7:58 p.m. January 26. #JUNO -- Port Washington, NY -- It's early yet, but a creeping sense of disappointment might be setting in. A few good, solid inches of real snow has fallen. We have shoveled our walkway and driveway, vowing to keep ahead of the historic and record-breaking snowfall. The plows of the Town of North Hempstead have cleared our street not once, not twice, not three times but four! Our tax dollars so efficiently at work -- whoops -- here they come! Five times! Five times now the plowman has come barreling down our street, gamboling 57 mph, running stop signs as the driver howls into the wind. Sparks fly from the lowered blade into the luminous night air -- a feat only possible when the asphalt of the road has already been rendered bare due to overzealously clearing. My friends in Seattle and upstate NY are posting on Facebook how the Mayor of New York has preached pestilence and fear all in the name of shutting down all transit in order to preserve life and liberty. Grocery stores are scenes of great rioting and blatant disregard of the surgeon general's warnings about daily allowances for fat, sodium and microbrews. Meanwhile, back at home here in the Little Town of Port Washington, the household lights are all on, the computers and laptops and TVs are all ablare and ablaze. The microwave and stove are churning out for us hot plates of storm-night obligatories -- beef chili, no-bean chili and turkey chili. Candles sit squat and new on the counter, forlorn and cold and dark. We all had such great expectations but so far ... (to be continued)
10:54 p.m. January 26. #JUNO -- Port Washington, NY -- It is now officially six minutes before the government shutdown of our streets clicks into place. No one's on the road. Not even -- the snowplow! A great lull has come over the town. You can't hear anything, nothing, except a faint spin of wind occasionally scattering some of the frozen kernels of snow that are almost as restless as us! Where is our storm? Given the lack of speeding SUVs and the silence of police and fire sirens and the absence of train commuters who normally shuffle down our street, we have been left here to confront the glaring truth that we really wanted a lot more ... drama. Like, the kind of natural drama that exceeds the collective entertainment and "wow" factor of "Empire," "Idol," "OITNB," "House of Cards" and "Property Brothers" mixed in with a little "Transparent." We stocked all manner of snack foods in our shelves, our pantries, our 4K Liebherr fridges and our larders -- as if we even know what a larder is! This is Port Washington 2015, not Dickensian London. We have come a long way from larders. The point is: We did everything everyone told us to do in order to SHELTER IN PLACE ahead of this vast, east-coast weather conspiracy. We did so in the expectation (given the SALES PITCH) that we would be "rewarded" with a broken branch to take down a power line; a gale-force wind to shimmy Infinity Triple Play On Demand for $139 a month for 2 years into submission. We would settle for a ruptured water main pipe that would transform Irma Ave. into an Olympic luge run. This was the bargain in exchange for our reading tide charts and graphing the areas where the so-called coming storm surge would eat whole other sections of the Atlantic seaboard like it was a big, sandy piece of New York cheesecake. We have been prepped for an End Times N'or Easter; we have been commanded to heed the warnings of state, local and federal officials; we have been told the National Guard and extra technicians from National Grid are ON THE SCENE, at the ready. But for what? Not much. And instead of being grateful that we have not been assigned a night of shivering discomfort and of wandering the halls by candlelight in search of a half bath complete with Scott's toilet paper, we continue to feel slightly played. ...
8:01 a.m. #Juno Port Washington -- Andrew Cuomo on the radio speaking in that strange cadence and elocution of his that is almost like his father's speech pattern. Cuomo telling us travel ban over. So, everyone better get the hell ready to get to the office by 11:47 a.m. The guilt tripping by employers and scrambling by employees now set to commence. And oddly this is the only press conference where Gov. Cuomo is taking questions. Someone ought to ask him about the Port Authority. Now he's justifying his call to shutdown transit due to the obliteration of Buffalo a few weeks back. He will not criticize weather forecasters.
12:43 p.m. #JUNO Port Washington -- It is my belief that all across the Northeast (i.e. New York City media outlets) the second-guessing has begun. DeBlasio and Cuomo getting hammered with great rounds of skepticism and snark for their decision to SHUT DOWN the Empire State. Despite my own sense of disappointment that the winds did not howl and the snow reached only 9 inches and the lights never flickered, I have moved into a new phase of pleasant afterglow: This was rather quaint. Granted, some will rip the overreach of our GOVERNMENT officials (ie Democrats and the RINO C. Christie in Jersey) who took the exceptionally cautious route on calling this storm preparedness. And others will grouse that when you shut down one of the biggest metro areas in the world, it takes a lot to crank it all back into gear. But guess what? So what?! From what I hear, only one person died, and he was an unfortunate teenager in Huntington who slammed his sled into a telephone pole. The storm moved east, and north, keeping the worst itself for Montauk and New England. In the scheme of things, a day off and all the shenanigans it took and takes to stop and start a city ... it's good to know it can be done. Despite my own bitter tendency toward skepticism and snark: The next time the situation calls for a NYC Storm Shutdown, I am going to take it just as seriously. Sure, I find the snark kind of amusing. I personally posted one of the pathetic Internet meme photos of a ruler standing on bare asphalt under the headline "Never Forget." But that was a fleeting tilt towards immaturity that, while I don't regret, I will over-ride with more MATURE take-away. Besides, we already have the extra, unused candles and a few extra bags of potato chips.
Literary pilgrimages are best saved for internal musing, since the drive to go stand inside the homes where the great poets or other artists lived stirs up deep sediment that doesn't really serve anyone else except the primary visitor. It is a personal matter. I mean, which writer among us can really properly convey the feeling and meaning of just being there in the same room where Walt Whitman was born? Hell if it's going to be me.
However, I would like to just note it for the record: Standing in the room where Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, which is the downstairs bedroom of the farmhouse Walt Whitman's father built in the West Hills area of Huntington on Long Island in 1816, exceeded my own expectations.
I've stood in front of or been in houses where Edgar Allen Poe lived; where Emily Dickinson wrote in genius seclusion; Hawthorne was born Salem; where the poet Charles Olson pumped out his Gloucester poems; where James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein and Anais Nin worked in Paris ... but there is something more fundamental about Whitman, at least for me, not only because of his humanism, progressiveness and his marriage of personal and political, but because he hailed from Long Island, my birthplace.
That the farmhouse still stands is the first miracle. What was once a 60-acre farm in the middle of other farmland is now one acre set inside high fencing to secure the historical site from the suburban sprawl of shopping centers and housing development. Another part of Walt Whitman's legacy, among the most seminal and iconic and landmark artists in American or literary history, is that his name is born on the shopping mall that stretches down Route 110 (Walt Whitman Road) in Huntington across from the poet's birthplace. Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Williams-Sonoma: These may not be any of the things Whitman catalogued in his newspaper accounts or verse, but there these big box stores sit, surrounding the sedate grounds where the Whitman house stands.
And while it's definitely weird trying to find the Whitman Birthplace site amidst the clutter and clatter of modern-day (i.e. car-addled/store-riddled) Long Island, it turns out to be OK.
For the poet who celebrated himself and gave ample, sprawling voice to the burgeoning song of Democracy, the scrum and mess of society blithely whizzes around and past the former pastureland where Whitman was birthed. Thanks to efforts in 1949, when the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association was formed, and continued advocacy and fundraising via former Newsday newspaper publisher Alice Patterson, the site was preserved from the fast-encroaching suburban development. The state of New York helps administer the site along with the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, which has erected a statue of the poet and a modern loft-like building that houses a shop and reading space.
The entire site and experience is worth the trip and the $6 for the guided tour of the house. On the crisp November day I visited, an enthusiastic guide led me across the lawn and into the home, which Walt Whitman Sr. grandly built as a model home to show prospective clients just what he could build for them, too. We entered the foyer, then the parlor, with its wide-plank wood floors and custom, built-in cabinets and large windows. Then, we walked through to the bedroom where, the guide said: "And this is where Walt Whitman was born."
Whatever sense of being in a semi-sacred space that I had had just walking through the front door of the home was, in that instance, amplified. Most of it came from the striking realization that for everything Whitman did, everything he became and remains, started in one room. I was in a real place that stands in concrete confirmation against the decades and centuries of the Whitman who became the poetic father and god and enduring definition of a hearty, heralded strain of the new American poetic canon.
In a world of shopping malls and cars and democracy under siege, the sanctuary of the Whitman home was palpable. It was made even more so by my profound sense that, stripped of the noise and the Internet and the virtual world I have come to inhabit for great chunks of time, Whitman walked from Long Island to Brooklyn to Washington to the Civil War battlefields and hospitals to Camden, NJ and witnessed his world, his America, unfolding in real time. Our songs of ourselves these days ... hard to not see them by comparison as wanting. But at least the visit got me reconnected to some time and some place distilled of distraction, distilled to its essential point and purpose.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.