The Anxious Calm

GOODNIGHT, IRENE: As the sun was setting a minute or two past 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, winds were abating. At left, Henrik Krogius reflects on the anticipation of the storm, and its reality. Below, Dennis Holt reminds us that, quite aside from Irene, the waters keep rising. Photo by Henrik KrogiusThe wait was worse than the actual event. Humid, no breeze stirring, it certainly felt ominous – even without those dire warnings coming continuously on television and radio. Could the subways not have run past noon on Saturday, when all public transit was ordered shut down? Accepting the official caution, I took the Long Island Rail Road Friday afternoon from Bridgehampton, where I had taken a few days off since the Heights Press wasn’t publishing an issue last week. I knew how little it could take to shut down LIRR service, and I wanted to make sure I was back in Brooklyn for this week’s issue.

Saturday was a day of unease. To break the oppressive monotony I was about to go out for a walk when I saw rain starting, and decided to stay in. Probably a mistake. The rain was only intermittent, and at no time, as far as I was aware, really hard. I tried to concentrate on various household matters, like paying bills. My wife, who as a child had had her first real birthday party canceled by the ferocious hurricane of 1938, chose to stay on Long Island for the weekend in our no-longer-so-sturdy 150-year-old house. She doubted it would be so bad. I couldn’t persuade her to come into the city.

Saturday wore on. Where were the winds? I though of many things, including lines from Wordsworth:

The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers …

Finally I went to bed, and when I was asleep – apparently between 3 and 7:30 a.m. – serious gusts struck. I was told two trees or major limbs of trees were felled in my neighborhood, one falling against scaffolding on Columbia Heights north of Pierrepont Street and the other, a large tree, striking a building and a car on Hicks Street between Pierrepont and Clark.

By the time I was up and about, the storm seemed essentially past, even though its center wasn’t expected to pass until 10 a.m. Windows that I feared might be broken did not even rattle the way they frequently do in more ordinary blows (at least until the storm’s tail-end blew around from the southwest Sunday afternoon). The electricity didn’t go out. However, I paid for one earlier mistake: I had accepted a package from Time-Warner Cable that covered telephone, television and Internet. Time-Warner seems about as fragile as the LIRR, and I sorely regretted having placed all three eggs in that one basket. (To be fair, I later learned the Hicks Street tree was to blame.) I couldn’t call my wife, but shortly I got word she had called to say everything out there was all right. (Time to get cell phones?)

I don’t want to minimize the loss of power and flooding endured by hundreds of thousands in other districts. Hurricane Irene was not nothing, even if in finally reaching here it was downgraded to a tropical storm. But for myself, I felt something akin to what I felt when I was around seven, and a lingering baby tooth was impeding the emergence of the new tooth. I had to be taken to the dentist to pull that stubborn baby tooth. My father promised me a sailboat model I had been hankering after if I was brave and didn’t cry. Bracing myself, I sat back in the dentist’s chair. While casually talking, the woman dentist (in Finland the majority of dentists were women) looked into my mouth, and, before I knew it, she had yanked out the offending tooth. I didn’t feel a thing. When my father then bought me that sailboat, I felt I had gotten it under false pretenses. I hadn’t earned it, and my pleasure in the acquisition was clouded by a touch of guilt.

Anti-climax. Did Mayor Bloomberg who so strenuously urged caution and shut things down feel at heart a little deflated over how the storm turned out? Or did he take true satisfaction in escaping disaster? Our mayors have been bitten by snowstorms that were under-forecast, and Bloomberg, for one, was clearly determined not to suffer any more of a calamity than he could help. He was being very prudent.

The problem of course is that when some new storm is reported coming our way, official warnings and advice will be distrusted by many as overreaction. Yet Nature is very powerful, as we have lately seen from disasters around the world, as well as Irene’s impact elsewhere, and we in New York are not immune from its destructive power. Let’s hope the less-than-expected severity of this storm doesn’t lead to future complacency.

— Henrik Krogius, Editor
Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News

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