All Wet: Part One

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Some on-going Pictorama readers may have figured out that I am an Aquarian, a February girl, my birthday tucked in next to Lincoln’s and a kissin’ cousin to Valentine’s Day; amethyst is my birthstone and I am a water sign. Although I do not go deeply into astrology I have given a lot of thought to my relationship to water which has informed much of my life although sometimes I wouldn’t say I actually have an affinity for it as this story bears out.

Recent photo of the lighthouse at the north end of Roosevelt Island. While running I was contemplating how the light from this must have reached across the island and even into Gracie Mansion, the home of the Mayor.

I grew up on a river, close to the Atlantic ocean, and these days we live with a view of the East River where I run most mornings now. (IG followers see my running journals, @deitchstudio or Pams-Pictorama, where I share some of the views of the water as well as my slow progress, impeded in part by falling and breaking a few fingers on Memorial Day. I have written about my endeavor to start running over the past year which can be found here, here and here. Reconnecting with the life of the waterfront has been wonderful over this past pandemic year and I appreciate it as much as the much needed exercise.)

Where I run in the morning along the East River, with the FDR Drive on the other side.

I was taught to swim as a tiny toddler, in a pool in Sea Bright, New Jersey (a neighboring beach town I have devoted a few posts to which can be read here and here) and I took to it reasonably well. I have never been a great swimmer, unlike my sister Loren who was all swim teams and life saving, however I was at the beach and in the ocean and pools constantly between the ages of about six and twenty, so I guess I did it well enough to stay afloat and get where I was going.

Living on the river as we did floods were a constant part of our lives. At first we had an adorable little house on a narrow spit of land in Sea Bright where the river ran hard and fast into the bay on one side and the ocean was on the other. Without the sea wall the walk from one to the other would have taken ten minutes. It is a cottage that lives on in my imagination, a nifty little mail order home from Sears, it was sea sunlit and smelled of salt and sand.

We only spent summer weekends there so I was not subjected to the ongoing floods of suffered by year round residents, threatened as it was by both sides when tides rose. When I considered moving back there as an adult my parents were loathe to have me deal with the flooding, which while endurable as a summer beach cottage would have been more problematic 365 days a year, so instead I settled in Manhattan.

From a recent trip to Sea Bright, New Jersey.

While still a tot my family moved full time to the shore and our first house in Rumson was on the (aptly named) Waterman Avenue. Just around the bend from the Sea Bright-Rumson draw bridge, we lived on a fast moving part of the water as it merged into the bay, teeming with boat traffic in the summer. Our view was of downtown Sea Bright across the river and the ocean just beyond and we were within walking distance of the beach. (My adult dream life takes me back there occasionally, enduring hurricanes and even tidal waves.)

Sun rising over the bay near Sandy Hook on a ferry trip back to Manhattan last year.

Each year fall and early winter would bring hurricanes and quickly we learned about the days we would be picked up from school early, the car would be parked on higher ground where it would be safe and we would prepare for the high tides around us at home with streets that turned into ponds or sometimes raging rivers. (Sadly, I believe a hurricane did pre-empt Halloween one year.) Occasionally we kids would be left with my mom’s parents in Long Branch, an inland part of the neighboring town where my mother grew up, but she would generally return to Rumson to weather the storm and keep an eye on things. She recently described one of those evenings spent in bed on the second floor of that little house with the walls quaking with water and wind.

Generally those storms were a lark, the flood days, at least for us kids. My mom would put on her waist-high waders if she had to go out when the squall calmed, but the water had not yet receded. (Dad was usually at work in the city or traveling for his job at ABC News – it was the family joke that he missed just about every major flood we had.) Sometimes the flooding was just annoying, occasionally it was significant and memorable, but mostly it was just part of the fabric of my childhood, accepted as part of the way things were – the same as having cats and dogs and a green Plymouth station wagon.

Eventually we moved to a larger house several blocks away, but perched on an inlet of the river which was further protected by a small island between the mouth of our “pond” (which went by both names Oyster Bay and Polly’s Pond – I never could find out who Polly was and the oysters were sadly long gone when we got there). The natural barriers and somewhat higher land meant not just calmer waters, but less flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes still meant flooded streets, but even water in the yard was less common.

Mom’s current house back on Memorial Day weekend.

Although flooding impeded daily life less, we weathered a few significant and memorable storms in that house. My parents were ultimately dislodged from that home by Hurricane Sandy and the shifts in water tables which brought the first water into the house we ever had – even then it only filled the garage, but destroyed the water heater and even warped the wooden floors with so much dampness under them. With the advent of every hurricane we have, I offer ongoing gratitude that my mom, now alone, is tucked away, relatively far inland in a tiny home in neighboring Fair Haven.

Recent sunrise photo from our apartment in Yorkville.

All this to say, that history behind me, these days I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building on the upper Eastside of Manhattan and while our river views mean we can get with some high force winds in a storm, in general flooding is not something we often consider. Living on the top floor of a building which is more than a half century old means that our water intrusion generally comes from above, or occasionally from aging pipes. (Our building was re-piped several years back – a true horror. I thought I had written about it, but alas I cannot find it as a link for your consideration.)

Kim and I have experienced leaks in almost every single possible area of our compact 600 square foot abode – water has come from under the kitchen sink, it has worn through pipes and leaked in the bathroom walls. On occasion it has poured from incorrectly installed pipes in the ceiling near the windows and onto our books. As I write today, the ceiling near the windows sags from another mistake in design after the re-piping fiesta and the wall under it is soggy as well, all pending repair in the foreseeable future.

Blackie and Cookie on my home desk area.

Most notably, a new front has opened over my current work at home desk set-up as a result of the recent Hurricane Ida. As it turns out, after a lifetime of preparing conscientiously for storms and fretting about them, when one finally came along to bite me, there was no real warning or preparation. Normally a storm that has hit land and traveled over it for several days means no more than some stormy days by the time it arrives. A storm that has gone back out to sea can pick up speed again and be a threat, but Ida, while she packed a wallop when she hit New Orleans and Texas, didn’t seem to be a threat as she winded her way through the Midwest and up to the greater New York area.

As the somewhat desultory rain of the day turned harder into the evening, I became aware that the wind was blowing hard enough to make me glad that the building had installed new windows – although they could certainly still shatter in high winds. However, it was a call that I got from my doorman at 10:00 at night that worried me. Our building basement had several feet of water in it already and the elevators were not functioning. We were not to go to the basement and be aware that the stairs on the first floor would be slippery.

Sears House advertisement for a cottage approximately like ours.

Morning dawned and the news was appalling. The death toll climbed steadily throughout the day – people trapped in basement apartments and in raging flash floods. Horrible stories. Meanwhile, several feet of water remained in the building basement although the elevators came back online in the morning. (We were told that the water simply poured in from the windows and the street.) It was several days before we were allowed to begin investigation of the storage locker we keep down there, shifting seasonal clothes kept in bins, household items that have gone out of vogue or use for a time and not much but some artwork.

As it happens, we found some interesting stuff and I will devote tomorrow’s post to what we found (art by both Kim and me) and rescued from that rapidly molding enclave.