A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

If local news media is looking for someone to terrify, I’m their number one gal. I bought into the hurricane frenzy hook, line and where *$%? are all the *$%?ing flashlights in this city?

I tried to prepare as best as I could. On Thursday night, when it suddenly dawned on me that we could, indeed, have a real live hurricane and not just an over-hyped, make-believe media blitzkrieg hurricane, I went into panic/survival mode. I immediately began cobbling together a Fresh Direct order that I believed would cover all of our bases should we experience the worst of the storm, including batteries, pasta, bottled water, cut mango, French cheese and many bottles of wine. Because, you know, in a blackout, nothing makes more sense than having a fridge full of stinky cheese and fresh fruit. But I can’t account for my state of mind. At the time, I thought: we could be stuck in here for days! We need to be fully-stocked and self-sufficient.

Anyway, it was all for naught as Fresh Direct was forced to cancel deliveries after 10:00 a.m. due to the fact that the MTA shut down at noon on Saturday and their employees do not, unfortunately, sleep on-site. So instead, we were forced to put on our battle helmets and brave the first wave of the storm: preparedness shopping on the Upper West Side. I won’t sugarcoat it—it got ugly. Elbows were flying, shelves were emptied, people were psychotically and indiscriminately stockpiling everything from pretzels to toilet paper to gummy vitamins to canned clams. I saw two elderly people beat each other to death over the last remaining package of ramen noodles! Scout’s honor! Okay I’m lying. But it could have happened at someone else’s supermarket. I mean, people went pretty crazy.

I can’t blame them. Since when do we get hurricanes? This was a total unknown for most of the population here. I mean, earthquakes, sure. That’s old hat. But a hurricane? Part of what I’ve always loved about living in New York is the general liberation from fear of major natural disasters. Apparently, we can cross that off the brochure now.

We spent Saturday morning exhausting the dog and cleaning the apartment from top to bottom in anticipation of 36 hours spent trapped indoors. With each passing hour of weather reporting, my anxiety mounted. I began drinking, because why not? It seemed to be the unanimous priority around the city, right after evacuating and sandbagging.

By Saturday evening, my nerves had reached their highest pitch and we’d been out to Duane Reade no fewer than five times for various survival sundries. Do we have enough pretzels? I’ll be out of contact lens solution in four days! Maybe we need another pack of batteries. During one trip, as Matt was perusing the remaining beer selection in a zombie-like state, I found myself standing in the refrigerated section deeply contemplating a tub of spinach and artichoke cream cheese. The woman next to me was doing the same to a bar of cheddar.

“I’m just buying things now,” I said, waving the tub in the air, to no one in particular. She agreed and started cracking up, and both of us felt a little relieved to admit and share in our mutual silliness in the face of unknown danger.

“I’m going to just go home and just start eating through all of this!” she said.

“I know!” I laughed. “Everyone is going to emerge from Irene plus fifteen pounds.”

We shook our heads and parted ways.

The cream cheese was pretty delicious.

When we woke up on Sunday morning, it was clear the “hurricane” hadn’t exactly gone as planned. No longer afraid, I turned on the dreaded Irene coverage again to get a sense of damage in other parts of the region. And listening to the anchor in the sober light of post-Irene was almost too much for me.

Emmy-hungry anchorwoman: Tad, we’re still in grave danger, aren’t we?
Soaked, exhausted reporter: No, Alex, actually the danger seems to be mostly behind us, though of course it’s safest for people to stay indoors until the storm has completely passed.
Emmy-hungry anchorwoman: But flooding from this hurricane is still a very serious concern.
Poor, exhausted reporter: Well there could be more, but soon the winds will start to blow the water away from the city. Also, we’ve been downgraded to a Tropical Storm.
Emmy-hungry anchorwoman: Really? Is it really a tropical storm? Didn’t we tough out a hurricane? And isn’t it still posing a grave, grave danger to our city?
Poor, exhausted reporter: No, really, it was a Tropical Storm. I think–
Emmy-hungry anchorwoman: Tropical or hurricane, it’s important to realize that the danger is equivalent. Let’s cut to a scene in New Jersey, where there’s a rainbow! See, folks? This is proof that Irene will eventually barrel through our area, it will be over soon, and we will all live to see another day.
<cuts to a rainbow over a shopping center, followed immediately by terrifying music played over scenes of brutal flooding and winds from hours earlier>

I am truly relieved that we avoided real devastation, and I feel for the people now dealing with flooding and power outages. And let me just say for the record that I appreciate the overly cautious stance the city took. Perhaps it was overkill. But with an unpredictable storm, there is no in-between stance, and it is lucky that we weren’t much worse off.

But after all that build-up and nervousness and preparation and expectation and fear, I’m feeling a little deflated.

And stupid.

Also, I’m now forced to face the newly discovered fact of my undeniable hoarding instincts, the evidence of which is glaring at me in my kitchen. But I made a commitment, and I am a person who follows through. And hurricane or no hurricane, that twenty gallons of bottled water and rack full of “emergency” wine isn’t going to drink itself.

There is still work to be done.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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