Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son

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After the Storm: Doing It Right 2

It’s frustrating, right now, feeling like there’s so much to be done and I’m so. I’ll-equipped to do it. Occupy Sandy and other groups are doing such good work, such grassroots-y, radically loving good stuff, but here I am at home with a baby, and I can’t very well take him to a work site. If I had money for a babysitter, I’d have money to donate outright; they’re done taking clothes, which is the only thing I have a household surplus of at the moment.

All of this is to say, I was so thrilled with the hippie food coop, whom I have been a little hard on in the past but whom I secretly love, apparently so much so that I afford it/them/us personal pronouns. During my shift today, I had a fascinating conversation with a German, pseudo-macrobiotic woman who always comes late and leaves on time, about how differently she and her husband see the issue of how much say her son should have in choosing his high school. Meanwhile, I took mental notes as a Washington-lobbyist-turned-preschool-teacher demonstrated a series of face-taps meant to treat headaches. And then I bought some of that fascinatingly fibonaccian green cauliflower, romanesco.

I also bought a couple rolls of paper towels I don’t need, some vinegar, and a box of crayons, out of the boxes by the check out, filled with supplies requested by Occupy Sandy, the recovery operation that has grown out of the OWS movement and is doing a huge amount of work to help the areas hit hardest my the hurricane. (NPR ran a great story on them tonight.) Right outside the coop, Occupy had a table set up to receive goods and money. They were cheerful and organized and very gracious in accepting even my meager offerings.

“Everyone wants to feel they are helping,” said the woman behind me in the checkout line, who has herself been going to the Rockaways. It’s true, we do.


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After The Storm: Doing It Right

Saw these signs today on all entrances of the main campus building of the community college where I teach, which flooded, lost power, and all the rest during the storm.


The picture is a bit blurry, but the sign reads:

No heat or hot water in all of Lower Manhattan.
But with you here we have all the energy we need.
Welcome back!
Love, BMCC family

Class act, y’all.


Ballots and Biscuits

Happy Election Day, oh my (American) internets! At least, I hope it will end happily.

Sugar and I went to the polls this afternoon, in company of a NOT AT ALL SLEEPY Bean, who went on nap strike today. After I gave up on the whole business, I got ready to go vote, but when I asked the Bean, who generally lives for trips outside and starts pestering us with cries of “shoes? Walk? WALK?” long before the sun is up, if he wanted to go vote, he said, “no.”

“Bean. Listen. Romney wants to fire Elmo.”
“Elmo?? VOTE!!”

And just like that, the fire of democracy was kindled in the bosom of a new generation. Lucky for us the Elmo candidate is also the candidate who thinks we have the right to be a family. Could be a tough dinner table conversation if it were otherwise.

Luckily, our polling place is a school with a playground. Luckily still, I GUESS, the table for our district had separate lines by last name, and Sugar’s line was very short, so she and the Bean could go play while I stood in the endless first-half-of-alphabet line for another hour or so. Not that I’m bitter. No, no, I’m proud to be part of the half of the alphabet that gives a damn about this country, unlike certain second-halfers I could name.

As usual, our polling place had no stickers. C’mon, people! Adults don’t get that many sticker opportunities, you know? Give a little.

Someone at Comedy Central knows how I feel, anyway. They provided one, free, on the cover of one of the free newspapers people thrust at you as you leave the subway stations in the mornings. So the Bean, who voted early and often, with us and with his babysitter/favorite person/Facilitator of Walkies earlier in the day, gets his Baby’s First Major Election picture with sticker after all.

Stars and Stripes, Sans Culottes

He never did take a nap, but thank the Lord, he is now asleep. Sugar is faintly tolerating my mainlining of election returns and carb loading. To that end, I have tinkered yet again with the sweet potato biscuit recipe I’ve been dallying with, and I now feel so deeply satisfied that I will show my work. This is a tinkered version of this, from Chowhound. I apologize for the weird measurements, but that is partly where the tinkering has come in.

Sweet Potato Biscuits You Will Like

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1.5 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3/8 teaspoon baking soda (1/4 t plus half of that spoon again)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup baked (boiled, whatever) mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium potato; freeze extra if you have it, for next time)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, FROZEN
Heavy cream for brushing the tops (Used half and half tonight; was just as good)

Okay, remember before you start that the key to biscuits is a light hand. This isn’t bread; don’t take you emotions out on it. Handle it as little as possible, lest you awaken the demon gluten and end up with hockey pucks. To that end, lay out your ingredients, your implements (spoon, basting brush, biscuit cutter/glass, cookie sheet and optional parchment paper) ahead of time.

Preheat oven to 400.

1. Combine dry ingredients. Whisk it around with a fork. Don’t bother sifting.
2. Combine sweet potato and buttermilk. If you’re a little short of sweet potato, use more buttermilk so that you still have 1 3/4 cups wet stuff.
3. Do this brilliant thing Starrhillgirl taught me: Grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients. Stir it around so that it’s reasonably evenly distributed.
4. Add wet ingredients. Stir just enough to combine everything. Don’t get crazy.
5. Plop the dough down on a lightly floured surface. Use your hands to gently press it into a mat about 1 inch tall.
6. Cut out your biscuits. If you don’t have a cutter you like — I use a 2-inch one — use a juice glass.
7. Use your hands to form the leftover dough into appropriately sized biscuits. Don’t make it into a new sheet; this way involves less handling of the dough. Trust me.
8. Place biscuits on a lightly greased cookie sheet or parchment paper. Or a Silpat. Brush their tops with cream or what have you.
9. Bake for roughly 15 minutes.
10. Eat. These are nice with pork and onions and just as good with eggs. They are positively divine with the damson preserves I brought home from Starrhillgirl’s.


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After the Storm: Back to Work and Staten Island

I never thought I’d say this, but God bless the MTA.  I can’t believe how much of the system is already back and running, especially when you check out the pictures on their flickr stream.  I was able to take my normal methods to the Staten Island campus today, which was a relief.

In the pre-dawn (though not as pre- as last time I made the trip, before the time change), the blocks of Lower Manhattan I walked through to get to the ferry could have almost passed for normal.  The buildings were darker than usual, and a few had portable heaters parked outside, large tubes snaking into their lobbies.  A number of businesses that usually have their lights on at that hour were dark, but that only seems strange at six a.m. if you have seen them open on other days.  The cheerful newsstand man was there, his counter lit by a battery-powered clip lamp.

The ferry terminal itself had its overhead lights on, but not its electronic billboards and clocks.  The delis were shuttered, and the escalators dead and barred off.  I thought at first that was an effort to conserve scarce power, until I noticed that the panels at their feet had been removed, revealing square enclosures of trapped water.

On the water, the strangest sight was also subtle: the Statue of Liberty gone dark.

The bus I take to campus goes along high ground, so I saw little damage beyond a tree down here or there, a storefront boarded up with plywood, messages encouraging Sandy to go away painted over last year’s un-welcome for Irene.  Gas lines.  An NYPD van pulled up beside us to ask directions.

My students were mostly there.  They’d lost power or had cars drown in salt water just after insurance expired.  One announced he’d lost his job as a bar back on Coney Island but had put in 27 hours hauling muck out of the place.  Maybe they will reopen after all and he’ll have a job again.

I heard people all over the island talking over the storm.  A pair of teenage boys on the bus going over the details, one explaining to the other that the gas shortages were not a conspiracy, that ships couldn’t land and trucks couldn’t transfer the gas.  The other had assumed there would be more than enough already at the stations, an assumption of safety and plenty that is easy to make in this town.

What struck me today was how out of their way people were going not to complain.  “Oh, I lost power, but only for 24 hours; no big deal.”  “We got power back after five days!  So lucky!”  Of course, worse fates are staring them right in the face, but even so, I admire them.

When I returned to Manhattan in the afternoon, it was no longer possible to ignore the change.  The streets were growling and clanking with generators and pump trucks and more heaters.  Tubes and wires ran everywhere like new spiderweb.  It was obvious, and that hour, that the drug store and the post office and the cafe should have been open, that the streets should be crowded with tourists and brokers, not men in reflective vests and hardhats.  Peering in the window of my usual coffee shop, I could see a knee-high watermark circling the walls.

There still were tourists, of course, and also people like me, going about our usual ways, picking the shallowest possible paths across  wide puddles.  In the plaza by the ferry terminal, a crowd gathered to watch a group of breakdancers spin and flip and start and stop, their orange camouflage pants reassuringly crisp and bright in the cold sun.

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After the Storm: Sunday Best

Well, y’all, my WordPress app ate the post I was writing, I have to be up at five to teach tomorrow, and I have a pile of grading (I know, I KNOW) and a cold. Maybe the post will be even better tomorrow.

But in the spirit of this every day business, may I present to you the best people I’ve read about today, Runners In Support of Staten Island. These are marathon runners who, rather than wallow in their disappointment at the race’s cancellation — which is disappointing, however much it is also the right decision — rode out to Staten Island with backpacks of relief supplies and ran their way to find people to help.

Good work, y’all. You done real good.

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Bookish: The Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night

Hi, internets. Sugar wants to go to bed awfully soon, because for some reason she isn’t excited by the prospect of the time change meaning Graham will want to get up for the day at 3:30. De gustibus non disputandum, amirite?

This storm business…it’s so strange. Here we are, high and dry, living pretty close to our regular lives, and yet I feel so upset and stressed out so much of the time. It feels ridiculous and self-indulgent to say that while we are FINE and others are so very not fine, but it seems nevertheless to be the case. Partly, I suppose, it is the sense of vulnerability, partly the isolation I have mentioned before. It’s unsettling, and it’s easy to get sucked into doing nothing but mainlining news reports.

This afternoon, in the interest of maintaining sanity and all that, we took the Bean out for a walk in the Botanic Garden and the small zoo in Prospect Park. The damage at the garden was real but not horrifying, and the zoo was pleasantly normal. The Bean pointed out the geese, studied the red pandas at length, and seemed rather taken aback at the size of the goats, after requesting to see them. He’s been talking about goats (or “gooots”) a lot these days, but off the page, they are uncanny creatures, what with their horizontal pupils and all.

We also visited the monkeys and a pair of small African owls. I love to hear the Bean say “owl.” He gives both syllables a solemn weight, OW-WUL, which seems to suit their regal bearing, the way their eyes inspire true awe, the paralyzing kind, such that looking at them, we remember for a moment how it feels to be prey.

At bedtime, we read parts of Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen’s The Dark Emperor and Other Poems of Night, a magnificent book of poems and gouache’d linoleum prints of the natural world at night. I’m linking here to the Google Books page, so that you can get some sense of the illustrations. They are even more lush and intriguing than they appear on screen.

The Dark Emperor is an owl, and the poem devoted to him, a hymn of almost religious terror in the voice of a mouse, who begs the owl overlook its teacup of a heart. (Is that the line? I’ll have to check tomorrow; the book is with the sleeping Bean.  ETA: It’s “tiny hiccup of a heart.”  That makes more sense, but I liked my invented metaphor, the mouse’s heart delicate as china, shaking, threatening to spill the tea.) It is one of my favorites, a rare shape-poem that is such a good poem on its other merits that I only tonight noticed the words forming themselves into the omnipresent shadow of the owl.

My favorite poem in the book belongs to an orb-weaving spider, who delivers methodical, liberating life advice. I didn’t realize until searching for it online tonight that it feels so familiar because I read it first on Unwellness. That Briar knows what she’s about, I’ll tell you. Rather than copy and paste it here, I’ll direct you to it on her page, so that you may discover both a deeply satisfying poem and a great blog, in one click.



After the Storm

Good evening, Internets. We at Casa Bionic have spent another day mostly at home today, and may well do so again tomorrow. Sugar had planned to bike to her job today, but she seems to have a — say it with me now — migraine. It’s kind of like our family signature, this week at least.

I have two jobs, teaching at colleges in Lower Manhattan and Staten Island. The school in Staten Island will resume classes tomorrow; I teach there next on Monday. The Manhattan school is, well, in Lower Manhattan. It is in the evacuation zone, flooded, and currently has no power. All aspects of its Internet service, including campus emails, went dead in advance of the storm, when they realized how likely the servers were to get wet. No word yet on when they will be open for business again, but maybe they will be by the time of my next class, on Tuesday.

Just tonight I read that the MTA may be able to reopen the tunnel that the 4 train takes under the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan once Lower Manhattan has power again. This is good and, to me, at least, surprising news. The tunnels are massive, and all six connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn flooded. (The lines that cross on the bridges have also been suspended, either because of more flooding or because of power outages.) The tunnels were full to the brim; water, after all, is notorious for finding its level. If you haven’t seen this video of the flooding at South Ferry/Whitehall, the station on the 1 and R lines that meets the Staten Island Ferry (and is therefore close to the waterfront), take the time. If you haven’t been in a subway station ever or for a while, note that the level you are seeing is well above the level where the trains run; ordinarily, you would walk down those stairs whose railing is barely visible to get to the platform. The water is deep.

If power comes back and the tunnel reopens, I will have a simple way to work on Tuesday. If the repairs to the terminals of the Staten Island Ferry happen as quickly as is now expected, I will be able to take almost my usual route to work on Monday. Part of me can’t believe there’s even a chance I’d get this lucky.

Last night, when none of this seemed possible at all, I had a transit-related meltdown. The best plan I could come up with for the Staten Island job — and it took some time to find even this possibility — was a series of subway rides to the far end of Brooklyn, followed by a bus that runs from there across the Verrazano Bridge and then to the heart of the island and my job. No one has made any promises about the buses running on schedule, traffic is ghastly, and everything is running far above its normal capacity. Gas shortages are severe, so presumably even more people will be forced onto public transit in the coming days. Getting to work by eight, which under normal circumstances means leaving the house at five-thirty, seemed unlikely.

The best plan I could come up with for the Manhattan job was biking in. I could take the subway one stop and take a shuttle bus across the bridge, but the wait for those today was hours long. I could try out the water taxi, but it gets expensive in the long term, which is what I thought last night we were talking about. Biking, on the other hand, makes perfect sense in many ways: there are marked (but not separated) bike paths most of the way from here to the Brooklyn Bridge, and my building isn’t far from the Manhattan side of the bridge. Plenty of people in my position would prefer to bike there than ever take the subway.

My bike needs a tune up and I need a new lock and helmet, but the real problem with biking to work is that the thought of riding on the street here terrifies me. I’ve never been very comfortable riding around cars, and seeing a fresh ghost bike the night we moved into our neighborhood left a lasting chill. Fear is the real problem with taking a bus to Staten Island, too, though I occasionally do so anyway. Driving over the bridge, which, if you haven’t been on it, it unusually high, makes me dizzy with fear; the prospect of being stuck in traffic up there gives me the howling fantods.

Longtime readers may note that a lot of things scare me, especially things involving physical risk, even if the odds of serious injury are very, very low. I don’t know why I am made this way, but I am. I had this theory that because I had been so very frightened of labor for so much of my life, that if I actually did it, I would have that sense of invincibility that people report after sky diving and the like. I thought it might change my character in some fundamental way, as people often say “facing your fears” will. It hasn’t.

So last night, faced with the prospect of an already difficult semester becoming both harder and more frightening, I lost it a little, or I lost a little of it, or whatever becomes of that metaphor when you aren’t full-on wailing but tears and maybe some shaking are involved.

However, when I get to school on Monday, I suspect my students will remind me to put my commuting frustrations and anxieties into a more rational perspective. See, they mostly live on Staten Island. And right now, Staten Island looks like this.

Even in New York City, we aren’t getting much news of Staten Island. Half of the city’s deaths in the storm were there, as you might expect from geography, and I suspect the damage was greatest there, too. But reporters are more likely to live and work in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and to be fair, it has been very difficult to get around. (They don’t call it the Forgotten Borough for nothing, though, and I don’t blame Staten Islanders for being outraged that the mayor has not canceled the marathon for Sunday, a great New York institution that effectively skips them: the race is proud of tracing a course through all five boroughs, but the only part in Staten Island is the first few steps, onto the Verrazano and out of there.)

The apparent disconnect between Staten Island and the press (and the mayor) is symptomatic of part of what makes this whole thing surreal and, I think, part of what was secretly fueling yesterday’s meltdown: the city is just so big and so difficult to get around right now. For people like me, living in those “heights” neighborhoods out of the reach of sea water, it is hard to comprehend what has happened so close to us. Sure, the wind scared us on Monday night, but a walk around the neighborhood now is not scary. Some trees are down; the street is closed a few blocks away while a piece of roof dangles from a beautiful and dilapidated church tower, that could be easily fix with the help of The Roof Clinic company. We didn’t get much rain in the storm, so there aren’t even many puddles. Most of us never lost power or got it back quickly.

The closing of the transit system means we’re stuck here, but that’s how many of us spend our time off from work anyway. People at the food coop shift I worked on yesterday were swapping stories of how they got there, and someone was surprised that I had walked, but in fact I always walk: the bus line I sometimes took was canceled years ago, and I can’t take a car service without juggling a car seat. Things don’t seem that different, which makes it hard to wrap my mind around the idea that the baby clothes I walked a few habitual miles to drop off this afternoon will go not to abstractly distant people in need, but people whose houses are, as the smoke flies, close enough to mine that I smelled them burning.