There is a kind of poetry in living without power. All the blankets in the house on one bed. Invigorating cold showers. A fire crackling in the grate all day. Tea lights  in mason jars stationed all over the house. No Internet. No television. The company of good friends who play some cut-throat games of UNO and extend hospitality to those who need shelter. Communal meals. Guitars instead of radio.

There is no poetry whatsoever in being in a neighborhood that’s been flooded by seawater. The streets in my neighborhood are littered with debris. The stuff from the ocean is slimy but not so bad. The garbage from the trash cans that weren’t tied down and taped shut is pretty gross. The National Guard is standing sentinel at all the entrances to our neighborhood. Residents wander around, looking a little lost, cadging cigarettes and stepping over piles of detritus.

I suppose there was a wild beauty to the storm itself. One neighbor, describing the high tide that she watched swirl into her basement, told us that the water “was so happy.” She said that the water came in so fast that cars were moved. I don’t have any photos for you this year. We evacuated to the home of some generous friends and stayed there for days.

This is the second time in as many years that we’ve been flooded by a storm surge that coincided with a full moon. We were lucky – the flood stayed in the basement.

I’ve seen some people online criticize us and the people who live in our neighborhood for living near the shore. But the house we’re in is the home we’ve inherited. Until last year, it never flooded. This is the second 30-year storm in two years, who knows what will happen next year. So maybe we will move.  Or maybe we will move the boiler and the fuse box up to the first floor and prepare to weather the climate change for as long as we can.

Storm Surge

We were going to stay. We might have been fine if we stayed.

But when the City of Bridgeport ordered a mandatory evacuation on Saturday afternoon to people in my neighborhood ahead of what was, at that point, Hurricane Irene, I decided that we weren’t going to take our chances with the storm. We packed our bags and headed to my family’s place.

We were back in less than 24 hours. The storm seemed like it had been over-hyped. We didn’t see any downed trees or accidents on the highways. Everything was great. Then we  turned onto our street. The Long Island Sound, which normally keeps to itself,  had come inland, about half a mile.

Usually, when you stand in this spot, you're looking down at the Long Island Sound, not wading in it.

Our whole neighborhood was under water. We parked the car several blocks away and started wading. I had visions of our living room furniture floating, or worse, of our house tilting in the saturated soil, and falling over, like so many trees shown on the news.  But when we stepped out of the water and onto the porch, we realized those fears were unfounded.

We shone our flashlights into  the basement. It was flooded almost to the top. Paint cans and other debris floated by. We couldn’t see it, but our washer and dryer and the big chest freezer had floated up and tipped over. It all seemed like a little too much right then. I’m not sure what pushed me over the edge. Maybe it was all that water, reflecting the light from my flashlight back up at me. Maybe it was watching a pitcher I’d used for drinking water floating by in the filth, but that’s when I began to panic.

And I realized something. Some people should not have a phone when they’re drunk. Some people should not have a phone when they’re hormonal. I should not have a phone when I’m panicking. Fueled by a rush of fight-or-flight adrenaline, I promptly called my mother and reported to Facebook that the house was under water. Sorry, Facebook friends. Things were not nearly as bad as I felt they were at the moment. You all did not need to read my fear-fueled updates.

Things didn’t end up being so horrendous. Two of our closest friends, whose own power was out, had us over, grilled us some hot dogs, and came back to our house with their pumps and a case of drinking water. Our neighbor let us use her electricity. I hope that someday we can be as much of a help to them as they were to us.

This is what it looked like before the drains were cleared.

This is the best part – it was our neighbors and friends who cleared our street of water. The gentleman who lives across the street from us waded out with a broom and began pushing away the debris on the closest storm drain and then clearing leaves, fallen branches and garbage from the drain with his hands. We heard bubbling from the center of the street. Several of us rushed out with rakes and sticks and poles and our hands and spent the next hour pulling leaves out of drains. You’d clear one and there’d be a sudden strong pull on your hand as the water began to fall from the street into the sewer below. And then, if you’d cleared the drain enough, a small whirlpool would appear. People came along and took cell phone videos of us, standing up to our thighs in floodwater, clearing drains. I’m sure we’re on YouTube somewhere. Within a few hours the street had drained completely. We would still have standing water if it weren’t for our neighbor’s idea.

This morning, I took a walk down to the small, usually nasty beach at the end of our street. I had to walk through some weird Lovecraftian muck to get there, but when I did, I was surprised. The beach was higher than usual. There was about a foot of new, clean sand. The water was still and shining and the sun was out. A beautiful beach after an awful storm is so cliché; the writer in me was sickened. But the Bridgeport resident who’s had enough of clouds and brackish water was happy to see it.

I once read an article which said that people don’t like to read positive, inspirational blog posts.  Well tough noogies. Here are some lessons I learned yesterday:

– There are no winners in an argument about whether or not you should evacuate your home.

– If you can pack for a mandatory evacuation, you can pack for anything.

– Mandatory evacuations are not actually mandatory.

– We are a nation of idiots with cameras in our cell phones.

– Good friends are the best resource ever.

– Knowing and being willing to help your neighbors is the smartest thing anyone can do.

– Teamwork can clear a flooded street a lot faster than Public Works can.


The shovel has returned.

I woke up with a plan this morning: Coffee, shoveling, novel, in that order.

My plans to shovel were thwarted the instant I got out the door. I loaned the snow shovel to one of the neighbors, who is from a warmer clime and who looked like he needed to dig out his car in order to go to work. He accepted the shovel and took off down the street with it. That was an hour or so ago. Possibly he’s digging out a friend. Maybe he’s just running around, yelling “Whee, I stole a shovel.” Whatever he’s doing with the shovel, I haven’t seen him in a while.

I’m a little irked about this, because I  enjoy shoveling. There are a lot of reasons to like it: It’s cheap exercise, I get to interact with the neighbors, I get to be outside and there’s the instant gratification of physical labor.

But those aren’t the reasons I like shoveling.

I like shoveling because I can shovel any way I want to. I can shovel in a diagonal line. I can shovel in a circle. I can shovel half the steps and then decide to stop and go inside. I can shovel my name into the snow in front of our house.

I never do any of those things, but I can.

Why? Because of my childhood, of course. Continue reading

Last day of the Bridgeport recount.

Oh, the Bridgeport recount, co-sponsored by the Connecticut Post and the Connecticut Citizen Audit Coalition. It’s big news. We can read about it in the paper. We can follow it online. We can even head on over to City Hall Annex and watch the recounting process, but since I’m no longer paid to pop into government buildings, I opted out of a visit this week.

The recount, which was prompted by Bridgeport’s massive screw-up on Election Day (we ran out of ballots and everything went downhill from there) started on Monday and will end this evening. The CT Post, which published a Nov. 21 editorial demanding that the ballots be recounted, requested the ballots under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act and partnered with the Connecticut Citizen Audit Coalition and various other voter advocacy groups, which are actually conducting the recount.

There’s not much new information on the progress of the recount this morning (the CT Post reported only a paragraph about the recount in today’s paper and the paper’s Election 2010 blog was last updated two days ago). Then again, counting more than 20,000 ballots isn’t very exciting and there’s probably not much to report. But on Sunday? Oh, the headlines we’ll have.

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this recount. I don’t think there’s any doubt that a recount of the ballots is a necessary thing. Bridgeport screwed up big time on election night, and when it came time to count the votes, poll workers were stressed, sleepless and harried by representatives from every big campaign while Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz urged them to count faster so that her office could certify the election’s outcome. Who can do a thorough job under those circumstances? No one.

On the one hand, I’m proud of my local newspaper for taking a stand , FOIing the ballots and organizing a recount. We have the best Freedom of Information laws in the country and they’re not used as often or as well as they should be. So, seeing my local newspaper use the Connecticut FOI laws to organize and sponsor a recount of our city’s ballots is kind of a thrill.

On the other hand, something about this recount feels wrong. I haven’t posted about it this week because I can’t really put a finger on what it is that’s bothering me, but I suppose that I don’t like the idea of a non-governmental agency co-sponsoring a recount. Lennie Grimaldi blogged about the recount on Wednesday, wondering aloud to the Internet if the CT Post wasn’t just trying to sell papers by co-sponsoring a recount. His take was that yes, the city should recount the ballots, but no, the CT Post shouldn’t be organizing said recount.

Grimaldi has a point. The CT Post is, like news organizations across the country, trying to sell papers. And what a glorious way of selling papers this is! It’s better than inserts, or free offers or pictures of puppies. This is actual, huge, big local news. And I think that’s awesome.

But I also think that the CT Post might have overstepped its bounds by actually co-sponsoring the recount. Should the paper be shaming the city into a recount? Yes. Should the pressure exerted by the Fourth Estate force the city to recount? Absolutely. Should they actually be sponsoring the recount? No. In an ideal world, the city should be doing it.

But as was proved on Nov. 2, we don’t live in an ideal world. And if the city won’t recount the ballots, someone should.

Housing the brave in Bridgeport

As a child, I had a very rigid definition of what veterans were: Veterans were old men who fought in WWII. They hung out at the VFW in Oakville and only ever came out for parades. I thought of them, alternately, as nice old men and the walking counterparts of my history lessons.

I admit to having been an ignorant child (I didn’t even think of my two uncles, who served in the Navy, as vets because they weren’t geriatric) but veterans have changed a lot since 2001. Now most vets I meet are in their mid-20s. They are my friends, and my classmates, and my co-workers, and my students.  They are, in many cases, very young women who come home to their children and who need a place to live.

In Bridgeport, veteran housing group Homes for the Brave has been paying close attention to that last group of veterans: Female vets who need housing, both for themselves and their children. Homes for the Brave, which runs a 42-bed facility for male vets up the street from my house, has been trying for a year and a half to provide beds for homeless female veterans. This year, in August, the group obtained zoning approval for a 17-bed group home for female vets on Elmwood Ave in Bridgeport’s West End. This is huge.

When I wrote a story about this in 2009, only three of the state’s 106 beds for homeless veterans were set aside for women. Which is ridiculous, because something like a quarter of Connecticut’s soldiers serving abroad are female. Added to that, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says that female veterans are 3.6 more likely to become homeless than females who aren’t veterans. And they are two to four more likely to become homeless than males, according to a 2007 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness Research Institute. Why? The study suggested that more females had experienced traumatic events before they joined the military (ie, joining the service to escape abuse) and after discharge are dealing with PTSD on multiple levels.

Whatever the reasons, the state needs more housing for female vets.  I’m thrilled to think that that the first shelter for female vets (and their children, up to age 2) will be in our city. It’s a really big step in the right direction.


Bridgeport ballot update and rant.

Oh, Bridgeport.

I’d hate to be in the Bridgeport registrar of voters’ office today. It’s a very narrow office in McLevy Hall, with just enough standing room in the waiting area for about three large would-be voters, but everyone seems to be cramming in there, thanks to Tuesday’s ballot shortage: Mayor Bill Finch, his three-businessman investigation team, CT post reporters, AP reporters, television news teams, representatives from Tom Foley’s campaign, representatives from Dan Malloy’s campaign and assorted other helpful types, including my old college classmate Tim Herbst, who is the Republican first selectman in Trumbull.

At least that’s what it looks like in my head after I read the CT Post’s coverage this morning.

UPDATE : Votes are being counted into the night here in Bridgeport. Head over to Lennie Grimaldi’s blog to check out up-to-the-minute info on that.

He even has pictures. (Points to my fellow Bantams if they can spot Tim!)

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Blogging is not the same as reporting.

For the past several years, I’ve been listening to the tired debate between bloggers and news organizations. It’s been going on for a while, and in some cases the lines have blurred so much that it isn’t an issue any more. At its most extreme, the argument ran thus: Bloggers say Big Journalism is dying and they may or may not be right. News organizations say bloggers are hacks, and they may or may not be right.

I always came down – more or less – on the side of the journalists, and after last night’s amateur foray into political blogging, I still do.

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Two more hours of voting in Bridgeport.

(Scroll down to the bottom for updates and a PDF of the Secretary of the State’s statement.)

This is crazy. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger just ruled that polls in my fair city of  Bridgeport will remain open until 10 p.m. Why? Because we don’t have enough ballots. Because lines are forming around polling stations in town. And because there are people who allegedly cast illegal votes because panicked workers photocopied ballots.

According to some of my fave news sources, Mayor Finch went to the state this evening to ask for two more hours of voting in Bridgeport because only 21,000 ballots were ordered. We have upwards of 60,000 registered voters in Bridgeport. How, exactly, could too few ballots be ordered after President Barack Obama was in town Saturday, whipping up the crowds? When we have so many close races and so many reasons to want to vote? The same news sources say that GOP chairman Chris Healy filed a complaint about the photocopied ballots.

Bysiewicz is allowing poll workers to photocopy the ballots (although the state is apparently doing some of the copying because we aren’t able to copy enough of them in town), but those will have to be counted by hand – the way the absentee ballots are counted.

This is not the last we’ve heard of this. I hope the newly-elected registrars of voters are going to be ready to start sorting this mess tomorrow. I may be updating this later, because news like this is crack to me. Continue reading

Election cramming

Last night, I spent a few hours cramming for the election. It’s always kind of a project.  I don’t vote a party line. I want info on all the candidates before I go to the polls, and sometimes (depsite the CT Post’s extremely useful election site) that information can be hard to get.

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