It’s been raining in New York lately. Jurassic Park rain. Backstreet Boys video rain. Small rivers flow down Broadway picking up what has not yet attached itself to the New York asphalt. The rain creates canyons in Soho and reservoirs in Gowanus. Sheets of water you can barely see through. The storms come from the east and slice through the butter-thick humidity, ruining the leather bags of anyone caught in its terror.
Yesterday I went to the café to do some work. On the way there, the rain came again, and I ducked under a deli awning that was covering several Haitian women and their children. Soon, I grew bored of waiting for the storm to pass and went into the rain. None of the women stopped me. They knew I was stronger than the water. Stronger unless I was drinking it. I bowed my head to keep my eyes from being pecked out by those rude souls that carry umbrellas in a metropolis storm, sprinted down the street and entered the café.
I like doing work from here. It makes me feel like I have coworkers. It’s only when I leave, or have to pay for something to stay, that I’m reminded that I don’t. I like the sounds of clicking cups and the way voices flatten when coming from heads tilted towards a raised menu.
As I opened my laptop I saw the storm change outside. Through the window I could see the Hudson River and beyond that New Jersey, and in between us a sheet of warm and sweaty droplets. The trees lining the Battery Park City boardwalk swayed and rocked with the rain.
We had a hurricane here once. Sam and I bought a bottle of whiskey to drink if the thunder was too loud. He leaned up against my basement wall and I rested my head in his lap while we watched to see if the basement would flood. It never did, but we drank all of the whiskey.
In the corner of the café I saw the parents of an old friend. “How funny,” I said to them. “I haven’t seen you in years.” They explained they were visiting the new memorial. “Have you seen it?” they asked. I told them how much I loved it, the shininess of it, the largeness too. It was enormous! So tall, the tallest in the city, I told them. They looked nervous, and then ashamed. It would be days before I would realize that we were talking about two different things.
Outside, the water of the Hudson splashed up on the deck of the Battery Park City boardwalk. A couple that had been chatting underneath the umbrella of a hot dog cart looked at each other, seemed to discuss a possible sprint, nodded and dashed out of sight and into the falling water. A girl walked on the boardwalk with her hood up and headphones in. As she passed by, the storm drew a large wave from the Hudson and it crashed onto the side of the boardwalk and onto her legs and feet. She kicked the water off of her shoe, never ceasing to move forward, and gave the raging river a dirty look.
I saw the parents of my old friend looking frightened. “It’s fine,” I said. “We had a hurricane once and it was fine. This is nothing.” Tourists. Nothing better than a New York summer storm to scare a few tourists into never coming back and eating at our restaurants and taking up precious real estate at our cafés. Not to mention electrical outlets. I eyed the couple, who were using the nearest outlet to charge their cell phone while they called their loved ones to tell them they were in a flood and might not make it. Maybe they wouldn’t mind if I unplugged them and plugged in my laptop.
The cups continued to click and the low murmur of music playing inside of headphones that were not around my head filled the café. I stood up and asked the nearest well-dressed person to watch my stuff while I used the washroom. As I stood, I saw in the distance as far as New Jersey that a giant tidal wave was headed for New York City. Everyone else saw it too.
“God dammit,” said the mocha whip latte holder in the café’s only leather chair. “Are you kidding me?” said a chinless, suited young man with an obscenely stupid and shiny watch. Tchs and Pshs filled the room like they fill a stalled subway car. The wave crashed on us, and we all looked at each other and agreed with our eyes and our tchs and pshs that it was very anticlimactic. But with the knowledge that tide was rising and New York would likely be underwater soon, the New Yorkers dutifully gathered all of their things, sure not to leave even their coffee behind (it was expensive enough for that extra shot) and we parted ways to journey to our own, comfortable form of safety.
Outside, the water was at my feet. I saw the couple of my old friend speaking on their cell phone. “We’re saying our goodbyes,” they told me.
“Why?” I asked.
I took their hands and we entered the Freedom Tower – which I know I’m not supposed to call it that but I’ve lived here three years and I will – and we began to walk the steps.
“Tired?” I asked from the top of floor 47. “Not really,” they said, but I raced ahead, boasting the gluteal muscles only a seasoned subway stair-walker would have. We reached the top and I shuddered at the sight of the construction cranes swaying in the wind. What a long way to fall, I thought. But when I looked down at the rising water that had already drowned the café, the Ritz Carlton, and most of the Gehry building, it wasn’t a very far at all anymore.
The rain had stopped but the water was still rising. After an hour I realized I had left my laptop inside the café and thought about swimming down to get it. I still think about it down there, containing all of my notes and my photos. Everything. Regardless of how unsafe it would be to swim and risk getting hit by some sort of floating taxi, biker, or unruly umbrella, I knew I at least had a movie saved on that computer to entertain myself. Anything would be better than watching this water rise.
The water swallowed each of the island’s buildings; tip by tip their spires disappeared beneath the calm water. At one point all of the car alarms went off at once, and quite quickly they drowned into a mermaid’s song.
“Where is the military?” asked the couple of my old friend. This seemed odd, and irrelevant, but I became annoyed for not being able to answer their tourist question. “I don’t know,” I said. I couldn’t recall there being any Army, Navy or Marine officials walking the streets of New York any time except during Fleet Week. And it was not Fleet Week.
For whatever reason, no one but us had thought to climb to the top of a building to avoid the water. Occasionally, we would see someone swim toward us with their briefcase over their head, and when we offered them a dry spot to rest they said “No thank you, I’m going to swim until I find dry land or Long Island or something.” I believe this worked out for them because they knew the way. I’d never been to Long Island and still had no desire to see it.
After two more hours of waiting, tch-ing and psh-ing, watching approximately 20 people treading water using their baby strollers as floating devices, an airplane with a Native American man’s face painted on the tail floated toward us. The window of the cockpit was flung open and the pilots, clearly not from here, beckoned us toward them. “We’re doing this the New York way!” said the friendly pilots who had decided that swimming in dirty water was the New York way. The couple of my old friend lowered themselves into the water, now on floor 120, and swam toward the plane. It occurred to me then; where was Sam?
My heart sunk to the bottom of the island. I hadn’t felt so worried than when I remembered I’d left my laptop in the café. “Sam!” I screamed, but he could be anywhere. He could be swimming with the bike I gave him after I stole it from my old PR job. He could be safe inside the UN, though I don’t think he knows what or where the UN is. He could be on top of his office building in midtown. Oh god, where is that again? I spun around frantically to face North, and when I looked uptown I realized there was only one building whose spine was not becoming coral below us.
I asked the pilots to wait while I searched for a phone. Phones don’t work in disasters! I thought. But there was one right there, pink and labeled “Foreman” and stuck with the lint of construction worker’s gloves. I dialed Sam.
“Hello?” he said calmly into his cell phone. “Sam!” I said. “New York has been flooded! Where are you?” A crack of static bored through our conversation. I thought I’d lost him.
“Look across the water,” he said. “I’m here.” I faced north again. There he was, standing at the top of the Empire State Building – the top you can’t get to unless you’re a janitor – waving at me. Without all those streets we were so much closer together.
“Sam,” I said. “Why did we survive?” I began to cry. I cried for my laptop, for the High Line, for 5pointz, for the Brooklyn Museum, for Katz’ Deli which I always said I hated but it was just because I over-ate there once and threw up in the bathroom of a gelato place after, for commercials in cabs, for saxophones in the park, and for the cowardly deed of running up to the top of Freedom Tower which I know I’m not supposed to call Freedom Tower instead of saving the town that adopted me. Why did we survive when we’ve only lived here such a short time, when we don’t even belong here?
“I don’t know why,” He said. “It’s easy to forget these things are so tall.” The pilots honked their horns at me and I made a mental note to Google later on someone else’s computer to see if all planes have horns like that. I swam to the open door and climbed inside. A flight attendant helped me up and gave me a snack of Zabar’s babka. “It’s the last one,” she said. Inside the plane I saw everyone I know and all of their bikes, briefcases, baby strollers and babies. We floated to dry land; Long Island or something.