Day 146 of self-isolation (and Day 7 of being displaced).
So a funny thing happened earlier this week: a piece of facade fell from the front of my building. Earlier, contractors started construction on the abandoned building next door. I think they’re renovating the ground-floor church into a residence and adding a penthouse condo to the roof. At first, I was worried they’d tear down the entire building, which includes the wall in my backyard; essentially my garden and my yard would be unusable for god-knows-how-fucking-long. I mean, who wants their basil with a touch of possible asbestos or grill next to a pile of masonry rubble? Anyway, the early morning drilling and hammering would constantly wake me up, and I could feel the vibrations shaking my bed. Truly, there was no need for an alarm clock when you hear the drumming of a jackhammer and your floor is vibrating.
According to the NYC Department of Buildings, they concluded that the piece of facade that fell was due to the construction next door and my building being old as hell.
As I’m about to walk Dusty, I see a bunch of firetrucks on my street and blocking traffic. Firemen and police officers, masked because of the pandemic, said they might have to evacuate the building. Across the street, I see all my neighbors wondering what the hell is going on. A police officer walks up to me, says to contact Red Cross, and gather whatever you can because our building might be condemned by the city.
Awesome, right? In the middle of a pandemic, just when I started working full-time again, and I just adopted a dog literally the previous day.
I call and text my landlord, tell my parents and friends, and exchange my number with a bunch of my neighbors. It’s funny how — despite living in my building for almost 4 years — I’ve never really interacted with my neighbors, and it’s remarkable how a minor disaster could bring us all together. I even get interviewed by a CBS cameraman; I didn’t see him attached to any reporter, but he had his camera and a press badge, and I’m certain this wasn’t a big enough news story to get on air.
I wait at my friend Mark’s apartment and take a few work-related Zoom meetings, with just Dusty, a water dish, and a few dog treats. I figured, since this was just the facade, we’d return to our building and all will be good. Nope. I get a call from my landlord saying you have a 15-minute window to get some clothes and any important things before the Department of Buildings comes and restricts anyone to enter the building. As a precaution, they need to inspect the structural integrity of the building. Power is off, water is shut down, gas is stopped.
I return with Dusty back to my apartment building, and I see several of my neighbors exiting with suitcases. They say the Red Cross offered them to stay in a motel in Sunset Park (coincidentally, the latest COVID hotspot in NYC), but I was lucky to get in touch with my friend Vi. She said I can stay at the vacant apartment of her friend, Tien, who’s currently in Los Angeles. The apartment was nearby — just a few blocks from my current and apparently condemned apartment — and was fully furnished. I was so thankful for that, especially since my neighbors said the hotel was fucking filthy and next to a rehab center. One of my neighbors is a photographer/cinematographer and went on the roof of the hotel to take photos of the NYC skyline; he was chased back inside by someone on the rehab center’s roof because the guy thought he was taking photos of him.
Anyway, wearing a hardhat given to me by a police officer, I pack some clothes, my laptop, Dusty’s dog food and bed, and toys. Knowing that the power is out, I took some food out of my fridge and freezer. I stuffed them all in a rolling suitcase and hurriedly walked to Vi’s apartment to get access to Tien’s. With a suitcase, a duffle bag, and a dog on a leash, I looked like drifter.
In the midst of the chaos, I somehow drop my cellphone within a block of my apartment; it was a matter of minutes when I realize my phone is no longer in my hand or pocket — thank god I constantly play Pokemon Go, even during an emergency. I search the street and retrace my steps, and my phone is nowhere to be seen. I ask people along the street if they’ve seen an iPhone or if they can call my number, but it just keeps on ringing till it goes to voicemail.
This was perhaps the most stressful and I’m-About-To-Breakdown moment thus far. Like this is hell. I accepted my fate, and journeyed to Vi’s apartment.
I tell her and her husband Brett that I also just lost my phone, and I unpack my laptop to use the Find My iPhone app (Dusty decides to use the open suitcase as a bed). Through the app, my phone keeps ringing and alerting whoever has it, and on the map I see the phone start moving around Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. Vi concurrently keeps calling it until someone actually picks up. Apparently a cab driver found it after he was done praying at the nearby mosque and was willing to return it. Vi arranges the driver to come near her apartment, and I rush to an ATM to give him a $50 reward. When I get my phone back, a sense of relief comes over me, and I’m so happy that there are good New Yorkers out there.
The apartment I’m staying at is definitely much nicer than mine, or at least cleaner and less cluttered (I admit, I like gathering supplies and equipment for videos, cooking, and design work). There was no TV, so I relied on Twitter to get the news, and I somehow returned to binging podcasts, Netflix, and now HBO Max (The Doom Patrol and Indian Matchmaker are great shows). All my cooking stuff was at my apartment, so I sustained myself with a lot of takeout. I also learned that Dusty — who’s getting used to the city — only likes to poop on Citibike docking racks. Work is a little difficult, considering my laptop isn’t as powerful as my iMac, and a lot of my work files are stored there.
Three days pass since the facade fell, and my landlord was able to get a protective netting, the scaffolding up, and get everything fixed. The power gets turned back on this third day (like a biblical reference), but the water and gas are still off — this means my aquarium’s filter will run and my freezer food will probably be okay, but everything in my fridge has to get thrown out, and I have to buy water for my plants and fish. Also, with the modem powered, I’m able to send work files to myself. The other tenants and I are merely waiting for the NYC Department of Buildings inspector to come and give the okay to come back into the building. Mind you, the landlord fixed everything, and I’m writing this 4 days after the fact. Again, I’m relying on the steadfastness and mercy of New York City officials to return home.
If it’s anything with the unemployment fiasco, I’m not holding my breath.