Before the storm

NEW JERSEY - This wasn't supposed to happen. I am writing my column early this week, trying to finish before Hurricane Sandy knocks out the power. If the weather reports are accurate, I have about five or six hours before 90 mph winds tear up trees and send them flying into utility poles and wires. Storms like this simply don't occur in my part of the country. If Sandy turns out to be as bad as the experts say it will, it would be a weather even that hasn't happened here for about 100 years.

Lee Siegel,

04 de novembro de 2012 | 01h00

We were caught by surprise. I rushed around all weekend-I am writing this on Monday, October 29-buying a flashlight (the kids had lost or broken the ones we had); stocking up on canned goods and bottled water. My worst fear is that the strong winds will shatter the large plate glass window in the living room and send water streaming into the house. Needless to say, my 6-year-old son's most fervent hope is that strong winds will shatter the large plate glass window in the living room, creating a thrilling spectacle of disaster. The truth is that after what he and his 2-year-old sister have done to the furniture, a hurricane in the house is almost redundant.

It's a strange moment. As the giant storm makes it slow, tortuous way up the eastern coast, and as the wind rushes through the trees outside and the rain starts to pelt the windows, another unexpected event is taking place. Mitt Romney is making his slow, tortuous way toward the presidency. The candidate who was once the laughing-stock of both liberals and conservatives is now in a dead heat with the president, and gaining on Obama in the so-called swing states that will decide the election.

Outside my window, the gold and scarlet leaves swirl over the darkened street. The wind has died down. The rain has ceased. Everything hangs for a moment in a strange calm, enchanting and menacing. The feeling of being suspended in space and time unnerves me.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has evacuated nearly 400,000 people living on the coast or along a river from their homes throughout New York City. The subways have been shut down. Commuters trains running between the city and the suburbs have stopped running. And yet days before mother nature made the city withdraw into itself, the city had been traumatized by human nature. On the Upper West Side, a working mother returned home to find both her children dead, stabbed to death by their nanny, who survived her attempt to cut her own throat after she committed the murders. The event is unspeakable. It is unimaginable. No one knows what made the nanny crack. She had had some money problems, but she was said to be on wonderful terms with the family she destroyed.

Now mothers throughout the country live in terror. Women are supposed to be allowed to pursue their careers and vocations in safety. The caretaker to whom you entrust your children is supposed to protect them. References, background checks, intuition all guarantee that you have found a reliable person. Guardians are not supposed to turn on those they guard, especially vulnerable innocents like children. The unthinkable event on the Upper West Side was not supposed to happen. Nannies are supposed to be as dependable as the police.

So it came as a shock when a New York City policeman, Gilberto Valle, stationed on the Upper West Side, was accused of cannibalism. The authorities discovered a file on his computer that he had titled, "Abducting and Cooking," in which he detailed his plans to kidnap, cook and eat women. "Cook her over a low heat, keep her alive as long as possible," he wrote to someone the authorities are describing as a co-conspirator. Valle's lawyer claims that her client was merely indulging some sick fantasies, but that seems unlikely. The Federal prosecutor in charge of the case against Valle says she has proof that he used a police car to follow a woman around, and actually approached her at one point "in intimidating fashion."

"Quis custodiet ispsos custodes?"asked the Roman poet Juvenal. As people seem to recede more and more into private, and fragmented, inner psychic zones, as society seems less and less able to regulate aberrant behavior, what will happen to the individuals we entrust our lives to-who will we be able to turn to, if not to the babysitters, the policemen, the American president himself?

The wind has picked up and the rain is beginning to fall steadily again. They say the confluence of a cold front coming from the west, the hurricane picking up steam from warm waters to the south, and a full moon that will raise tides, will create a monster storm, transmogrifying a radiant autumn-a season whose contemplative beauty you can rely on-into a devastating vortex. It was not supposed to happen. But it is.

 
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Lee Siegel

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