4:39 pm in Uncategorized by RFShunt
What you first notice, because they are everywhere, are the mounds of people’s things lining every curb. They stack up head-high, spilling out into the road, some of them still oozing water after three weeks. You park your car, careful not to scratch the side on all the debris, open the door and get hit with the sound of motors – chain saws, generators, drills, pumps. Everybody is hacking and cutting away at the accumulation of their lives, and dragging the now worthless pieces out to the street.
Toni and Gerry greet us at the door. They are both our first cleanup assignment and our hosts. Gerry is in his late eighties, a retired professor of French and Italian. Toni is more than a decade his junior.
It’s been a long car ride from Pittsburgh and Gerry and Toni want to show us where we’ll be sleeping and feed us. On the way in, we pass a computer-printed quote taped to the porch door: “Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” — Che Guevara.
This is our first clue that Toni and Gerry are not your average retired couple. Over the course of the weekend, revealed bit by bit, we will learn much more about them.
Toni and Gerry feed us fruit and tea and introduce us to the three dogs and five cats that Toni has rescued from the shelters around New Jersey. Gerry has the grumble and faux scowl of a man who plays at being a curmudgeon. This falls apart when he talks about Toni’s cats and dogs – praising their fine looks and sweet dispositions. The dogs and two of the cats can’t get enough of Toni and Gerry. They know “great feelings of love” when they see it. We as new visitors get the spill over, especially Laney to whom animals are instantly drawn.
While we eat, David from Morristown and Kat, an Occupy Sandy organizer, arrive. Kat has an SUV full of tools and cleaning supplies and in her no-nonsense way unloads them and checks out the house. David is anxious to get to work. David is a mensch. The sooner we get going, he says, the sooner he can help other people. We change into work clothes and get busy. The basement is a jumble — upended shelves have scattered their contents on the floor to wallow in black, gritty mud. Everything smells of seawater and sewer and mold. The high-water mark staining the foundation wall is inches from the ceiling. The sodden items are heavy and it takes us the rest of the day to carry them out to the curb, adding to the giant abstract sculpture of destruction that the Asbury curbs have become.
When the sun is low, we call it a day, and I dial up Dawn, our contact with Occupy Sandy. She is the one who arranged our work schedule and accommodations. Dawn is a born organizer, marshaling and distributing hundreds of volunteers and donations from her cel phone. She’s an interior designer from the Bronx who dropped everything and is putting in twenty hours a day ferociously attacking the disorder of post-Sandy New Jersey. Each time I’ve spoken to her, her voice has gotten progressively raspier. I tell her how far we’ve gotten and she decides to send out a plumber to see why Toni and Gerry’s furnace won’t light. She also thinks she can get more people out to help with cleanup.
Dawn tells me a little about Gerry, our host. He’s an ex-marine and a saxophone player. I should talk to him, he’s interesting, she suggests. Before I hang up, I tell her to take some care of herself — her voice does not sound good.
“Yeah, yeah” she says.
We sit down to dinner, and Toni is excited to learn that Laney and Don are occupiers. She recounts her visits to Zuccotti Park – lighting up as she tells us about the time Naomi Klein showed up and she got to be part of the human mic amplifying her words. She talks to us about her work with stray animals, calling each one over and describing how this one or that one escaped being put down in the nick of time. Gerry beams at her when she talks, but isn’t saying much himself.
I decide to open him up a little. “I hear you’re an ex-marine, and a reed man,” I say.
“I suppose I should tell you about myself,“ he says reluctantly.
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