Sex and The Black Out 2003
(NOTE: None of these pics are from the black out, these were taken around that time and are only here to give you a sense of NYC in 2003. Enjoy.)
“Now what did you do Mel?”
Mel was the Inspector Gadget of New York Filmworks. We were the only two employees with offices in the basement of 928 Broadway. Copy machine gets fucked up or the photo developer only prints black photos.. Mel’s on it. Wanna hear about how the military complex assassinated Kennedy? He’ll debunk it. He’s also a very good photo shopper having done work for the likes of Mick Rock and Ryan Mcginley. At times I thought he invented Photo Shop, waxing digital poetics over Lou Reeds face or making Blondie look 23 years old again. His office was this warehouse full of mechanical thingamajigs. A drill here some nails here and what appeared to be a charcoal and oil robot over there. Mel also fucked up. A lot. We won’t talk about the time he suggested pouring the photo developer liquid down the drain on the floor of the basement. The smell will burn your eyes out. The fire company showed up. I worked upstairs for a week.
“I don’t know, I wasn’t touching anything I swear…”
My room was black. The hallway was black. The entire building sounded like everyone was flicking their light switches on and off at the same time. Soon we all gave up and started to walk towards the light. It was around 5pm. The city, drunk on air conditioning because of a heat wave, had blacked out.
First thing I did was run to the nearest Radio Shack on 23rd street. The store was already piling up with urban survivalist tapping into everything they learned when they were in Cub Scouts. I just wanted 1 thing: batteries, and a shitload of them. I run back to my office with my bounty and start loading up the boom box. I unplug all my electrical equipment in my office and wish Mel a safe journey home. He’s going back and forth with Margaret, our old southern receptionist, about the black outs that happened when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. As much as I want to hear about prehistoric ingenuity I bounce. I try to find my boss to collect my days pay but he’s already high tailing it to New Jersey. I laugh as I remember how most Jews have to be home before sunset for whatever reason. This black out must have been the equivalent of sunshine to a vampire. He was cheap and fat anyway so of course it didn’t stop him from screwing me over. That’s the life when you’re running the audio/video dept of a photo lab off the books.
“Yo kid what did Mel do to the lights?”
“He was reawakening Frankenstien!”
“Perro loco loco Mel was building a spaceship down there and you helped him.”
George was already outside smoking a bummed cigarette with Eduardo. They were porters for the building that housed my little VHS and Maxwell cassette emporium. Everyday at 6pm when I got off work we would always meet on the roof of our building to burn it down. Not the building but the pot we would religiously wrap in Phillies Blunts. George and I have been bff’s for a minute now, our only arguments being who should get and pay for the weed. Fuck all that it’s a black out. I had a radio with a couple of cds and a stockpile of batteries. He had the Purple Haze. Pooifect.
We started our trek to the Lower East Side from 23rd street. All of the surrounding office building emptying out like a water tower with a leak. Everyone’s on their phone. Everyone looks confused. After years of Mayor Guliani’s “Broken Windows” approach to petty crimes New York City had become a relatively safe place. But now all those thugs and addicts that were swept off the streets in the mid 90’s where due home from jail. This summer was a true test of the urban utopia first conjured up by the previous mayor Dinkins. New York City was on edge. 9-11 was barely two years old. All we wanted to know was when were the lights coming on and how do we get home. “Honey do we have enough food?” or “can you pick up some candles?” fluttered thru the hurried atmosphere of the evening foot commute. Some people would whisper about the gun in the shoe box on top of the closet or to make sure there was a bat at the door in case of looting. Soon stories of people stuck in under ground trains and sky scraper elevators started to pop like frying eggs. We were all stuck arousing our battery-powered radio looking for someone who knew the answer has to what had happened. Terrorist attack? The city still had missing persons fliers over every available surface. We were not ready for another attack. New York has never not been on edge.
“1st summer in NYC: saw dude masturbating on train, mobster told me he killed a guy, & Thompkins Sq park had like a 15 ft bonfire in a BLACKOUT “
We arrived in the Lower East Side right as the sun starts to set. The streets look like a poorly developed photo where everything is dark except for the sky. Bodega owners are doing their best to hold the community down providing ice and coolers for people who wanted to save their refrigerator perishables. Most kids in my hood were buying up all the beer and cigar blunts. Cashiers looking frazzled while people were waving store items and money in the air like brokers at a frantic stock exchange with little light or security to guide them. Everyone was trying to get over or steal something. Stores were trying to make as much money as they could before their inventory spoiled but its was a buyers market and everyone knew it. A lot of businesses tried to close at the first sign of dusk for fear of looting but no one would let them. Everybody needed something.
“Outside, people were hanging out in chairs in front of every door. They were playing guitars and drinking. There was nothing else to do. It was like Cuba.”
I stop by my Mothers apartment which was slowly starting to look like the cover of a bad romance novel with all the candles. She assures me that she has everything she needs and wonders why I’m not in Brooklyn already. I tell her the trains aren’t running and she gives me the bullshit look. Her only complaint is that she couldn’t call my sister in the Bronx to make sure she was ok because all the phone lines were drowning in calls. Oh well fuck that it’s a black out and I wanted in on all the black out action. I kiss her on the cheek and go meet with George who has been waiting in the backyard of my projects. Already my childhood friends and frenemies are grilling it up, stereo on blast with so many cases of beers you would swear the wagon tipped over on Avenue D. The only things visible was the smoke leaving my lips and lighter sparks in front of the trees backed by the indigo sky. My homies Manolo and Shrebs stop by for a brew and blunt with eyes lit up like cherry bombs. Everyone is using their cellphone as flashlights because phone calls are impossible. “Yo they just looted the Alife store son its on…” Before I can rub my hands menacingly like Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon my mother yells for me. Her yell puts more fear in me than police sirens. Some how she finally got an open phone line and my baby mother has been beating it up for a minute now trying to find me. Fuck. Time to go.
“So babe I was thinking about staying at my moms…”
“Oh hell fucking no… Leave me and your son alone in a blackout?!”
Damn it, I’m a dad.
It was worth the shot. At that time I was living with the mother of my beautiful 2 year old boy at the end of the 2 and 5 line on Flatbush avenue in Brooklyn. It was an hour train ride to the Lower East Side from there during rush hour. The trains can’t run without power so I thought that excuse could help me escape my family responsibilites. Wrong, the buses where running. She was not trying to hear it.
“Ok ok I’m on my way.”
“You fucking better be, how you gonna leave your son alone in Brooklyn during a blackout?!”
“But its gonna take forever…”
“Then I’ll wait forever, hurry the fuck up.”
Me and my baby mother didn’t have the best relationship.
But I loved her anyway, and plus she’s a damsel in distress now so hey, black out sex.
Yes please. Thank you Mel.
So I give my round of goodbyes to the gang and start to make my way towards the Williamsburg Bridge. I stop at the bodega on 4th street and avenue C to pick up some more smokes for the road. I rest my box on the hood of some random car and proceed the tedious process of rotating my batteries. As I lean against the hood of this Honda Civic to start my 4 armed operation I hear this sound of fear and anger. A Puerto Rican man complete with the goatee, skinny gold chain, and the overweight muscle behind him are screaming at me to get away from his car. I try to tell him I’m sorry that I’m only changing my batteries and not breaking in to his car but he’s not hearing it. The city is loud. And its getting dark.
Everyone’s on edge.
I finally make it to the bridge without incident. The entire bridge is now completely lit up by all the cars stuck in traffic. Since there is no power pedestrians have taken it upon themselves to become human traffic lights. Cars are moving at the highest speed possible considering the insurmountable logistics of this quandary. Ugh, I have to walk the bridge. I’m ready with a fresh set of batteries and a bootleg CD in the radio. Cue Barrington Levy.
“I’m too experience to be taken for a ride…”
I light a cigarette and begin my pilgrimage to the city of Brooklyn. Barringtons high falsetto is filling a night sky already flooded with concrete and steel shadows and police helicopters. All I’m thinking about is seeing my beautiful son and the sweltering uninhibited black out sex I’m gonna have. I got provisions. I got batteries and enough cash to see us through the weekend. I’m braving a Brooklyn troop through some of the worst neighborhoods ever to make it home. I’ll be a hero. Yeah. Nothing sexier than a hero ask any comic book nerd or Jared from Subway. It’s all about the black out sex now.
By the time I reach the bus terminal on the Brooklyn side of the bridge I notice a small party of people following me as if I was the Pied Piper of party. My crossing the was full of hi 5’s and the random “booyakah!” from strangers. Amazing. One guy shakes my hand and tells me this is the best walk he’s ever taken. Music conquers everything. We play music when we celebrate as we do when we lose. Nothing captured that walk perfectly like Barrington Levy.
I’m finally on the B44 Flatbush bound bus. I had to fight through what looked like a small concert to get on through the back door. There is no control. The bus driver is yelling at people to get off and nobody wants to move. It 100 degrees in the bus with the air conditioner on and the temperature is only rising. A push here an elbow there next thing you know there’s a brawl in the back of the bus. No one is having it. The weary commuters, exhausted and desperate to get home squash the tensions and expel the trouble makers. The floor of the bus is littered with plastic bags and spilt orange soda. A bunch of people smell like cheap booze. This is New York at its best.
As the bus goes down Nostrand Ave I can see the candles illuminating the many windows of Bed Stuy. All I can think about is how many people are probably getting mugged now. Veterans from black outs before are starting bonfires out of trash cans and drinking warm beer in public like the law never mattered. Shadows flickering in front of the bright colors of sirens from ambulances and police cars doing there best to maintain an orderly and lawful New York. Con Edison workers in the street holding the burden of every drunk “yo when the lights coming back on?” or “does this mean I still have to pay my bills?” New Yorkers are very good for that. The following day I would hear from George how Manolo and Shrebs were arrested for being in an already looted deli back in the city. They were only looking for cigarettes and whatever change that might have been abandoned. For weeks we would joke about how they were arrested by a set of police flash lights. Like who gets caught in the dark? When they shined that light on them why didn’t they just step to the right or left? So funny. All the kids in the Lower East Side had new sneakers from looting. Junkies had loosies for days.
“The noise was coming from Tompkins Sq Park and it grew louder and more exciting as I approached. When I got there it was a sight I’ll never forget. People had grabbed all the recently delivered city phone books from all the buildings and piled them up and set a huge bonfire. People were grabbing every metal trash can they could find and throwing them onto the fire as well. The flames were licking the tree branches, 30 feet above. Dozens of people were banging on drums, lending the scene a primal energy, and there was a large crowd just standing around the fire. Then energy was growing in the crowd and it burst out when people starting charging the fire and jumping through it.”
I finally get off the bus. My excitement is showing in the crotch of my pants. I did it, I survived the ordeal of a life time. I look at my watch and realize its taken me 4 fucking hours to get home. I don’t care. I just wanna see my family. I’m a hero. I turn on the corner of my dark block and make my way to the back porch. There she is. My son sleeping on her lap while she’s having a beer with the neighbor, her kids, and the cool Hasid that lives across the street. She jumps in excitement.
“OJ you made it home, see? My baby daddy came home for me!!!”
Now she’s taunting the next door neighbor because her baby daddy chose to stay with his mom. Little does she know I’m slightly jealous of him. Whatever. I made it home over a river a bridge and a Brooklyn and a Manhattan and the night. Yup. Now it time for my reward.
“Ok I’m tired I’m going to bed OJ can you take Chance upstairs?”
What?! This is my cue. I say my good nights and carry my charming little man in my arms. I’m climbing the stairs to the 2nd floor two steps at a time. I tuck my little tyke in and give him a small peck then blow out the burning tiny dancers I call candles. I gently shut his door. I’m ready. My clothes explodes off me. There a sock on the television, boxers on the couch, t-shirt is on the floor. I should shower but fuck that I wanna make love with the humidity still fresh on me. I’m a motherfucking hero.
And she’s fast asleep.
No blackout sex for me
“…the black out was overrated!”
(Right click image to save.)
A special shout out to Jolene Kao who let me have a scanner so I can do this for you.
Find her stuff here http://www.jolenekao.com/