“An artist is somebody who produces things that people don't need to have but that he, for some reason, thinks it would be a good idea to give them.” - Andy Warhol
It was romantic - at first.
A full moon storm which, according to the latest news center weather maps, was headed straight for my NYC apartment. Coasting down the hill of my recent break up, it seemed like a great time to symbolically wash myself of a relationship ghost that was continuing to haunt me, even many months later.
The idea of having no electricity, no running water, and no internet for a week or more sounded perfect. After a cathartic full moon ritual, I’d have all the time I needed to reflect on where I’d gone wrong and more than enough time to write about it - no distractions - no social media responsibilities - oh, the quiet possibilities. It would be like camping inside with a side of sweet self reflection.
I went shopping the day before the storm. Stopped by Strand; bought one book on dating, one on being less introverted, one on recovering from a break up, a Jonathan Ames book entitled, “The Double Life is Twice as Good,” a new notebook and pen and stocked up on water, beans, cheese and novena candles. When I arrived back from shopping there was a sign on the front door of my building - the elevators and the water would be shut off later that night and those in Zone A were ordered to evacuate (I was pretty sure I wasn't in Zone A, but I really didn't know).
Rihaku sake is named after a famous chinese poet who would drink a bottle and then write 100 poems.
Back in my apartment, I promptly filled up the bathtub and all the large kitchen pots with water - which is what they tell men to do when a woman is having a baby (I guess in case I decided I was really thirsty or dirty or both). I took a bottle of Rihaku Wandering Poet Sake (a gift from an old friend that I’d been saving for just the right time) from the bottom of my closet and stuck it in the refrigerator. My mom called and asked me if I was in Zone A. I told her I probably wasn't.
It was romantic - at first.
“People sometimes say that the way things happen in the movies is unreal, but actually it's the way things happen to you in life that's unreal.” - Andy Warhol
The creed of Yoda, "Like a Palm tree - yield and remain strong - you shall."
palm trees she told me about how a ship captain had once saved his son’s life during a hurricane. He loved his son so much, he pulled his boat close to shore, rowed his dingy in, tied his son to a palm tree and then went back to his ship. She explained how palm trees are nearly hurricane-proof as they remain strong by being flexible.The son survived. The captain went down with his ship. I filed the story away in a subliminal file which is labeled “Survival Skills,” which is right behind the file labeled "Breaking up without Breaking Down."
"When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums.” - Andy Warhol
I woke early on the morning of Hurricaine Sandy. I was excited. I took a shower and shaved, slathered myself with Old Spice Classic, and put on my storm outfit - a brown velvet dining jacket, my grandfather’s green ascot from Paris, my blue suede shoes and my scooter helmet with the deer antlers attached. In my jacket pocket, I stuffed fifty feet of cotton clothesline rope. If Sandy and I were going to get it on I wanted to make an impression when she arrived.
My rock star view of the city was about to get a makeover.
By noon, the first bands of the storm arrived. Out on my balcony from the twentieth floor I watched the clouds swirl around the Empire State Building and curl around the World Trade Center. They were like large elliptical snakes made out of marshmallow fluff.
As a surfer, I have a profound kinesthetic connection to hurricanes that dates back to my young surfing days. Since I’m usually the one heading to the coast when everyone else is heading away, the clouds typically give me butterflies the same way the smell of polyester resin and walnut wood shavings remind me of creating art as a child in my father’s sculpture studio.
I twisted my ascot, watched the sky outside, took my first photo, posted it on Facebook and then sat down at my desk to write. Then, the first hint of the wind arrived. What began as a whisper through the trash chutes in the building evolved into a full blown howl and then a few hours later - screaming. I’d never heard anything like it. Little did I know that these were my own ghosts coming to pay me a visit.
“They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” - Andy Warhol
For a short time when I was a eight, I started sleeping under our upright piano in the kitchen. I laid my sleeping bag along the three pedals and for privacy tied a sheet to the columns and draped it over the piano bench so it made a door. Inside, I placed my digital radio alarm clock, my
People living in 1st floor apartments carted their water logged lives up onto the sidewalks. For days the piles were everywhere.
reel-to-reel recorder and on the long piano board underneath I taped a map of the world that I’d torn from a National Geographic magazine. In my piano apartment, I would spend hours pretending to be a special weather man who tracked Bigfoot. I’d point to the map with a ruler and say made up things like, “We are extrapolating the quasi-manual distance between the monster's last manual sighting in the western hemisphere....”
“If you want to know about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” - Andy Warhol
When the lights went out, I was still resting on the laurels of my romantic endeavors - camping inside for a week, maybe writing an entire book the same way Kerouac wrote "On the Road" in a 3-week Benzedrine-fueled marathon writing session, and washing away all my necessary relationship karma. I pulled the bottle of Sake out of the fridge, lit my candles, sat down below my window, and got to work.
“I'm afraid if you look at a thing for long enough it loses all of its meaning.” - Andy Warhol
I walked forever trying to find a Starbucks to reconnect with the world, but citywide, even in Times Square, they were closed.
Two days before the storm hit I found myself struggling with my break up. It was more than the usual struggle. I felt like my heart had turned to dust all over again. I was paralyzed - so much so that I found myself in Times Square blocks away from where my ex-girlfriend, Brittany, handed out fliers on a corner for a theatre company. I didn’t want to walk past her section, but at the same time I did.
Then, I found myself being pulled there like I was caught in some huge vacuum cleaner. My stomach filled with butterflies. I couldn't walk past. But at the same time I knew I had to. I had no idea what I’d do if she was there. I had no idea what I’d do if she wasn’t there.
“I don't see anything wrong with being alone, it feels great to me.” - Andy Warhol
By 10pm there were waves breaking under the stoplight and cars being washed away.
The wind began to scream and then people began to scream and then I couldn’t tell the difference between what was coming from the wind and what was coming from the people. I kept thinking about the way my grandmother used to scream "The Stormtroopers! The Stormtroopers! The Stormtroopers are here!" over and over again in the middle of the night.
I finished the last of the sake and ran out to the balcony. The wind slammed the door shut. Large things blew out of the sky - some things seemed alive like birds and other things seemed like stars that had blown out of their orbits. I squinted and moved aside as an ostrich-like beast missed me by inches.
Below my balcony the water rose. Soon, waves were breaking under the stoplight at 10th Street and Avenue C. Mattresses were floating in the street. Cars were being pushed through the intersection, turning over like tiny leaves caught in a river current.
“I like boring things.” - Andy Warhol
I pulled the clothesline rope out of my coat pocket and tied it to the balcony. I wrapped it around my waist and tied a knot. I looped it around my hand like I was a cowboy getting ready to ride a bull (In the American tradition the rider must stay atop the bucking bull for eight seconds). I took a seat. I knew I had to ride it out.
I watched entire lives wash away underneath my balcony.
My ascot flew into my mouth. The deer antlers on my helmet shook. My pants soaked through immediately. My blue suede shoes would never be the same again. Like a splinter, I knew I needed to make whatever was hurting me come out the same way it went in. I screamed like I was mad, until my voice became one of the voices outside, became a part of the wind and this mad world I was a part of - until I began to choke and cry and until lost my voice.
I went in and out of another reality. I thought I had dreamed this before - waves breaking between buildings, out on my surfboard riding the black waves over the sidewalk at night, screaming on a balcony in New York City. Then, things began to explode. The air smelled like smoke. The sky lit up. Explosions. Later I'd learn that the transformers on 12th street had blown. I was convinced the building was on fire. I was more scared than ever.
I held onto the rope until dawn. At times, I found myself holding onto it too tight and I’d remember the story of the palm tree and loosen my grip, trying to be strong and flexible at the same time.
"As soon as I became a loner in my own mind, that's when I got what you might call a "following." As soon as you stop wanting something you get it. I've found that to be absolutely axiomatic.” - Andy Warhol
She wasn’t there - on her usual corner in Times Square. But, I stood where I had stood with her and kissed her a hundred times before. She was now my phantom limb - something that was no longer there but was still breaking my heart in a very real way - and I had no idea why. I cried and cried and cried and rode the subway home alone.
Two days before the storm, I called my therapist friend Regina. She once died and saw the light. In exchange for coming back, she helps people like me - people looking to fight their way back to love or away from it. She does a type of therapy called Urosa Therapy, a combination of energy work, visualization and something I can’t quite explain.
On day four limited bus service began. Lines were longer than the eye could see. Frustration levels high. Fights frequent.
As we talked I came to understand that my connection to Brittany was karmic. Something carried over from a past life. “Relationships are hard enough to leave,” Regina said, “but karmic relationships are even tougher.”
The longer we talked, the easier it was for me to understand that in a past life Brittany was my son. I was her mother. She had drowned in that past life. She was four. A domino fell when I heard this and it fell into my past and into what I remembered of our relationship. Everything about our dynamic now made sense. The May-December connection. Why Brittany was so distant. Why we broke up during our fourth year. Why I held on so tight. Why she was always pushing me away.
In front of the emergency shelter, this was a common sight.
Regina saw an umbilical-like cord that connected my stomach and life force to Brittany - but this was no ordinary cord. It was huge and thick, like a 300 year old oak tree. She asked me if I could see the end of it. I couldn’t. It went on and on and on. It went around the earth twice and then clear into another galaxy.
Regina brought me to the edge of the ocean. The water was up to my knees. On the other end, she asked Jesus to light the old oak tree with a match. In the next half an hour it burned away like a stick of incense. Then, it fell off. In it's place there was simply a burned circle.
“I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of "work" because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don't always want to do. Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.” - Andy Warhol
The next day only 4-5 restaurants were open, lit by candles salvaging whatever could be cooked on an open flame.
Early the next morning, I could see lights flickering out beyond the Empire State Building and another lone light up in the top of the World Trade Center. The idea of writing for days on end fueled on hunks of cheese and cans of beans and bathtub water seemed inconsequential. I now became obsessed with a new mission - to find a place where there was light. I needed it. I needed something that made sense, that felt familiar, to make me feel safe. I was exhausted. I was waterlogged. I should have slept, but walking toward the light became my obsession.
I buckled the strap on my scooter helmet and tied my blue suede shoes and walked out into my dark hallway and down twenty flights of stairs in the pitch black as visions of the zombie apocalypse followed me down the stairwell. In the lobby of my apartment building the water was waist-high. I waded through it and headed out.
The streets were filled with people who looked just like me. People who looked like they had let go of the most important thing in their entire world during the night. People, like me, who were now trying to find something that made sense. Thirty four streets later, I finally found the light. I nearly cried as I leaned against the stoplight (like a dog resting against its owner's leg) and watched the light go from green to yellow to red and back to green.
My life, especially this part, no longer felt romantic. Letting go so dramtically made me feel incredibly empty and stupid. Stupid for staying through the storm. Stupid for not knowing I was in Zone A. Stupid for staying with Brittany for four years. And stupid for walking around the city dressed like I was like a genetically modified Buddy Holly experiment.
Before I walked home, I walked through Times Square. It was different this time - empty and cold and almost everything was closed.
Slash Coleman, M.A.Ed. is an award-winning writer and performer best known for his PBS special and Off-Broadway one-man show, The Neon Man and Me. more...