Mark Allen's One Thing for August 18th, 2003
(my NYC blackout story)
Copyright 2003 Mark Allen
1. Hey look! *WOW!* There was a totally amazing blackout here in Manhattan the other night! Did you know that!? I took pictures with my digital camera and am putting them up on the internet for everyone to see with my own unique story to tell wow can you belie... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...
Am I a cynical asshole? A cretin? A party pooper? An oaf? A troll? Do I have the right to ruin the super party that was last Thursday's total blackout of NYC (that left people trapped in elevators and in mid-tunnel subway cars for hours... screaming in terror) for everyone by kvetching about how every boob in the city was recording the historic event with digital cameras and uploading it for the world to see on the internet and thinking it was some reflection of an amazing new electronic information age we live in? Am I a cad? A jerk? I just have b...
WAIT... THAT ENTRY IS WAY TO CYNICAL, LET ME START OVER:
1. My 2003 NYC blackout experience (with photos) PART ONE:
I was at home. It was 4:11pm on a sunny, windy, humid-ish, typical afternoon. Jim had just arrived and we were sitting on the couch talking. We didn't really have any plans for the evening... maybe rent some movies. The windows were open and my computer was on... as well as a CD player in the computer. Suddenly out of NOWHERE we heard this obnoxious *beep* *beep* *beep* sound... (which was the sound of Domenic's LED display sign clock's power turning off... and my phone and answering machine going off) and a *w-h-h-e-e-e-o-o-o-h-h-h-e-e-e...* *w-h-h-e-e-e-o-o-o-h-h-h-e-e-e...* sound (which was not one of my Yoko Ono CDs, but my computer speakers kind of trying to go off but couldn't quite get there). The beeps and warbling electronic sounds kept going on all around us... and then stopping... then back on... then stopping. The wind was howling through the windows. Papers were blowing around. Jim and I's heads were turning left and right and left trying to figure out what the hell was going on. It was like Dr. Blinky's (the owl) house from Sid & Marty Krofft's "H.R. Pufnstuf" right before his house started to sneeze (where all the lab equipment and books would start talking and screaming).
I looked around and saw that the computer screen had gone off... but that the activator light kept changing from yellow to green... like it was trying to turn itself on again but couldn't. I looked over to a lightbulb that was on and it was dim and a very, very strange glowing shade of dull orange. Very weird looking.
While everything glowed weird orange and clicked and *w-h-h-e-e-o-o...*-ed all around us like poltergeists... one thought occurred to me: did I neglect my electric bill too long? Is Con Ed "punishing" me by making everything in my apartment go haywire (and therefore driving me into schizophrenia) before finally switching off the power? Since this had actually happened to me about six months ago (my power getting turned off, not schizophrenia)... the possibility in my mind was less easily dismissed than normal. I stood up and said to Jim "Oh no... did I forget... wait..." I realized my bill wasn't even due at all until the 27th.
I got up and turned everything off. Jim asked me to check the breakers... which I did. I flipped them on and off. Nothing. Still weird, flickering, half-power. There was something definitely wrong with the power in my apartment. Oh well I guess I gotta call the super. Oh great the phone doesn't work. I'm gonna go run downstairs and use the payphone... hey look... the light in the hallway is out! Ohhhh... it's the whole building.
I went back inside and go looked out my apartment window. The people, the energy out on the street... seems... a little weird. People are mulling around... not a lot but there is a faint noticeable undercurrent of ever-so-slight confusion and a few more dumbfounded faces than usual (including mine). I see people kind of looking up at buildings and pointing and talking and maybe running around. For some reason I didn't think to look at the street lights or north towards the Con Ed building on 14th street. I tell Jim I am going to go downstairs, Jim tells me he is going to take a shower. I go downstairs and run into my super's assistant. I tell him "Do you know all the power is out in the building?" he points northwards and says "Yes... Con Ed blew up."
I look northwards... over the big bank of trees that surround the recreation center and see HUGE... and I mean HUGE GODZILLA HUGE plumes of black... pitch black smoke. Coming out of where the giant Con Ed electrical plant (used to be? is?) on 14th street. They must be a block wide and high as a tornado. The subconscious gut-reaction to anything weird in the city being possible terrorism had almost died out since 9/11. But it was still there... jumping to attention in the back of my gooey cortex. If Con Ed did blow up... or is massively on fire... it doesn't necessarily mean that it's terrorism. A little wet machine of checks and balances goes off in my mind as I watch the colossal, slow, black columns of smoke go up into a beautiful blue sky. A low-grade hum of adrenaline sets in and I become very focused.
I yell up to Jim (who I know can hear me through the 5th floor bathroom window) "J-I-I-I-I-I-M-M-M-M!!! COME TO THE WINDOW!!!" He doesn't answer. "J-I-I-I-I-I-M-M-M-MMMMMM!!!" I yell louder. "Whaaaaat!?!?" he screams back. "Come to the window!!!" I screech. He finally does... nude and wet. "Look at Con Ed!" I scream like an 8-year old as I point up the street. "Con Ed blew up!"
"Oh... wha...!?" he yells all wide-eyed... "Oh wow!" he says formally... then goes to continue his shower.
I walk around the street all proudly - like an 8 year old who's just tattletaled on someone - feeding off the same schizoid energy that fed into most New Yorkers' brains on September 11th 2001 from 8:45am - 10:28am. I start to hear people talking back and forth to each other "Con Ed blew up!" "Terrorists attacked Con Ed!" I stand on the corner and keep looking at the smoke. I have a hand over my mouth and am weirdly smiling.
A guy who own a pizza place down the street passes me in his car, right off the Williamsburg bridge (Jim and I call him 'Cheeseburger'). He inches by as there is no stoplight. He looks at me standing on the corner, out his driver's window, and says "Hey partner!" I point in the direction of his pizza parlor with one outstretched arm and say "You have no power at your pizza place because..." and then I, still holding the one arm out, use the other arm to point in the direction of Con Ed and add without skipping a beat "...because Con Ed blew up!" He kind of slows down even more and, taking a drag from his cigarette and looking towards the mountains of black smoke uptown, looks back at me and says "Oh is that riiiiiight?" without changing his facial expression one millimeter (he's a super-friendly guy, and Jim and I are always amazed that he always has the same goofy smile on his face - even during a terrorist attack). He drives to his pizza place.
I run back to the apartment. I hear around me buzzing and gossiping that terrorists have attacked the Con Ed plant on 14th street and that is why our power is out. I imagine that if it is a terrorist attack... then this must be phase one. I run up my dim stairwell like a bratty little kid right before Christmas. I am actually almost smiling.
Of course when I get back up to my apartment and turn on my transistor radio... it takes about one minute on the AM dial to learn the TOTALLY REASSURING truth. No Terrorists. No bombs. No fires at Con Ed. The "fire" at Con Ed was a widespread, panicky misconception due to the smoke... which was seen by thousands. It turns out that when and if the power unexpectedly shuts down in the city... for whatever reason... all electrical plants have to shut down too - for whatever reason. When the one like the Con Ed plant on 14th street does this... the burners or whatever release a MASSIVE amount of black smoke out of the chimneys (the chimneys themselves were obscured by the trees in my neighborhood - when looking from the ground). This was all discussed on the news, blah blah blah.
I suddenly felt normal again. My bratty, devilish, 8-year-old-ness disappeared. Why was it there? It was a defense mechanism against fear. A weird one but a defense mechanism nonetheless.
It turns out pretty much everyone else I talked to in NYC experienced the same multi-layerd effect in realizing the power was out. First, they thought it was their apartment... then they thought it was their building... then they thought it was their block... then their neighborhood... borough... city... and ultimately realized it was a huge blotchy patch of the northeast USA.
As Jim and I sat on the fire escape and watched people from the neighborhood pour out of the buildings and into (dark) stores for candles and water and food. We listened to the little red plastic radio I had and got ALLLLLL the details. When would it come back on? What caused it? We talked about the horror of being stuck inside the middle of a tunnel in a stopped subway car in pitch blackness... or an elevator.
Jim said I should go get candles. I reminded him what happened last time the power went out (it was bliss for our romantic life). I told him that I didn't want to "hog" the candles. I don't know... I saw all these old people walking around... fat ladies sweating it out... people with a million kids. I didn't want to take candles from what was probably an already scarce supply in the neighborhood. Then I remembered this was a primarily Spanish/Jewish neighborhood. Oh yea... we have candles falling out of our asses.
I went down to the deli downstairs. Jim was getting sick of the scratchy radio, so I took it down with me to the deli. I carried it on my shoulder like a cliché black character on the subway in an 80's comedy film... except it was blasting 1010WINS Radio... not canned rap muzak.
Down on the street people were organized but hurried. The streets were pretty crowded. I saw Cheeseburger again and we discussed what really happened. I saw the guy in my building who called the cops on the Bunny Brains concert on the roof of the building next to mine and inadvertently became part of the show (see 'Top Ten' for 9/23/02, #1) and filled him on the details. It was amazing how many people knew things weren't terrorism... but didn't know anything beyond that. Nobody had a radio. People seemed drawn to my radio... but I kept walking. I walked into the dark deli and saw lots of people's faces turn as they heard my radio. I know the guy at the front so I left it on the front counter for everyone to hear as I stumbled to the back (in almost total darkness) to find some candles.
II soon found where the candles were (by touch) and crouched down on my knees and started grasping for the tall ones in glass. This is what shopping for the blind must be like. It was amazing that, even though it was bright light outside, it was almost pitch dark in the back of the deli. As I was grabbing candles... I soon felt something ...creepy. It was a bony hand on my shoulder. I smelled stale cigar clothes and turned and heard an old man's voice. It said "Dooo yoooo know where the candles aaaaare siiiir?" It was an old guy looking for candles too. I told him that yes they were right here and proceeded to find some for him. My eyes were starting to adjust to the dark and I could make out the colors of each tall glass candle as I grabbed it. "Nnooooooo... that oneeeee's yeeeellllooowwww... I waaaant a whiiiite oooone..." he intoned in a friendly rasp as he placed a bony hand on my shoulder again. "Oh... okay." I said as I tried to find a white one. See... Spanish people have this thing about the color white in candles and other things... it's good spiritual energy. Let's see... red... blue... purple... Virgin Mary... green... ahhh! White! Here you are sir!
"Can I have two please son?" he said as I dug out some white ones for myself, deciding the white energy thing was a great idea. I handed him another one.
Then behind him... in the darkness... I saw what appeared to be three other figures of older people ambling in the darkness towards us. "He'll find some white ones for you!" the old man I had helped said out loud as he turned around. When he exited I sat there crouched down and heard about three more male and female voices moaning "Doooo youuu haaaave whiiiite caaandles?" I found the shelf with white candles in all shapes and sizes. I started to hand them out like a vending machine in the dark. "Heeee'lll find some for yoooouuu..." one crackly voice said to another and on down the line of candle-crazed zombies behind me. I started to feel hands on me. Old hands. It was dark and I started to panic a little. "Doooo youu wooork here?" one old lady said to me and she reached a hand out and inadvertently poked my ear. It was like Night of the Living Dead. When hands started feeling my head like a melon and voices started saying "Whiiiitttee caaaandles" I just stood up and bolted before somebody took a bite out of me.
I changed my mind and opted for a box of 12 made-in-Israel Shabbat candles (only $1!) over the Spanish-style candles, slapped my money on the counter, grabbed my radio (which had been switched to a Spanish-speaking news channel while I was being devoured by Dawn of the Dead) and ran upstairs.
While relaying my candle zombie story to Jim, we looked onto the Williamsburg bridge. It was so thick with people walking into Brooklyn you could not even see through them. They had even opened up a lane of traffic for people to walk on.
I suddenly decide for some reason that I need to get on my bike and ride around and photograph this momentous occasion. I think I could give Jim Domenic's bike to use, but that's probably a bad idea as Domenic the City Rat will probably come in all excited and want to use it immediately to ride around. I leave Jim and promise to be back in 30 minutes or less. I grab my camera and head out. The streets are very full of pedestrians. The traffic is almost at a stand still. The dark walls of the buildings and dark stores with little crowds of people kind of oozing out of the front looks weird. I ride west between Delancey and Houston. Crowds of people everywhere. I see lots of people standing in front of buildings and shouting up at them. I keep overhearing the words "1977" again and again. Also "1983". People seem oddly not annoyed... really they seem mildly fascinated more than anything else. Who wouldn't be? All of Manhattan was going to be in total, total darkness in a few hours. I mean... WOW!
I start to take pictures of the crowd. Then I stop... I've never seen such an ocean of matte silver in my life. It looks like every boob with one brain cell who can get one eye open is snapping away photo after photo of this "historic" event. I see someone, with no sense of humor whatsoever, try to direct a harried traffic cop to face them for a photograph. I don't know... I got so much of that out of my system on 9/11. My photographs of Sept. 11th and that same night were very popular all over the world, as I was happy that they were... and amazed that I was able to share them with the globe so instantly (by putting them up on my site literally the day it happened). Now I'm awash in a see of photobloggers and future coffee table book publishers standing in the middle of the street blocking traffic while they try to shoot straight up First avenue. I put my camera back in my bag and keep riding around.
I come to Gregory's house and decide to see if he's home. I go to ring his buzzer... oh yeeeaaaa that won't work. I go out into the street and look up and yell Greg's name at the building. He doesn't come to the open window. I mull around the street some more and watch more people migrate towards the direction of the Williamsburg bridge. I see two very, very overweight black business ladies huffing and puffing along the street. One stops and asks me which exact direction the bridge is. I tell her and then she asks how far. I tell her she has quite a ways to go. I feel very sorry for her and her friend... who are sweating rivers. I tell them that there are busses running but she says that they found out there aren't any going towards Brooklyn right now. They head off very, very slowly and I tell them to drink lots of water on the way. One yells back something about a margarita and we all laugh. Their weight is causing them to have to slowly waddle while everyone else walks quickly around them. They've got a looooong walk ahead of them.
I also see very old people pushing hand carts around... looking ...weirdly, resigned to the situation. I was thinking that they might be all feeble and need help and are probably now more in need than ever since the world they live in, which is probably already too fast and surreal to them at their age... must be twice as bad now. Then I remember they've lived in NYC longer than any of us. I realize they seem more annoyed than anything else.
Every once in a while I shout Greg's name up at his building at the top of my lungs. I keep watching people. I see traffic at one intersection at a complete stop... a man has gotten out of his huge white truck and is standing on top of it like a stage and yelling at people to get moving. The traffic cop lady is telling him to get back inside his vehicle. For some weird reason I can't see anyone photographing him. I reach for my camera but suddenly hear "Mark!" coming from Greg's building. I turn around and see Greg hanging out his window. I wave and he motions to his front door. Then... weirdly... I see Greg's Eternally Fascinating upstairs neighbor Rose at his window... yelling my name too. I yell to Rose that I'm coming up. The restaurant downstairs from Greg has placed a zillion tables out on their sidewalk area and all of them are packed with people drinking beer and taking it all in. Inside the restaurant it is dark. They are doing bang-up business. As I walk my bike to Greg's door, everyone sitting down drinking looks at me. Some ask me if I finally got a hold of Greg. I tell them yes.
I get up to Greg's and we exchange stories. Turns out he was uptown when it struck. Greg does this funny thing where he shuts his eyes, puts one hand to his forehead, puts one outstretched hand into the air and says "Mark... could you im-age-ine... im-AGE-ine if I had been on the subway when it happened!? My worst nightmare!" We exchange horror fantasies about being trapped in a pitch black subway tunnel in a crowded hot car with screaming people. Yea... wow. The door knocks. It's Rose. Hilarious and unstoppable Rose. We talk about the usual things. Rose keeps punctuating everything with "There's 150,000 people trapped down in the subway in the dark right now as we speak!" and also shares with us the fact that he has lived through three blackouts in NYC... and this will be his fourth. Rose, a colorful and fascinating veteran of everything New York... he also tells us that during the blackout of 1977, while everyone else was rioting and looting... he was gout getting laid more than anyone else that night. I guess there's always a silver lining around every cloud.
We hang out on Greg's fire escape and watch the throngs down in the street. It's getting darker. The funniest thing we see? A red, double-decker tour bus... driving towards uptown (a direction no one else is going) filled with confused-looking tourists on the open, upper level... as the giant bus passes below it we see that the tour guide at the front is still giving the tour into her megaphone "On the left we have the birthplace of..." she is saying in a very, very fast voice (the bus itself is also going oddly fast). No one on the tourist bus is taking any pictures at all. They all look a little confused and frightened. They all are clutching their backpacks and purses tightly, and their faces are darting all around them. When the bus goes under us we see people on the street pointing and laughing. Someone throws what looks like a cardboard tube at the bus. This causes some of the tourists on that side to turn around quickly and freak out kind of scared. People on the street laugh at this. Disasters may really bring New Yorkers together... especially when it comes to making fun of tourists. Sometimes you just can't help it... they're just so... hilarious. The tour guide keeps on yapping into her megaphone very quickly and with an embarrassed smile on her face. The tour bus looks like it's doing 40mph. It's getting pretty dark now.
With many of the traffic lanes wide open now (lanes that lead in the opposite direction of bridges)... people are really pouring into the streets and getting pretty festive. More and more the city looks like it's going to turn into a big slumber party.
We decide to go up to the roof. We all look out at the weirdly dark buildings around us. They look like canyons in the southwest USA. Rose comes up on the roof and tells us that he just got off the phone with someone that said they are rioting in Flatbush and a gang just robbed a bus full of people. We joke that "...oh we just saw that bus... They looked like easy targets!" Rose... who is prone to drama (thank God) stands by his information. We later learn that a few stores were indeed looted in Flatbush... but it wasn't a riot. And no bus was ever robbed. When we question Rose's source he looks out into the dusk night and says "There's 150,000 people trapped down in the subway in the dark right now as we speak!" Rose points to every penthouse we can see on the Lower East Side and tells us every story of every resident. The stories are very dishy.
I also learn that, mere minutes after Gregory returned home during the blackout... he ran upstairs to a screeching Rose who had a squirrel trapped in his apartment. The squirrel was crouched on one of Rose's many fine antique chairs and sitting watching them both very calmly. They finally managed to chase it out. Now Rose informs us that... in the dim light of the blackout, he saw that the squirrel had returned while he was at Greg's talking to us. The squirrel had left a single, shelled peanut on the chair where he had been sitting. To "mark" it's territory. Greg and I are amazed. We all nervously laugh that no the animals are not going to take over during the blackout... that this is nature's revenge. We hope.
We all decide that it's nice and cool on the roof and that we want to stay there. Rose tells us that he has a big bottle of burgundy he can bring up and that we should all have a big slumber party on the roof. I think that's a great idea and I tell him I have to go get Jim and bring him. Gregory is kind of worried because he was scheduled to work at The Cock but doesn't know if they are going to be open or not. I tell him that they probably are (turns out almost every bar in the city was open that night by candle light - all night long) and that he should just show up and see what happens. He's deciding whether to bother or not.
We walk to the west side of the roof. The sun is really starting to set. I tell Rose and Gregory it's like a horror movie... waiting for dark so the zombies can come out. I snap my first photo of the night. We're all excited about it getting dark. Looking uptown... the skyline is starting to look more and more surreal. The streets below are getting louder and more festive. I feel totally inspired and refreshed about the whole thing. I am totally excited about what the weird, unknown, alien night is going to bring. We look out into the street and all three of us decide that this blackout is the "highlight of our Summer". We all laugh. Rose says "Three New Yorkers stranding on a roof deciding that a blackout is the highlight of their Summers! That's rich!" It's getting pretty dark now. I tell Rose and Gregory I want to go home and get Jim and bring him back. I go downstairs, get my bike, and hit the very dark, crowded streets.
The energy has definitely changed from a few hours ago...
I've never ridden my bike through Manhattan in this kind of light. It's very surreal. The streets are so crowded it's hard to navigate my bike anyway. Let alone being thrown off by everything that moves because dusk light is making everything and everyone the same shade of blue gray. This is punctuated by the odd blast of a car headlight or flashlight shining in my face. Ouch. By the time I get used to it... the sides of dank, dark, canyon-like buildings glide past me oooohhhh so quietly as I ride along. Even with the streets full of people... the lack of power seems to have turned the noise level way, way way down. Ever sleep all night with an air conditioner blasting and then, for whatever reason, turn it off in the middle of the night... only to not be able to sleep at all as a result of the overwhelming quietness? That's what the city is like now. It don't know which is harder to get used to... the lack of sound or light.
I pass Lotus Club on Clinton street... a place I have been to a zillion times. The entire crowd is hanging outside drinking beers to candlelight on the sidewalk. Every bar is doing the same. Open container laws are null and void. All laws seem... not breakable... just nonexistent. People jaywalk through lights that don't exist anymore... cars drive on the wrong sides of streets... and are guided along by traffic cops who don't care. People ride bikes on the sidewalk. People start bonfires and bar-b-q pits right on the pavement next to cops who don't seem to mind. As I finally hit my wide street and try to get to Jim before true dark sets in... it looks like I'm riding between two massive black canyons. Ever been hiking in Monument Valley in the dark? That's what this is like.
I get home and startle Jim when I walk in. He's a little apprehensive about going out into the dark, chaotic, urban jungle night for the Rose-hosted slumber party on Greg's roof. Perhaps he's too used to the Catskills Mountain calmness (I learn later this may be due actually to a rather profound watching of Spike Lee's Son of Sam film in his recent past). But first we realize we haven't had something in the last eight hours that is very important to the both of us. No, not gerbil sex ...COFFEE. We kind of panic. Soon I realize that... instead of eating the coffee grounds (which was my first idea - trust me, Jim and I are total addicts who will stoop to the lowest depths of humiliation just to score) I realize that the gas line is still working on the stove and we can light it with a match and boil water and pour it directly into the top of the Braun coffee maker where the grounds are... for a *perfect* cup of delicious coffee... every time!
First we light some of our Shabbat candles to illuminate our now totally dark apartment. We remark about the very strange photograph of a Hasidic girl holding her hands over her face on the box (we later learn this is some kind of Hasidic tradition). We heat up the water... put the grounds in the coffee maker... and pour the boiling water over the coffee maker... and all over the counter. It's various rivers of steaming coffee ground speckled water running all over the floor and cascading over my counter... and onto our burning bare feet... to candlelight. But who cares... most of it got into the coffee maker and a fresh pot of totally too-strong and dirty with grounds coffee is trickling into the glass pot. It worked! Eat your heart out Little House on the Fucking Prairie!
Just then... Domenic storms in. Indeed I was right. He throws on some dark clothes... grabs his bike... and excitedly runs out into the pre-riot madness of dark Manhattan with a look of evil delight on his face (not to be seen for another 48 hours).
Jim and I sit out on my fire escape and look north onto my amazingly dark street. We notice even more people yelling people's names up to buildings because the buzzers don't work. Jim and I crack endless joke after joke about the wise-cracking animals who ran all the "machines" in The Flintsones. Every time something casts too much light anywhere... a big truck's headlights... a police car... people on their fire escapes boo and hiss. "Turn off your headlights!!! You're ruining it!!" was overheard. Light from dangerous things like little torches or trash can fires or a guy running down the street swinging glow sticks yelling "One dollar! One dollar!" THAT stuff is embraced in all it's chaotic, riot-friendly-ness. Yay!
The ink-y darkness is punctuated by weird stray beams of flashlights here and there and constant of yelps and howls alternating with bleak silence. The energy and hunger for adventure is totally omnipresent to the point of imploding in on itself at any moment... everybody is expecting something to happen. If nothing else at least the party to end all parties. And even if not that - then at least a totally surreal, memorable night. It's like Halloween, the night before Christmas, your birthday, the first time you were gonna see a porno magazine and the last day of school all rolled into one. I need an adult analogy in that group: hmmmm... another Rodney King verdict riot! No... hmmm... another Who concert audience death stampede! Well... maybe at least like the night the Manson family members entered Sharon Tate's home! How's that? What a thrill!!!
Soon our amazingly dark street is ruined by some generators with huge spotlights that are trucked in and placed in front of the building across from us. They make a sound like what it would probably sound like if you were t hang out inside a turbine engine with a handful of gravel... B-R-R-R-A-A-A-W-W!!! W-A-A-G-G-H-H-T-T!!! T-Z-Z-D-D-T-T!!! B-B-P-P-H-H-T!!! T-Z-Z-Z-A-A-T-T-!!! over and over at screaming-baby-next-to-you-on-a-bus volume ...thanks a lot jerks who want light!!! With this blistering interruption cutting into our cool alien invisible vampire race riot mood... Jim and I decide to head out into the night. Although the spotlights shining up into the building through the trees does cast some interesting shadows. We split.
We take ourselves and candles and a lighter. We wear light clothes. We have $7 between us because both of us never went to the ATM before the blackout (like most of NYC). Our walk down my stairs to candlelight is very Jessica Harper in Suspiria. When we hit the street ...it goes without saying that the mood is pure outer space. Any sense of not being safe is purely in your head only. We come across and ice cream truck that's doing brisk business... and illuminating a black, blank, void of a street. Everything around us seems in negative... in visual and in mood.
When we hit Ludlow street... the mood changes. People are everywhere. Everyone has beer or pot. People are forming drum circles and dancing in the streets. The mood seems to be on a steady incline. Everywhere is dark. We pass a guy out on a couch on the sidewalk with a portable laptop. Anyone with any sort of light gets instant attention... like these kids with a flare they stole from the street... or my camera flash. The famous Max Fish is doing great business... outside. The bartender's even serving outside. We leave Ludlow and head up Houston (we might should have stayed... the rhythmic, stoned, drunk drum circle 'party' got so out of hand the cops had to break it up when people started dancing nude on top of cars in a sea of flashlight beams - the hollers and howls from which we could hear all the way from Gregory's roof).
I keep pointing my camera at random things and flashing it. I cannot even see what I'm photographing. It's like the only way to see is to set off my flash. Every time I do someone who was facing it mumbles "...holyfuckinshit..." as they pass us. Ray's Pizza is still open... serving pizza by candlelight. Weird.
We reach Greg's building and shout his name up at the side of his building. He comes down to let us in but has to make a call first. He wants to try to call The Cock to see if they're open or not. We all walk amongst the revelry on the sidewalk. The mood is getting more and more anxious and drunk and frantic and fun. The crowds in the streets are swelling ...but not overflowed or scary. We keep passing drunk people. Jim taps me on the shoulder and tells me he's glad I convinced him to go out. Just then an army of bicycle-ers pass us to cheers from those on the sidewalks and street... about forty of them riding in a group all over Manhattan (presumably). Oh God I wish I was with them... my ideal thing to do on this night would be to ride all over the city and see everything in the dark. But Jim's with me... he doesn't have a bike. I'd rather stay with him. As Gregory is on a pay phone we pass a group of people with sparklers. They're tourists. One of the women, high on the night (and beer) runs out into the street and starts madly waving her sparkler at cars as they pass (and have to slowly swerve out of her way). She keeps yelling "1977!!! 1977!!! Woooo-hooooo!!! Nine! Teen! Seventy! Seven! Whooooooo-hoooooo-arrrgghhh!!! Yea!!!" Gregory can't get an answer at The Cock and slams the phone down. More drunks pass us. One bumps into me. I smell weird burning meat smell in the distance mixed with sulfur. A huge plume firework (leftover from the 4th no doubt) goes off *POW!* about twenty feet above Gregory's roof. Everyone on the street cheers and is illuminated red for an instant. We hear Rose way above us inside his open window (not thirty feet from the huge firework) shout "Oh my fucking Christ!!!" We start to hear serious crowd roars from the Ludlow street we left not five minutes ago. The mood gets more and more frantic, but still not scary. Like Bourbon Street on speed and Ativan and in negative print. We head for Greg's roof. The restaurant outside Greg's building is a dark mob scene.
Then Rose... whom Jim is meeting for the first time... greets us at his door with a jug of wine and a story about how he thinks the squirrel had returned but was scared off by the "M-80." Walking into Rose's home is always like walking into Gray Gardens... and Rose gives Jim the full tour of his fantastic furnishings with the aid of a lighter. It weirdly makes it look even more exotic. It's also very hot in there amongst the marble and antiques and mirrors and chandeliers and framed photos of Rose when he lived as a transsexual with black make-up and an afro wig in the Caribbean in the 1970's. And possibly squirrel attacks may occur. The crowd outside is still growing in volume and mood. We head above.
On the roof... the view of a dark skyline including the Empire State Building is unforgettable. Looking out over the city is real weird. The wine flows... the cigarettes are smoked... the conversation shouts over the street crowd (mostly from Rose)... it was really too much of friends talking endlessly and getting a buzz for a few hours on the roof of a blacked-out Manhattan to put into words... so I won't even try! This following blank space will represent the words I cannot use to capture the moment:
...when Gregory imbued rather cromulently...
...expurged firmly on Jim's gaw...
...we had lollitcated whistendly...
...we spied the "1977!"-yelling drunk sparkler tourist lady over the top of the roof... ...so we transcended our eclizitonic in an fluid arc towards her moff... ...when we heard her scream "It's raining!"...
...the crowd sounds from Ludlow pfaffed rizzingly...
At about 11pm Greg decided to walk over to The Cock and see if they were open. Jim and I went along for the ride. Or walk. Dark walk. We were drunk from all the red wine and stuff... plus Jim said he would never forget Rose as long as he lived. We walked along Avenue A in total blackness. I cannot express how weird it was... like dreaming about being on Pluto. All Korean deli owners who ran 24-hour delis had a problem... they couldn't close and since they never close they didn't really have electric gates or something like that.... they stood outside their delis with their Mexican assistants... arms crossed... handmade signs saying "closed"... poised for a riot that just wasn't gonna happen. All the delis were weirdly closed down... sort of... but the doors were opened... with candlelight illuminating the inside... $4.99lb buffet anyone? We passed Key Food (closed - but with one gate slightly raised) and saw a bunch of guys cooking meat on upside-down trash cans with fires in them right outside. Suddenly Alphabet City looked like it was 20 years ago... the Wild West.
While walking pass Tompkins Square Park we saw there was a massive and I do mean MASSIVE drum circle... no drum BLACK HOLE (a good black hole... not the evil kind) around a massive bonfire. It was a huge and loud crowd... no mob. Jim and I decided to drop back by through it after dropping Gregory off. We went to The Cock and Gregory disappeared and we hung out for about 60 seconds. It was open by candlelight and had a big boombox booming. I saw my old club friends Scott and Xavier.
We walked back over to an ink-y black dark and very uproarious Tompkins Square Park. It looked like it did pre-1991 riots and subsequent closing and "renewal" - again... the whole Wild West thing. The dark roar was punctuated with dots glowing Mars-orange. we walked closer towards one of the dots and saw some squatters had built a typical campfire on one of the mounds. this is one of the most unforgettable images I've ever seen in NYC. It was like 80's-era Alphabet City had metaphysically morphed with 80's-era Camp Crystal Lake.
A few hundred feet south was the massive bonfire drum cacophony. It looked like they were burning a car. Some people were nude and painted. We assumed that the cops... who were right in sight... were doing nothing because it was better to keep people gathered in one location (away from residences) and get all their ya-ya's out rather than split them up and have them roaming independently around the city. Very smart. We joined in the primitive formality for a few minutes then headed home in even more surreal full-moonlit other planet weirdness and crashed into bed like two dead dogs.
THE NEXT DAY:
I will make it quick about the next day. We had lunch in a Chinese takeout place that had set up a kind of *M*A*S*H*-style weird camping buffet thing lit by candlelight and hot as a sauna. That was weird. I took this picture of Jim standing next to some post-blackout graffiti on a local Starbucks (by the way... will graffiti ever look bad defacing a Starbucks? Nope).
The electricity didn't come on down on the Lower East Side until about 9:30pm. Jim and I were out on our fire escape enjoying the last bit of (almost) total darkness when it did. When the electricity did come one... I will say I will never forget the moment. Instead of popping on all at once... all the buildings popped on one by one... some of the big buildings almost seemed to light up all the windows in kind of a circular spiral... and with each and every light going on... the crowds gathered in the streets and fire escapes cheered like an arena of football fans. And that moment... the lights all coming on all around us in the massive darkness like UFOs from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the entire neighborhood erupting into cheer after roar of ecstasy... that is a moment that I'll never, ever forget. We went inside... turned the lights on... checked our email... and turned the AC on. My friend Herbert called and told me he stayed in his way high rise apartment for the entire 24-hour blackout - with no power whatsoever. I found that incredibly odd and weirdly brave. I then hung up the phone ...and that night Jim and I curled up next to the air conditioner and slept like little fetuses.
Mark Allen's One Thing
for August 11th, 2003, a Story:
- by Mark Allen
I spend a lot of time on my fire escape taking in all the surroundings and looking at all the people in my neighborhood... it's a way for me to relax. My fire escape is the equivalent to a front porch for most people. If I had a rocker I would sit on it and rock and wave at everyone as they passed by.
My years of hanging out there on the fifth floor on sunny, beautiful days has earned me many friends and acquaintances on my block. But there is one acquaintance in particular that has always left me with a sense of unease:
Beatrice... the poodle... Beatrice the white toy poodle. Age: 8 years... fur: white and curly. I see Beatrice often being walked in the neighborhood by her female caretaker. Everyone loves Beatrice... all the kids run to pet Beatrice as the woman parades her around on a pink leash. Beatrice the poodle has typical poodle hair that is bright white, and is fluffed and sculpted and cut into one of those poofy "toy poodle" cuts that look so good in photographs and dog shows. Except in Beatrice's case... her human caretaker - her "master" - is an elderly woman with semi-poor eyesight... so Beatrice's sculpted fur is slightly off balance... off kilter... and she has dirty years of accumulated dirt staining the white fur around her feet, mouth and asshole. This is an interesting contrast to the pink toenail polish that Beatrice's master slathers onto her toenails... which are rather long and "click" on tile pavement when Beatrice walks on them. Beatrice looks cared for but slightly unkempt.
This combination only makes Beatrice more loved in the neighborhood... makes her less than perfect and more human, as it were. There is a slight pity in the admiration projected on Beatrice. This is a good thing... especially for Beatrice the poodle. In a few years this will be heightened when glaucoma sets into one of Beatrice's eyes. A sign of her age. But old age, lopsided fur, soil stains and sloppily-painted clicking pink toenails mean nothing to Beatrice... fucking Beatrice. Why?
I know Beatrice better than most. I see the way she looks at me. Beatrice knows I know and that means it's just a matter of time before I pay for my knowledge. Beatrice is a flesh entity of pure evil. Her body is just living molecule drag for a force so benevolent that it pre-dates the human mind. This force has been ruling the dark half of the universe's yang for an eternity... when our world is snuffed out... this entity will find another dimension to inhabit... in whatever disguise it needs. It transcends time. Right now it's in our dimension. And this interdimensional force of infinite evil and mean-ness inhabits Beatrice, the wobbly, lovable poodle.
Right now I am out on my fire escape on a beautiful Summer day. Beatrice the poodle has recently arrived via her caretaker and is making the rounds. Soon... or perhaps inevitably... I see Beatrice dancing to Salsa music on the sidewalk. Beatrice's owner leads her by her leash to where some locals with a jambox hang out on the sidewalk and play Salsa music and dominoes. Beatrice wiggles her butt and yaps and yips and dances for little pieces of scrap pizza cheese. It's an amazing trick for a dog to be able to dance and keep a beat to music for scraps of cheese... but for an infinate and all-knowing force of evil it's nothing. They all gather around and clap and watch Beatrice dance... the fools. If they only knew. But Beatrice doesn't even care about them. Dance Beatrice... dance... hoodwink the mortals.
The only human you are concerned with is me. I know you, you evil poodle. I see you from my fire escape... I'm looking down at you on the sidewalk. Dancing and yapping for cheese. Dancing for the street people... and your "master". You're only using them as a cover. Dance Beatrice... work it... work your poodle ass to the Salsa music Beatrice... all the while your black, beady bat-like eyes keep glancing up... upwards at me. Me. ME ME ME... the end goal of your evil plans. Our eyes meet and I know what my destiny is. Oh if only those people saw what I see in your eyes... they see cute poodle eyes of Beatrice. I see two black oceans as wide as the universe and as deep as the accumulated collective human consciousness of one trillion years of mankind's regret, hate and despair. I see pure, impenetrable evil in your little black eyes Beatrice. Dance Beatrice... dance for the clapping fools while I look at you and see The Abyss itself. I know you see me Beatrice. I know... I've always known Beatrice.
Beatrice the most evil poodle in the world. The most evil entity, force, energy known to man... the universe. Beatrice steals a second here... a second there... from her yapping for cheese, dancing charade to look up and meet my eyeballs on the fire escape. From five floors up she can penetrate right through me. I see you looking at me Beatrice. You terrify me... but you complete me too. I must deal with you in the same way I will one day deal with my own demise. My own death. You are death Beatrice. Death to humans is a mere plop of a pebble in the ocean that is the evil that you are Beatrice. Evil Beatrice the white poodle.
I begin to suspect that my dark thoughts about Beatrice and her secret reality are summer-tingued madness. But then, suddenly... just as Beatrice's black pool eyes lock with mine in mid-Salsa... from down on the sidewalk... something unbelievable happens. Time stops all around me. The clapping street people freeze... the birds in the air freeze... the trees blowing freeze... cars... children... the very air... everything around me freezes. It's as if time has stopped... yet I can still move on my fire escape. I'm amazed... l look all around me... everything looks like a three-dimensional photograph. What happened? I can't even hear a sound at all! Time and space have stopped... who... what could have done this? Oh my God... it couldn't have been...
I look down at the circle of street people who were clapping and feeding cheese to a dancing Beatrice... they are frozen in a perfect circle... looking down. Beatrice is gone. Where did Beatrice the evil poodle go? My eyes dart around the frozen street for her. I can't see her.
Suddenly... amongst the immense quietness, I hear a sound... a clicking coming from inside my building... in the stairwell. In contrast to the overwhelming silence all around me... the clickity-clicking sound is almost deafening. I hear it... *click clickity click* ...it seems to be coming up the stairs. Then it hits me what it is. It's Beatrice! Beatrice the most evil poodle... the most evil force... in the world! Coming up the stairs ...for me! Beatrice... Dark Mother of the Unknown... Mistress and creator of fear... death and dread... coming up my stairwell in a world where she and she alone can stop time and space itself and make me her next target. Me... her next conduit ...her next victim, vessel to pour whatever unspeakable evil she may have perceived into... *click clickity click* closer... closer... oh God in Heaven, no! Not Beatrice the evil poodle. But God is nothing compared to all-knowing and all-destroying Beatrice. *click clickity click* ...closer... closer... up the stairs. I want to move from my fire escape, but can't seem to will myself to. What is the point of will against a malevolent force like Beatrice? *click clickity click* ...closer... closer... up the stairs the sloppily painted toenails hop up each and every step... without hesitation towards their destination... me. Somehow... even as a child, I always knew it would end this way. I would be wiped from the face of the universe by Beatrice the most evil poodle... evil force ever. I'm resigned to my fate.
The clicking has now stopped. I know Beatrice is behind my front door. I am still out on the fire escape... facing away... out into the street which is still frozen... silent... by Beatrice! Beatrice just sits and waits outside my door. Beatrice knows I'm scared. She senses my fear... she's known it all along. It pleases her.
I still face outward... into the stillness... the bright sunshine-y stillness which Beatrice has caused and that, in her doing so, has claustrophized the world all around me and made the very outdoors seem as closed-in and as indoors as a locked closet... a fetid basement... the locked trunk of a car. Outside has become inside... concave has become convex... the vacuum has become it's opposite... day has become night... or the difference between the two has become irrelevant. There is no need for balance or ying and yang in a numb world where light and dark have become the same thing. Beatrice's stopped-time world where her and I are the only ones moving is the worst possible reality to know... but it's home sweet home to Beatrice. Her stopping of time and space is equal to less than nothing... less than a vacuum... Hell. Worse than Hell. This is Beatrice's territory... her territory... an altered territory... a territory of unfamiliarity and fear and nightmares and loathing and pain and un-love. I look outward... contemplating the meaning of the word "zero." I hear a clickity click on my front doorknob. It's Beatrice the evil poodle's hand opening my door. I hear her clickity click feet walk into my apartment and shut the door behind her. I have no need to turn around and look through the living room to see if it's her. I know... I fear... and I know she knows. She has paused... still... sitting up and looking across my apartment at me sitting out on my fire escape facing away from her. I can feel her. Beatrice is milking my trembling fear for every draining drop it is worth. I start to imagine a world or reality without pain or pleasure. If light and dark have become one in Beatrice's frozen-time world... could pain and pleasure cancel each other out? I feel a tiny... itty bitty flame of hope inside my soul as I contemplate this... but that tiny flame is snuffed out instantly, and appropriately, by the slow clickity click of Beatrice's toenails on my kitchen floor... walking slowly towards me. Beatrice could sense my thoughts of hope and has acted upon eliminating them... and letting me know she's the one to do so. I hear the clickity click enter the living room... the bedroom... and stop right below me... inside the window... behind my turned back.
I sit... having still not moved. I look out and see several small children frozen in mid-play on a jungle gym. I weep for their joy. Beatrice is behind me. Feeding off of my dread... gaining nourishment from it. Beatrice the evil white poodle... or should I say the evil that is a white poodle... how I loathe thee. The very force of evil... evil itself... which has plagued mankind since the beginning of time itself... that force is sitting behind me... waiting... sneering... knowing all. I sit still and say nothing. Or can I move at all? What's the use... man has been trying to get away from death... from nature... for centuries... by trying to achieve immortality through civilization. Beatrice has removed that option for me. "Death" and nature don't exist the the parameters Beatrice has created now. I cannot escape them, or try to project myself from them. I can only accept Beatrice... death itself. Evil.
Oh how I hate you Beatrice the evil poodle.
I think this to myself as I stare outwards. I try to clear my mind... but it's too filled with fear to empty out. Perhaps as I sit here in stillness... if I get scared enough I will pass out and not have to endure the...
My thoughts of hope are once again snuffed out by the tiny front paws of Beatrice. I feel her small poodle arms reach from behind me, around my ears and gently place themselves on my eyelids. I feel her paws. I feel the rough... black, pebble-like soles under the fur on her feet... the long, cold, pink toenails... the dirty fur. She closes my eyes and pulls my head back. I smell her stinking, rotten dog breath and feel her panting on the back of my neck. Beatrice pulls my limp body through the open window and onto the bedroom floor. She grabs my hair with her little white poodle paws and begins to drag me across the floor by my hair. My head turns sideways as I move. I open my eyes again and watch the white bedroom wall move horizontally across my field of vision. I want to speak... to say something... anything to Beatrice... I want to tell her I'm sorry... to tell her I'm sorry I failed her... to tell her I will do anything for her no matter how humiliating. But a man with no hope can barter nothing... and one in total control by another cannot bargain. I have nothing in the face of Beatrice the evil poodle. I hear Beatrice's clickity-click toenails on the floor as she moves me... drags me. It's the only sound I hear. Why even contemplate apologizing or groveling with Beatrice? There is nothing to tell Beatrice the evil poodle... she knows all.
Beatrice drags me out my apartment door. She drags me down each painful flight of stairs. I wonder if Beatrice, the evil of the world that is Beatrice the poodle, has feelings? No... probably not. Feelings don't exist in her reality... her reality of pain and fear and loathing... these are feelings experienced by other because of her. She operates as a force... an instinct in the universe. Humans are the ones with feelings... evil Beatrice has none. A bumble bee swarming around the nectar of a flower and Beatrice causing all the pain and suffering in the known world are one in the same... pure instinct devoid of feeling. Beatrice the poodle is a force... an energy... a reality. My horrible destiny and new unspeakable reality. I begin to leave trails of moisture on the black tile stairs as my head bumps each one while Beatrice drags me down. It is not blood... but tears. My tears.
I'm sorry Beatrice... so sorry.
I hear the clickity click as Beatrice's poodle paws take each step and she drags me down further and further... flight after flight. We reach the ground floor. I hear her clickity click paws as she drags me to the back of the building... past the mailboxes... to the back entrance. Beatrice works without haste or pause. But every moment feels like an eternity. She is master... I am slave. I hear Beatrice open the door to the back stairs. I see the sun beam in and hit my face... but it does not feel warm or good... it is frozen... like everything in Beatrice's numb world of Hell. She drags me past the rancid garbage cans... which look like gentle fields of blowing wildflowers in comparison. My realization that rotting garbage looks good to the world Beatrice has created for me resigns me to my pain... my anticipation of the horrible... the end. My head clangs on each metal step as Beatrice drags me down the stairs and to the basement door. My limp... malleable body and will follow suit. Beatrice stops at the basement door and opens it. It squeaks and clangs... I can finally hear a sound! A sound besides Beatrice's hideous clickity clicking toenail feet. The door swings open with a groan... Beatrice drags me into the darkness... the blackness of the basement. She shuts the door behind me. I hear the clickity click of her toenails and see her white, puffy frame bounce around me as she does each thing. Beatrice the evil poodle... the busy little poodle... busy wiping me off the face of the world.
Beatrice grabs me by the hair again and begins dragging me through the dark hall towards the furnace. I see her flickering shadow against the brick wall as she drags me closer and closer to the hot, stinking furnace. The only thing in Beatrice's Hell world that is not frozen.
Beatrice stops me at the feet of the furnace. I cannot move... I am without motion or will. Beatrice the force of evil that s a poodle is my master and my death at her hands is an extension of her will. Beatrice moves into my field of vision. My head is sideways against the concrete floor. I see Beatrice's face... her poodle puff hair... the balls of fur at the end of her ears. I see the orange flickering light of the shadows from the furnace on the wall behind her... I see the tiny yellow reflections of fire refracted in each of her black beady poodle eyes... I see what is behind her eyes but do not know it... do not want to know... I want her to teach me. To show me the way to destroy me. A tear rolls down my face sideways and penetrates the hot concrete floor.
Beatrice knows I am ready. She takes a razor from the floor in her little white poodle paws and begins to carve into my face. I want her to. I want her to carve me... to make my death a sculpture in her poodle paw hands... her art. I am wet clay in Beatrice's hands. She removes my eyelids so I can watch everything. The pain is unspeakable... excruciating... I feel it in every molecule of my body. I am happy to serve her. But I cannot move... I don't even want to. The searing hot pain and humiliation are like sweet caresses from the evil poodle Beatrice. Tears and blood gush from my eyes... but are indistinguishable from each other. Beatrice then reaches down further on my face with the razor an begins making cuts. She removes my nose. She wants to disfigure and humiliate me before disposing of me... remove my pride in myself so hating myself is the last thing I ever experience as I leave this world. Beatrice then reaches down with her stinking mouth and grabs my removed nose with her hideous, yellowed dog teeth. She chews the nose like any dog chews on a dead, discarded rat. I feel happy to be swallowed by her. I am happy to nourish her... I want her to use me to further herself. I am here for her. Beatrice then moves her little poodle body across the floor and takes a small mirror from across the flickering, orange shadow furnace basement room and props it up across from my face. I see myself... I am forced to stare through removed eyelids the mute, hideous monster I have become. Through the stinging blood and sweet tears of pain I make out a word that Beatrice has carved into my forehead. It says "SUBMIT". I have... I want to. Thank you Beatrice.
I try to move my tongue to speak... to thank Beatrice for her pain... her gift of death to me... but she reaches down with a paw and slices my tongue off with the razor. She then slaps my limp, flaccid tongue on the concrete in front of me. I see it and the silly, humiliating monstrous deformity my face has become in the mirror. Beatrice then takes one poodle legs and smashes my tongue with it. She squashes the muscle and pulverizes it with her paw. I see her pink painted dog toenails as she twists and destroys my tongue on the hot concrete with her little paw. I want to speak... to say "thank you"... but cannot.
Beatrice works quickly and economically... but I am the machine. I have become a machine with no will. A machine with Beatrice at the controls. I am a conduit... a bottomless pit filling up with Beatrice the evil poodle's resolve. Her will is my reality. My will is nonexistent. I am happy to let her fill me up with her will... the end of me. I am happy to submit to her. To please her.
Beatrice then quickly moves around me and severs all my major tendons with the razor. She works with a surgeon's precision. She does this to prevent me from moving at all. I am now a puppet.
I am ready now for Beatrice's final fate for me. I welcome it... like a mat. Beatrice takes her paws and drags my hideous, disfigured, obedient vessel into the furnace. Thank you Beatrice. She shoves me inside the little furnace door feet first... then stuffs the last of me inside with her little poodle paws. She faces my head outside the door of the furnace and shuts the little door. I see her... through my removed eyelids... and through the slits in the iron door. She moves her tiny, puffy, white body across the orange flickering basement. She stops on the other side of the room... she is behind a table... and behind that is the "on" switch to the furnace. She turns around and looks at me from across the room. I only see the upper half of her head from across the top of the table... her white poodle head and puffy white ball of hair on top. She looks at me for a length of time. She has paused. I can see her black, shiny, beady eyes. They look right at me. I see the flame of the lower part of the furnace fire reflected in them... but I also see me... see me obeying her... Beatrice my master. I am her slave. Beatrice keeps her head facing me and her eyes locked with mine as she reaches behind her and places her paw on the switch to activate the fire in the main part of the furnace... the part I am in. I gaze into her eyes. I hear her pink toenails clickity click against the metal switch as she touches it.
It is the last thing I ever hear.
Copyright 2003 Mark Allen
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