CONTAINER DIARIES

November 26, 2012

FIGHTER ON THE STORM

Filed under: Blog — hoopscoach @ 8:54 pm
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My guy Pat Fenton from 17th street with an outstanding essay on Hurricane Sandy.

I live right next to a wide canal in Massapequa, Long Island. Just a few feet from it.

On maps it’s called the Massapequa River. It makes a short turn around a wide bend and flows into the Great South Bay, which is just around the corner from me. It’s south of Merrick road along with a string of beach towns that run for miles down the Old Montauk Highway.

 

The storm grabbed me by the neck and totally destroyed the first floor of the high ranch I own. Massive destruction everywhere. My daughter and my grand son live there. Five feet of water in the streets, cars floating everywhere with lights flashing, boats thrown around on lawns like kid’s toys. Everything is gone, and now the first floor has been stripped down to the bare studs by a contractor. Every stove, washer refrigerator, beds, boiler, furniture gone.

 

Over three feet of water came rushing in from both sides of the house, front and back and turned over the refrigerator and every piece of furniture. If we hadn’t evacuated hastily the night before we could have died there. After a midnight check of the bulk head outside my door I saw the water starting to slowly pour over it. It gave me an awful feeling and I knew right away that we were in trouble. I walked up the block to the corner and I watched the water coming up from the sewers and starting to come more and more down our block, Neptune Place. It was like an eerie scene from a movie. I got my wife and daughter, who were in their pajamas moving, and told them we have to leave tonight.

 

Right now.

 

Don’t hesitate.

 

I called the Best Western. They had two rooms left for the night and they would hold them for us.

 

The neighborhood looks like a war zone at night now, convoys of Army helicopters flying low over the canal, darkness everywhere, a Military Police truck moving through the street. For 18 nights we were without gas, electricity, heat. We tried staying on the second floor for three nights, reading by candle light, but it got so cold even with four blankets, we had to leave again.

 

And in the day time, FEMA workers would come to our doors offering blankets, water, and boxes of some sort of instant hot meal as we try to figure out the next move. And I’m moved by them, but of course I don’t except any of the offerings. I tell them that I am very lucky that I can reach in my pocket and cash and credit cards are there for food and needs, and to give it to someone really hurting.

One of the neighbors who rode it out, and regretted it, says he saw a 40 foot boat come out of the Great South Bay and float down our street, and then when the tide finally started to release Sandy’s grip on us, it simply spun around and sailed back out to God knows where. As the water rose higher and higher in the street and started to flow in through his front door, he retreated to the highest floor in the house and watched as he saw a scene he had to hope he would never ever witness again in his life time. He watched from his window as two huge trees on the side of my house got felled like tooth picks and took up huge slabs of my concrete, leaving behind two 16 foot root balls and craters and crushed boats. .

 

At the same time boats were being tipped over and dumped off of the bulk head in front of my house, whole entire docks, two of them with tied up ski jets were ripped away and pulled across the canal, boats and all.

 

For days after the hurricane huge docks would come floating down our canal.

 

I have been living in three different places since it hit. We made it out the first night to a Best Western on Sunrise highway at about midnight the night before it struck. I had booked it a week in advance for two nights, Monday and Tuesday. First night a huge utility pole fell on the hotel and we were without lights, heat, hot water again. They didn’t have a generator. There was an odd collection of people staying there, all of us living in the dark by candle light. Some of them looked like trouble to me. After two nights of this, we moved again.

 

I’m living in a basement in North Massapequa right now,and have been spending my days calling insurance adjusters, contractors, FEMA. I have flood insurance so after a long while I should be okay. I told my daughter that I will rebuild better than ever, and we will. But it’s going to take time.

I’m going to wait a year, two years, and then I am going to see about selling, and move to higher ground. The house has a wonderful view, breath-taking sunsets, and a valuable first floor rental place with a wall to wall fire-place. I never rented it, but it’s valuable. We’ll see. If I had my way, I just might come home to Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn,  which has always been my real home in my heart.

 

I used to walk out my front door and fish off of the bulk head with my eight year old grandson, check our blue claw trap. We are all okay, Kelly my daughter doing such great work getting us signed up for assistance, my wife the same, but we have seen a lot of things, disaster scenes, nobody should have to see or live through. But my creative strength is coming back, and that’s a good thing. So is my sense of humor. Every now and then when Kelly accomplishes something new for us and we are settled down for the night with a glass of wine, I turn to her and say, “you’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie.” I say the same thing to my wife Patricia as we all smile.

 I walked down the block the other day in late evening, and I took a few pictures. Maybe for a story when I get my feet back on the ground, I thought. And then I thought, it’s coming back, the need and urge to write, to be creative. And it made me feel good inside. In the beginning, Kelly said to me, “I know you will write about this, dad. I know it.” Not now I won’t, I told her. I just can’t think about writing now. It hurts too much. Maybe it’s because of my years in the Military Police in Europe in the early 60’s when I was 20, working the G. I. bars of a large city, Mannheim Germany, my survival mode kicked in for me. Later, my writer’s mode, my journalist’s mode would. I knew that.

 

At first strange, scary stories of destruction were coming in, rumors then. But most of them turned out to be true or very close to it. One night I walked out in the darkness to stand on the balcony of the hotel and drink a can of Budweiser, and a tall, blond woman in her 50’s was standing there smoking a cigarette and staring out at the pitch black night. She lived in the next shore town over from mine she said, Seaford, a mostly working-class hamlet where Irish families have lived in the same small capes next to the canals for generations.

What do you here? I asked her. She had a cell phone that was actually working. Ours wasn’t, and the hotel phones were all dead. “I heard that the height of the water in the streets is now over five feet, and it’s rising. It’s going to go over six feet. It is. There are no more boats in Seaford,” she said. “They’re all gone now and nobody knows where they went, probably out to the Great South Bay”. True or partly true, her last statement sounding so sure, put a cold chill in me, a profound sadness .

 

I can’t ever bare to listen to the stories or see the pictures of what happened to the Rockaways, to Long Beach, to Staten Island.  And the total destruction of Breezy Point, left to look like Dresden now after the war. And all that beauty gone now, the beauty of the two-mile boardwalk of Jones Beach, or Long Beach, ripped up and looking like a roller coaster now. And memories come rushing back of drinking summer beers on the Rockaway Boardwalk when I was young and slow dancing with Irish nurses in Fitzgerald’s bar on 108th Street to Tommy Edward’s “It’s All in the Game”, so safe then in their arms. And the White House bar drinking with Jacky Malone from Windsor Terrace, and the Irish Circle.

Rockaway in the 50’s was a beach town that had so many Irish bars that they all used the same pint glasses so when the crowds of the young wandered from bar to bar with the glasses, it really didn’t matter. The glasses always came back home. It seemed like we were always laughing then, so young, so hopeful of our futures. And why wouldn’t we be? We were educated in Windsor Terrace’s Holy Name parochial school, and we were educated on the streets of 17th Street and 9th Avenue.

 

And we were first generation Irish stock whose roots started in places like the city of Galway where my father was born in an attached house on the Long Walk, a fishing village, and my grandmother was a fisher woman. Tough Irish who lived off the sea. Some, like my grandfather,died from it. They even had their own “Fisher King” who watched the markets each morning where the woman sold fish. Some even went door to door selling them. And my mother lived in a thatched cottage with a house full of kids in nearby Williamstown, a small farming village that didn’t get electricity until the mid 1950’s.

 

Stories coming in from as far away as Spring Lake, New Jersey now, another “Irish Riviera.” They’re from my first cousin Jo Ann, the board walk is all gone now she says. It’s a huge pile, a mountain of summer memories and loss, pushed together next to the Jersey Shore by pay loaders. Yesterday as I was driving alone down Merrick Road the Billy Joel song came on with the lyrics, “Seen the lights go out on Broadway, I saw the Empire State laid low..”, and I had to bite hard on my lip not to cry. I still do.

One of my first thoughts after it all happened was, I want to be in a safe place again, I thought how great it would be to stand in Farrell’s Bar on 16th Street in the old neighborhood, beer in hand, talking to Jacky Malone, a retired cop that I grew up with on 17th Street. He never left.  And as soon as I get my feet back on the ground, I’m going to rush right back there and do that. It’s always home there for me, always home.

 

This is the first thing I have written since it all happened, and it’s good to write again. I think of the words to a Willie Nelson song I always liked, “Me & Paul.” “It’s been rough and rocky traveling, but I’m finally standing upright on the ground. And after taking several readings, I’m surprised to find my minds still fairly sound…”

 

When I am asked by friends what I need most right now. What can we do Pat.? I tell them, send over a blond, six feet tall, preferably Irish. A friend of mine, Anthony, told me, I will, Pat, and she will have a beer in both pockets.

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15 Comments »

  1. So sorry for your troubles, Pat..this storm has hit our community hard, there are so many ties between Windsor Terrace and a lot of the hard-hit areas..like Breezy and Belle Harbor, my nephew’s house in Roxbury was inundated, my other nephew in Long Beach got hit hard, my sister has a place in Breezy- it did not burn, but that community is devastated..I was in NOLA when the storm hit- it was one of those “Be careful what you wish for” times- every time I am down there, I always wish for just a few more days..well, on Monday, I got the official cancellation of my Tuesday morning flight.. I spent all day Monday trying to stay off the internet, and away from the TV, but of course that didn’t happen..I was horrified to see the Battery area and Red Hook flooding, many hours ahead of the projected landfall, I knew then it was going to be bad..On Monday night, I was at a friend’s gig, one that I attend every time I am lucky enough to be in NOLA..I always say it is a few hours of forgetting every thing else and losing yourself in some trad jazz,(music that I love) This time, I sat there with my phone in hand, anxiously trolling FB for updates, there is a site called New York Firefighters Brotherhood, they were posting real time calls, that is where I saw the news that there was a massive fire in Breezy..and there were so many posts that would describe someone in a precarious situation that ended with “no units available to respond” Needless to say, that was one night I could not lose myself in the music..the people I know in NOLA were tremendous, if I had to be anywhere, I could not think of a better place to be..these are people who understand what it is to go through a catastrophic situation..and have battled back, primarily with the help of private citizen groups..just like I think will happen here, we, the people will pitch in and help build one home at a time, I hate to say it, but I don’t trust the big aid agencies..I much rather would find a personal contact and do direct donations…for anybody reading this that has lost everything, please, have faith in your neighbors and strangers who are coming here to help..it is gonna be a long, tough road, but we can DO this- just look to our neighbor to the south, New Orleans..although is not back 100%, if you remember 7 1/2 years ago, you would have thought they would never get this far…

    Comment by Maureen Rice (Flanagan) — November 27, 2012 @ 10:44 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for the use of the hall, Steve. I hope in someway it helps any of our friends from the shore. Yeah, it’s long, but sometimes these things come flowing out. In this case I realized that in a letter to you I had wound up writing the piece that i thought I would nevr write. At first, I told my daughter Kelly, I’m not sure I could ever write about this. It came too close,and she said,”you will.”

    Funny how it goes, but the other night I thought about how I had just finished writing a book about Harry Chapin, “Harry Chapin’s America”, about a long road trip I took across several states all the way up to the Canadian border at Watertown New York searching for some of the people and places that he wrote about in his story songs. I finished it about a week before the storm Sandy hit us. One of the people who has wanted me to write this book for a long time is his wife. Her name is Sandy Chapin and she wrote “Cat’s in the Cradel,”one of my favorite songs. Yeah, writing is a mystery. Who knows where it comes from. I don’t. Looking to find someone to publish it now, and I know that I will mention that on the first page.

    Comment by Pat Fenton — November 27, 2012 @ 10:55 am | Reply

  3. Pat, sorry to hear about what is happening to you. I will be buying your book when it comes out. We are about a mile from Midland Beach ( Staten Island),
    and were without hot water, heat, and electric for three weeks. Our basement was flooded but fortunately it was not finished. People near us were alot worse off. My cousin Cathy Gabbert lost her first floor in Long Beach, Long Island.

    Comment by jimmyvac — November 27, 2012 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

  4. Jimmy, just mentioning LB is enough. So sad what happened there. I worked in the criminal courts as a court officer and later a clerk for many years, assigned to Queens Supreme Court, and I have a lot of friends who worked with me who lived out there. And God I feel for what happened to them. What happened to me, the whole first floor of my house gone now, memories, is chump change to what happend to them. And Staten Island, I watched something on the news the other night about what happend there and it hurt just looking at it.

    The other night I sat down with a glass of Irish whisky and I thought of all the hard times, the passing away of family so close to me when I was young in Windsor Terrace and living on 17th Street , the nights in Smiths Funeral Home on 9th Avenue, and then later how you felt so protected when the family went down to Farrell’s Bar, and I realized, this ain’t as bad. We all sure as hell will get through it.

    And what I think we all should do when it is behind us, maybe next fall, is to throw a celebration party like the neighborhood has never seen before up at Bishop Ford. On my end I promise you that I will try to get my friend Larry Kirwan from the Irish rock band Black 47 to play for us. And you know what, i can tell you that I am almost certain that he will do that. Better days to come.

    Comment by pat fenton — November 27, 2012 @ 9:46 pm | Reply

    • Hi Pat, I am so sorry to hear what you are going thru. It’s the same all over, so many lost so much. Here in Staten Island we were hit hard also. I live 6 houses from the harbor and by some miracle, the water never came in my door! There were sea creatures and driftwood outside the house, but no water came in. My family in Seaford Harbor, were also hit very hard, The destruction is just unbelieveable! I have my stepdaughter and her family staying with me until they find a new home, we are all just helping each other and supporting each other in any way we can. I am just grateful that no one that I know was hurt.
      You are right, it is going to get better, it can’t get any worse!
      I am sending hugs to you and your family!

      Comment by Gladys Mastrion — November 30, 2012 @ 8:12 pm | Reply

      • Thanks, Gladys. It’s alawys a pleasure having someone like you drift into my life. Having you as a friend. It meant a lot to me to see you show up at my play on the neighborhood, “Stoopdreamer and Other Brooklyn Stories,” (God, that’s a good sign things are getting better, I manged to work in a plug for my play). Also glad Maureen Rice has come to some of the readings I’ve done in New York. And although I had never met you until that night, eventhough you lived a few doors away from me on 17th Street, I felt like I knew you a long, long time.

        I don’t know what it is, but there is something about the people who grew up on 17th Street and around 9th Avenue, that ties them all together forever. It’s the whole Irish circle thing, you me, Jacky Malone, Tommy Purdey, rest his soul, and Alice Murray too. We never really leave there.

        Pick up Pete Hamill’s new collection of his writing on our neighborhood. The book is called “The Christmas Kid and Other Brooklyn Stories.” Pete was the reason I decided a long, long time ago, when I was young and just home from the Army, to be a writer. It was that or being a bar fighter, which got too rough. And it was not for me, because I was never looking to hurt anyone, just defend myself if I had to. And whatever young looks I might have had was getting knocked around a bit too much. You only have one nose to break,and I already did that with one of the Tigers.

        There is a wonderful, long list of a dedication in the front of Pete’s book to people from the neighborhood which he ends by saying , “All were residents of my Brooklyn shtetl. All remain alive as long as some of us are alive” Those few lines are simply wonderful and say so much about who we all are. Bob Rice left a message on my cell phone one night, as I was sitting in the dark, except for candle light, beer in hand, a power pole just fell on the Best Western hotel on Sunrise Highway where I was staying, and he read the dedication to me. And it moved me.
        Stay safe tonight, you and your family. See you around the parish,
        Pat (stay in touch)

        Comment by Pat Fenton — December 1, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

  5. Pat, You’re writing brought tears to my eyes; you write so beautifly. My heart goes out to everyone who is suffering as a result of Sandy. Our house is on pilings in Little Egg Harbor so the damage done is small potatoes compared to others. I am shocked over its devastation, especially on Staten Island where my daughter and family still live. The stories of how Staten Islanders are pulling together are amazing but the poverty has also been exposed. One time in my exercise class in Little Egg Harbor, the leader asked me if everyone was rich on Staten Island!! I guess my wearing my big diamond “J” to class didn’t help!!! Anyway, your article brought back fond memories. I have written in this blog about my experiences as a child/teenager going to the candy store on 17th and 8th Avenue around the corner from where I had lived so we have the same street in common. I also went to Rockaway as a teenager. Since we were underage, only one bar let us in. Fitzgerald or the Irish Circle sounds familiar but I don’t remember which one. I loved listening to the Clancy Brothers. I also remember go to Prospect Park with my children and listening to Harry Chapin and Richie Havens. I was so obsessed with the music that I wasn’t aware of all the pot smokers sitting on the blankets around us. However, my children noticed; I inadvertantly gave them an education that day. We also have thoughts about selling in the future but I don’t know where we would want to move. I am so used to the water but we are getting old! My husband kids about moving back to Park Slope but we can’t afford that area any more. However, it wasn’t all utopia. The rampant alcoholism was heartbreaking but of course that word was never used or rarely acknowledged.

    Comment by Joan (Ferraro) Hanvey — November 29, 2012 @ 8:01 am | Reply

    • Joan,

      Great stuff. Thanks so much! Hope you are well.

      Comment by hoopscoach — November 29, 2012 @ 12:42 pm | Reply

    • Thanks so much for your kind words Joan about my writing. And make sure you keep writing about your memories about our neighborhood to Container Diaries. It’s important to keep them alive. You remember a lot of places, gone now, and times in Windsor Terrace that many of another generation that came later don’t really know about.

      I knew a Richie Ferraro who lived on Prospect Avenue, right up the block from that bar Devaney’s on 8th Avenue. Are you related to him?

      My best to you and all the other people over in Staten Island who were touched by this awful storm. As we used to often say to each other on my end of 17th Street, “better days to come.” And they will.

      Comment by Pat Fenton — December 1, 2012 @ 10:48 pm | Reply

  6. Joan,
    i have heard that before about all Staten Islanders having bucks.. we are the middle class borough.. tons of civil service live here but we have the ultra rich on Todt Hill and the poor.on Park Hill.. People have done great thingks in my neoighborhood including one guy rescuing people down the beach using a boat…

    Comment by jimmyvac — November 29, 2012 @ 9:30 pm | Reply

  7. Pat, Richie is my older brother. He now lives in Bellevue, WA and is married with children and grandchildren. I forgot the name of the bar, Devaney’s. Thanks for recalling it. My father and most of the fathers living in my tenement hung out in that bar. The bar sponsored bus rides to a lake in NJ and this was our vacation. When we finally moved to 15th St. off 5th Ave (not much better a building), my father would go to the bar on 14th St. Actually, I have fond memories of that time. As a teenager, I hung out in Lewnie’s (Is that the correct spelling?) on the Park Side and whenever I needed money, I would tap on the bar door, my father would come out and give me a handful of change. I know, only in the old neighborhood would such a memory be fond!!!!!

    Comment by Joan (Ferraro) Hanvey — December 2, 2012 @ 6:54 am | Reply

    • Joan, I don’t know if he remembers me, the tall Irish guy with a pompadour, but tell him that I asked for him. Our neighborhood was a great place to be young. I still recall the joy of looking out the window of our tenemnet at 483 17th Street, and watching them paint the lines of the Ten Off game in the street. Summer was coming, and along with it a P.A.L. Play Street right out side my window. Yeah, there was grief and trouble there too, but there was also the innocence of youth for most of us. (And you know the good thing? I don’t recall any floods coming up the block.) Stay in touch,
      Pat

      Comment by Pat Fenton — December 4, 2012 @ 10:55 am | Reply

  8. My family had 4 homes burn to the ground in Breezy Point . My wife and I, my wife’s sister, my wife’s mother and my cousin Pat Lang. My feeling is this being a Lang has almost made me immune to adversity. We have had everything known to man happen to us. I feel I can handle this though I must admit this is a doozy. My heart aches not for my wife and I but for my 10 and 8 year old. They just want to go back to the life they know and sadly I cannot give that to them right now or maybe in the near future. It’s going to take a long time to fix Breezy Point. I also am extremely sad about the loss of the Home My Father -in-Law Tony Pinto built for his Family. Tony was one of the finest men I ever met in this life. His home was a monument to his success as the owner of United Meat Market. Tony was an independent business man everything that man had he earned, the old fashion way . His home was supposed to be a lasting expression of what this country is all about, hard work. His wife Pat will build but it wont be the same, it won’t be Tony’s house. The house that had the best Thanksgiving ever. Also what can I say about my lifelong friend’s from Windsor Terrace it seems like before the first wave hit the shores of Breezy or the first flame torched a home these fine People had a plan for us. They knew we would feel at home in our Birthplace Holy Name Parish. Through the Great Pynn Family they found us a home were we could all be together. Our friend’s purchased new Clothes for us and painted and cooked and made us feel so good when we were really shaking. This is what it means to be from the best neighborhood on earth. I really felt I was living a scene from” IT”S A WONDERFUL LIFE” .I feel like a modern day George Bailey .With that said:We are very lucky know one was killed especially my mother in law Pat, my sister in law Tricia her little Boy Anthony my niece Justina and my cousin Pat Lang. They went from home to home fleeing the fires in neck high water’s. To say they are lucky to be alive is an understatement. I guess after all is said and done we can still say GOD is good!, Thank’s for letting me vent! In closing I would like to say God Bless the good people of Windsor Terrace and Breezy Point.- Be well_ Brian Lang

    Comment by BL — December 4, 2012 @ 1:40 am | Reply

    • Brian,

      So sorry for your hardship.

      You have a wonderful family.

      Appreciate you sharing your story.

      Stay strong! You will get through this…

      You are correct about Tony; he was one of the best in the neighborhood!

      -Steve

      Comment by hoopscoach — December 4, 2012 @ 6:56 am | Reply

  9. Brian and Pat,
    My prayers go out to you and your families. I live about a mile from the beach and had damage but nothing like what you have fone through. I told my kids not to complain because people not far from us lost their homes or loved ones.
    I have never been prouder of my neighborhood here in Staten Island.. loca
    stores giving out food, people rescuing others using boats, people giving out free burgers and drinks and other acts of kindness. I hope that young kids learn that real heroes may be only a few feet away.

    Comment by jimmy vac — December 6, 2012 @ 11:49 pm | Reply


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