Thursday, November 22, 2012

Autumn (Haikus) in New York

Following my self-proclaimed tradition, I write five haikus during each season, attempting to capture nature's beauty in pictures and words.  Since we've lived in New York City, I have written haikus about Central Park scenes during spring and summer.  I decided to explore parks closer to our Lower Manhattan home for autumn inspiration.  May the images and poetic 17-syllables add pleasure to your fall day, with special Thanksgiving wishes to those of you celebrating the holiday.

silenced gaslights seek
illumination amidst
flaming companions

sadly, the Busy
ignore our invitations
to stop, sit, to breathe

you eat much more than 
  you squirrel away, consumed by
the present moment

unrestrained redness
bursts across the landscape in
giddy cheerfulness
(Hudson River Park)

reflective stillness 
interrupted by City's
persistent presence 
(Battery Park)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stars of Hope for Staten Island

My last six blog postings have been about Hurricane Sandy - before, during and after.  The "Before and During" were mainly about Drew and me, as our lives were interrupted by a four-day loss of power.  Last weekend, we experienced a world where lives were halted  by a surge of water so powerful that it left many people with little, or nothing.

I wasn't expecting to do what we did in the Staten Island neighborhood of Midland Beach.  As volunteers from Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, I thought we might drop off supplies, hand out water, sweep debris from sidewalks - important jobs, but nothing involving a mask, rubber gloves and an opportunity to walk in another's shoes.  We gutted a home.

Walter stood beside his front door as our group, mingled with volunteers from other organizations, hauled load after load of the soggy, dripping, muddy remains of his house to the street. "I'm overwhelmed," he said. "I've been working four days, but you guys have done more in two hours than I did that whole time. Thank you."

I worked in the yard, with at least ten others, stuffing bags full of water-soaked baseball cards, balls, colored pens, a diary, teddy bear, books, shoes. . . clues to Walter and his wife, Margaret's, four children. . . all safe at a friend's house.  Workers inside threw pots, pans, bathroom tile, shelving, sheetrock out  windows, which we picked up and piled into more black bags.

After about an hour, I stopped and stood among what looked like --  junk.

None of it was salvageable, all would be crushed or carried away by sanitation trucks.  But to Walter and Margaret, this "junk" had been part of their home. They watched strangers tear it out, scoop it up, pull it across their muddy lawn, and toss it in a heap.  Yet, it couldn't be helped; it had to be done. . . to move on.  Easy words for me to write.  I only walked in their shoes for three hours.

As we were leaving, we asked Margaret for her cell number, so we could contact her later.  Perhaps the school could help replace what their children had lost, what they might need as the weeks went on.  She thanked us. We asked to take a picture with her so others could know their story.

Walking back through the neighborhood to our cars, we began to notice brightly colored wooden stars attached to telephone poles.

"The Stars of Hope are coming!" said one of the Léman teachers.
"Stars of Hope?" I asked.
"Students from our school painted them and will hang them all over this neighborhood and others, hard hit by Sandy.  Children around the country paint them to bring 'hope and color' to devastated communities."

                              More and more of them appeared the further we walked,

  and we smiled,
 knowing that stars would soon find their way 
to Walter and Margaret's street.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Rebuilding After Sandy, One Letter at a Time

Where do you start when you see so many people who need help?  


The images on TV, the stories on WNYC leave me paralyzed, too overwhelmed by the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy's destruction to know where to begin, to even question whether the efforts of one could make much difference.

Fortunately, the "Spirit of Giving" has seen this attitude before, and has no patience for it.  Before our power was fully restored, she started inching her way into my awareness.  She sent me an email, via Southstreet Seaport Museum.  The museum, three blocks from our apartment and around 50 yards from  the East River, sustained devastating water damage. One particular part of the email saddened me. . .

"Bowne & Co., Stationers was most seriously damaged in that 217 drawers of accessioned type were soaked by the surge. Efforts to dry the type and keep it from deforming are hindered by the lack of power downtown."

The letterpress shop, which is owned by the museum, is one of my favorite places in the neighborhood.
Robert, the shopkeeper and letterpress artist, personally greets each guest to his small shop with a kind word, and creates an atmosphere of "times past" with his reproductions of turn-of-the-century cards, books, gift tags and more. His letterpress machines and trays of letters fill the back of the shop.

"So what are you waiting for? Get down there and see what you can do!"  The "Spirit of Giving" may start as subtle nagging, but her strength explodes with passion.  I was out the door and inside the letterpress shop within half an hour. 

Ali, one of Robert's co-workers, put me to work  salvaging the wooden letters.  They were soaked with salt water, all 217 trays of them. The face of each letter needed to be dipped in alcohol, blotted on a cloth, then placed face down on a paper-lined tray to dry.



As a writer, I felt a comforting kinship with these letters which I, and others, were trying to save.  The possibilities of words, sentiments, ideas at my fingertips made the job more than a mechanical process, but a noble cause.  Not that we don't have more sophisticated ways of producing written language these days, like the computer in my lap, but respect for what came before, for the art of each letter, was inspiring.  

Volunteering in the cold remains of the letterpress shop, I had overcome my paralysis.  As I dipped, blotted and positioned each wooden block, I no longer questioned the worth of an individual contribution.  I knew that I was helping, one letter at a time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

After Sandy. . . continues

As the days go on post-Sandy, I often feel that I'm living in this world, but not.  Our neighborhood looks the same, except that nothing is open; streets are often completely empty.  The friendly tailor, Lumi, who seems to always be in his shop, is absent.  I miss his wave as I walk by, his gesture to come in and have a cup of espresso or a piece of candy.  But he has no power for his sewing machine, just as Starbucks around the corner has no power for its coffee machine, just as we still have no power for the 76 floors of our building.  The generator comes and goes, depending on whether it gets refilled with diesel, a much sought-after commodity through the five boroughs of New York.
It will be "going" again today at 3:00 p.m., taking elevator service, water and gas along with it. . . until further notice.

However, Drew and I are beginning to catch glimpses of the familiar, cropping up in this alternate world of cold showers, warm refrigerator, and candlelit dinners-out-of-a-can.  Yesterday a Starbucks opened in a pocket of power, close to the tip of Lower Manhattan, the same pocket that now provides electricity to Léman Manhattan's upper school. Drew sipped his first cup of coffee in three days, and we can now charge our phones, computers and have internet service!

In search of an open post office this morning, I unexpectedly discovered that the Whole Foods four blocks from our apartment building has reopened, via what must be a mega generator.  The timing was perfect as I had just emptied the last morsels from our refrigerator and was wondering where I might find a powered-up grocery store.  Smiling employees were grilling hamburgers and handing them out  to passersby for free.

I passed them by, determined to mail the absentee ballot that was burning a hole in my tote bag.

 In this alternate world, post offices don't follow the creed that "neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep a postman from his appointed rounds."  All three of the post offices in Lower Manhattan remain closed, the closest one with power is Farley Station, 3 miles away.  It never occurred to me to say, "To heck with this" and head back for a burger.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (earlier blog posting) would never forgive me for turning my back on their lifetime commitments to women's suffrage.  As I entered New York City's largest post office an hour later, the lights, the lines of customers, and 9 windows of clerks energized me.  Life as we knew it was only (many) blocks away.


As we deal with our inconveniences, we realize that there are many people in the area facing much more challenging circumstances.  We continue to think of them, as we know you do.  In the meantime, know that we continue to be well, enjoying evenings of Scrabble by flashlight.

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