am standing at my office desk one day, on the Upper West Side of
Manhattan, wearing a telephone headset like an operator plugged
into my cordless phone, about to make the call that's going to make
me a man
of letters. A producer at a big radio show
in LA wants me to tell her a story about my marriage. If she likes
it, I get to tell it to 8 million other people. It's my audio close-up,
the culmination of years of toil and sacrifice and marriage counselors,
and I'm ready.
the last two days, no coffee, no alcohol, no cheese, and no arguing
with my wife, Susan -- nothing that could dry my vocal chords or
rattle my confidence. And since I woke up this morning, no unnecessary
movements, so I don't sound winded. I ordered lunch in from the
at exactly 4:13 PM -- three minutes after our scheduled appointment,
so the producer thinks I've got things to do, too -- I start dialing:
and the phone dies.
I see the fan blade slowing, and my desk lamp's dark, and my computer's
on battery power.
I rip off the headset and run down the stairs from my second floor
office to the sidewalk, and around the corner to the lobby where
very quietly -- so the doorman who's behind his desk won't hear
me -- I creep inside, and take the house phone down off the wall.
It doesn't need electricity.
it sticks, to the little cord that wall phones have, and the doorman
jumps out to catch the thief. We lock eyes, and I say, "I need
doorman holds up his arms like I'm robbing him and says, "Take
I will. And by the way -- in case you were wondering -- my office
blew a fuse."
was no fuse," he says. There's a portable radio on his desk,
tuned to the news. "There's been a blackout. The entire northeast
is without power."
my god," I say, and our eyes lock again, this time in that
post-9/11 way. "Terrorists?"
I run back out and around the corner and up the stairs and into
my office, and I plug the phone in the jack and start calling the
producer in LA -- Osama bin Laden is not going to ruin my career.
circuits are busy. Please try your call again."
I call again, and again and again.
the producer answers and I apologize for being late in my mellifluous,
you get through?" she says.
been a huge blackout."
know. I'm here. People are pretty freaked out. We think it might
are sirens outside my window that we both can hear. So we're in
this together, having a nice chat; building our relationship during
a terrorist emergency, which seems to me a very auspicious beginning.
Then the producer says, "That's kind of the story of the day,
James. Maybe we can do this tomorrow?"
I say. "Tomorrow. Sure," and I hang up.
it occurs to me, I have a wife and kids! Upstairs, on the
seventh floor, in a building without electricity, in a city that's
just been attacked by terrorists. With no way for me to call in
-- Susan turns the ringer off during the day, because ringers interrupt
playtime -- and no way for her to find out -- because we don't have
a radio; radios have radio waves, which Susan thinks fry your brain.
Which is why she's been telling me to get rid of my cordless phone.
I run up the back stairs in total darkness -- my office is on the
stairwell and the superintendent forgot to install the emergency
lights -- counting stair landings as I go. Until I count seven and
open the fire door and walk into the hall, which is also pitch black,
and grope along the wall for our door handle and open our apartment
-- where everything's light and normal:
two little boys are in their play dresses in the living room, playing
with their little macrobiotic friend from the commune in Brooklyn,
who's wearing his play dress, visiting for the day with his macrobiotic
single mom, Barbara. While Susan is in the kitchen transferring
line-caught wild smoked salmon and organic rennetless Gouda from
the refrigerator to the freezer. "The fuse blew," she
was no fuse," I say, morbidly delighted at my dark little secret.
"There's been a huge blackout. The entire northeast."
my god!" says Susan, and our eyes lock eyes in that
post-9/11 way. "Was it
live off the cultural grid, as well as the gender-specific clothing
grid, and the diet grid and the radio-wave technology grid
now the power grid. So we spell controversial things around the
"What else could it be?"
asks, "What is T-E-R-R?" Her personal motto being, "What
would a raccoon do?" Barbara lives off the human behavior grid,
in harmony with nature. Evidently raccoons don't know about terrorists.
" helping her.
says, "Ohhh no. The subways." Which are electric, and
won't be running to Brooklyn.
says, "You'll have to stay here tonight."
says, "Do you have plenty of food and water? If it is terr?"
says, "I didn't think of that."
I didn't think of that.
now Susan and Barbara and the three little boys all stand there
in their dresses and look at me, in my pants, wondering what I've
done to deserve to wear them.
I go through my checklist:
credit card with an emergency credit line;
back-up credit card;
and a no-fee back-up back-up, just in case.
not one bottle of water;
and nothing else on the Daily News' "Are You Prepared
for Another Terrorist Attack?" list they've been publishing
every week since 9/11. I'm a white-collar protector in a blue-collar
emergency. We're all going to die.
better get some food," says Susan.
water," says Barbara.
know," I say. "But
I don't have any money."
don't have any money???" says Susan, echoed by the three little
boys, who are going through the imitative stage of verbal development.
Which I used to think was cute.
was going to go to the ATM."
electric," says my older little boy.
digs into her unbleached hemp bag from the Brooklyn Food Coop, while
Susan goes into the bedroom to her emergency cash stash, and together
they give me $160 to buy our Survival Kit.
better hurry," says Susan. Followed by three "You better
hurrys" from the little boys.
worry," I say, calmly, like a protector. "We'll be fine."
I walk out the door, slowly, and close it behind me.
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