Blackout Pt. 1

by Liam Scheff
9 of 15×15

New York Blackout

It’s the fourth day of the power outage in all of the Bronx, Queens, most of Long Island, half of Brooklyn, and all of Manhattan. New York City: 430 square miles, 5,200 buses, 250 lines,  34 subway routes, over 800 miles of track, 7,400 miles of sewer pipe, 16 bridges, 4 tunnels, and in daytime working hours in the city island alone, 5 million people. But it might as well be the whole world.

There are no cars the streets, but plenty of bicycles, emergency vehicles, and occasional cabs for officials. Some buses are running, too, but you’ve got to walk between stops and find the lines that are working. Given gas prices – around $8 a gallon in the city – and fuel shortages, they’re using as much diesel as they can for fire engines and generators.

Fleet of firetrucks are parked in and out of Times Square. There are another 10 on Broadway in Harlem, 20 on the East Side, 20 on the West Side, 10 in Columbus Circle, a few in the Park, 20 in the Lower East Side. Probably plenty down by the Wall Street and the Tower, but I haven’t been that far.

It’s like a red truck convention all over town, and the firemen are hanging out, talking to a lot of women, who are dressed in pastel colored shorts, tube tops, thin blouses and thin-strapped numbers suited for summer heat.

“Firemen Eat Free” is the sign in half of the windows south of Houston; they don’t want their cushy bankrolled trust fund bars burning down – but they can only be open till 8, unless they have emergency generators, and then it’s 10. And then the curfew.

The slogan has shown up on t-shirts; there are probably a half dozen old silk-screeners printing “I Survived Blackout ’16” and “Firemen Eat Free,” and “Firemen Eat Here,” and yes, “Firemen Eat Here Free” on made-in-Jersey shirts, hung over the spectacular braless breasts and warm, round nipples of the women of this once great overgrown mess.

I’m up on the East Side, which is suddenly my favorite spot in the world. I hated it just 4 days ago, but without traffic, it’s a dream. It’s quiet, people walk by talking, not yelling, girls on bicycles, whole families walking and biking, hauling jugs of water in anything with wheels.

Bicycles are everywhere, and thank Shiva I bike to work in summer, because I’ve got mine with me, and I’ve been out wasting my solar-recharge batteries taking pictures. These will come to great use when the lights go back on.

It’s pretty ugly, too, despite the planning. I mean, a lot of people are thirsty, and there are maybe…60 safe-water spigots in the city? Something like that, put in after the double hurricane that caused 250,000 people to get water poisoning last summer.

Sixty street-level watering areas, each one some version of a long aluminum table, gleaming in the sun, with 10 or 20 faucets facing outward from a central divider, the run-off draining down into the angled middle. Sixty for, what…3 million people (after the bridge and tunnelers go home)? I can’t even begin to do that calculus. But, thank Brahma, most of us have water – the quality is hit and miss, but it’s probably, well, not parasitic. Not yet. In two weeks? I wouldn’t touch it. But for now, hold your nose and swallow.

Anyway, I don’t have much to worry about. I just don’t want to sit, rotting in Brooklyn with no power. I could escape to Jersey and visit my cousin, but so far, it’s not bad here. But, I’m lying. I’m lucky, so I’m lying.

Traffic. Four days ago at 3:46 when the first lights blinked out, it was the height of the work day on a Tuesday. That means a lot of things. I means that a lot of people were cruising through traffic lights. A lot of people didn’t get a red light or a green light, or a flashing hand signal, and a lot of people got hit in intersections, in cars, on bikes, and on their feet. And about 40 people died in 45 minutes.

At 3:46 in the afternoon, there were thousands of people riding up to the 10th or 30th or 4th floor to deliver food, or go home, or to fuck someone they love on a lunch hour. And they got stuck in elevators. Stuck. No one ever tells the truth about what that means.

First, you feel the thing stop. A red emergency light goes on. You look at whatever thug or stinking old lady or middle-aged asshole or idiot teenager you’re riding in this box with, and you listen to them say, “Oh shit.”

Soon you’re sitting on the floor. In the small buildings, someone might climb out of the roof hatch – if there is one. In the large buildings, an emergency generator might, or might not, gravity-drop the car to the closest floor and release all door locking mechanisms. But in the majority of buildings in this 100 year old metal trap, the elevators just stop, and stay stopped. And at some point, you have to piss. And then it gets worse. And worse.

And by the time you have to shit, somebody else already has, and everybody’s ready to puke. And you’ve got nowhere to go.

So, everybody tries not to piss, or you pull the doors open, and you piss down the shaft, and try to re-close the doors. or you leave them cracked two feet, to let in that dank, inner-building air.

And that’s the first 8 hours. It’s been four days. And emergency workers, because they’re the pot, booze, meth and pussy snorting heroes of legend, knocked that shit out in record time. And they got probably 600 people out of elevators all over the city in 24 hours.

But there were 1,400 people in elevators. And it took another 24 hours to find the next 400. Hanging, like the executed dead, from slow-tightening nooses inside of tinfoil cages in a steel sky.

And some people have died in these cages. And somebody is sitting with them, stuck in this box, crying, and trying not to cry. And praying. Dehydrating, and waiting. And waiting. So, I’m lying. It hasn’t been great. I’ve just been lucky, and I know it.

If you weren’t in an elevator, you were lucky. That was most of us. So, you got to walk downstairs – that was me, and our office. Down seven stories in a reclaimed brick and rust shitter in the meatpacking district. I walk it everyday at least once for exercise, but some of the fatties in design were really huffing and puffing. So, everybody in the city got some exercise on the stairs.

But for the people who couldn’t, who were in wheelchairs, or had broken bones, twisted ankles, or were weak and tired, they just had to stay there, up in their birdcages. And wait. And hope the water worked.

And then there are the hospitals. The city hosts about 80,000 fractured people at any given moment in the sick buildings. Most of them hate it in there and are only dying to get out, but some of them are dying, breathing through tubes, hooked up to electrical equipment that can’t be turned off for more than a half a second without fucking up their fragile thread of just-barely-holding-on-ness.

But the power has been out for 4 days. And emergency generators sometimes don’t go on without a prompt or a fight, they can choke and stall, they can run out of diesel, and even when they work, they don’t produce what the local coal and nuke grid provides.

The hospitals have lost, I wager, about 500 souls in 50 hours. If life support fails for an hour, almost everyone barely threading the needle on a machine is gone. But maybe they weren’t supposed to be here, anyway. Maybe we hold onto the bodies hoping the souls will come back. Maybe we’ll get used to death, like in the rest of the country, which is hungry, and puking from nuclear wind, or choking on pesticide explosions.

We’ve been lucky up here. Our water has not yet been fracked, thanks to our liberals with money who are beating back the Texans. Our food comes increasingly from the three local states. Increasingly local, increasingly organic. Increasingly fucking expensive. Nobody can afford anything but bread, salt, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage and oil. We’re all losing weight, getting skinny again. Austerity suits us. We’re still the hub. (Get real, Boston, you never were.)

I kind of hope we only get limited power back – I mean, I want it back, but it’s been good. We’ve become a city of bicycles in just 3 days. The avenues are crowded with foot-traffic. The subway has been down since Tuesday and will not be turned back on. It can’t be run on diesel-generators. Besides, some of the pumps have failed, and the word is that if we get a heavy rain, the tunnels will flood and overflow in lower Manhattan.

But, nice summer weather is what we’ve had, some of the nicest anybody remembers, especially after the walloping and ass-kicking we took all winter. Storm after storm, piling up water from melting snow that flooded the gutters and turned the Lower East Side to Greenwich Village into a half-frozen pond.

But, spring came, it dried out, and in a sense, it’s never looked prettier. Green stuff is growing from places that had been strictly concrete for as long as anybody can remember. Global warming, cooling, whatever — it’s good for something after all.

The water pressure is still good up to about the 6th floor in most buildings. After that, you have to carry buckets up the stairs, and not shit in toilets above, maybe the third floor. So, a lot of people are becoming ‘neighborly’ and very quickly are learning to barter. Whole DVD collections are changing hands, crap by crap, shower by shower.

The Port Authority, Penn Station and The Empire State have kept their bathrooms open to the public all day till curfew, and put security in place to make sure no one takes a bath in the sink, or wipes feces on a wall, which people do for some reason (we’re creative people here). The city put 5,000 porta-potties lining Central Park, which seems like a lot, but by the 2nd day, you’d only use them if you were desperate.

The Park has become…well, a lot of things. A condom-free zone, apparently, by how many bare asses you can see grinding away under distant trees, early and late in the day. People seemed to instinctively designate some areas a brothel, some a bathroom, and others as social gathering places.

In Washington Square and Columbus Circle, which are both on generator juice, we hang out until the police send us home, roundabout 10. But, all in all, people have been civil, almost decent.

Maybe…maybe a little better than normal, at times.

So, I’m here. Waiting.

–          –          –

This is Story 9 in 15×15. A story written and edited in one to two hours with no major revisions.

Liam Scheff is author of Official Stories, The Geneticals, and co-author of Summer of ’74, and its teaser comic – all available on Amazon and/or Kindle.


About Liam Scheff

"Author, Artist, Film, Permaculture." Liam Scheff is a writer, artist and stand-up lecturer on issues that people usually don't make comic books about. (Visit Liam's highly-praised book "Official Stories" reveals the complex details behind the myths of our times.
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