When I woke at 8:30 or so it was two shades of darkness lighter than pitch. I looked out the window at the dying light and saw groups of people walking north. A bus passed, packed like a Sardine can. Dozens of horror movies and videogames started to run through my head, along with the much more realistic possibility of terrorism.
When I went to the closet the two flashlights I could make out in last vestiges of light were both dead. There were probably batteries for them somewhere in there but searching for them would have been a lost cause, so I headed into the dining room, pulled out four fancyish candles from the hutch and set about looking for some matches. It wasn't as easy as it should have been since my mother still hides the matches from me because when I was like 13 I used to light them just to watch them burn. After about five minutes of groping in the dark and a few well placed and colorful phrases I found the little box that holds the last remainders of my parents' smoking days. The first couple of books wouldn't light but I found a match that sparked and got the candle blazing. It is always surprising to me how much light a single candle can generate. I guess it shouldn't since in the olden days people used to rely on them constantly, but it does.
I got some pants on, slipped some sneakers over my feet, gathered all the cash I could find (credit cards are worthless without power but I figured that cash money would still have some sort of value). I went to the closet and actually managed to find a working flashlight so I snuffed my candle and stuffed it in my pocket along with a spare and some matches.
The stairs were somewhat tricky in the darkness and I had to use my flashlight to navigate around the garbage laid out by the service elevator. The building was eerily silent, either people had already evacuated or nobody felt like talking. When I got down to the bottom Paul (A guy from my building a couple years younger than myself who I have had virtually no dealings with) and some of his friends were trying to get in so I opened the door for them and asked what they had heard regarding the fact that the power was out. They told me the grid just got overloaded but I wasn't sure that I believed them. I headed out into the street feeling a little better that at least some people were heading in rather than flocking north. The doorman was sitting outside with Roy, the old super. I sat with them and chatted for awhile. Nobody knew anything. I wondered about my mother. Had she gotten together with her sister? Why wasn't she home. I should have checked our phone messages but all the phones are portable and I didn't feel like digging around for my spare normal land line.
After about half an hour of talking and getting nowhere while the doorman and I provided some small light for the lovers walking hand in hand and others passing our location, I headed to the park to see if New Jersey had power (there were reports that upstate and parts of the Bronx had already been blessed with beautiful life giving electricity). When I got down there I could see some sparks of light through all the branches. I decided against actually going into the depths of the park to see hom much because the freaks were probably out in full force, and besides that I wanted to be reachable in case my mother came home and needed help getting back up the stairs (she has a bum knee and we are on the eighth floor.) The doorman knew I had gone to the park so he would direct her down this way if she returned but if I went into the depths I knew she wouldn't go check.
As I turned to go back up the man sitting on the bench near the exit to the park said in a thin german accent "The end of the world is near." I turned my light in his direction (not directly into his face) and saw a medium sized male of a certain age (he later said it was 69) with a totally bald head, sunken eyes, and chipped front teeth. It may have been the lack of light or the atmosphere but he looked like either some kind of prophet or someone just about to turn in a zombie movie. I replied that if anything it was the opposite, we had regressed into the 1800s, that the end of the world would more likely be brilliantly illuminated and full of the awesome fury of man's destructive creations. Okay, so it wasn't quite so grandiose a statement but that was the gist.
We got to talking and I learned a lot about his life. He came to the country in 1961 after spending a few years in Canada. He had never married but seemed to regret it since he felt now that he lacked roots, being a German man living in New York. He had lived in the 70's (streets not years) his whole time in New York but loved coming up by Columbia to the peaceful nature of the park. I learned way too much about his erectile disfunction (I'm not sure if it's possible to learn too LITTLE about another man's erectile disfunction) and a little bit about how great the divide between East and West Germany had been after the second world war (he said his father had announced right after the occupation by the French and British that he now knew there WAS a God, that if Hitler had won he would have known there wasn't one) and about the way things used to be.
He was an interesting guy. Never been to college and felt no need to go at this point in his life. Had the typical older generations' suspicion of those unlike ourselves though he didn't seem actually racist, just scared of the Muslim migration into Europe and a little bit afraid of the growth of minorities in the States although he did admit when I asked him that the country wouldn't really be that different with a Hispanic or Black majority since neither are particularly anti-western.
So we sat there, Jew and German, talked for a couple of hours about the world and Tom Woolfe and his life, and then I left. He asked if I had a spare candle and I gave him one, along with the book of matches I had that actually worked, and headed back home.
I sat with the doorman for about half an hour talkinga bout completely random stuff (mostly about how his father LOVES the heat and loves the pitch black darkness and about how his mother was worried about him) and was about to head back up to check phone messages when my mother arrived. I helped her up the stairs and lit the candle so she could see. We turned on a radio and listened to the news for a few minutes. Then it was off to sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night after hearing something really bizzare (it was electronic tones followed by a sharp piercing pain and then nothing) and listened to the radio a bit more. One of the guys was talking about how the blackout was a boon because it was saving us from Fox news and MSNBC and all that other shit that seperated us and ruined the sense of New York community. Some woman on NPR was talking about the village and how there were candlelight concerts and nobody wanted to be alone. Someone else was talking about 77 and the blackout riots then. There's a thin line between community and calamity.
I still wonder if it was a terrorist attack, seems somewhat likely. I also hope that the man in the park got home okay. I would've invited him in but you just don't DO that in New York City so I left him out there with a candle and some matches as well as his limp and erectile disfunction.
The power came back on at 7. I woke up to the screaming of idiots who apparently had never before known that those little white globes could glow as if by magic. The blackouts over, my mom's already whining about our rotten milk and although I haven't checked I assume Fox News is back on the air. Life goes on. No grand lessons are learned. I could tell you, honestly, that the whole experience made me think about how different and in many ways better life was before we learned to harness the most fundemental forces of nature to our every whim and to banish the night with Edison's magic globes, but the truth of the matter is that such thoughts will remain thoughts only.
Life is like that. The little molehills seem mountains when they are being climbed but rarely make it on to the maps in the long run.