And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn

It feels weird to have my innermost dread feel so manifest on Halloween, a day we usually enact symbolically and ritualistically from the safety of so-called normal life by wearing costumes to work or school or the grocery store, dressing up as figures of death or horror, fantasy, chaos, or satire, enjoying the shock of seeing a witch or a ghoul or a zombie or a vampire at a school desk, in the cereal aisle, in a cubicle on the phone. The mundane made terrifying is the nature of the deepest fears I have. Today, I imagine many people here on the East Coast won’t feel much like dressing up. It cuts too close to the bone.

I spent the night of the hurricane at my laptop, glued to updates from friends and news media in and around New York City, sending and reading emails, watching footage of the Atlantic City boardwalk washing away, a transformer at Con Ed exploding and terrible floods in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Meanwhile, I worried more than ever about the outcome of the next election, something I have no control over beyond my one New Hampshire vote. It matters who wins. I am terrified.

Brendan had to go out to L.A. this week for meetings, so it was just Dingo and me up here in my study together while the wind whipped around the house and glass broke down the street and metal clanged and things blew past. I kept reassuring Dingo, who stared at me wide-eyed every time he heard anything unusual, which was all night long. “It’s okay,” I told him. He clearly did not believe me and chose to believe his own ears instead. “It could be a lot worse.”  He stared at me, unblinking.

It was true, though. This was all the way up in Maine: how bad could it have been down in New York, I kept thinking, where the real storm was? Unlike thousands of other people up here, my power didn’t go out; no trees around me fell. I was lucky, but it’s an odd kind of guilt to realize your own damage is so minimal when other people lost so much, went through so much. It reminds me of post-tornado photos I’ve seen — an untouched house sitting on its lawn while next door is a gaping dirt pit where the neighbor’s house used to be. You never know when it’s going to be you. It could always be you. When it’s not you this time, it could be next time. No one is ever safe, and luck is really just freak chance.

When suppertime rolled around, as it always does, even during hurricanes, I went down to the kitchen, Dingo barreling down the stairs ahead of me, barking with the excitement he shows before every single meal of his life.  I doled out his kibble, his cup of homemade stew. He whimpered and mooed as I mixed them together, then set upon his dinner as ravenously as if he were still a skeletal, starving street dog instead of a well-fed elderly gentleman from a good home. He has no dignity where food is concerned. I feel much the same way.

On Saturday, before Brendan left, knowing this storm was coming, I had stocked the kitchen for the week with groceries – one small thing to be glad of. After I fed Dingo, I made myself a stiff Dark and Stormy: a slew of ice cubes, half a bottle of Maine Root ginger beer, a huge slug of Gosling’s, and the juice of half a lime. I looked out the kitchen windows at the gigantic, thick-trunked, very old ash tree, whose branches we had trimmed a month or two ago. It stood there, barely moving in the strong, hard gusts, and all its leaves were already down and raked and bagged, another small thing to be glad of.

To take my mind off everything going on in the world out there, I cooked myself a ridiculously huge dinner of mussels in coconut milk and chicken broth with onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, coriander, Thai rice noodles, red pepper, and mushrooms. I dished myself up a big bowlful of this brothy, briny, warming stew, added lime juice and Sriracha, and ate it at the counter with my laptop. Too full for seconds, I emptied the remaining mussel shells and put the pot in the fridge for tomorrow.

It was time to take Dingo out.  We stood at the door of the mudroom together, his leash on, poop bags in my jacket pocket.

“Ready?” I asked him.

He was not ready, it appeared.

“Come on,” I said. “We can do it.”

I opened the door into a powerful gust of wind and pulled him outside. The wind was so strong it plastered his ears against his skull and lifted my hair in a swirl above my head. We went to the end of the alleyway driveway and turned onto the sidewalk, which had become a wind tunnel.

Instantly, he emptied himself of everything he had.

“Good boy,” I said, and we headed back for home.

I gave him a treat, then made another Dark and Stormy and took it upstairs with my laptop. I sat there all night long, reluctant to go to bed. My laptop screen felt like a window into reality – my way of feeling connected to the people I loved, the city I will always feel part of, the ongoing online conversations that so many of us participated in all night, those of us who could, as if that could somehow help something, someone. It was yet another small thing to be glad of, but I held onto it.

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About Kate Christensen

eater, citizen, enthusiast, curmudgeon
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4 Responses to And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn

  1. Evy says:

    Dingo is a big treat I get from reading your blog! I feel I know him! I wish you would post a pic of him. I am now craving something I have never had- a Dark and Stormy…
    Your post reminded me of a Huffington Post story of some of those who perished in the storm that brought tears to my eyes: a father/daughter struck down by a struck down tree, a young photographer hit by a dangling power line she could not resist going out to photograph, an elderly woman in a hospital who had a heart attack when the power to the machines keeping her stable shut off, etc…the randomness of it all is scary.

  2. forrest walters says:

    Time for you to get interested in radical extension of lifespan, reversal of aging, and, until those arrive, true suspended animation for humans.

  3. Deborah Lang says:

    Well as usual I left a comment on the previous post before reading this newest one and sorry I wasn’t more concerned about you welfare regarding Sandy! And perhaps moreso, Dingos!Poor guy—really do hope you didn’t sustain damage, etc. and glad Brendon was in L.A.–and I’ve never been glad for anyone to be in L.A. until this moment and I am, like, TOTALLY kidding, but just had to lighten up this moment—any chance of a picture–oops, I mean “image” of dear Dingo? He sounds like a dream….
    Deb

  4. lyn says:

    unsettled and glued to the laptop as a window to the real world is certainly an eerie sort of time suck. I’m surprised to know the feeling exactly, I had friends on the bounty, the tall ship that sank during Sandy, and spent an entire day doing little but refreshing the computer and pacing. You’ve heard this half a million times but I’ll say it again, you’re a brilliant writer. rings truer than true

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