Thursday, January 3, 2008

Adversity Revisited: Winter in the Northeast

January 4, 2008

In fall of 1988 I decided to move back home from New York City to the little town of Fairhope on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. I didn't move because I wanted to, but because my husband had retired and my mother, in her 80's, lived in the pleasant village of Montrose nearby, and I felt certain that she would be needing family near to her in the coming years.

I brought my own stress with me. I started an Equity theatre company with my own money, and when my first grandson was born seven years later and money had run out for the theatre project, I shifted gears by stopping the theatre and becoming involved in volunteer activities at the Marietta Johnson Museum and the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, two institutions I strongly wanted to support. Along the way I moved to six different homes, redecorating and even building one on my own.

But I was living in a tropical paradise kind of town, the very location so many people choose to retire, where the winters seldom see temperatures below freezing and tension levels are low. Productivity is low as well, and there is a laid-back -- one might say lazy -- ambiance that appeals to retirees and people looking for vacation homes.

After 19 years I did kind of a reverse retirement of my own. In November of this year I packed up and moved back to the New York City area, looking for a new life in an atmosphere I had always found stimulating. I'm almost 20 years older than when I left, but I've still got some good years ahead and look forward to using the best of myself for projects I want to do. In the south I had come to a point, with my husband gone and my mother in a nursing home, that my life seemed very circumscribed and uninteresting. I was doing the same things over and over, and getting the same results, and my life had come to feel like a permanent case of deja vu.

What I've learned so far in my Hoboken experience is that one of the things in I was missing in serene south Alabama was the sense of continual adversity. Nothing comes to you here without something of a fight.

The arctic blast that hit Hoboken yesterday also eased into the South. Down there, I'm told, the thermometer hit the 20's at night, even as they went up to the mid-40's during the day. Here, the lows were in the teens and the highs didn't reach 20 degrees. To prepare for this, I laid in supplies two days ago and vowed not to venture outside the warmth of my apartment until today, when it is predicted to go up into the high 30's again.

I hadn't counted on the heat going out in the building. This happened two nights ago. I missed the usual banging and hissing of the radiators all over the apartment, but didn't notice until Wednesday night that there was absolutely no heat coming up. This was the night there was a low of 11°! I have lots of blankets, and kept wrapped up pretty well that night. In the morning yesterday I called the manager of the building and told him there was no heat. He assured me he had gotten in touch with the utility company and that they would be on the site before the end of the day.

I had to run an errand in spite of my plans, but by the time I went I realized even though I had to walk about five cold blocks, I would be able to warm up at my destination. This worked out pretty well. The office I went to and the grocery where I bought a jug of water both were a lot warmer than my apartment; therefore I was warmer thanks to that errand than I would have been staying home.

When I got home I spent a lot of time in my kitchen with the oven and all the gas jets on.

The bad news is that when the utility company arrived, at 6:30 P.M., they were not able to fix the problem, which apparently is a lack of oil in the building's boiler. They deal in gas but not in oil. The building manager is still out of town. I went online to get names of oil suppliers in this area and made a few phone calls. All of them told me they could not bring oil to the building without an order from the landlord. I do not know the owner of the building, or even how to reach her -- and the manager was out of phone range. My downstairs neighbor, a nice man from India, commiserated with me that we are both from a warm climate and not geared for this. But we agreed that we can do nothing but bundle up tonight and expect our needs to be met the next day. He reminded me that it would not be so cold last night -- it would go all the way up to 18° and it should be 37° today.

Right. It's still too early to expect relief, but I did the only thing I could do get through the arctic temps last night -- I dragged my mattress into the kitchen and spent the night on the floor with the oven and all the gas jets blazing. It was warm enough to sleep.

Within the hour I'll talk to the building manager to get some relief from this ridiculous situation. It will be all right by nighttime. Then tomorrow it warms up to the 40's and by Monday and Tuesday will be in the 50's.

The question may be, for my readers who are living in the tropics, why on earth would anybody knowingly exchange comfort, peace and quiet, for problems such as this? Not that I don't have doubts myself, but the only answer I can come up with at this point is that I made the choice knowing full well what I would be getting into. Not that I knew the boiler would break down, but I remember similar situations when things didn't work, and they are soon fixed. Such things happen in the South too. It's not enough to discourage me -- for now it's like I'm paying my dues again -- and I feel in my heart that the rewards will soon outweigh the difficulties I'm going through at this point.

I'm really going to appreciate it when the heat comes back on.


Anonymous said...

Did the bottle of water freeze before you got home?

Have you ever noticed that when moving or setting up a new "place" that more often than not, you subconsciously set the new place like the last? You mention adversity which some magnate toward, but not for NightStranger, eh. You make it sound similar to the halls of a Jr. High during class change, a thing you never experienced, I'd bet.
Maybe when you get a face to face with the landlord, you can shove a snowball in her pants with "You inconsiderate....... ". Chill out. It has to get better.

Mary Lois said...

I am happy to report that my heat was repaired last night and now it's about 95° in this place.

Yeah, I've noticed in my many changes of my life that you're never really prepared for the differences that will occur in your new incarnation, so you set up for the previous one and a year or so later find you aren't using any of those old tools you unpacked.

It's nice and balmy in Hoboke today, highs in the 50's, and a nice week ahead predicted. That doesn't mean winter is over, however.