Tag Archives: Isolation

Shelter in the Night

Boston, Massachusetts
Tuesday, March 24, 1981

Every morning the blackbirds fly to the east in long arching streams. A continuous band comes over the condo project across the street and disperses in a scattered line that breaks up the failing pink of the dawn as they head, approximately, for the ocean.

All winter, as I crossed the street, the wind cutting cold through my trouser legs, my cheeks red, scraped by the raw, I suspected that the blackbirds had set some dubious course for their migration and it was taking them to the coast before they turned south. Through the entirety of that season they persisted, crowding their sky-lane silently as their path intersected the man paths below. Did they ever actually leave? Were these the same birds? Every day?

One late afternoon I thought I’d discovered at least part of their secret.

I was waiting near the Brigham hospital for a bus. An agitated whirring drew my attention to the bare trees in the neighborhood nearby. Blackbirds filled the boughs, hopping about, leaning and looking, as if waiting for some imperceptible signal. One or two birds in the highest branches of each tree tested the air, springing free, five, ten, fifteen feet vertically; their greatest leaps mimicked by as many as five or six converts from the lower realm. These preliminary sortees gained in frequency and magnitude, clusters of birds circling the trees and then lighting again. And then springing spontaneously from the midst of hesitance and confusion, one bird shot with urgency and conviction into the darkening sky. Others followed at virtually the same moment, and then more, in ranks, one after the other, filling the air again with that dark scattered stream. The winding, blackbird cloud, swirled its way to the south, yet the buzzing, whirring remained. Many birds were left in the trees. Some, unsure, had peeled off from the original departing flock; others, anxious but not yet ready, never left the limbs.

Gradually the performance was repeated several times by those remaining, each a near duplication of the last—except for the deepening background of evening that was making the performers indistinguishable from their perches. Finally they all took wing, vacating the last trees in an instant, rushing to some goal beyond the approaching gloom, seeking companionship on the journey, or shelter in the night. 

Gone. Activity and noise receded like a wave, leaving a brief and sudden silence, until the #69 bus surged through the darkness, illuminating flecks of rain in the soft sphere of yellow light it pushed before it.

 

To the Guy in the Pinto Wagon

Dude! It was just a merge!

To the guy in the Pinto wagon who followed me twenty miles across New Jersey. Oh sure, when I first realized that you really were angry, and you were honking and shouting at me (with your window up), I thought I should pull off the road and kick your ass. My second reaction? This guy is obviously nuts, and might have a gun or other weapon, or at least, be someone who would get some weird satisfaction from smashing my window with a brick. Yea, that would be fair retribution for pulling ahead of somebody when the two lanes merge.

But most of my male defensive rage disappeared not long after you stopped honking your horn – which I remind you, you must have had going for a mile or two at least, from one backed up stop light to the next, down 206. So how could you work so hard to hang onto your anger? I started to become rational—even compassionate—very quickly. You must have had a pretty bad morning, or a pretty bad life, up to that point, to be so angry with a total stranger who just pulled in front of you at a merge. And then to follow me? And glare at every intersection? You had plenty of opportunity to pull ahead and get where you were going faster, if that was really what was important. But you stayed angry, and kept shouting obscene threats to your closed window, and kept following me. I got to experience a fear. What if this guy is more than a little nuts? What if he’s a Psycho-killer??

Then my survival instinct kicked in. If you were going to follow and attack me, sucker, I was gonna make damn sure you’d pay for your insane craziness. Oh yea. You stay behind me? I’ll pull into a Starbucks parking lot and see how committed you are. I’ll wait until you pull in behind me, then I…do something. Drive away, run you over, call the cops, or the baristas. But you know, once you start thinking about this, letting your imagination run, you can just go to incredible extremes with it. What if this guy gets my license number? Manages to find out where I live? And so on.

At that point I figured it out. Take the iPhone, take good picture. Get a record of the guy’s face, of his car. And I did. And make sure he sees me taking the picture. For extra measure, I might tweet it. Internet to the rescue. Sort of.

Because really, he was in the slow lane. I was in the fast lane. The lanes merged. He pulled forward, I pulled forward. He backed off his accelerator, I didn’t. It was just a merge. Dude! It was just a merge!!

Reflections on Sandy

Oh Sure, the drama of the “super storm” slamming into the Jersey Shore, destroying beaches, ruining homes, uprooting trees, snapping telephone poles – it’s all great news for the media. That’s the big story, the satellite photos, everybody preparing in advance, mobbing the stores, and then all the wonderful disaster photos of giant waves and flooding and ruination.

But here’s my reality.
First, for a change, we had lots of time to get ready. Everyone I know had plenty of water, and batteries, and an ungodly number of homeowners now have generators. I thought they couldn’t possibly have anybody left in New Jersey after last year who didn’t have a generator. Heck! My whacky landlord even bought one for the country house I was renting back then. He thought it would keep the oil burner going so the house wouldn’t freeze up; but however much muscle that thing had, it wasn’t enough to even get the oil burner to make a startup click. It kept the frig going, so I didn’t have to lose all my food, and I plugged my CPAP into it and slept on the living room floor, and that was good. It was not luxury, but it was good.

I am so glad I don’t live out in the country this year! It was lonely. That old stone house was cold. The stink beetles were embedded in the tops of the curtains and every exposed fold of wallpaper and every unsealed crack in a storm window. They filled the attic. The ghosts were always banging around and making noise. My cat had died and my son had moved back in with his mom. There was nobody to greet me at the door, nobody to come home to. And once the power was out, just that noisey generator, and the prospect of another gas run to the station down the road. After days like that, on my way home from work, I’d roll down my car window and listen as I pulled into the driveway. Power yet? If I could hear the annoying rattle and choking bursts of internal combustion engines, running in every garage up and down Route 523, then I knew, no power yet.

I live in town now happily, in a second floor apartment in an old house, on the Delaware river, far from the Jersey Shore. I pulled in my two window air conditioners and at the last minute, on Monday, located a couple of thick, old fashioned snap-in storm windows which I managed to pop into the two windows in my second bedroom “office”. I was really concerned the hurricane would blow in the old panes and dump rain all over my big iMac. So I felt better after that. Every other window, except the one in the little kitchen, had a storm window protecting and insulating it. When it began to rain late Monday, I felt fairly confident. (Sounds like the “Three Little Pigs”!)

Everyone said the power would go out by seven. I was working remotely (which is what IT geeks call it, when we sit at our computers, working from home), trying to get stuff done for my job. I couldn’t concentrate. The wind was picking up, and it was raining. My lights flickered a few times, and I tried to focus on what was most important to get done for work. I couldn’t. I got up and paced the kitchen. I set up my propane camping stove. When the power went, I would have no light, no way to cook on the electric stove, and no microwave. At least I would have city water (in the country you have a well, powered by electricity. Which means when the power goes, no toilet.) The apartment has oil fired steam radiators, but they use electicity at some point. I figured I would have heat and hot water for a day, maybe two. I had a lot of fruit. I made a giant fruit smoothee, figuring I could save it and drink it later when the power went. I started doing dishes (because who wants a dirty kitchen when you have no power?) I began to look forward to the cup of coffee I would have the next morning in the aftermath of the storm. I have everything… Wait! I have BEANS. I need to grind my coffee! I took care of that, placing the grounds in the frig. And thirty minutes later the power dropped. And it did not come back on.

Without wasting too many more words on details, the storm came that night, it blew like crazy, and made a lot of noise. There were all kinds of screeching and wailing sounds during the night. Even though I got up a couple of times to look, with all the wind and rain splashing on the windows, I could see nothing. Early in the morning while it was still dark, it sounded like the wind had found the little shed where all the renters dump their garbage. I heard garbage can lids zinging into trees, and rolling down the street. There was the metallic clunking of garbage cans bouncing across the church parking lot behind my house, and the solid crash as they hit trees or walls. Eventually it all stopped, and I slept.

I thought we must have been in the eye of the storm at 8 AM, because it was calm and even fairly light out. But that was it. There was surprisingly little rain. I cooked a big breakfast of food that I thought would go bad first – eggs, sliced turkey- too late for the mushrooms, tossed them – a pot of coffee. No cable, no TV, no Internet. But my cell phone worked. I wasn’t isolated yet.

To be continued….