I have to be honest. I’ll be 50 on Monday, and Hurricane Sandy has turned me into a spoiled 5-year-old instead of the sleek sophisticate I assumed I’d morph into during this milestone week. As Gov. Chris Christie wins kudos for rising above partisan politics to do his job in a time of crisis -- and President Obama praises FEMA for cutting through red tape -- a tour of my wind-ravaged town that's still almost entirely without power has mutated me from a semi-sane mother of three into the angry, nasty coot I’ve always dreaded becoming.
You see, ever since Sandy’s playful romp along the East Coast on Monday, knocking out electricity to more than 80 percent of homes in Montclair, New Jersey, where I live, I’ve been slowly losing my mind along with my ability to use a hair straightener. Am I the only one?
Next door, a tree crashes through the fence, meaning my neighbors can no longer allow their dog out without a leash. Elsewhere, a 150-foot-tree rests precariously close to a bay window. Downed power lines translate into an awful lot of detours. And what's worse? Water, water everywhere but nary a drop on any store shelf. In fact, most businesses are closed although the Chinese restaurant still serves spring rolls. If you do come across a store that's open, you'll find little more than pasta, Doritos and cans of Beefaroni. And if you need gas? Well, you should have thought about that a week ago.
I know. I’m a horrible person. These are minor inconveniences when you see photos of houses that have been sliced from their foundations on Staten Island. I should be happy for what I have. And I am. The U.S. death toll from Hurricane Sandy is above 90 and climbing as emergency workers blanket flood- and fire-ravaged neighborhoods in New York and across the region. Believe me, as the post-Sandy cleanup continues, so will our efforts to help those affected by the storm. Here's a list of groups accepting donations for the victims.
But even so, I remain cranky. When I can’t shower, get milk at the grocery store -- the shelves at Kings have been empty for days -- vacuum the leaves off the living room floor, check my email, get snail mail (I've heard the sorters are all under water), I turn into a real bear.
And, no, when friends write on Facebook that “the only hurricane I ever lived through, we didn’t have power for four weeks and were without potable water (tap) for 1.5 weeks, so hang in there” -- I became even MORE of a monster. No, this sort of message is NOT helpful.
Why didn't we get a generator? As of last weekend, gasoline-powered generators were selling out faster than Taylor Swift concert tickets -- no matter what hardware store you try -- and more aren't expected for weeks.
I’ve never been without power this long -- five days and counting. Last year, during the freak fall snowstorm that canceled Halloween in the Northeast, we only lost power for 12 hours. I remember thinking “this isn’t so bad … what’s everybody complaining about?” Sure, our fake spider webs on the bushes were drowned in snow … but we still enjoyed a roaring fire and plenty of wine. It was, dare I say it, sort of fun.
This year it’s a different story.
I had fabulous plans for my birthday, of course, in the frivolous recesses of my pre-50 mind. I imagined champagne flowing throughout the weekend, lots of gushy cards, a sendoff to end all sendoffs into my next decade of self-discovery. After being toasted by friends into the wee hours of the morning, I’d wake up witty and smart and comfortable in my own skin.
Instead, my husband and I are fighting over why we’re suddenly out of firewood. “I thought you ordered some,” he said. “No, I thought you did … since when have I ever ordered firewood in the 21-year history of our marriage?” I answered. “Never, I tell you!”
On Thursday, at the start of an outing to find free Wi-Fi with my three kids, I said optimistically, “Isn’t it great that there’s no school and we get to spend so much time together?" But, while well-intentioned, the four-hour trek ultimately proved fruitless. The public library was so inundated with people like us that the system became overwhelmed, meaning no one could log on.
It’s not so much the prospect of being cooped up without power that makes one go bonkers -- but rather the uncertainty of it all.
Rumors have been flying around my neighborhood faster than in any middle school cafeteria. Power will be restored on Nov. 3 -- or on Nov. 13 -- depending on the neighbor or town official you manage to track down.
And will school ever resume? My guess is sometime after Easter. And what about the transportation system? The train lines in lower Manhattan are still down -- so I'm not sure when I’ll ever be able to return to my office. For the first time in history, though, the idea of working remotely -- surrounded by three stir-crazy kids and a husband obsessed with scrubbing down the refrigerator -- isn't all that appealing!
Again, obviously, I know I’m lucky. My family and I are all alive and well -- we just hate each other right about now.
So happy birthday weekend to me! I thought being 50 would catapult me into a period of reflection about my health, my relationships, my purpose, my goals, and my fears. Isn’t this when we’re supposed to -- as the experts say -- catch a glimpse of our mortality and decide what’s really important and what isn’t?
I’ll tell you what’s important to me right now. Watching the latest episode of “Homeland.” Blow drying my hair. Finding my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night without a flashlight.
Go ahead, say it. I’m spoiled. I’m acting like an ungrateful 5-year-old. At this point, though, as I just finish reading how a nor'easter is expected to hit New England by Election Day through next Thursday, I don't care what anyone thinks. I've had it.