Thursday, February 28, 2013

allll . . . mooost . . . done

Every morning a batch of trinkets awaits me by the sink- the last bit of cleaning I did before going to bed. Every night I wonder- am I almost done? I know I'm almost done cleaning all of the small things- I think I am. Bryan says there's almost nothing left in storage. I've emptied all of my own boxes, but we're unsure if some of my things got thrown in with his. There is still something missing and I can't remember the last time I saw it. Five of my bead boxes made it here. I've been spending my days scooping out each little section, rinsing off the beads- scrubbing rust off if they're metal, leaving them in piles to dry, and placing them in various bowls for sorting. While dreaming of the new designs I would create, I remembered the one missing box. The small one containing tiny, semi-precious stones. I don't remember seeing it, but I can't imagine what happened to it. The back room studio to our apartment was cleaned out the first day, by Eric and me. We were very careful to sift through the standing water, and we recovered lots of little bits. If the box had busted open, the small beads would have been in the water. I don't think anything drifted from the back room to the front room. Hmm...

Thursday, February 14, 2013


We brought two small boxes of shoes from storage to the apartment last week. Today I decided to take them out of the boxes, wipe off any residual mold or dirt, try them on and see if they were worth saving. The condition of many of our things surprises me because the salvaging was done in such a rush, and under such stress and weariness. This particular stash of shoes, six pairs, had been placed in a plastic bag and stacked high on top of boxes on the top shelf of my closet. They were the ones that were out of season or not worn too often. The shoes that had been in heavy rotation were kept by the front door on a pencil wire rack.

The first day of the cleanout went cautiously and carefully. We needed to get the back room, which I had been using as my studio, emptied so we could start moving larger items from the main room to the back yard. The back room didn't have a floor drain and thus collected water like a bathtub. Bryan, our friend Eric and I tackled the task of fishing through the room for valuables. Eric created a walkway out of downed shelves to navigate the muddy room. The first day was a bit of a head-scratcher as we tried to figure out how certain things had gotten where they were. As I worked on making room in the back yard, I wondered what had happened to my compost bins? Inside, Eric had opened up the closet. "Wait, what does your compost bin look like?" he yelled. And out he walked, holding one of my bins, which had floated into the apartment, all of its contents becoming dissolved into the flood water. As the day went on, we found bits of eggshell and barley hulls as we sifted through the water. Eric handed me clothing, boxes and the bag of shoes from the closet. What was stacked high fared the best in the flood. The back room, an addition, had a slightly higher ceiling than the rest of the apartment. There were a couple of things that were in fact, bone dry.

There had been some confusion over what had happened to the bag of shoes. I thought I had left them in the back yard. As the weeks went by and our possessions were gradually moved to a storage unit, I wondered what happened to them. The missing shoes became one in a list of things I obsessed over. Why? I asked. Why? They were perfectly good! They barely got wet! Why did they get thrown away? The fact of good things getting accidentally thrown away became my biggest demon. We were broke. We were spending what little money we had on cleaning supplies and auto repair and take-out food and dry cleaning and propane and flashlights and lots and lots of batteries. It killed me to know that things had been thrown away when we didn't have the money to replace them.

Five weeks after the hurricane Bryan and I drove to the Catskills to start the search for a new place to live. It is unbelievable to me now that Bryan got the flooded car running in that short a span of time. While we were staying with Derrick and Pamela, I had been taking batches of things up to their apartment to clean or dry out. When we went on the road Bryan suggested that I could continue to do the same thing in our motel room. One of the things that started to drive Bryan crazy was a missing piece of artwork. We both remembered seeing it in a stack of things he meant to save, but we can't figure out what happened to it after that. On a search for the missing drawing, the bag of shoes turned up. It had been sitting in D&P's hallway the entire time. Since I had left them in the plastic bag, and they were indeed damp, some of them started to mold. This didn't worry me too much, because the same shoes had developed mold inside the damp closet after Hurricane Irene. So we threw the bag of shoes in the car and headed out of Brooklyn. I washed the shoes in the bathtub of the Margaretville Motel and laid them to dry on newspapers. I thought it would be best to store them in cardboard boxes, to help absorb some of the water. B and I grabbed some flat rate boxes at the post office (shhh!) and there they have stayed until now.

Monday, February 11, 2013

coming in for a landing

It's a quiet, overcast morning in Kingston, New York. Snow is piled up outside the window, beyond which is the neighbor's house, its 19th-century brick painted a greenish beige. We looked at five apartments from which we chose this one, but we could have looked at more. The housing market is depressed in the Hudson Valley, in sharp contrast to Brooklyn, from where we moved. We are paying half of what we paid to rent our Red Hook apartment, although this one is about 100 square feet smaller. Since we lost our sleeper sofa, kitchen hutch, curio cabinet, shelves, various side tables, cabinets and chairs, 400 square feet is about enough for us right now. Knowing that Brooklyn rents have skyrocketed since we moved to Red Hook in early 2010, it didn't seem possible to start over there. We loved Red Hook and we loved our friends there, but the neighborhood we knew had been destroyed. Beyond the fact of increasing rents was the reality of fewer apartments. We were surprised by how many people we spoke with who assumed we'd be moving back into our old place. Having all of your long-collected and dearly loved possessions strewn about, soaked with salt water and caked with dry wall is not something you want to revisit any time soon. It's been fifteen weeks and I still spend every day cleaning, scrubbing and polishing my things. The apartment is just starting to look set up, and I'm grateful for what survived.

The photo above is the 1865 Second Empire mansion, in which we are renting a ground-floor apartment. Yes, back on the ground floor again, but this time we're high up on a hill. We signed a six-month lease, as we are looking for a building to buy. Not 100% sure we're going to stay in Kingston, but it seemed like a good place to land. It's a two-hour drive, bus ride or train ride (out of Poughkeepsie, 20 minutes away) from nyc. Kingston sits on a bluff over the Hudson River, making a gradual downhill slope from the Catskill Mountains. Ulster County, of which Kingston is the seat, is breathtakingly beautiful. The air is clean. People are nice. Food is fresh and delicious. Yes there are drawbacks- it's a bit hard for this city girl to adjust to the car culture she thought she left behind. But this is where we are for now, and it offers us a bit of breathing room as we get our lives back together.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Here is a post I wrote on November 21 but never published. Each day I mean to do a post, but it's just too hard. I want to recount the whole experience. I want to tell of my trials and tribulations with FEMA. I want people to know. All I do is think about the storm. And all we seem to do is tell people what we've been through in the past three months. All we do is live it every day. But writing about it is a different thing. So here goes.

it's been three weeks since the hurricane. bryan is trying to sleep; derrick and pamela are taking a well-deserved break from the two of us. internet has been off, then on, then off, now back on again. phone service has been spotty.

today was the day we finished clearing our stuff out of the apartment. the landlord had been telling us that he wanted to start the renovation a.s.a.p. getting the cleanup done was nothing we could rush. we worked 25 days straight, adding various logistical tasks and wading through bureaucratic nonsense. the first few days, piles of friends of ours and our hosts showed up to fill contractor bags full of wet, drywall-covered personal possessions, discard ruined furniture, mop muddy floors, sift through mud for treasures, wash things off, and do loads and loads of laundry. they were kind and showed moral support. some were close friends, many of them I had never met before. friends of d's drove down from boston and helped us out, then went to other areas of the city to to see how else they could help. friends of mine, after helping us, volunteered through red hook initiative, a community organization that normally serves teens from the Red Hook Houses. RHI became an early triage center, accepting donations and volunteers so that the neighborhood could be served hot meals, given water and flashlights, be seen by a doctor and have any kind of question answered. as the number of people both needing and offering help increased, recovery centers spread throughout the neighborhood. carolina of portside new york turned 351 van brunt (our former store) into an information and meeting center. the sidewalk in front of the restaurant fort defiance was where volunteers came to get their assignments. visitation and good shepherd churches gave out packaged food, cleaning supplies and clothing.

on october 29 I packed my pink book bag thinking we'd be staying at d&p's two nights at the most. I brought a couple of changes of underwear and socks, something to sleep in, a toothbrush, my laptop, my two cameras and my passport. I remembered the battery charger for my pocket camera, but left my phone charger at home. b gave me a wind-up flashlight. I wore pink jeans, a lightweight sweatshirt, a cardigan, rain jacket and converse. I carried my rain boots with me.

at 1:00 a.m., after the worst of the storm had passed, bryan, derrick and I took a walk to the apartment to see how the place had fared. I took my book bag with me, hoping to sleep at home that night. a block from our place we faced a downed willow tree, crushing the chain link fence beneath it and spilling out halfway across van brunt street. I got a sinking feeling when we passed the cafe home/made's side yard, where all of the furniture and items that had been stowed there were tossed about like they were nothing. we approached the house where we had been renting the bottom floor, then stopped and stared. the stairwell leading down into the apartment was filled to the sidewalk with water. seeing that one of the front windows was cracked, I knew that the apartment was filled with water as well. we looked at it for a moment and left.

we have been staying for three weeks at d&p's pad. their fourth-floor apartment is on one of red hook's few dry blocks. elevation increases as small as a few feet created dry spots in an otherwise flooded neighborhood. power was restored here within a few days, hot water came within a week, as well as heat. as I write this Con Ed has restored power to most of the neighborhood, requiring at first that electricians sign off on each building, then relaxing their rules. for weeks street and traffic lights were out. The Red Hook Houses had no power, heat or hot water. the 76th precinct patrolled and stationed itself at key points. they shone bright lights on high towers to prevent looting and muggings. the storm surge had blown our back door open, breaking the deadbolt off the door frame. our back yard became filled with the objects of our lives as they were pulled out of the wet wreckage. I was grateful to the 76th for keeping an eye on our things.

there is so much more to talk about but I will leave it here for now.