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Goodnight, Irene, see you in our dreams

Power out? No AC? Northerners get a taste of post-hurricane life

John Kominicki//September 9, 2011

Goodnight, Irene, see you in our dreams

Power out? No AC? Northerners get a taste of post-hurricane life

John Kominicki//September 9, 2011

By John Kominicki, Dolan Media Newswires

LONG ISLAND, NY — Long Islanders are a hearty lot, many of us having trekked here from as far away as Brooklyn and Queens without any sign of wear.

We carved suburbia from the wilderness of summer estates, built schools and way too many fire houses, then perfected the art of shopping. We’ve withstood gypsy garbage barges and Amy Fisher, the Shoreham debate and Bobby Kumar’s kidnapping.

Even today, we are a people that can butter a roll, apply makeup and tailgate, all at the same time.

Irene should have known better.

It helped, certainly, that the storm arrived with the speed of the Falklands War. As Irene crawled up the coast, its intensity fueled solely by the earnestness of Weather Channel reporting, there was plenty of time to lash down our grills and fruitlessly search for D cells. We were allowed full days to gas up and pick the bread aisles and dairy cases clean.

There was even time for a Yankees-Orioles doubleheader.

And then it was over, not the feared 100-Year Big One, but a relatively modest swig of tropical punch. By Sunday afternoon, many Long Islanders were already out sweeping up, unlashing the grill and wondering when the emergency ban on alcohol sales would lift.

The 500,000 households without power started rethinking having bought all that milk.

At my home, where there is water and gas but no electricity, life has settled into a pre-urban, post-electronics pattern of early dinners and long sleeps. The romance of Sunday night, when we grilled steaks for a celebratory, stick-in-the-eye-of-the-storm candlelight repast, has given way to an essential evening routine of cooking skillet-something and grilling toast by flashlight. Take-out meals kicked in at midweek.

I am adjusting to not being able to treadmill to “Squawk Box” in the morning, especially the not-being-able-to-treadmill part. My wife, the socialist, is managing nights without Rachel Maddow.

There are silver linings, certainly. I played gin rummy with my daughter the other day for the first time in a dozen years. We’re even eyeing the domino set. As the freezer lost its final chill, we loaded up a pie shell with thawed-out smoothie fruit and baked it on the Weber. The slight hint of charcoal really brings out the raspberries, I think.

My wife noted that our electricity bill should go down this month. That came up in an actual family conversation during dinner, a time previously reserved for watching “House Hunters International.” Or “House.” Or “Little House on the Prairie.” We’re not picky.

There have even been thoughtful walks after dinner. The other night I drifted off to a ballgame on the transistor radio, a treat I think I last enjoyed when I was 12.

Without air conditioning or ceiling fans, we’re sleeping with the windows open, the lace curtains billowing like a scene from a Cocteau film. The nights have been blessedly cool and crisp, the distant hum of some lucky neighbor’s generator lulling.

The smell of stove-top coffee in the morning takes me instantly back to my grandmother’s house, where a battered metal pot always perked. I’ve even discovered that you can make the garbage disposal work, after a fashion, with a wooden spoon. Move over, Bear Grylls.

More good news: Surveying the bottles on the refrigerator door, I see a lot were already expired. Going forward, I’m vowing, we will get by with many fewer kinds of salad dressing. We certainly don’t need four jars of satay sauce.

Our story, of course, is being played out in tens of thousands of other households across the Island, and many don’t have the luxury of a gas cook-top and hot water heater. But, Long Islanders being Long Islanders, they will persevere and, I’d wager, emerge even stronger.

It may be that Irene’s near-miss will signal a new beginning for all of us, a chance, going forward, to spend more quality time together, to cook more simply, eat lighter and follow each meal with a walk or family activity. To better cherish the joys of a simple life that once was, and not so long ago, less cluttered and decidedly less connected – the smell of strong coffee, the embrace of a hot shower, the sweet scent of a summer breeze as it makes the curtains dance, a ballgame played out before the mind’s eye.

Or not. The power’s back on and I really have to check email.

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