Sunday, August 28, 2011

Goodnight, Irene! (2nd of 2 Posts)

Sometimes, our Idiosyncratic reveries are interrupted and real life intervenes. Case in point: Hurricane Irene. We're diverging momentarily from our style/fashion mode to offer a couple of Jean's pre-storm vignettes following Valerie's style-centric posting.

Jean says: As I wrote this posting, Hurricane Irene was barreling up the east coast with dire predictions of destruction and property damage, scarin the bejeezus out of 25% of the U.S. population. Diverging priorities, the historic mass shut down of the entire New York City transit system, and oh yes, the threat of driving rain and high winds converged and conspired to prevent/postpone our usual joint Fashionista weekend outing. Here's a glimpse of how I spent the first part of the weekend before the 80 mph winds descended on the Big Apple.

Late Friday afternoon, I received a phone call asking for help trapping kittens on Roosevelt Island next to the East River. Locals who had been feeding the cats (colonies of strays, ferals and pets dumped by their owners) were extremely concerned about the kittens' ability to withstand the storm. How could I possibly refuse? Visions if Lillian Gish recast in a feline version of "Orphans of the Store" played in my head. After I got home from work, I checked the city's mass transit website to confirm the best route, grabbed my trusty traps, and headed to the nearest subway stop. The news media had already started the constant drum beat of impending doom and devastation, so I was trying to keep my adrenalin rush "within normal limits".

Here's a shot of the two traps, my backpack (filled with bowls, cat food, twine, catnip, flashlight, and beach towels - to cover the cats once trapped, to keep them calmer), and my Kidder windsurfing gloves. The neoprene gloves have padded palms, providing needed cushioning for carrying the heavy traps by the metal handles. I don't know if it was the combination of the earthquake earlier in the week followed by the risk of an impending hurricane, but the mood on the streets and in the subways was unusually edgy. I came up with a novel response to the inevitable questions from other subway riders: "Hey, lady, whaddya gonna catch? Raccoons?" Rather than my usual rejoinder ("Nope. Cats."), I cheerfully responded "Lobsters". It worked temporarily. The curious and inebriated tended to leave me alone.

The high humidity coupled with the fact that the traps are heavy and unwieldy made it a real schlep. I was quite happy that the trains were much less crowded leaving Manhattan. Unfortunately, that didn't prevent a rather large young woman from attempting to sit on my stacked cages. She gave me a truck load of attitude when I politely asked her not to and stood up and offered her my seat instead. She apparently preferred to stand her ground and put her face in my face so to speak. Discretion being the better part of valor, I kept my big mouth shut and resigned myself to counting down the stops til I could exit. Mercifully, a huge hip-hop guy with big sneakers, even bigger gold chains and many tattoos immediately came over and insinuated himself directly between us facing me, giving me much needed mental and physical insulation. His big smile and wink salvaged the situation.

Factoid: The Roosevelt Island subway stop is the deepest in the city transit system -- more than 100 feet below the street level. I was eternally grateful that the series of long escalators needed to bring me to the surface were all working that evening. When I emerged from the subway station, I was treated to a welcome breeze from the East River and a great night time view of the city skyline.

Melinda, the woman who'd contacted me, met me and walked me to where she regularly fed the mother cat and her kittens. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted numerous cats in the shadows, scurrying across the street or peering out from the bushes.

My camera caught the eerie glow of one cat's eyes! The environs are home to scores of homeless cats.

After setting my trap with some yummy, smelly tuna and fish, the mother cat and one of the kittens finally emerged from the bushes about twenty-five yards away. Meanwhile, every other cat in town came out of the woodwork and tried to enter the trap. (Of course, if I'd been trying to catch them, none of them would have come within 200 feet of a trap!) Because Melinda was familiar to them, she stayed to shoo away the interlopers. I backed off, to let the mother and kitten work up their courage. Rounding a corner a short walk away, I met a nice young man named Alex who was feeding a number of cats on the other side of the island facing the iconic Pepsi Cola sign.

The sign, which faces Roosevelt Island from Long Island City, is a city landmark. I always love how the neon reflects on the water.

Patience paid off. The kitten took the bait and the door safely snapped shut, trapping her inside. She was amazingly calm and very sweet. The mother cat checked her out in the cage and said goodbye before taking off for parts unknown (probably to the other kittens, none of whom made an appearance that night). I dubbed the captured kitten "Eleanor Roosevelt". If it turns out to be male, he'll go by the catchy moniker "Roosevelt".

Trapped cats, especially ferals, can become agitated when caged. Covering the cage with a sheet or towel tends to calm them down (like blinders on horses or cage covers for parrots).

I was extremely glad to see that the kitten was older, close to four months, and good sized, giving me hope that the other kittens and their mother would be able to survive the storm. Debi Romano, president of SaveKitty Foundation, gave me and Eleanor Roosevelt a lift back into Manhattan. She dropped us off on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where I delivered E.R. to a good samaritan willing to take in the orphaned kitten. I grabbed my traps, walked to the subway and headed home. After my five hour adventure, I was exhausted and slept like a baby. Check out Debi's website:

Bright and early on Saturday morning, I donned appropriate hurricane garb to help my friend Jodi batten down her hatches. Words for the day are: waterproof and comfortable. The near 100% humidity makes the air feel like soup. Gear: Mountain Hard Wear hooded, rainproof jacket keeps the water out while it's raining but can get hot as heck while working. Indian cotton pasha pants, t-shirt and Ariat rubber boots complete the outfit.

The good news is that my friend Jodi has a duplex apartment with a garden. The bad news is that Jodi has a duplex apartment with a garden. All hanging plants and wind chimes in the backyard had to be removed and lawn furniture stowed. The biggest problem? Securing the stairwell to her basement. Since there is no drain at the foot of the outdoor stairway to the door to her apartment, the chance of flooding is extremely high. And since are among the most mechanically-challenged individuals you'll ever meet, this was truly going to be interesting. With a high risk situation like this, there isn't a lot of room for error.

I had been mulling this over while I was riding the subway the previous evening. My original plan was to duct-tape two shower curtains together and somehow tape them to the wall next to the stairwell and drape them over the railing. Theoretically, the water would run downhill and over the edge of the railing away from the cement stairwell. Obviously, the original concept had some serious operational flaws, not the least of which was the unlikelihood of duct tape being strong enough to hold water-sogged, heavy shower curtains in heavy rain and strong (80 mph) winds.

The solution? Using a big waterproof car tarp (detritus from Jodi's ex), we used cable ties to secure the tarp high up on the wrought iron window guards (diverting the water down and away from the stairs). Luckily, the tarp had strong metal grommets at about 24" intervals that we used to secure it to the metal bars. We draped the remainder of the tarp over the wrought iron railing and lashed it down with additional ties.

One fly in the ointment: the tarp wasn't long enough to cover the entire stairwell and reach the ground over the railings. My fear was that if rain blew sideways, it could blow into the gap and drop down the stairs. The Weather Channel forecast calls for 8" to 10" of rainfall, so this is within the realm of possibility. Eureka. We filled in the gap between the railing and the ground by securing a heavy garbage bag under the overhanging tarp. At the most opportune moment, the superintendent arrived with four really heavy bags of rocks and sand. We used two to secure the trash bags and spread the others across the bottom of the tarp (along with cinder blocks and heavy metal lawn furniture. Here's a shot of the gap-fill masterpiece near completion.

Mission accomplished! Here I am, home again, safe and sound after completing the job at Jodi's. Now the waiting begins. Originally forecast to hit between midnight and 3 AM Sunday morning, the eye of the storm's timeframe was moved to 8 AM to noon on Sunday. The later it hits, the later the clean up and the impact on Monday morning's commute. Sigh!

Keep your fingers crossed, kiddies. Stay tuned to find out how it all turns out and if the tarp holds. Like they used to say: "...God willin' and if the river don't rise..."

Post Script Sunday at noon: Large parts of NYC, especially the East Village, dodged the brunt of the hurricane's path. We got tons of rain, but for the most part in our area, it fell straight down, not sideways. The good news is that Jodi's tarp stayed firmly in place, preventing stairwell flooding! Occasionally, because the middle filled with water, she had to bale out the excess water, but it worked like a charm! Halelluia. I am quite hopeful that the kittens on Roosevelt Island rode out the storm with mom and the rest of the colony.

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