by Tom Lombardi
like to survey a bunch of New Yorkers to find out how many
of them did it on the night of blackout, as eight million
people were thrown back to a primitive existence until further
Joining the swarm of employees in the mid-town streets that
day, I found myself imbued with a perverse sense of freedom.
I wondered what life would be like if, say, cell phone service
never returned? Then I crossed the Williamsburg bridge,
shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, and I found myself
wondering how thoroughly the F.B.I.'s bomb-detection unit
had been combing the bridges lately.
When I got home I showered and sat on my bed, my legs numb.
Dusk escaped through the window. What do you do in the dark?
I went out again, passing countless strangers in the streets,
their faces indistinguishable. Like any other night, the
bar I'd entered had been lit by candles. Two guys played
pool in the back. A portable CD player blasted music. "How
is the beer cold?" I asked the bartender. "Soon
as the power went out," she said, "we iced two
More and more people entered in groups. How'd they meet
up with their friends so easily? I sat on a stool and lit
a cigarette and blew smoke all over the place as if the
mayor were watching.
What I wouldn't have done to be lying candle-light with
a girl in my bed. Oh that's right, I reminded myself once
again, your girlfriend's not talking to you. Prior to the
blackout, we'd gotten into a nasty fight, and I was afraid
if I'd called her she'd hang up. Walking home in the dark
was going to be scary. I sat there impatiently awaiting
the beer buzz I'd paid for when she called, the vibration
like a gift from God in my pocket. Hers was the only cell
phone that'd gotten through to mine that night, more than
once. I ended up jogging in flip-flops (slacker style) across
the Williamsburg bridge to meet her.
We sorted out our problems over martinis at a Lower-East-Side
bar that'd slashed its prices in half. About eight people
had shown up. At one point, I went downstairs to pee, only
to be greeted by a bathroom attendant donning a uniform.
"We told him he didn't have to come in," the bartender
informed us, "but he insisted."
We walked back to her place, the streets stripped of electricity.
When you're alone there's the TV. When electricity's down
there's just you. We practically skipped our way into Washington
Square Park. A cop car had shone its lights on some people
hanging around the fountain that never seems to work. Further
into the park, it got pitch black again. We sat on a bench.
We were grateful to have each other, a little scared, a
little drunk. Luckily, she was wearing a skirt, and it wasn't
long before she straddled my lap, at which point I hastily
peeled her panties out of the way and entered her. Some
people walked by but it was too dark to detect our movements.
She rode me slowly up and down as we made out.
Later we stood in a collective moment of silence along Sixth
Avenue and stared out at the massive black hallway of buildings,
Times Square, for once, not ablaze. Why do we need those
flickering lights, I wondered, what do they really do for
us? Fuck the ads. The cell phones. The street lights. The
television. Fuck Microsoft. ATMs. Alarm clocks. Coca Cola.
MTV. Fuck Ashton Kutcher.
I guess that sort of purist attitude is not unlike someone
wondering out loud why people have to die.
Early Friday morning, we were awoken by a guy shouting out
his window across the street. "Miss!" he yelled.
I peered through the blinds to see if he was for real. His
blonde hair was wet and freshly combed, and he wore a white,
Oxford shirt. I guess the woman below acknowledged him,
because he eventually yelled down, "Did they say anything
on the radio about whether people who work in midtown should
go to work or not?"
Sometimes life satirizes itself.
It was a beautiful day. We gathered supplies, excited to
walk across the bridge and party powerlessly in the Burg
on day two of the blackout. We were half-way down the stairs
when the power returned. Some girls cheered from within
their apartment. Assholes, I felt like saying. We returned
to my girlfriend's place, where I lay on her bed, with the
A/C blasting, as she cleared up some business with colleagues
on the phone for a good hour or so.
The last time the city shut down like this, I was also
looking for love to replace the fear. But I didn't have
a girlfriend. The night of September 11th, I'd gone to a
bar in Williamsburg with a friend and snorted shitty coke
and drank alcoholically as We The People of The United States
of America were forced to embrace the fact that our land
is much more vulnerable than they'd taught us in school.
There was quite a community gathering in that bar. Who knew
what'd come out of this horror? The entire bar booed when
Bush appeared on TV to reassure us that evil people do in
fact exist. I ended up going home with a Muslim, an older
black woman who'd immigrated here from London. "You
slept with the enemy," a friend of mine said jokingly
when I told him. As with any one-time sexual encounter,
I recall it only as a collage: I remember, for instance,
her stroking my prick and whispering, in an English accent,
"I can tell you're a good puh-son. All you have to
be in life is a good puh-son." At dawn, we went at
it again, as strangers tend to do, and I had my face burrowed
between her legs when I heard a fighter jet scream through
the skies above us.
Supposedly lots of babies were conceived on or around September
11th, couples all over New York making I-can't-believe-you're-still-alive
love. We're not used to things shutting down, we're not
used to technology failing. I think most would agree that
our desires and our fears are amplified during a crisis.
Or perhaps we constantly live in crisis, and it's only when
order dissipates that we experience life as our true selves.