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After the storm

This is the continuation of the previous post about Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.

It is Wednesday and it is Halloween. Both my son’s and daughter’s schools have already cancelled school until Monday, but of course, my school has only cancelled Thursday so far. We drove south and west today and found a Shop Rite that was working off a generator and we bought dried salame and cheese and best of all, fresh baked bread and hot coffee from an in-store Dunkin Donuts. The lines were long, but we were happy to have some good food so we didn’t mind. Back home I am making some nice tuna melts using our one clean pan and thinking about Jambalaya for dinner and I am struck by the feeling that this is going to be a long haul and we need to do something. Once again I put my faith in the powers that be in NB to do the right thing and try to believe that eventually they will put out the notice that our school will be closed tomorrow. So I use our smartphones to find hotel phone numbers in Philly and we discover that Lowes is having a $99 fleeing from the storm special.

This turns out to be a great decision, as Philly looks untouched by the storm. The Lowes is in a part of Philly I know well, near Chinatown, and I have to lead my family only three blocks to Dumpling Garden. We enjoy the screamingly hot soup dumplings so much that my daughter asks them when they open in the morning so we can come back for more. It briefly amuses me to see my wife so comfortable in the old, small, and run down eating area. The stools are original steel round wonders that are mostly on their last bolt, the tables are formica and more steel and there’s an old fat, cathode tube tv high up in the corner of the crowded restaurant. The news is on and we see pictures for the first time of the devastation back home in NJ. We are especially shocked by the image of the roller coaster from the Seaside Heights amusement pier in the water. Just two weeks ago, I was embarrassing my daughter by loudly screaming from the top of that coaster as we looked down into the clear blue water at the old Wild Mouse ride that fell into the ocean years ago.

The next day Deb has to work remotely. When you are in the middle of an emergency you tend to forget that to the rest of the world today was just Thursday. My daughter and I walked the same three blocks to the Reading Terminal Market, shared a pork italian sandwich for breakfast and brought my wife back a philly soft pretzel stuffed with bacon egg and cheese. Then, Em and I headed out to see historic old town. As we go from one historic site to another I sweet talk guards and gift shop workers into giving me little souvenirs for my schoolkids. By lunchtime I have a fair sized plastic bag full of liberty bell replicas, copies of the declaration of independence, and other assorted historic crap. After more of those fabulous dumplings, we find a funky shop called The Brain Train and I buy a few puzzles to add to my collection. All in all, it was a nice day for both me and my classroom and by the time the three of us walked to dinner I felt like I was on vacation.

Friday I cave to teenage girl pressure and take Em to Dave n Busters. We take a cab from the hotel, but the whole, short ride I am thinking that we should have walked. Em turns out to be surprisingly adept at this junior league gambling and we end up with a lot of prize tickets. I am briefly proud of her when she uses them to get a huge stuffed “Stewie” doll that she says is for me to give away to my class but then she shows me an instagram picture of some random kids’ butt that her friend forwarded to her and the feeling passes.

After we leave DnB she drags me over by the water and we are walking towards the BFBridge. On the next block, on a short pier half hidden by strategic placed trees and bushes is a small dog walk park. As we head down the dogwalk path she tells me that when her class was here last month they found one of those treasure capsules somebody leaves with stuff in it and they exchanged the stuff that was in it for their stuff. We find the thing but now it has new stuff in it which she promptly exchanges for some stuff she had in her pockets.

We leave 9:30 Sunday morning, just after the run across the bridge race. My mother in law is in the hospital and we are bringing food supplies from Reading Market. By 11 we are in her room and we see that she is not alone. Many older people are there due to falls in the dark and a few because heavy trees fell on their houses. Everyone’s happy just to be alive, safe and warm with food and power. One of the few empty beds is next to my mother in law and at 3, when visiting hours are over, my father in law is in it wearing a robe and slippers watching the football game eating a microwaved roast pork Italian sandwich from DiNic’s. “Do you think they’ll notice?” he only half jokes. By the whims of the grid, his neighbor across the street has power and his house is still dark. I don’t blame him for wanting to stay.

When we get home, our house is dark as well so I make a quick black bean soup and get a fire going. Daylight savings time started today so it will be dark outside before 5 and we just have time to eat before retiring to the front of the fireplace. It is cold outside, getting to maybe 40 or less degrees tonight, but it feels cozy by the fire. My daughter has a fully charged laptop so we watch The Hunger Games on dvd. But, as long as the movie is, it is just 8:30 when we are done and there is nothing to do but put out the fire and try to sleep with four blankets each.

Deb has work in the morning and I envy her as she preps to go. She is apprehensive about all the work that didn’t get done last week, but she moves with a lightness I haven’t seen in her all week and hums to herself as she puts on her makeup with a flashlight in the cold. Any semblance of normalcy is welcome at this point. After she leaves, I start up the fire again and stare at the frozen 3:26 reflected back in the little metallic flip cards of my clock as I write on my notepad in the light of the rising sun. Some of the stores nearby are open later so I make a list of things we need: Batteries, Parmalot, garbage bags, cat food. Also, one nearby library is rumored to be open for people to charge things and stay warm so that is my planned first stop. The gas rationing means I will be on a long line later for fuel as well. I wish my school opened today instead of Wednesday.

They have declared a Halloween “do-over” for tonight, at least as far as children trick or treating goes. I figure that most of our neighborhood kids would likely go to someplace that has power to trick or treat, but I get out our old plastic pumpkin and fill it with the candy I bought a few weeks ago just in case. I had completely forgotten about this until we got to the library and I saw a few kids dressed up in costumes. The first kid I saw was dressed as a giant hot dog and before I made the connection I looked around for the hot dog cart that I thought he was promoting. At least I was able to talk to a local teacher who ended up helping me cut up cardboard drink trays to use as another model of fractions for my kids. We leave and stop across the street at Wegman’s to pick up some things and find them crowded, but well stocked and taking credit cards. I later find out Wegman’s was among the first stores open after the hurricane and have been open for business as usual every day since, from friends who essentially lived there for a few days.

We get back at around 3:00. I say around 3:00 because I decline to waste even a drop of my newly charged power on my cellphone to get an exact time. I am exhausted, most likely not from a lack of sleep but from a lack of exercise. My mouth works as if I have something to say and it hits me. I haven’t done even one tai chi short form in an entire week. I take my time correcting this wrong and do the form only once but as slow as I can stand it. Afterwards I feel energized so I plop myself down into my chair and automatically grab the pen and pad and start writing. As I write I see movement out of the corner of my eye. At first I think it is one of the cats but they are both outside. I involuntarily drop the pad and stand up before I realize what it is. I had turned off everything in the house and unplugged most of the plugs or turned off the surge protectors for all the major devices. One little plug, so old that it does not even have two poles, was forgotten in all the chaos. I forgot to unplug the silver and black fake digital clock, which is now lit by a tiny LED and reads 3:27. Ironically, one week, almost to the minute from when we lost power, it is back on.