Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Where to begin?

Yesterday morning, Sandy felt like the personal storm story I'd be perfecting, one of those "where were you?" and "how'd you manage?"conversation starters New Yorkers were beginning to share as we navigated our ways back to routine: clearing tree limbs, bumping elbows at re-opened neighborhood eateries, and -- finally! --  reconnecting with familiar voices via cellphone, so we could complain about erratic Verizon service.

My emerging story, shared way too far and wide on Facebook, featured Parkside Avenue's post-storm band of neighbors,  armed with saws and black garbage bags and lead by the self-proclaimed "Strong Jamaican Man".

In 1990, our foursome of ACORN organizers briefly considered moving to an elegant two-family overlooking the B12 bus stop on this block of Parkside Ave. between Bedford and Flatbush. Bus fumes, yes, but also marble bathroom fixtures circa Amelia Earhart, an earlier resident.  More, though, than that stately mansion with a bargain basement pricetag, we were drawn by the four side-by-side families whose toddlers shared nearby Maple Street School with my daughter Anna Poe-Kest and my niece Jessie Streich-Kest, born three months apart.

For years, the adjoining back decks of the Miller-Conroy-Ehrlich-Coplon/Moreno clans enticed us to summer evening pot-luck dinners and, even better -- to the best annual backyard dance party in Brooklyn.  Every September, four yards became one grand ballroom.  Everyone's downstairs front doors wide opened wide to the world, an irresistible magnet to under-aged neighborhood kids; their persistent reconnaissance missions past distracted bartenders mostly thwarted, thanks to several hundred pairs of watchful in loco parental eyes.  By dark,  a crush of dancers captured the basketball court, salsa and motown blared through four-foot tall speakers, alternating with ever-shifting acoustic and electric sets by local musicians performing from a deck overhead.  Major talents in this neighborhood, even today; an extended musical community that reaches to Bob Telson in Argentina and Angelique Kidjo, now back in Brooklyn.  By midnight, the delighted crush of party-goers chanted and cheered Jeff Coplon's annual appearance as Mick Jagger -- spastic, uncanny.  The other equally reliable appearance: then State Senator and now Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.  Even without the accompanying tubs of (Brooklyn's own) Uncle Louie G ice cream, we would've tolerated his cornball Brooklyn boosterism --  "We love you, Marty!"  No political speeches.

Those party nights, no one in those houses slept until the next morning.  Until a  bleary-eyed cleanup crew, many of whom had claimed couches rather than drive home,  shoveled the last of the Parkside Avenue party into black garbage bags and dragged them to the curb.

No wonder, I've long declared myself an honorary Parkside Avenue resident.  No wonder it became my safe haven when Sandy threatened and my own home was on loan to a family from Sweden.  And, no wonder it felt great to be part of  yesterday's black garbage bag brigade.

Monday, we'd mostly obeyed official directives to stay indoors, six of us hunkering down with comfort food chili with apple pie and the endless loop of storm images from Long Beach, Battery Park, the West 57th Street crane, Long Beach, Battery Park....

At some point late afternoon, the message got through that that this storm was not just another weatherman's wet dream.  Against our own inclinations, we calmed to images of Mike, Andrew and -- I can't believe I'm going to say this -- Chris battling his head cold. Governor Cuomo favored the drama of pounding, floodlit surf;  the other two members of NY/NJ's regional elected trifecta, a steady recitation of closings and cautions press conference style. All three reassured us. Glued to the TV, we gradually absorbed the enormity of a storm we'd all underestimated.

Around noon Tuesday, a diverse band of neighbors emerged from grand Lefferts Gardens houses and more down and out down the block apartments to do battle with a downed pear tree, one of two neighborhood giants felled by the storm.  The uprooted monster blocked pedestrians on the sidewalk;  more hazardously, it overwhelmed an ancient fire hydrant in branches and hard, BB-sized pears.  I'd thought that rusty hydrant dormant and inoperable, but was reassured that it had  miraculously gushed into action when "the big fire" threatened a corner building.

Our shared mission: insure safe passage for the sidewalkers (en route to PS 92 soon -- we hoped), the MTA bus riders and, the fire trucks (we hoped NOT).

At 1:15 the bottom fell out of my storm story.  Online, I read a voicemail from my friend Laura Kenny in New Jersey, somewhat incomprehensibly transcribed, googletalk style:

Cate.  It's Laura lease lot suggest emailed me about your needs.  Jet the And I'm so sorry to hear this.  When you get a chance.  I'm sure you're quite busy.  Give me a call and of course,  if there's anything I can do let me know and an accountant, but just wanna hear that you're okay. Take care, Kay.  Bye Bye.

After several tries through busy circuits, I reached Laura. Then, the bottom fell out of my world.