BY ROCK AWAY PENS
Rock Away Pens was established as a writer’s workshop in 2018 by Edward Mallon, Bianca Ambrosio, and Frank Verderame. It provides a weekly meeting where serious writers can complete their projects in Fiction, Memoir, Drama, and Film for publication or production. In critiquing one another’s work, we focus on helping the author refine and improve the submission. In the last four years, our members have had three plays produced and over five books published. Other members are now doing a final revision on an Irish/American memoir, a romantic murder mystery, a family saga, tales of Trinidad and its people, a comic coming of age novel, and a family’s struggle with drugs. Beyond providing the structure and support for writers, Rock Away Pens is creating a community of like-minded friends from Breezy to Mott Avenue. Now that we are on Zoom due to Covid, we have members from other NYC locations joining us. Rock Away Pens like Rockaway itself is a place to be if you are a literary creative artist. For info, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The following are some Hurricane-Sandy related reflections from writers of Rock Away Pens. A second part will follow in next week’s paper.
Hurricane Sandy – The Lucky Ones
By Barbara Berg
As long as the sun shed some light, we watched the rising tide flood the streets. By nightfall, we huddled in front of the TV. Then the power went out. Car horns blared as the waters shorted out the electrical systems. No lights. No heat. No TV. No radio. No working cell phone towers. No communication.
We wore a band of miner lights around our heads. I crawled upstairs to bed. My husband, Allen, braved the trip to the basement. He tried to stem the waters rushing through the casement windows with towels. When the water reached his knees, he gave up, and joined me in bed.
At 1 a.m., we were awakened by pounding on our front door. Our elderly neighbors, Ben and Leah, escorted by two young men, collapsed in our hallway.
They had sought refuge in the upper part of their home after the powerful waves swept half of their split-level house, with the entire kitchen, out to sea. Since it was impossible to navigate their damaged front steps, they remained upstairs. Flashlight in hand, they flashed it out the window hoping someone would see and come to their aid.
They were in luck. When the storm abated, Jim, one of the young men who lived on the block, decided to see how his neighborhood fared. He spotted their light. With the help of another young man, Sam, they found a ladder in a nearby garage, propped it against the upstairs bedroom window, and helped my friends descend to safety. They all piled into the one truck that still worked thanks to its over-sized tires and drove down the block to our house.
Our children were all married and out of the house, so we settled our friends in the boys’ bedroom. Then we retired to our room to try to get some sleep.
As the sun rose and shone through our windows, I crept downstairs to see if I could make some semblance of a normal breakfast. I had filled a huge electric urn with water the night before. Luckily, we still had gas, so I could use my stove to boil water for coffee. Though the refrigerator was off, it was still cold enough to keep the milk fresh. I could offer my overnight guests an assortment of cold cereal and a hot cup of Folgers.
Ben and Leah joined us at the breakfast table. None of us knew how we were going to get out of Belle Harbor, let alone what to do next. As I sipped my coffee wondering how we would pump the water in the basement out, fix the boiler, and regain electricity, my neighbor Leah, sad and dejected, looked at my kitchen, my den, and dining room. I’ll never forget her mournful comment, “At least your house is still standing!” She was right. In spite of the devastation, we were the lucky ones.
By Rebekkah Thompson
“It took a natural disaster,” my husband jokes, “to save our marriage.” I chuckled and nodded in agreement. If not for Hurricane Sandy, my marriage would not have survived. I was already looking for a divorce lawyer. We lived in a house walking on eggshells putting on happy faces around our three children. I lived with anxiety wondering what is the future of my life and of our family. These unnerving thoughts filled spaces in my mind with darkness and gloom. I couldn’t feel happy even with two beautiful little boys and a sweet studious teen daughter. I thought a divorce was the only option for a happy life.
The morning before the hurricane, after Sunday service, I spoke with my minister. I confided in him about my unshakeable despondency. “Pastor, in the past, I have been able to cope with my depression, but this time is different. I’m scared.” He was sympathetic and concerned. He knew someone who might be able to help. We agreed to speak the next day about getting me an appointment to see a therapist. That never happened – Sandy happened.
As the storm approached, it brought excitement into our house. We debated whether to evacuate together or separately. I would go with the children to my mother’s vacant condo in Staten Island and Jim would hold down the fort in Rockaway. We were talking and the talk was heated. Something in me was coming alive. Ultimately, we all evacuated to Staten Island. My sons stayed with their aunt, Jim and I stayed in my mother’s condo, and my daughter stayed with her father in Manhattan. Jim and I were alone while the storm raged outside during one of the most significant disasters in our history.
Jim and I felt as if we were on a honeymoon. We were alone with an energy pulsing because we were bracing for something together we couldn’t define, predict or imagine. It generated a spark between us drawing us closer. In comfort and contentment, my husband and I sheltered from the storm while the world around us was falling apart. Homes were being destroyed by the strong winds, huge waves, flooding, and heavy rain. Some were washed away into the Atlantic. Lives were being lost. Our night of matrimonial bliss, as we held each other, was a night of terror for so many other people.
I had no idea that rebuilding from Sandy’s destruction would mean rebuilding my broken marriage. Piece by piece destroyed objects of our family, baby pictures, a marriage certificate, filled up garbage bags were crushed in sanitation trucks. I cried watching volunteers carry out and break up a wooden toy chest with my sons’ names engraved on it – Thomas and John. Yes, we had lost, but others had lost so much more. However, it was in that loss that Jim and I found a new beginning. Without Sandy, our new love would have remained undiscovered. What was broken and damaged wasn’t repairable. It had to be made new.
By Michael Benedetto
“Sure, I was in Rockaway during Hurricane Sandy,” he replied. My inquiry pertained to an article being published for the 10th anniversary of the storm. I had already interviewed numerous residents, business owners, but felt a local artists’ perspective would bring me closer to finishing the piece.
“What was your experience like?” I pressed him gently.
The bartender leaned forward and placed two dark stouts before us.
“Thank you, Brendan.” He waved to the white haired man behind the bar before directing his attention to the question. “I stayed. Most people did. It’s because of the previous year’s storm Irene.”
“Whenever I’m discussing Sandy with someone not from around here, I describe it like the story of Cry Wolf. The city wanted us to evacuate, as they felt necessary, but the storm barely hit the peninsula. To us, Hurricane Sandy didn’t seem any different. So we stayed.
I took a moment to adjust the audio recorder that had fallen on its side, and set it on a coaster between us.
“Where were you living at the time?”
“I was renting a Belle Harbor house with three other artists. Two of them were out of town, but my other friend, a musician, went over to his girlfriend’s bungalow for the night. The next day he told me that the water swept in under the floor-board’s and rose up so fast they had to swim out the window to escape.”
“That’s incredible. Does he still live here?”
“Yes. I can get you in touch.”
“We’ll see, let’s hear more from you.”
“I was painting a boat on the ocean in a storm, Moby Dick and Ahab. I was focused on my work and wanted to finish so Sandy wasn’t a concern.”
“That’s kind of hard to believe. There must have been some panic going around that would have alarmed you.”
“Honestly, I didn’t think Sandy would hit as hard as it did.”
I raised my glass for a taste. “Wow, that’s really good.” A small white mustache was left behind as I lowered the pint. “That’s why I suggested we do this at Roger’s.”
He smiles without looking over. His eyes become fixated on the soccer game. Ireland was playing Italy.”
“Tell me about how you felt.” I wiped the foam from my upper lip. “Did it affect your art?”
“I remember working until the lights went out.”
“Ok. What time was that?”
“I can’t remember, but it was at the exact moment that the water got high enough to reach the electrical box downstairs.”
“What did you do?”
“I had a smoke and finished the bottle of whiskey I was working on.” He laughed. “I pretty much just went to bed and hoped the house wouldn’t collapse in on me or that the flames from two blocks over wouldn’t spread far enough that I’d have to leave.”
“You were able to see the fire?”
“An entire block burned down. I watched the flames for a while flying high over the rooftops, had a few more cigarettes, and I hit the pillow. There’s nothing I could do really, but wait for the six feet of water to recede.
“What happened in the morning?”
“When I woke up, the water was gone and almost everything else with it. The boardwalk, cars, houses, people were washed out.”
He finishes the rest of his beer and signals the bartender to start the next one.
“There are folks that saw it worse than me.”
“I guess you got lucky.”
“I did. I’ll get you in touch with Ed. His story is incredible.”
“That sounds terrific. Thanks Mike.”
Batten Down the Hatches
By Edward Mallon
I had just arrived home from the hospital. The bandages were still on my right knee. My blue Honda Accord named Charlotte-May sat in the driveway looking depressed. “Do I have to just sit here while your knee heals? I’m ready to zip around this town.” I looked away. She knew the answer. Rockaway bars, restaurants, and friends will have to wait. My sometimes lover in Jackson Heights called to see how I was doing. With the half-hearted greeting came a warning, “Sandy is coming.”
Yes, I thought. With spring, I’ll dating app on to a more attentive lover. Instead of a self-deluded starfish, I’ll look for a kissing gourami.
Outside my house, three floors of modern splendor overlooking the ocean, the cold winds and gray skies of late October had arrived. Halloween was approaching. The beach was steps away from my new community, Arverne by the Sea. Section five had 270 homes planned. Some were still being built. I closed and moved in on a dreary St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2012.
Since I’m fourth generation of Irish, Italian, and Jewish family members, the stories of emigration to the new world would bode well for me from Forest Hills to this sun kissed shore town. Here humpback whales leaped out of the ocean and splashed back down. If this didn’t impress a reluctant lover to mate, what would? I could use that thought in my dating app. Write about Grandma Rose’s Lasagna with homemade tomato sauce that you love to make. Then my family’s Irish traditions slapped me in the face. For the love of Jesus, don’t boast!
Suddenly, the winds picked up. My daughter called from East Meadow, “Dad, you can’t stay in Rockaway. The storm is coming.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be ok.”
“Dad, you’re not driving. You are barely walking. I’m coming to pick you up. You’ll stay at my house.”
I looked at the walker sitting in the corner of my living room by the big window. The trees outside were swaying. The intensity of the winds was becoming stronger. The cane I was using complained, “Hey buddy, you need to lose some weight.” The three floors of my house with just me were like the eeriness of a horror movie. With each creek of the house, I imagined Freddy Kruger upstairs with his razor-sharp blades.
After the hurricane hit, I returned to my undamaged house. Elsewhere, huge waves had dumped sand all over Rockaway turning it into a Sahara of sand-mud. People were pumping out their basements. Broken wet furniture and clothing were all over the streets. A few drowned bodies were taken to the morgue. It reminded me of World War II with photos of bombed out cities. Today, Rockaway has families frolicking in the ocean and surfers riding the waves. My new lover sleeps upstairs in my bed dreaming, unaware of Sandy’s devastation. And I, like a fiddler balancing on the roof, sing, “Drink, l’chaim, to life!”