Thursday, November 8, 2012


I love the title of this piece. It does sound like a Woody Allen flick, doesn’t it? It’s not. I spent last weekend in New York, just days after the storm that changed millions of lives on the Eastern seaboard. I stayed in midtown Manhattan, and if I hadn’t seen news reports of Hurricane Sandy, I would never have known there was a storm just days earlier.

Therein is the irony that is New York and surrounding areas right now. In Manhattan it’s life as usual, except for the blocks-long lines at gas stations. Those lines will diminish as power is restored to regional refineries, and reports are that many of them have already been re-energized. So that means that if you happen to be inland from where the storm hit, you can still shop, cocktail, dine, catch a show, pick up groceries and even catch the subway in most locations.

 Meanwhile, if you’re in Staten Island, or New Jersey, your life has effectively come to a halt. You have no home, or if you do have a home, you have no heat or electricity and no real indication when utilities will be restored. For those of us who experienced Hurricane Katrina in 2005, this is déjà vu. Slow governmental response, ineffective FEMA assistance, lack of supplies, ill-equipped shelters, ongoing threats from weather and elements, widespread fire damage, waterlogged furnishings and belongings, shuttered businesses, humiliating living conditions and frustration to the extreme. One woman interviewed on a NYC newscast described her hard hit neighborhood as “Beirut.” A New Jersey man said, “Where’s FEMA? Where’s Obama? Where’s God?” Watch this CNN report from late last week:
While those in outlying areas maneuvered through the sludge that surrounded their decimated homes, in upper Manhattan Lincoln Center was abuzz with the National Chorale’s gala opening concert, the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Turandot, and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s John Coltrane festival. Men in pricey suits and women in fake furs and sky-high Christian Louboutins raced up the avenues to meet their friends for dinner.

At the same time in Staten Island, Borough President James Molinaro is just hoping to get power restored to the former Arthur Kill Correctional Facility, a former detention facility for medium-risk prisoners. If he can do that, several hundred displaced citizens could use it as a shelter, since some of them can’t even get into their cars since their neighbors’ houses are resting on top of them.

So, let’s review: Uptown: furs, heels, fun, concerts and foie gras. Coastal areas: homelessness, depression, freezing cold, hopelessness and fear. It is astounding how polarized life can be among those who live just miles apart from one another.

Heroes emerge: Famously hot-headed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (below, right with President Obama) has maintained a cool, controlled demeanor and worked tirelessly to reassure his constituents
that help is on the way and that they are not alone. He even risked the wrath of his own Republican party by praising President Obama on his response to the catastrophe. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has maintained a steady, authoritative voice and strong leadership. Not everyone is in his corner: tens of thousands of runners from as far away as Dubai, Japan and Russia were in the city for the annual NYC marathon, when Bloomberg cancelled it at the last minute. Had he done so when the storm’s devastation became evident days earlier, many of them could have saved the time and money they spent to get to the city for the ill-fated race. The citywide anger at his tardiness was palpable.

Those of us who have been through this nature-infused horror can generally predict what
those most affected by the storm will endure in the coming months and years. Celebrities will rally and raise millions of dollars, but most of those who lost homes, cars, belongings and such will never really see any of that money. In fact, many will question where those millions went.

Legislators in Washington will make crude, insensitive comments about how impractical it is to rebuild along coastlines like the Eastern shores. They will question whether it makes any sense for people to consider living there since they are constantly going to be in harm’s way. They have already started. Here is what Rep. Steve King (R-IA)(right)
had to say just days after the storm, about governmental assistance to victims of the storm:  "I want to get them the resources that are necessary. ... But not one big shot to just open up the checkbook because they spent it on Gucci bags and massage parlors and everything you can think of in addition to what was necessary." More reasonable legislators might focus their comments and efforts more on how to immediately relieve those in need. Not Mr. King.

And there’s more: Here is what former FEMA director Michael Brown (“heck of a job Brownie” - below, left) had to say about President Obama’s rapid and immediate response to Hurricane Sandy: “"Why was this so quick? At some point, somebody's going to ask that question. ...
This is like the inverse of Benghazi." He also had this to say: "Hurricane Sandy should teach us to be prepared, willing to live without the modern conveniences of elevators, computers and refrigerators. Hurricane Sandy should teach all of us to chill." Presumably Michael Brown is indeed living with the above-mentioned “conveniences” while storm victims suffer. Since when are communication and food conveniences?

Crackpots will come out of the woodwork and gain media attention with their far-fetched, generally hateful rhetoric. Already Rabbi Noson Leiter from upstate NY publicly stated that hurricane Sandy happened because of New York’s passage of legislation that made gay marriage legal. He truly said that.

The difference between Sandy and Katrina is that Katrina affected the whole city of New Orleans. There was damage everywhere. Not so in New York. It was pretty much life as usual last weekend where I was. The problem with that is that over time it may become easier for citizens of the largest city in America to live in semi-denial about the plight of those
just a borough away. If all is well in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea and the meatpacking district and upper Manhattan, will it be too easy to forget about those in Staten Island, Hoboken, Atlantic City, Coney Island and Westchester County? I hope not, but I know when the headlines die down, so will much of the country’s attention. I saw that here in New Orleans. We became yesterday’s news much sooner than any of us expected.

Meanwhile, by mid week the highly anticipated nor’easter hit hard, actually knocking out power to many of those whose electricity and heat had just been restored after Sandy. Climate change scientists and others [read: Al Gore] are predictably pointing to this crisis as clear evidence of global warming, and rightfully questioning why this issue never saw the light of day during the entire Presidential campaign. The drama is just beginning. You can help. Click here to make a donation online. It takes less than one minute. Or, you can text to 90999 to automatically donate $10 to Red Cross hurricane relief, which will be added to your wireless bill. Come on. Just do it.

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

Paul - Thanks for this and the reminder to many who may not know someone who has been horribly impacted. This note from another friend adds to what can be done: "May I also add when considering a donation, the local fire department of a town that has been devastated. Another worthy cause , In God's Love We Deliver as well as City Harvest. From my friends in Long Island and jersey, they are saying that the Red Cross hasn't found them yet but the local Fire Departments and those mentioned above are delivering food."