Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Tree Falls in Brooklyn

New York City may be crowded, noisy, somewhat soiled, occasionally impolite, and, in general, a difficult place to live, but it has been virtually free of natural disasters over the decades. Katrina and her kin are for the Gulf Coast and the Carolinas, earthquakes for California, tornadoes, floods and killer blizzards for the middle west.

I returned from our travels with this Chamber of Commerce certitude undiminished, only to be shaken on August 23 by an earthquake that, though mild, had people evacuating buildings up and down the East Coast, including in Manhattan.

A supermarket aisle after the August 23 earthquake.
The temblors hardly had ceased when Irene began blustering in the Caribbean and heading north. Now it's Saturday night, August 27th, and she is approaching what the TV folk like to call the tri-state area. Irene will wreak havoc, if you believe those same TV folk, one of whom stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and predicted Irene would storm up the fabled boulevard like an out-of-control bus.

Havoc, cautioned Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has ordered the evacuation of the Rockaways and other low-lying areas, suspended subway service as of noon today, and urged Broadway theaters not to raise their curtains this weekend. Havoc, so the ominous silence in the streets would suggest. Havoc, worries Diane, who has just filled two pots and the bathtub with water, in case the power fails.

We are hunkered down in the Brooklyn house of my daughter Amanda and her husband Gustav, while they and their kids are battened down with his parents in Bethesda, Maryland. It is 8:30 P.M., the trees outside barely rustle, a slight drizzle falls. Lull before the havoc? Harbinger of something less? Details at . . . .

11 P.M. Spurred by an email from Amanda, we venture down the front steps and into the night, twice: because I failed the first time to fully comprehend her instructions to pull the air-conditioning tubes from, and shut the window of, the absent downstairs tenants. This we ultimately accomplish, but not before struggling with three recalcitrant door locks, our wavering flashlight signaling to any passerby the presence of burglars, at once dedicated and inept.

Between these damp adventures, we sit on the couch with laptop (me) and Kindle (Diane) and indulge the Anglophilia still percolating after our two weeks in England earlier this month. Diane reads The Guardian and I listen, via Spotify, to an enchanting Iolanthe: a remastered 1959 classic recording, Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting the Pro Arte Orchestra and Glyndebourne Chorus. Not surprisingly, the English baritone George Baker nails "The Nightmare Song," as I wonder if Irene will soon make me, too, ". . . dream I am crossing the channel, and / Tossing about in a steamer from Harwich. . . ."

8 A.M., Sunday: I have not even dreamed of crossing the Hudson in a kayak. Nor has Irene caused enough fuss overnight to disturb either my or Diane's slumber. Amanda soon calls to say that winds in Bethesda felled a giant tree on her in-laws' property, tearing down power lines and leaving them without electricity. Typically, she sounds more concerned about us.

11 A.M.  The leaves still dance a bit but the rain has stopped; the sun even peeks out occasionally, as dog-walkers below our windows head for Fort Greene Park, cardboard coffee cups in one hand, ear-pressed cell phones in the other.

12:30 P.M. We go for a walk ourselves. Mothers stroll with babies in slings or on their hips, cyclists spin along Willoughby Avenue, the brunch crowd queues up at the restaurants on DeKalb and Myrtle Avenues. It's just a normal Fort Greene Sunday, sans havoc: until, three blocks from the house, we come upon this:

Photo: Diane

Under all the foliage is a black Range Rover SUV, the owner of which may be excused for cursing the havoc Irene wielded while we slept so serenely.