(from Passionate Justice, 2013, Education Press)
My apartment is pushing 95 so we’re at my brother’s (who got his power back last night). It happened two summers back as well. I dedicate this to those, back then, who stayed.
Myth is powerful because it’s true.
People who recall the Great New York City Blackout of 1965, those who lived it, and sociologists who later mythologized it in reports of Rampant, Darkness-At-Noon-Sex, and looking, for example, at hospital births precisely nine months on, were right.
We all go straight for sex when the lights go out and the heat goes up.
I am Your Witness. Contain your excitement while I set the scene.
Ninety-seven degrees and rising…
Friday evening Maryland’s northwest DC burbs were smashed up and knocked about by a vicious storm cum tornado, an assault so violent that most in my county lost power: electricity, cable, internet. Cell phones were interrupted and couldn’t re-charge. We are once again harshly reminded that government is not powerful; nature is, and fickle.
By three in the morning hundreds gathered and milled about in our vaguely lit yet beautiful lobby, an enormous, chocolate wood-accented, arched space, well over sixty feet at its apex. Our 30′ x 20′ mauve and cream Chinese rug that lies on our black and tan marble lobby floor served as a staging area for candy, fruit, pizza, and Pepsi distribution. Residents ranging from infancy to mid-90s migrate from increasingly airless, then boiling, then blistering apartments not only to our lobby but also to our quaint, octagonal Piano Room, our Common Library, and to our Ballroom, in the hope that our first floor might be at slightly less of a boil. It isn’t.
Over time, as your body absorbs just so much stifling heat, you begin to know what The Philosophers knew: Heat is not Out-There; It Is a Part of You. It begins to work a Gauzy, Black-Magic on the Brain.
Mohammed, our stellar Parking Supervisor, and Akela, our equally dedicated Front Desk Manager, somehow freeze our bronze-colored revolving doors as an open accordion and let more air in through that door’s two adjacent easy-access wheel-chair entrances. They bring in icy coolers every few hours with hundreds of bottles of water.
In the first hours no elevators run; how they later get one car moving I don’t know because most auxiliary systems are down. We can’t swim, indoors or out, given the very dumb regs about how you need working filtration systems. So temporary relief’s out.
Rumors about when we’ll get relief abound, and, of course, all contradict one another. All sorts of people, including those not well-known for talking much, let alone public oratory, either
a) bray about how they pay far more in taxes than the average guy and so deserve to have their power-needs met immediately; or
b) assure tense klatches that
I know so-and-so in the Electric Company…
MY company sided his nephew’s house in ’89…so I called HIM and HE says well have power by… or
c) bail; simply leave in quick-packed scrams.
There are no hotel rooms to be had. Stories are that any lodging with power has lines around blocks.
And here’s where I wish like crazy Dr. Kinsey was still around to read this. Perhaps I’ll send this to Shere Hite or the heirs to Masters and Johnson. Because here’s (just part of) what I saw as the heat, without and within, climbed.
. Morty Moscone and Nanette Nussbaum, mid-70s, making out in a corner of our darkened Ballroom. (I’d rolled in from the lobby for a change of scenery and I got it.)
. Nearby, a teen you may call Boris–everyone calls him Boris–a Russian emigre living here with his great aunt, a woman who steals extra bagels from our Piano Room even under the best of circumstances–so, as I say, I saw Boris on our Ballroom floor in a clench with partially clothed and supine Su Pang-pai, a 30s-ish Nuclear regulatory agency functionary. (Morty and Nanette appeared undeterred by the propinquity of the Russian-Chinese entanglement.)
. Mike Cox and Lynn Reddie, in their 40s, just smothering one another in that dark heat.
Wheeling my way back toward our lobby through the main hall I instead turned left into our Piano Room where
. Arthur Mastrangelo and Felicia Henson-Hardisson sat close on a black lacquered piano bench. Silver-haired, tall, and slim, Arthur is often mistaken by some of our older residents whose sense of time has diminished, for one or another 1940s matinee idol. Felicia’s a very small, remarkably smooth-skinned Jamaican woman, a dedicated caregiver to Moe Wright, a man from our 19th floor whom she wheels about with a tank. (Moe snored peacefully in his chair not ten feet away.)
A kind and warm woman who favors flowery, bright island muumuus, Felicia has her charge chuckling so often I have wondered if she fills his tanks with nitrous oxide.
And I mightn’t have noticed tiny Felicia in that room’s strange, mid-day dusk had not Arthur’s arm been draped affectionately about her shoulders and had Arthur’s Matinee-Lips not been pressed tight to Felicia’s left temple as he played for her the Moonlight Sonata, taking in her gentle, soft coos.
. And, finally, Lou Mantz, who, at 94 and in his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers cap and looking for all the world in his mid-60s, and every time I see him I ask him, How?
Because I was a mail carrier in Brooklyn fifty-three years! I probably walked to the moon and back a dozen times! And it kept me fit. And I don’t eat meat! And to hell with Los Angeles and that goddamned Walter O’Malley!
Throughout that boiling day, Lou escorted Mollie Plancke, his still-strong arms on the handles of her rolling chair, in and out and throughout our building, whispering Sweet Brooklyn Things and occasionally bending forward to stroke and then kiss the top of Mollie Plancke’s platinum hair.
These are just five of the Blackout Scenes I saw through my own, heat-inspired, Mythological Eyes this past Saturday afternoon, scenes that should reaffirm for us all what Drs. Kinsey, Masters, Jonson, and Ms. Hite knew: In the Dark, The Rules Just Don’t Apply.
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