Saturday, October 29th, 5:30 PM, House Temperature: 68º
Typically a disorganized person, I’d planned my Fall Break to a tee. Saturday afternoon and Sunday were for relaxing with my family—my sister, a college senior, had come home the day before for a job interview in New York—catching up on Dexter, and watching football. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I’d set aside to work on two short research papers that were due the following Saturday. Thursday through Sunday would bring a planned road trip to Niagara Falls with my roommates and another friend. The Niagara Falls trip was doomed from the start. God clearly does not want me to get to Western New York; the last two times I’d tried, my trips had been put off due to—no joke—a death and a hurricane. Though I wasn’t keeping my hopes up for Niagara, I had no idea what my carefully devised plans were in for. But that was before Saturday, October 29th at 5:30 PM, when I arrived home to the beautiful sight of two sizeable tree trunks fallen on power lines, creating a two-foot-high, possibly electrified barrier at the head of my driveway.
Sunday, October 30th, 11:00 AM, House Temperature: 57º
The night had passed with relatively little damage, with the possible exception of a young tree that had cracked at the root, and now rested its slender trunk on both a power line and our car. Though such a light tree would likely be unable to cause damage to most cars, this situation was precarious because almost anything with mass is probably powerful enough to knock in the roof of a Toyota Prius. But for now, it was a waiting game.
So, it came to be that at Sunday at 11, two momentous events occurred. First, my sister left for a Monday morning interview in Boston.
An Interlude: Her Trip to Boston
She had planned to take the Prius. Wasn’t happening, so she’d valiantly moved on. A friend on his way south would drive her to the nearest open train station, from which she’d head to New York, and then pick up the Amtrak to Boston. She’d get in that night and be fresh for the morning.
Alas, her next 24 hours went something like this: train to New York loses power, three hour wait, “pull” rescue train arrives and fails, another hour, “push” rescue train arrives and successfully hauls her and newfound train buddies to Grand Central. She’s missed her train to Boston, so spends the night in the city and gets on the 6 AM Monday morning—which hits a deer somewhere in Connecticut and itself loses power for three hours. Apparently, there were no “pull” or “push” trains involved this time.
Though she successfully arrived in Boston, eventually, the lesson here is: no trains during snowstorms.
Sunday, October 30th, 11:00 AM, House Temperature: 57º
As I mentioned before, Sunday at 11 had brought two momentous occasions, the second of which would have a larger bearing on my life. My mother’s friend Cathy had called—she lived 15 minutes away, had power, and was inviting us to come hang out, eat lunch, and watch the Giants game. Though I hadn’t spent much time with her, I knew that Cathy was an old friend of my mom’s, and that they used to walk their dogs together in the park. Cathy’s dog had passed on about a year ago (which becomes awkward later), so she and my mom weren’t seeing as much of each other as they’d used to.
The other interesting thing about Cathy is her sort-of husband, Dan. They raised two children together and were married for about 30 years, but recently separated. The catch is, they still live in the same house. They don’t eat together—or talk to each other—but, like most normal people, allow the tenor of their personal relationships to be dictated by the housing market. Our time at their house was clearly the first instance in a while in which they’d spent significant time together, and it showed. They demonstrated an incredible capability of escalating small and meaningless arguments—such as the merit of fried food for take out, or whether Route 117 was being closed today or tomorrow (to shoot a car chase in a Bourne film—my proximity to this was undoubtedly the coolest thing that happened to me all Fall Break).
Anyway, at this time, I wasn’t really thinking about the lovely couple or their relationship, but simply thankful to have somewhere warm and light to go.
Sunday, October 30th, 4:30 PM, House Temperature: 52º
I was exceedingly thankful to have somewhere cold and dark to return. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Imagine an old Woody Allen movie, a romantic comedy where he’s in and out of love. Now imagine Woody out of love, with no prospects on the horizon. Imagine he’s twice as misanthropic and depressed as usual. Now imagine he’s 60 years old and balding. Oh, and he’s not funny. You’ve arrived at my friend Dan, with whom I had a wonderful time watching the football game.
What did we discuss, you might ask? First, he expressed how grateful he was to have a friend with whom to watch. He explained to me how his old football buddy was going through some problems at home, and they didn’t really talk any more. Then, he told me about his neurotic sister, going into some depth about issues within his family dynamic. He complained about Occupy Wall Street. What they should really be protesting, he noted so insightfully, was the lack of quality of American public transportation as compared to Europe. Or the high salaries of A-Rod and Derek Jeter. What exactly these have to do with Occupy Wall Street, I don’t understand, but at least he was in idea man.
The other thing I discovered about Dan was his great fear of controversy. Here was a guy who started nearly every sentence out of his mouth with, “To be pointed” or “Don’t take this wrong way,” and then went on to make statements that were neither pointed nor could be at all misunderstood. In a gesture approaching kindness, he told me, “Don’t take this wrong way, but our house is your house.” I wanted to ask him how the hell I could take that the wrong way, but I was a guest and figured I shouldn’t be rude.
So on Sunday at 4:30, after the Giants game had ended, I was looking forward to moving on from this strange chapter of my life. But alas, our power wouldn’t be back until the following Saturday and Cathy had generously invited us to spend the night (unless we had taken her invitation the wrong way). I looked forward to hours more of enthralling conversation.
Monday, October 31st, 7:00 PM, House Temperature: 42º
What had l learned about my friend Dan in the last 24 hours? For me, his most enjoyable quality was his perseverance—to continue talking long after he had anything reasonable to say. When he warned me that he might wake me up during the night, I replied that I was a sound sleeper and that he shouldn’t worry. But, just in case, he let me know that he might often go to the bathroom, and from there, went on in further detail.
His delight at having guests extended beyond my initiation into the knowledge of his bathroom habits. With no smile on his face and very little emotion in his voice, he would constantly remind us how happy he was to have us at his home. Then, he’d add that my dog made a lot of noise (it was also sometime on Monday when things got morbid as Cathy started talking about how my dog brought back memories of hers), or that I coughed too much, or that we had parked our car incorrectly. This house was full of both warmth and welcome.
Speaking of warmth and welcome, it was on Monday that we learned our friends don’t celebrate Halloween. Or rather, they’re those people on the street who turn all their lights out and hide from those malevolent, marauding trick-or-treaters. My mom had bought candy the week before, and it was just sitting at our house, so we offered to bring it over and deal with the trick-or-treaters ourselves. Needless to say, this idea did not garner approval, but my mother insisted on at least bringing the candy.
And so it was, that, after a day out, we parked in their driveway and moved—at a normal pace—out of the car and towards the front door. As we approached, we saw relentless trick-or-treaters ravaging every house, lurking behind bushes, and causing menace on the street. And now we had exposed our friends—signs of life on the property surely meant they would be the next victims! It was at this point that a ghostlike figure opened their door and started crying, “Come in! Come in! Hurry!” It was also at this point that my mother turned around, bag of candy slung over her shoulder, and started giving out the Halloween bounty to the kids walking down the street.
In one ear, I heard Dan’s “Come in! Come in!” In the other, I heard my mom going on about “trick-or-treat on the street.” It is a truly desperate soul who finds himself sympathizing with a middle-aged woman approaching kids on a dark street and offering them candy.
Wednesday, November 2nd, 10:00 AM, House Temperature: 42º
We were still with these people.
Thursday, November 3rd, 7:00 PM, House Temperature: 42º
Wednesday afternoon, another family friend’s power had came back on. I think my mom and I literally raced to the car.
The energy at our next temporary home was youthful and exciting compared to where we’d been. Like moving from a cemetery to the Vegas strip. But still, there’s something strange about being a guest, to occupy a space that’s not your own, where you’re constantly mindful of another group’s habits—from where the forks are kept to how hot the thermostat runs—and constantly wary not to disturb them. And so, Thursday night, I’d decided it was time to at least head back to one of the places I call home: campus.
Since we’d left Cathy and Dan, things had been relatively uneventful. I’d become acquainted with the ConEd customer service team, who first said that our power would come back Wednesday at midnight, then Wednesday at noon, then Wednesday at 11 PM, then Wednesday at midnight, then Thursday at noon, then Friday at midnight, and then just gave up. I’d called home 27 times—my mom had to be sorry she wasn’t there—in Wednesday and Thursday attempts to see if we were, in fact, back on the grid. My favorite moment, actually, was when I was interrupted from one of my pesky research papers to play basketball with our host’s 11-year-old son and his younger friend. The highlight of the game came when his buddy asked me if I played on the Princeton basketball team.
The week (or at least this half of it) had been adventurous and unexpected, not harmful in any way. It had left me with stories to tell, and, in the end—I feel I should clarify—I was grateful, especially to Cathy and Dan, who had taken us into their home but also provided an example of what I’d never want to settle or sink into. I wonder how Dan would’ve reacted if he’d been there when I was asked about my basketball prowess. Would he have spent time with the kids at all? Would he have shrugged and ignored the question, not wanting to put forth the effort to answer it? Would he have offered an overly detailed and pedantic answer, warning us not to take it the wrong way?
Just as we’d moved on from his house—which seemed toxic for just three days—perhaps it was time for my friend Dan to look to new and better things also. I hope he comes out of his shell, if it isn’t too late. I hope the kid who, for some reason, thought I could play D-I basketball (definitely not the case) becomes twice as good a player as I ever was. I hope that someday, far off in the distance, I’ll lose power in the winter again, and have the same sort of strange week that seems horrific at the time, but breeds nostalgia days or weeks after it’s passed.
But by Thursday at 7 PM, there was only one thing on my mind. Don’t take this wrong way, but it was time to go home.