Sunday, November 18, 2012

A quiet morning in New Jersey

The morning sun pours into the kitchen through the eastern windows, urging me to wake up, to greet the day. The omnipotent sun who makes no distinction between good and bad, old and young, the living and the dead, spreading its warm fingers into each loose fold of creation, to give it a jerk, to scare it into animation. I sit at the breakfast table, eyes closed, and let the sun's heat caress my face, my neck, my arms. And I am nothing again.

You may think of the homeless dead, but this nothingness -- so severe it cannot be pictured -- is present and is deeper than death. It is an end in itself. As though words can capture feelings on a morning like this.

If I open my eyes I see nothing but bright stars. Look at these possessions of mine -- laugh at them, if you will. It's pretty funny what a human being needs or takes pleasure from. A tall glass of grapefruit juice, a muffin from the restaurant last night, one egg hard-boiled. My hands are the hands of an old man, even though I'm feeling young. They move slowly across the table to pick up the butter knife and a small stab of Kate's Butter. I think to myself, I haven't been to Whole Foods in more than three weeks. I don't know when I'll get back there again.

My back hurts but the rest of me is fine. The Thursday and Friday after the hurricane, I was in the crawl-space under the house, taking out pile after pile of ruined paper and goods -- books, tax returns, travel souvenirs, many of my dead father's notes, long-playing records (how it hurt to throw them away), fans, rugs -- soaked in contaminated water, reeking, slick, like shit. I couldn't stand up straight. After twenty, thirty minutes, it became difficult to breathe, so I went and headed outside for a spell to clear my lungs and my head. There were my neighbors, all around, doing the same thing.

I didn't think about what I was doing nor did I pay attention -- in a conscious way -- to the items I piled up and threw into the dumpster. I was cleaning up, getting rid of old parts of my life, some of which I would only have now in memory, some of which would be lost forever. I looked at these things that were just things. A small part of me was glad that the hurricane's waters had ruined them. They were no longer needed. The Hudson broke over the sea wall and made them superfluous. Garbage is garbage. There is no reason to house it.

The car too was lost. Dead. Filled with water. Ninety some-odd thousand miles, a Subaru I bought new and kept for eight years without complaint or issue, and would've likely kept for a few more. I felt a loss when two guys in a wrecker from Jersey City drove it off a couple of days ago, water still pouring out of the undercarriage. I went for a long walk after that. Down by the river, calm and benign, upon which ferries rode back and forth, carrying all those for whom the city means work. It'll be some time before the PATH trains are fully functional.

Sometime during the recovery period, Obama won reelection for which I was gladdened. He's not the best President we've had but the alternative was far worse. At least it seemed that way. We live in a middling age and will muddle along for another four years. Only catastrophes -- natural or man-made -- will give us something meaningful to talk about. The rest is chaff.

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