2003 Blackout, the Snowpocalypse of 20 and last year’s Hurricane Irene could handle just about anything. Plus, Bloomberg had been so reluctant to close schools that I already had my shirt and sweater combinations ready for Monday.

Then I woke up on Sunday with two skies outside my window: the sunny one just above the Bronx, and the opaque one just above us, moving so rapidly northbound, whatever hopes I had for a sunny day became nil. The supermarkets, grocery stores, and barbershops had yet to anticipate the long lines rounding the block. The traffic lights hadn’t stopped its rhythmic flickers, and the Chinese corner spot still doled out chicken wings and pork fried rice in rapid succession. While Luz got me geared up for checking off our disaster list, I just shook my head, incredulous as to what might and would happen.

Three days later, and many of us are still in suspended disbelief.

A piece of my heart still belongs to the Lower East Side, which had its share of tanks parading through its streets and transformers blowing up at the end of Avenue D for the world to see twice in the last decade. My mother still lives in that neighborhood, and she says she’s OK, she always will. A piece of my mind still belongs to the student whose family had an emergency in North Carolina … and sent me a message on EnGrade to ask for all her homework and classroom for the end of this marking period. Her family can’t leave yet, and she says she’s OK, but students usually do.

While real photos from the collateral damage trickle in through my newsfeed, I worry less about the people who see New York City as their personal playground, see NYC as invincible and permanent, and more about the people who, drawn by its image, made their homes here permanently. New York City might be the city of many people’s dreams, but it currently occupies a lot of others’ nightmares. The facade of a building spontaneously falls, cranes dangle 90 stories high, and the 98-year-old pumps slowly drain out our subways.

Mother nature warns us constantly to conserve, to tone down, to stay humble. Yet, one has to wonder, after the cleanup, press conferences, and editorials has passed, how can one not feel over-aspirational with buildings that almost part the sky in two?

Jose, who just had to say it …