Dalai Lama

The suffering of not suffering

All this talk about a hurricane hitting near New York is getting a little old, don’t you think?

Destructive winds, scores of deaths, a flooded-out subway system. Alright, we get the picture. It’s a disaster. Have a biscuit. Next subject.
But no, not “next subject”. Hurricane Sandy is all anyone could talk about this week.
And that perfectly illustrates the level of depravity I’m dealing with here.
People keep asking: “Did everyone back home make it through the storm ok?”
I kept thinking: What the fuck do you care?
I kept wondering if, perhaps, they would like to send my family a parcel of Wattie’s baked beans. It would come with personal messages of hope and wishes of dryness and an urging for them to “be safe”.  Addresses would be exchanged, greeting cards posted on appropriate occasions. Perhaps a strong personal bond will form between two pen pals. One will write about indoor plumbing, and the other will write something related to New Zealand, in return.

“No they’re not ok,” I tell them. “But what’s that got to do with the storm?”

People back home are fine. School was called off and my sister’s kids spent the first day painting uni-brows and beards on one another’s faces. They wanted to look more like their grandmother. (I won’t say which one). I’m not sure what this face painting phase says about my locality in the human genome. But I do know one thing: I’m damned if I’m going to sit here and have anyone explain it to me. Some things are better left a mystery.
But back to my point. Where the people I cared most about are concerned, it wasn’t bad.
I don’t want to seem callous. The deaths that struck me hardest were the ones where people were killed by trees crashing into their houses or cars. I don’t really know if anyone can truly say one way to die is worse than another. They all seem to be rather dismal options. But this is nature-on-human violence, gruesome, not just too close to home, but in the middle of the living room. Like a large-screen television with a Werner Herzog movie playing.
There will be a huge economic impact, as well. Infrastructure repairs, preparations for what is most likely to be a developing climatic pattern. And there’s the property owners. I can’t wait to see how insurance companies will get out of it this time. The violence is over, at least with the vast majority of New York and New Jersey emerging more or less intact. That’s swell.

But it isn’t news. The suffering of New Yorkers has been duly recorded. Everybody BEEN knowing about it, as we used to say in the Bronx.

So when co-workers asked, in their thoughtless way, how my people in New York were doing, it hurt me. It really, really hurt me. What about how Simon is doing? Did you even once stop to consider what I was going through reading about what other people were going through? Do you know how hard it was for me to look at all of the MTA’s Flickr photographs of the storm’s damage to subway and commuter rail infrastructure? Do you have any idea what that’s like for me? I hate using Flickr.
I had a rough week, too, you know. I had to cancel my Internet Service Provider, Orcon, because Orcon is a piece of shit company whose name reminds me of a piece of shit cartoon from my childhood.
We didn’t have internet service for six weeks, forcing us to use a 3G stick modem purchased from Orcon’s competitor, Telecom. We arranged for a technician to look at our modem. They scheduled repair on a weekday, because as every fucking utility in the world knows, everyone is home on a weekday.
Finally, they did one good thing. They called me a week later because my issue hadn’t cleared their system and arranged for a technician to come on a Saturday. (Boring part continues below the photo)
(Continue boring part)
That’s how, after about five weeks, we got our internet and phone line back. For two days. It went dead again. I put in another service ticket. But Orcon’s policy is to give themselves a comfortable three days to respond to a service call, just in time for one of their employees to get off their bony asses. Of course, all this time without service, we’re still paying for it. Two days went by, and that was it. For $150, I canceled the service, and it will be worth every penny.
Two things may happen.
First, Orcon may surprise us with a charge in addition to what we owe according to the agent who cancelled our service. Supposedly, this is $114 for our last bill, and $150 for breaking our contract. Considering the purpose-built incompetence and opacity that make service providers such a delight, I fully expect to face an additional charge.
Second. Despite paying all bills by direct debit, our final charges will somehow enter Orcon’s system as “delinquent” and without attempting to contact us first to settle the dispute, our account will be turned over to a collection agency.  This has happened to several of my friends dealing with a variety of companies.
On top of that, I had to deal with Jacquie’s new idea for Vince, our kitten. He’s getting bigger, and a little restless inside our small flat. Jacquie wants to try putting him on a leash.
I tried to argue with her. I said, if I saw someone walking toward me with a cat on a leash, I’d think, “What a twat.” (Especially in Parnell). But Jacquie is determined to go through with it, and drag me down with her so we’ll both look like twats. And if that weren’t enough, I left my mobile phone charger at work. So anyone thinking that my people back home deserve more human kindness than me, I ask you, aren’t we the same, in the end? When someone’s a prick, do I not kvetch?
The pathetic truth is, I’m suffering from catastrophe envy. I didn’t give the hurricane much thought until my Tuesday morning.
I was too busy enjoying the best Spring we’ve had since I moved here three years ago. It’s been beeeeeeeautiful. But then I saw all the posts on Facebook, and read the articles and saw the pictures.
What was going on in New York City was difficult to get my head around. There had never been a hurricane like Sandy that I could recall in my 38 or so years in New York. When I was growing up, news casters would breathlessly sensationalize a tropical storm. Hurricane Gloria scared the schools shut, but dissipated and continued up the coast , leaving behind warm, sunny day. My friend from down the street told me we were in the eye, probably about the time Gloria had reached Massachusetts.
That’s the kind of hurricane I knew. We survived tropical storms blown out of proportion by hyperbolic media hungry for ad revenue. And goddamn it, we liked them.
This was when I realized something. New York and I had been through a lot together. There were the two blackouts, two muggings, three minor earthquakes, and a really bad acid trip during which my legs fused together and my only solace was a late-night rerun of Mr. Belvedere. There was that family of rats dying in my basement apartment. There was September 11 and a GWAR/X-Cops show. There were a dozen home-bound commutes when, after waiting on a subway platform for 20 minutes, coming off a night shift at the New York Post, a maintenance worker would say, “You know there ain’t no train coming,” as they went on with their shift.
But I could never add Hurricane Sandy to my CV.  And as self-indulgent, and tone-deaf as this will undoubtedly seem, that’s a real downer. Because as soon as the subways are running again, everyone in there will have graduated in the same class, with a shared, dramatic experience, and I will be one disaster less a New Yorker.