More or Less Normal

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By Carey Swanson Taking my daughter on her first official trick-or-treating excursion did not happen quite as planned.  We went early, at four o’clock, rather than after work.  I wasn’t at work, of course, because it is Day 3 of the Hurricane Sandy school closings.  We will end up with this entire week as a surprise staycation, with no school for the kiddos in the city as we cope with the aftermath of this storm.

I'm homebound from my apartment in central Brooklyn, and the strangeness has officially set in.  I was not alone in my decision to simply celebrate Halloween.  Loads of kids decked out in store-bought animal costumes, or inspired cardboard cars and sandwich boards dotted the streets, only on occasion having to divert their path to avoid the stray fallen tree or branch.  For the most part, there was simply no sign of anything amiss, and everything seemed more or less normal.  Most businesses are open, with bins of candy ready.  It feels so strange, the normalness of it all.  It feels like it should feel different.  The mood is festive.  People laugh and smile and wave at the costumed children and adults alike.

Step a little closer, however, and you’ll hear a touch of the strangeness, if you know what to listen for.  Bits and pieces of cell phone conversations:  No, we’re fine, but we have four guests with us.  They don’t have heat, electricity, or hot water and who knows how much longer it will last.  Or: Another day with the kids is going to drive me crazy!  And if you look closely, scan the landscape; you’ll see a glimpse of it here and there.  The Laundromat sign, broken and caved in, bulbs exposed.  The shop awning, inexplicitly on the ground, trick-or-treaters simply stepping around as they make their way down the street.

Go a mile in any direction and you’ll find streets or homes still in water, without power, businesses struggling, a city slowly but surely pulling itself together after this crazy storm.  During the storm itself, as my lights flickered but kept steady, I found myself feeling left off the hook somehow.  It was hitting us, it was right on top of us, my Facebook page was telling me that people were losing power in every direction, but I was markedly unaffected.   It hit my city, but somehow it missed me.

So what is to be made of this?  I know I’m supposed to simply be grateful and count my blessings.  However, I feel like that seems unfair—shouldn’t everyone get to do that?  Why do I get to count my blessings as opposed to the shop owner in lower Manhattan, or the family in Staten Island, or the neighborhood in Queens?  I’ve been sitting here in my apartment, homebound these past three days, and yet everything is the same except for my day’s destination and the endless sound of the news anchors on repeat in the background. I can’t help but be transported back over a decade, to the last fall morning I sat on the couch slightly removed and yet right in the thick of disaster.  And I won’t try to compare tragedies or even in any way equate one to the other, except in the feelings it brings up to me as spectator.  Back then I was uptown, couchbound and fixed to the news, aware of the fact that I was technically stranded on a closed off Manhattan Island.  In my city I was a safe distance, while to my friends and family in the Midwest I was right in the thick of it.  And I watched, cried, and then went about my life.

Today, I took my daughter trick-or-treating.   While the mayor peppered the city employees with praise, I attached paws and a tail on a 20 month old.  While firemen went door to door looking for trapped victims, I stuck lollipops and bubblegum she’s not old enough to chew into a bag.  And when a fallen tree blocked my path, I crossed the street, and kept on walking.  Side view of a disaster, and yet life goes on, more or less as normal.