by Ralph Dumain

Saturday evening I arrived home from New York. I departed for New York early Thursday to accomplish a specific mission under a great deal of emotional tension. As luck would have it, I arrived two hours before the blackout that knocked out the electrical power of the Northeast. As a result, a whole lot of money was wasted on a trip that ended up as a complete disaster. As I was cut off from the rest of the world once my cell phone went dead, other people were worried that the blackout would do me in. Just the opposite. Paradoxically, my entire attitude and set of operational assumptions turned around completely after neither sleeping nor eating for 24 hours but just thinking or listening to music on my CD player. The morning after, I went out to breakfast at my favorite little place on the Upper West Side, where Jim and I took our breakfast frequently, and ordered my usual spinach omelet and sweet plantains. There I wrote down (I'm not used to using longhand for real writing anymore) the entire range of emotional reactions I experienced over a 24-hour period including my experience of the blackout. As I had hurt my Achilles tendon, by this time, I could barely walk, and I could not leave town given the paralyzed transportation system, so I limped back to my hotel room to lie on my bed with a pack of ice around my foot for the rest of the day. There I wrote a postscript to my essay, which included a portrait of my final phone conversations with Jim. My piece is entitled "Enlightenment Blackout."

Once I had written all this down, I could release it from my mind. Though I had only had one hour of sleep, around the time the electricity returned to Manhattan, I was not in the least sleepy. I had only one book with me to read while lying in bed resting my painful foot, Kenzaburo Oe's Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! inspired by his lifelong misreading of William Blake, which a friend had sent me with his condolences. I was repelled by the book, though, and I gave up trying to read it, just skimming the rest for Oe's comments on Blake.

By the early evening I was hungry again. I had lost my appetite for a month, and I finally got it back. But I knew I had to watch myself: New York makes me fat. I was better able to walk, so I walked on up to another local favorite of Jim and me, Flor de Mayo, and ordered my usual dinner of Peruvian chicken and sweet plantains. This is the biggest meal I ate in a month. Luckily, the host, who always greeted Jim and me there, did not ask me where he was.

I had nothing left to read. I had to find something to read on the train trip home the following day. I can't go anywhere without a book. I discovered that one of the used bookstores in the neighborhood had gone out of business since my last visit. The other had nothing that interested me or that I was willing to be overcharged for. Barnes & Noble was still closed as a result of the blackout. So I walked a couple more blocks to visit a street bookseller that Jim and I knew, and the eccentrics that always hang around. I needed to rummage through his stock before the sky grew dark. I found only one book I was interested in reading, John Dewey's Reconstruction in Philosophy, which cost me $2.

At night in my hotel room, following a couple of phone conversations, my brain went into gear again, and suddenly, shifting around my operating assumptions, a whole different plan of action came to me. And so I underwent yet another attitude shift. I stayed up past 2 am thinking it all out, even though I hadn't slept more than an hour in almost two days.

I woke up the following morning. I still only got five or fewer hours of sleep, but the adrenaline was still pumping. Before my departure from the city, I returned to Cafe con Leche for my omelet and plantains.

Luckily, the subways were now running, so sweating like a maniac in the unbearably hot subway, I got a train down to Penn Station. Like thousands of other people who now had to exchange their train tickets and reservations for new tickets, I had to stand in a long line for at least three quarters of an hour, after buying some more bottled water at one of the fast food places. One might think people crowded together might get pretty testy under frustrating conditions, especially in a city as congested as New York, but no. The post-September-11 spirit might have something to do with it, but the mood in New York was positive and friendly. New Yorkers: fuckin' A, man! Everyone was so nice, like you wouldn't believe.

The air conditioning had not kicked in, at least not where the ticket lines were, so I stood in line with everyone else fanning myself and sweating profusely. But it didn't faze me at all. Oddly, even though I was a casually dressed passenger like everyone else, people around me treated me like an authority for some reason and bombarded me with questions about ticketing procedures. I could more or less answer them, but I found it curious that people would assume I knew everything.

As the long twisting waiting line crawled slowly forward, I whipped out my cell phone, now recharged, and called home to report. In the course of conversation, I said: this trip was a total fiasco, wasting hundreds of dollars, but strangely, just being in New York makes me feel better. Maybe it was worth it just to be miserable in New York rather than be miserable in DC. Hearing this, everyone in line within earshot laughed.

Wednesday, 13 August 2003

In memoriam: Jim Murray, Director, The C.L.R. James Institute, April 10, 1949 - July 21, 2003

Enlightenment Blackout by Ralph Dumain

100 Years of C.L.R. James

Jim Murray Memorial Address by Ralph Dumain

Ralph Dumain's Farewell Message to Jim Murray

Memorial Tributes to Jim Murray

In Memoriam: Jim Murray

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