The Storm: Part 1

Day One:

2 a.m. Sunday night. Valentines Day. Noise in the apartment. Roommate is home, well on his way to being thoroughly hammered. There’s a murmur which follows; it sounds like a girl. I’ve heard the voice before, but never actually seen the outline of her figure, nor been introduced. It’s not the one who comes once a week and helps clean up after the two of us, keeping some degree of domesticity to the home. The two of them bicker, getting louder as the liquor flows. Wriggling around in bed, I start to feel cold. Looking at my phone, which has been charging overnight, I see that it sits idle at 86%. Odd, the light switch in my room doesn’t worth, either.

I scavenge the internet for answers, only to see that our local electric company has issued a notice about rolling blackouts. 10-40 minutes, they posted some 25 minutes ago. Curious. I make a valiant effort to go back to sleep, but the voices outside only grow louder, and more ambitious. Another crack, the hiss of carbonation escaping before being slurped into a state of silence. One by one, the cans fall, clinking as they clutter the glass table top in our common area. Three down, not even an hour gone by. It has been at least forty-minutes, I determine; still, not a trace of electricity to be had. This means digging into my phone for the catalogue of podcasts I accidentally subscribed to over the summer. Some renditions of sleep occur, albeit sporadically, sometimes teetering on the brink of somnambulism. As the voices outside continue to grow louder, with less interruption, I wrestle with my pillow and let the recordings roll on, the latter marking some permanence to the hours that somehow slip away. Eventually the clock strikes 4 a.m., and I find a surge of optimism from the fatigue that fades in their voices as they retire to his bedroom. Seeing that there is still no light in the apartment, I decide to move the small bit of perishable food from the fridge, out to the balcony.

There’s an inch of snow on our large lacquer table, and it is there that I wedge a half-dozen eggs and leftover strips of sirloin steak, just in case I need a substantial lunch and am left without power.

As the sun slips through the clouds sporadically, the clock teases six a.m., a stroke later than my normal wake-up time. I see the snow has stopped, but the accumulation is jarring. It appears more like three inches, as opposed to the estimated dusting. From the fridge I pluck a full batch of overnight oats, and a large serving of cold brew; normalcy to curb the conditions that are now utterly nonsensical. The fridge feels a steady forty degrees, the temperature slowly rising with each ensuing search for something to eat; it is adverse to the temperature inside, which lowers accordingly as the afternoon wades on. 

Just a few more hours, the energy company keeps promising, in a string of Tweets. Stomaching this notion slowly becomes more difficult, however, as the suggestion of hunger creeps in, and the sense of novelty from reading childhood classics under the intermittent bursts of sunlight through the balcony dissipates. I read and refresh for updates; nothing even remote to encouragement or optimism to be had.

Some eight hours later, Josh comes waltzing out; having not gone to work due to the conditions, he’s armed with a story of how he had to bear said conditions around five a.m. to take his overnight acquaintance home. A stranger saved him halfway through, having realized that there was no sensible alternative to having the girl arrive home safely; all the while, Josh is oddly enthralled by the predicament of still having no electricity. He’s also hungry, and suggests the food we have in the fridge and pantry is putrid, if these conditions are to maintain.

Accordingly, I scour the internet for somewhere that is open; nearly every single grocery store has posted that they are, or will be closed, within the next two hours. I see that the one up north is open; it’s six miles away, but a stomach-able fare of $20. 

What about the way back? Josh wisely asks. 

We’ll worry about that later, I affirm, realizing that the window of opportunity is waning with every minute wasted.

Some fifteen minutes later, our hired car almost collides with another on the hill, as he stops midway up, on a patch of ice, to let us in. The driver is from Afghanistan, this much is divulged as he and Josh use a shared, but at times broken dialect as we deviate along side streets, avoiding certain intersections due to their respective inclines; near the end of the ride, Josh professes his own birth origins to the man, which invokes a strange, but palpable loathe in the air for the remainder of the ride. I am informed later that evening how the two regions share a contested history, and that this man’s people don’t take kindly to Josh’s. As we get exit, the driver casually claims that it will be his last ride of the day; the sun is now entrenched in the hills, setting further by the second, meaning the conditions will only worsen from the imminent freeze to follow. Whatever that means for later, we decide to be unimportant; food, first and foremost.

What we encounter inside the store, however, is sheer pandemonium, the type of energy that is reminiscent to what overtook the entire country during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Elbows are thrown, angst is palpable, courtesy is no longer considered, and there is not enough staff on site to police the constant stream of folks filing in and out of the store. Lines wrap around the ends of aisles, and the essentials are effectively barren. A few vegetables, some canned goods, a large cut of steak for the night, and plenty of bottles of wine and six-packs of beer. Our steel cart is soon filled to the brim, and we bounce between being overambitious and impractical. As it stands, the shared speculation – in the form of overheard chatter amongst us – infers there will be power by this time tomorrow, so the urge to overstock is seemingly squashed as we stand in line with the others. 

The staff starts shutting the lights off as we make our way out of line, having purchased almost $150 in goods between the two of us, and our credit card information scribbled onto sheets of paper for a future date when the internet is back up and operational. Before we realize it, Josh and I are the last two standing. The rest of the folks are staff, drawing straws over how to split up the remaining goods in the store. I sympathize, as our collective shortsightedness has suddenly rendered them – the essential workers servicing us our essentials – at the bottom of the totem pole. Still standing near the main entrance, our search for a car home commences, but to no avail. It’s decided, then, that we must walk the two miles to Steve’s place, where he and his partner are also without power. At least from there, I determine, we can hunker down and wait for drivers to resume service. Just as swiftly as the storm, our dilemma evolves into a logistical obstacle as to how we are to transport all of our goods, given we left the house without so much as an extra sack. Bottles clank, and beer cans feel heavy as he fumble the ensemble of goods around, before ultimately deciding it to be imperative to simply use our resources, and omit the notion of theft, being that it is only a shopping cart, and many others in our same straits either have, or would, act similarly.

So Josh and I take turns pushing, and at times pulling, the rickety cart across the two inches of thick ice which has slowly formed over the streets. As it screeches down the quiet, suburban side roads in an affluent area – one with ample power and their shades pulled tightly down – our shopping cart becomes not only an eyesore, but also a nuisance to the ears. On the other hand, there’s no sign of reprieve, especially as we witness a couple 4×4 trucks pulling up to a few pretty, stranded girls and asking if they need a ride. What about us? The two grown men, sucking down warm beer after warm beer, while slowly trudging over the sheets of ice, up a few hills and down a couple dead-ends, decidedly in better straights.

Spleen Sandwiches

“‘K Billy’s super sounds of the 70’s weekend just keeps on comin’ with this little diddy…’”

A familiar tune blares from the rectangular record player which sits atop a massive collection of vinyl in Lorenzo’s living room. His keen sense of American style and flare is steeped in the mounting references to pop culture; he has a real appreciation for our classics. For Philipp and I it feels like home, as the sound of stale hash being ground into rigid paper and the sensation of cheap beer foam meeting the lips are mere reminders of our better days; all of this is a retribution for a broken line of communication, though none of it seems entirely necessary. Relieved, we are, to simply recline on the leather sofa and hold a full conversation in English, with he and his mate, Edoardo. Their interest in our intent of travel, however, quickly shifts toward explaining the significance of the island, and how the rest of Italy pales in comparison. 

Sicily’s original flag, predating the Italian occupation of 1861, hangs sideways from the largest wall in the room, and these two young men contextualize its placement with the specifics of the island’s deceivingly long struggle for independence. To them, 1861 was the last year that the island was truly free. But to Lorenzo, being Sicilian is vastly different from being Italian, so they are always free. 

“This is Sicily, this is not Italy,” he affirms, to which Edoardo nods. Edoardo is of Roman descent, but Lorenzo says they are able to get along anyway. As Lorenzo paces the room, the glint in his eye is strong in its thirst for venture; an iconoclast at heart, it seems only appropriate that his infatuation with American freewill remains well at hand. 

“So, what should we do tonight?” asks Philipp. “We’re hungry. What is unique to Palermo?”

“Spleen.”

Edoardo, nodding again in agreement, adds enthusiastically, “Ah, yes, the spleen sandwiches.”

Repeating his answer with a grimace, Philipp and I turn to one another.

“Yes, that is our peasant food. It is, eh, part of Palermo, our history,” Lorenzo says. “I will text you the name of where they are best.”

We return after having consumed enough spleen for one to want in a lifetime, and both Philipp and I are reminded in our sleep of the feeble-minded mistake to indulge without something so stiff as a beer to wash down the rubbery chits of greased meat. 

Giardini Naxos

Soon it is apparent why this dot on the radar is revered by the French, Dutch, and Germans as an ideal slice of the slow life. Its sea is laden with cascading colors of sapphire blue and white ivory, each embedded in the rhythm of the tide; its knockout moons hold strong as guiding forces of the rotational tilt, as if it all began and ended here. Yet, no greater force is the contemplation that occurs at the skirts of a cosmic wonder such as Mt. Etna, where the discards of cataclysm pit questions of life against death. This is where man comes to quantify small decisions and conquer his ghosts; a realm of complete isolation seeming all but romantic with the right view.

On to Mondello

Hiccuping down the spiraling street walls of Mount Pellegrino, aided by half-toned headlights and the intense focus of Lorenzo, our small vehicle dodges and weaves through a mess of low-swung brush and eroded manholes with a seeming grace.

“The mountain, it is falling down,” he says, with a grin. “It is fucking dangerous. They have closed the road because it is falling.”

“Closed?” Philipp retorts, in a rip of laughter; for, this stolen right of passage into the depths of a decrepit maze epitomizes his idea of a cheap thrill.

“Yes, it has been falling for some time now,” Lorenzo replies. “The mountain, its history, it speaks if you listen.”

Steadily the air around us envelops the car into a veil of night, and challenged are the dim, exhausted headlights at each tight corner. Branches overhead tickle the open window of our rooftop, and yet there is stillness on the road; our vessel feels isolated in its wholeness, as if the moment were being preserved for us, and us alone. Upon reaching the grounding lights of a colorful cityscape, Mondello – bold in all of its revelry – there is a sense of relief, but on its trail is the subtlety of remorse.

A Snapshot of Naples

Unescapable, still, is the wrath of foddered consumables as the disconnect is made from Milan and our journey begun to Naples – a city where gold links, silver chains, crowned hats and premiere purse labels clutter every portable table top, ultimately toeing the line of intrusive as we waltz over the city’s unleveled streets of broken brick. Is this not the throw-away culture we longed to escape by vaulting across the Atlantic? An ode to their way of life, rather, this inherently serpentine servitude to sell, sell, sell, is exhaustive in its unrelenting draw of the senses and, in turn, combats the natural beauty of a city that once housed one of the great Kingdoms of the world. Napoli, in no short order, has a way of closing itself in on you; be it the narrow alleyways in between massive brick installments, or the everlasting strip of commercial goods and the bevy of bakeries and banks for one’s moral and material deposits; yet, the greatest thrill comes in watching the parade of cars storm the dotted lanes that serve as the main arteries to the city. On these streets, scooters reign supreme: slithering elusively, they’re commandeered by small children, rambunctious teenagers, and bearded men who take successive, sharp turns at 90 degree angles, against and then with the flow of traffic, just to shave off a few seconds of their commute. A steady Vaffanculo! echoes down alleyways.

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Book Teaser

Something is calling him. It’s no longer the urge to assimilate himself in a burgeoning city. It’s no longer the compulsion to tag along for a good time. It is, rather, how he chooses to engage himself with both the outside world and his fellow man. Calvin may feel alone in how he internalizes all of the disparity before him, or how he handles the hate going on in other homes, but he is just like everyone else. His fate, however, is quite unlike that of others, but only because he is able to see it coming.

 

THE HEAD OF HEIGHTS

Available now!

Conversations over Coffee

“Now, are we talking active, or latent?” asks one of the retirees a few seats down from me. He’s one of the few who frequent this place at a certain hour, seemingly everyday. Together they talk politics, the Chinese, and the land-value of what was leftover from the Native Americans. Having just wrapped up comparing their Tuesday crosswords, these old men now appear ready to tackle White Supremacy with everything they have.

This is why I come back. Well, that and the espresso that is dark, viscous, and reminiscent of that which is served over the counter in Italy: like cough medicine, and also without a smile.

How many things come full circle, for this time last year I was winding down from a month-long sabbatical overseas, in where I was given a slice of life that is lived well-beyond, but also contently far behind, our modern-day life in America. Conversely, it is there that I also presume the same silver-haired men in carefully arranged outfits to be having similar conversations over coffee.

When the chairman of their committee drops in, the tailored-suit and otter-cap fitting snug to his frame, an anecdote sticks out, causing me to lend a careful ear. He’s going on about the local university, how it’s going broke, but also how the other, just like it, is firmly bankrupt.

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