Interviews with residents and volunteers in Far Rockaway, Queens, a neighborhood that remains in the dark, still grappling with the destruction caused by Sandy.
Altruism Highs and Lows
Driving the car towards the flood plains of Far Rockaway,
flood pains, there is an airport shift to the air and it
feels like a fucking stroke when suddenly you notice the
street lights aren’t working and your field of vision changes, flattens and encompasses
more area as if suddenly some psychic blinders had been lifted off of your face.
The tension and the vibrancy of the air is gone and you start to brake
a little at the intersections in case another car is coming. It feels like
no one else is on the road and it’s become another world, physical and lawless.
Sea Girt Blvd is dusted with sand and feels dark in the light even with the sun reflecting off
the sea as temperatures fade colder through the day.
It seems like no one’s around really, the streets are quiet
but then every once in awhile there’s a signal of destruction like a car washed up,
burnt out and crushed by a tree all at the same time
just sitting there in the daylight defying attention or wonder.
We stop at 25th st and it’s chaotic and strange in
that helpless way that volunteering often is with a peculiar
sense of urgency coupled with an ultimate impotent ineffectuality.
Nothing we can do here will give life as long as life’s autonomy
and initiatives are crushed daily in a grind of overzealous and sadistic management.
Let us tell you what your needs are, so we can fulfill those supposed needs to our satisfaction
and be absolved of this imaginary responsibility. As if the cold, hard violence
of bureaucracy and racism are not our invention and collective legacy.
Pigs mill about, hands hooked into holsters,
talking to each other out of the sides of their lips,
drawn stretched with their eyes ever roaming, shifting
from one leg to another to change the vantage.
We drive on, overwhelmed and disenfranchised but hopeful
that we can provide something meaningful or take back something useful
in our thoughts and minds.
The different projects drift by us and we see all the shades of relief,
hot food, bottled water, clothing, batteries, until we reach
the end of the boulevard and are forced to loop around and
launch the car into a soft drift of sand and step out,
hurrying to the ocean to hide behind the debris so we can pee.
Here people tromp in and out of houses with seaweed stained walls
in masks dragging rubble and grousing,
while in the large parking lot volunteers dust off the donations from the back of
half-hearted altruists closets and sort them into piles that the few locals bussed up from
the other side of town pick through disinterestedly.
There’s a BBQ and hot food stands all around the fringes and
somehow it takes on the feel of a very sad, urgent, and
strange carnival where everyone was invited but no one really wanted to go.
Further down the road, past greyed out strip malls and
empty lots, the ruined cop bar and liquor stores down
Edgemere avenue, we roll towards another brick high rise.
Twin towers right at the beach with a grocery store mostly closed,
selling two loaves of white bread for five dollars beneath a half lifted grate.
A couple of hustlers are hovering by their minivan cum storage units
rushing all the new supply shipments for the flashlights and bottled water
and then letting them go on with their other donations, relaxing back
to scheme about where to get rolling papers in a crisis and the best flavor.
Kids play on the sidewalk, look like they are waiting for something with
their parents all standing around, and it feels like their hands
must be getting cold as the air crisps around our edges so we
give them some gloves we have left in the car. It feels like a birthday party in the glove pile,
and we lose ourselves to the fun the kids have finding two gloves that match.
We try to do that too, we think.
You’ll try to do that again, I want to say.
The sun is low in the sky and as we start to not be able to see
it’s time to go and go home where it warm and safe and powerful.
So we leave these people there and probably won’t see them ever again but they’ll continue to live<
and new people will come to tell them what they need, and what they can have
and what they are allowed to want and what they are allowed to do.
Is this a community? The dunes get closer to
the road and they get mixed together until they are one and
before we know it we are stuck there in the sand and
a team of Mormons come flying on their shovels out of
the thick sea air to dig us out and lead us to safety or the rest of the world or something.