Monster and me, newly decamped to the Upper East Side, on his last walk before Sandy came to town
The view up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square Park during Lower Manhattan’s black out
The Hudson River spilling over the Westside Highway and into the West Village: This is the end of West 11th Street, and that’s the top of a bicycle poking out
It was an eerie, surreal night during the storm. I was already on the Upper East Side, and the corner of Madison Avenue and 77th Street was a ghost town. That night, the bar at the Carlyle Hotel was nearly empty, just a few of us, like my friend Eugenie here, wondering what we were supposed to be doing. But that would soon change
First and foremost, I must thank my friend Marjorie Gubelmann. When it became apparent that Hurricane Sandy was indeed headed straight for New York and that I was going to be forcibly evacuated, she didn’t hesitate to invite me in. Dog included. No questions asked. Her only request was that I bring my appetite. (And I did.)
My week with Sandy started sleepily. I flew back from Brazil (where, an avid reader of this blog will know, I was in Sao Paolo with Louis Vuitton and then at the splendid artistic paradise known as Inhotim) on Saturday night, landing Sunday morning. I didn’t sleep on the plane, so crawled into bed when I got back to my apartment. A few hours later, the building supervisor called to say we had a few hours to get out. I live in Zone A, mandatory evacuation. So I had just enough to time to unpack, repack, grab Monster, call the aforementioned generous Marjorie, and then flag down a car and head up town. That was Sunday.
When we woke up the next day, Monday, it seemed like an average day. It wasn’t raining, people were on the street, and there was even a wait list at the spin class Marjorie and I had signed up for. When we walked home after pedaling for 45 minutes in a room with a bunch of pinned and tucked Upper East Side females, it was drizzling, but it was hardly a hurricane. Or so we thought. A few hours later, when we were eating lunch, the winds picked up. The windows started to rattle and there was a howling sound. (I should mention here that Marjorie prepared three home cooked meals a day. This lunch consisted of fried rice and cut up hot dogs. She’d whip up a gourmet meal with whatever was thawed in the fridge, and that’s a skill I could appreciate.) We turned on the TV after lunch and the extent of the damage in other parts of New York started to flash: We saw the intersection of Canal Street and the Westside Highway, which I bike through every morning on my way to work, completely under murky brown water. We saw taxis being tossed like Matchbox cars and trees being blown into the streets. Things on the Upper East Side were minimal: The lights flickered, the internet was done for a bit. We were lucky. That night, a few friends of mine who lived downtown and had decamped uptown met at the Carlyle Hotel. There was a live band and cocktails in the bar and the Balenciaga team (Nicolas and Marie Amelie with Pat McGrath) in the lobby. But all we could talk about was the storm outside. On a cigarette break on Madison Avenue, we all watched as a huge window from the hotel’s 25th floor was sucked out of its casing and shattered with a lethal boom on the corner of 76th Street. Anyone smoking spun on their heels and went back inside at that moment. A little after midnight, when the rain had let up, my friend Evan took us downtown in his truck so we could try and see with our own eyes some of the damage. It was surreal. When we crossed 23rd Street it was a ghost town. We turned off our headlights and drove through non-functioning traffic stands and giant skyscrapers that were dark and hollow.
I woke up late on Tuesday. I had a hard time falling asleep (I was thinking about my apartment building, which was on the wrong side of the Westside Highway, wondering if the bike in the basement was ruined, if our lobby would stink like mildew), so when I woke up I missed Marjorie’s breakfast. Eggs Benedict. I made a mental note not to make that mistake again. Not that it mattered as Marjorie was already on to lunch: fried chicken, pasta salad, tomato and mozzarella. Misery and confusion love company, so Marjorie’s lunch was a revolving door: Pat came up from the Carlyle, Evan and Ku-Ling came over from the Mark (where a whole other fashion contingency was staying), as did friends of Marjorie’s like Simon and Mr. Mickey. Kids came and went. Jess and Stavros and Eugenie came by, so did Nellie and Hayley. It was jovial, but every time someone came over we’d look ominously out the window as the rain stopped and big trucks were moving tree limbs. In the afternoon we settled by a fire, and we laughed and I made tea and we ate the supermarket Halloween cake that Simon and Lyle bought at Gristedes. Yes, the supermarkets were open the day after the Hurricane. The Upper East Side was a whole other place. While downtown was dark, empty, flooded, everyone uptown was happy, shopping, rich. Surreal.
Happy Halloween: Marjorie’s sweet afternoon treats, and a very poor attempt at making a costume out of an extra wig found in the Gubelmann costume closet with my friend Karlie. (This was the first year I had been organized and ordered a costume online, but it was downtown underwater. But at least I have next year sorted already!)
Halloween night: My friend Nellie dressed as the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man, and Emma making one wee Halloween-er extremely happy
What to do with adolescent boys when school is canceled? Hide-and-seek, of course. Also, pets like Marjorie’s kitty Mort are always a good distraction
Marjorie had a karaoke machine with a conscious (of the dozen pre-programmed songs, “Sandy” from the musical Grease was on there); but her son Cyrus was truly the prince of the party, charming the pants off Lily, Poppy and Karlie
Cultural delights: Dyrano de Bergerac on Broadway (with a stellar performance from my friend Clémence Poésy), and the ultimately fashion documentary, ‘Unzipped.’ (Marjorie, if you’re reading this: I left Unzipped at your house and don’t even think about keeping it)
Wednesday was Halloween. I felt bad for myself, briefly, because this was the first year perhaps in my whole life that I had planned ahead and organized a costume in advance. But it had been shipped to my apartment downtown, which was still powerless and closed. But I felt worse for the kids that were staying with us, who were still of Trick Or Treating ages. (I’m too old for that, right? Right?) So I did what anyone would do in that situation: Call up some pretty girls also displaced by the hurricane, and stage a day of karaoke and fashion shows. Worked like a charm. Later that afternoon, Karlie and I took Marjorie’s son Cyrus on a trip around the block, where we bumped into my friends Emma and Sophie, and through the lobby for more candies. When Cyrus went to bed, we had an unplanned adult Halloween experience: The scene at the Carlyle had exploded. I still feel bad for the hotel employees, which I’m sure was operating on a short staff and tortured by a bunch of drunken, displaced downtowners. But what were they supposed to do? Take the night off?
My friend Leith Clark surprised me with tickets to see our pal Clémence Poésy in the Broadway production of Cyrano de Bergerac on Thursday. I love that play. The words! Clémence was apprehensive about us coming to see the play because much of the crew was still displaced by the hurricane, but we came to see her anyway. But who goes to Cyrano to see fake blood anyway? The words! When I came back to Marjorie’s, there were people sleeping off their Halloween hangovers on couches. (It really did feel like summer camp at Marjorie’s.) I had asked a few friends if any volunteering opportunities had been organized yet, but I was told that most places were still getting organized and on their feet. So, with nothing else to do, I did another spin class. I figured I should since all I had been doing that week was eating. Dinner that night was lamb chops, quesadillas and brownies.
The sign in sheet at City Meals on Wheels had some familiar names on it, which made me very happy; as Dan and I were walking through the power-less Lower East Side, we found this ingenious and generous cell phone refueling station
A few days into our life as a refugee, life turned back to normal. Madison Avenue was buzzing with shoppers again, and I met Lily and Poppy for one last drink as displaced downtowners at the Carlyle
My pal Dan Colen surprised me on Friday. Twice. I had seen him the night before and told him to come with me to spin class, and he did. And after spin class, I asked if he wanted to come with me and Citymeals-on-Wheels (go to www.citymeals.org for more info) to deliver meals to elderly people who were living without food and power, and he did. Had we known that Gladys, one of the people we were giving meals to, lived on the 20th floor, we probably would have skipped that morning spin class. Our thighs were burning. We took the subway to Citymeal’s headquarters on 42nd Street, and then walked to the projects under the Williamsberg Bridge. It was a very humbling experience, but very heartwarming. When we got back uptown, I found myself back in the Carlyle Hotel, which had turned into a full on scene. We spent some time in the lobby, but disappeared when the crowd spilled into the street.
Perhaps we could have gone home on Saturday. Many of the buildings around ours had power, and the people we spoke to in our building told us that we had really lucked out on the damage. But uptown became a family for us. A summer camp of all ages and all experiences. I told Cyrus and his friends that we’d stay an extra day, so we did. While other parts of New York struggled to get on their feet, we struggled to get back into the pre-hurricane routine. So many kids had the entire week off. My office was closed.
I came home on Sunday. The cab took me down the FDR Drive, around the tip of Manhattan and then back up to my apartment on the side of Tribeca and the top tip of Battery Park City. It was a surreal view: Trees were still turned over, their roots in the air, in some places; but in others, guys were playing touch football and moms were pushing strollers just as they had a week before. New York is a resilient time, and this was proof. I live in a high floor, and my damage was minimal. The electronics needed some rejigging and everything in the fridge was warm and expired, but there was power. And my bed. And my dog’s bed. The devastation of Sandy lingers, but life is getting back to normal. The outpouring of hope and help is inspiring; my building has organized a food and necessities drive for Staten Island, I have dozens of friends giving warm meals to displaced people in the hard hit Rockaways, and tomorrow and Tuesday my friend Emma and I have signed up to deliver hot meals (need that website again? www.citymeals.org) to elderly New Yorkers still trying to get back on their feet as their power and water turns back on.
God bless America. We needed it this week