Daily Photo: Blackout!
Blackout!
It's just gone four and I'm in my favourite New York Cafe, Space Untitled on Greene Street, sipping an iced tea. I've been working all day at my storage unit and have just chucked out a pink camouflage tent, some bedding, and a bunch of too-1998 thrift threads.

When the lights go out everything continues pretty much as normal in the espresso bar, with its big glasshouse windows. But when I leave and find that the traffic lights on Houston are out too, things look more serious. The word on the street is that power is out from Canada through the midwest and all down the eastern seaboard. I think of all the people who must be trapped in elevators and subway trains. Parked SUVs blare radio reports which confirm the rumours. This must be the biggest blackout in history.

My first instinct is to seek friends, to be with my own. I make for Other Music on East 4th Street and start chatting nervously to the employees, who are gathered in jokey, nervous knots out on the sidewalk. The tall thin black guy I always see in the store is on the phone to his dad in Nebraska, getting facts relayed from the TV coverage on CNN. 'If Canada is affected, at least it can't be terrorism,' someone says. I don't know if it's a joke, but I laugh. It feels good. But what the fuck is that weird whistling, banging noise coming from the west, as if we're being shelled from the Hudson River? Is it just construction work, or has Al Quaeda shut off the power only to launch another deadly attack?

But the OM employees don't think it's anything 'sinister'. We're just speculating that it's probably intense sun spot flares provoking a domino effect down the power grid when a joker dude comes up and says 'Guys, don't close the store, I really need a copy of the new Moldy Peaches album right now!'

After my near-mugging the other night (a gang of hispanic kids on BMX bikes pursue me up 109th Street at 1am shouting 'Sir, we need to talk!' -- apparently they just want a loan, but I'm carrying a laptop and $300 in cash and don't particularly want to negotiate) and with thoughts of the 1991 LA riots, I sure as hell won't be heading home to Harlem for the night. I rack my brains for who I know in the East Village. Jorge Colombo and Amy Yoes come to mind.

So I head to Tomkins Square and sit on their doorstep. Of course you can't ring the bell, and they don't seem to hear my shouts. Eventually someone lets me in the front door and I find Jorge and Amy at home. They're surprised to see me, and stand in their dark room with candles (which is odd, since they have two rooms lit by daylight). Soon we're having a wonderful party up on the roof, with gin and tonic on ice, caviar on crackers, and friendly next-door neighbour, German designer Henrik, discussing Lisbon and Berlin, computers and cameras. Jorge whips out his Palm Pilot and shows me the actual 'list of dead friends' which inspired my song 'Palm Deathtop'. While it's open he remembers to add another couple of names.

When night falls the East Village becomes carnivalesque. We're watching 'Frida' on Jorge's battery-powered DVD player, all huddled around the tiny screen. But the sound of maurauding brass bands down on Avenue A seems more exotic than Kahlo's Day of the Dead stuff onscreen, so we hit pause, grab torches, and go out for a walk in the dark. The first people we meet are the tranny couple who live downstairs. By torchlight (what is the etiquette of torchlight? Is it rude to point?) they look tremendously interesting, but when I ask if I can take a picture they say 'No flash please, our eyes have only just adjusted to the moonlight.'

Tomkins Square is like a hippy rave, with revellers dancing around a bonfire beating tom toms. Very Glastonbury, very golden calf. Shades of 'Riddley Walker' and 'Lord of the Flies'. Red flares light the streets, adding a firework smell. Police soon extinguish the fire in the park. Down on Ludlow Street they're more tolerant of a street party which seems to involve more tom toms and people stumbling on lots of smashed glass. We head over to Broadway, taking photos with our matching Fujifilm cameras as we go. Frogs chirrup and insects click in the trees around us, and it's possible to imagine nature re-taking New York relatively quickly if the power doesn't come back up. It's really hard to recognise streets without lit shop signs and logos on each corner. Instead, a semi-full moon, spookily bright down dark side streets, lights fresh, unfamiliar scenes. People -- mere shades, really, levelled and equalised by the darkness -- greet each other cheerfully. It reminds me of Hogmanay in Scotland, before it got electrified, policed, and mediated.

Jorge and Amy are spending the weekend with friends in Pennsylvania, so they drive off at 4am to avoid bridge and tunnel congestion, kindly leaving me the keys to their apartment. On Friday there's still no power. I walk to SoHo, but the Apple store (my regular free wifi e mail stop) is shut and so is Manhattan Mini-Storage. It's 90 degrees. I buy provisions and get handed some ice cream by a Korean grocer eager to offload his perishing stock rather than trash it. Head home and sleep through the afternoon heat. There really isn't much else to do, apart from listen to the mayor issue his suspiciously optimistic and reassuring statements on the battery radio Jorge has left me.

At last, at 9pm, the lights come back on. The East Village is in the last 15% of the city to be restored. There's a huge cheer from the street, and excited voices in the stairwell. I head out to find a wifi sweet spot and am recognised by a friendly fan who guides me to a place where I'll be able to hack into a network.

Back to this weird, wired, electric, electronic thing we call normality!



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