Nov 12, 2012

Life in the Post-Sandy Twilight Zone

I just put the 2013 New York City Marathon on my iCal.  November 3, 2013.  If we make it.  I will be there.  Don't tell my knees, they're already pissed off.  My body only signed up for one year of this, I'll have to break the news gently.

I went running today.  I went running for the first time since Sandy.  The last time I ran was the morning of Sunday, October 28.  The wind was whipping around pretty good as I ran around the Bethpage High School track by my sister's house.  A Pee-Wee football game was going on and I ran around these little innocent uniformed kids forty times as the clouds darkened and a cool wet rain poured down.  Every time I lapped the track, the wind picked up and I would see the concerned looks on a lot of people's faces, the faces of parents and friends watching their little ones miss tackles and drop passes.  The kids were oblivious, but the adults knew better.  Something was coming.

I was the only one on the track, the only dummy running in this weather, pumping myself up to The Prodigy's The Fat of the Land, and I banged out my final 10 pre-Marathon miles in record time.  The sky was angry and so was I, and in spite of it, I was ready to run 26.2 the following Sunday.

The night before, I had attended my aunt's annual Halloween party on Long Island, the only single dude amongst a sea of costumed couples.  I was the 79th wheel.  This was my pre-Sandy life all of a sudden, and tho I have a way of bringing levity into certain situations by trying to be amusing, I was very sad.

This was the last social activity I engaged in before my life would change forever.  

Some thoughts on this video:

*My very pregnant sister secretly filmed this short clip, not the first of my Napoleon Dynamite-style dances to be captured on film, and hopefully not the last.  Probably the last in a Squirrel costume.  Probably.

*Arpeggio's "Love and Desire" is the song, two subjects weighing heavily on the Dancing Squirrel's mind at the time.

*You can clearly hear my boisterous, loveable brother-in-law in the background, drunkenly searching for his Halloween costume's wig, shouting "Honey, where's my hair?" over and over.  I love that.  I've been asking the "Where's my hair?" question since 1993.

*Even though this is the Ronnie from another pre-hurricane world, it still makes me laugh. And I know it makes my sister laugh too, and my aunt and my cousins, and at the end of the day, sharing that stupid humor with my family is good enough.  Being with my family helps, it always has during the worst of times, and it always should for everyone.  If it's not, go fix it.  More hurricanes await.

*This is what makes me 'me'.  Unexpected moments of fun and humor that often mask the unhappy dude underneath.  My life hasn't been a bowl of cherries in a lot of ways this past decade, but I always try to see the lighter side, even for a fleeting moment.  I like to make other people laugh and make them smile.  It's why I've been the designated family Santa Claus since I was 16.  It's why even tho I was a crushed squirrel on this night, even tho I felt so alone, I still found the time to get nuts.


That was my pre-Sandy weekend, and this past one was my first real one post-Sandy.  Friday, I turned 38.  I went to Tribeca to see my Elvis Duran and the Morning Show co-workers, to step back into the building and into reality, just for a little while.  It was good to see everyone, to witness an environment dealing with familiar everyday radio problems, even if I was not.  I was blown away by the offers of help from others in that building.  It was good to be away from the house, away from the tattered remains of Staten Island, just for a little while.  Right now everything is still "just for a little while" - the roof over my head, my time, my mood.

At night, my friends and I went out to dinner in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, close by to where I am now a Sandy refugee.  It was the first time I was seeing a lot of them since everything happened and I expected them to feel more awkward than I would.  Amongst my close friends, I'm probably the dude who has had the most 'sad moments', but no matter who's the one sad and suffering, I always try to inject that Dancing Squirrel levity, even at my own expense, to lighten the mood.  My friends are equally good at doing that, and that's why they are my friends.  Busting each others balls is a time-honored tradition that has long bonded males from now til eternity.

I was the only single one amongst us, the only Sandy victim.  I never want anyone to feel bad for me, and it's been so easy for people to do that as of late.  Some things you just can't control.  It was a mellow evening for a bunch of exhausted dudes now in their late 30s.  I think we were just content to see each other, and for once, we didn't have to get torched to appreciate that.  Times like these force us to look at life a bit more soberly even if the wine and the whiskey are never too far away.

R.I.P. West Side Story print, Yes album, the box for my TC-Helicon voice processor.  *Sigh*
Saturday, after another long day of post-Sandy cleanup at the house, I had dinner with my family in Bay Ridge.  They were a half-hour late to come get me, so my father dumped us all at the corner of the pub and searched for parking, a needle-in-a-haystack operation in a gasoline-less Brooklyn town.  It took him over an hour to find a spot, making all of us at the pub tense, and when he finally got inside, I witnessed a level of temperance that I've rarely seen him illustrate.  My parents have always been strong people.  Even as they get older, and the days become more weary, they have always raised their game during tough times, and I will always aspire to the same because of them.  You have to be strong.  This is so hard, you have to be just as hard in order to survive and seize the day once again, or at least give yourself a chance to.

People filtered in over the course of the evening, from all walks of my life, to say hello, share stories and sentiments, to have a cocktail, to tell me secrets, to hug me.  Most people have prefaced their birthday wishes in cards and online sentiments with, "I know this won't the be the happiest of birthdays, but...."  I'm not down with that sentiment.  It's not necessarily the happiest, but being surrounded by my friends and family, together in a loud, lively place in a borough and place I've had a lifetime of memories in?  Under the circumstances, that made for a pretty damn happy birthday, even when I was being emotional, which was often.  Sure, I could have celebrated better - in a hipper place, in a bigger place, with more alcohol in my bloodstream, but this is what I needed considering where my life is right now.

I'll write more about last night - about the people inside that room and what a lot of them mean to me - another time.  A lot of people in that pub merit exclusive praise, not just for their generosity of money or shelter, but for what they give with their heart and their spirit.  I am blessed.


Today was a beautiful day, and even tho I should be spending waking moments itemizing what I've lost and searching for new places to live, today had to be about mending my hangover and clearing my mind.  A friend gave me good advice - just stop and breathe, have those 'smell the roses' moments, clear your head.  That's what I do when I run, what I've been doing for nearly a year now.  So I ran today.

I ran by the house I grew up in on Avenue S in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, then down to the elementary school I attended, back to a day where the answer to "Where's my hair?" was easy.  I realized that for this temporary time that I'm back in this area, I can fairly well run past my entire teenage and young adult life - my junior high school, high school, college.  Places I used to work.  My first apartment, my last apartment.  Relatives' houses, friends' houses, the houses of the girls that I gave my heart to, the houses they lived in when we parted.  I can take the Ronnie Nostalgia running tour and I fully intend to, 5-6 miles at a time.  It will be nice to say one last intentional goodbye to a lot of my history, especially after Sandy forced a lot of my history into the garbage dump.

Where I first realized I liked girls and couldn't do a squat thrust properly.

I find it ironic and poignant that I'm back in Brooklyn at this crazy time in my life, and I know I won't be here for much longer, not as a resident.  But as I was running past old neighborhoods, past the ghosts of movie theaters and restaurants and neighborhoods and a culture I once knew, I couldn't help but feel like a man retreating into the womb.  Because I need to be born again.  This whole experience is making me realize that I will always have a history, that I can still be the Dancing Squirrel, the Bald Freak, the too-deep-for-his-own-good real-life Charlie Brown.  But it has to be me in a different setting, with a different game plan, and different dreams.  Because all of those things were washed away all at the same time.  It's time for a new history.
A big part of me wanted to help others today.  I know what is going on in my borough and it breaks my heart.  This will be such an interesting and heart-wrenching time in this city, in this area.  A few friends and I compared it to 9.11 last night.  Just the feeling of it, not what happened.  We are all mourning our friends and neighbors in some way even if most of them - most of us - are still alive and physically well.  We are mourning our destroyed communities.  This is still a great tragedy.

But I can't help anyone yet, not in the ways I'd want to.  I still have to help myself.  If you don't fix yourself first, you'll never be good to anyone else.  Life in the Post-Sandy Twilight Zone is complicated enough. 

Preggers Paula, Mystery Baby, and Don Ron
Last night, my sister and brother-in-law asked me to be the godfather of their about-to-bust-out baby.  I was, of course, touched and proud.  The baby is due in about a month, the first grandchild of this generation of my family.  I told them they would always remind this baby that it was born during the Year of the Hurricane.  I told them this baby had a great responsibility to shift the mood in our family, to shift the tide, and I have hope that it will.  I get it, I understand why people have children.  It is often a struggle, but there is an inherent joy in it for all involved.  I'm excited to be part of this kid's life, even if this kid wasn't produced from my own loins.

I've had some pretty rotten holiday seasons, and another one looms closer and larger.  It will be very hard for a myriad of reasons, some obvious, some a bit more personal.  But by Christmas, I'll have a place to call my own again, even if "just for a little while."  My piano will be warm and close by, I'll start writing and making music again, I'll start complaining about my commute, it's all around the corner waiting for me.  Perhaps by next Christmas, my house will be a house again.  Perhaps my heart will be whole again.  There is still so much uncertainty.

But I'm certain I'll have a new kid to share my shitty-awesome story with.  I'll get to see this kid bring joy into the lives of the people I love the most, and even to mine too.  This kid will always know its godfather had to train for the Marathon twice just so he could run it once.  This baby will always know its uncle endured great hardships and, with love and help from friends and family, weathered a life-changing storm.

A Dancing Squirrel who survived The Year of the Hurricane.


  1. Ronnie, I stumbled upon your blog and I just wanted to tell you you're in my thoughts.... You are already so strong but you will be even stronger at the end of all this!

    P.S. I watched the Dancing Squirrel video 3 times! It's the funniest thing I saw all day ;-)

    Stay Positive,

  2. Thank you so much, Barbara, for the kind words and the kinder thoughts :)

    Dancing Squirrel