What Sandy Hath Wrought

Ivy League Idler

There’s nothing like a natural disaster to shake people out of idleness. It’s difficult to sit on the sofa in front of the TV if the roof has caved in. It’s difficult to spend hours on Facebook when there’s no power. Hurricane Sandy wasn’t too hard on us here in Cambridge: minimal flooding, no power loss, and, of course, no classes. But in some of the areas that were more severely affected, people had to seriously consider what was essential to their lives and what was frivolous. People in areas where power was lost went into a strange, quasi-hibernation mode.

My dear leisure-loving grandparents in Princeton had no power for a week. After several nervous calls that went straight to voicemail, I finally got a hold of my grandmother. No, they weren’t submerged in feet of saline water after all. They were just camping out in the library because the house was too cold.

Sandy left devastation, flooding, and havoc in its wake, but there was also time for leisure amid the chaos. In New York City, subways, offices, and businesses where shuttered. Working simply wasn’t an option. Our family friends living in Connecticut were without power for a week. The children were off from school, the parents off from work. And there was no power. What on earth was this rather normal American family of four to do? How on earth could they get through a week with so much leisure time and so few leisure outlets?

Under the soft, flickering candle light in their chilly living room, a remarkable transformation was underway. Instead of reaching for the video game consoles, the kids uncovered the Taboo box, the Scrabble board, the pickup sticks. Long neglected in favour of iPads, laptops, and Xboxes, these old friends were the only ones that were there for the family’s youngest in their hour of dire need. Just as the storm windows and sandbags helped the household weather Sandy, these stalwart board games helped the family through their suddenly pre-industrial evening hours.

Some miles down the coast in New York City, however, things weren’t so peachy for the metropolitan well-to-do. A friend described to me in eye-watering detail the trauma of being evacuated from Lower Manhattan to the ominous Carlyle Hotel. Running short of potable water, the evacuees had no choice but to make use of the hotel bar. At least there seemed to be ample supply of alcohol. Things were tolerable until the announcement that food deliveries had been disrupted due to the extreme weather conditions. With à la carte ordering in jeopardy, panic spread among the evacuees. Despondent, dehydrated, and acutely aware of the diminishing supply of bisque, all they could do was watch CNN on their generator-powered televisions.

But New Yorkers are as resilient as they are snobbish, and through sheer grit my friend and his fellow evacuees made it through even this most trying of ordeals. As for our family friends, once their power returned, the board games were once again exiled to the nether regions of the living room armoire. Hot water had never felt so good. Xbox had never been so fun. Lamentably, the delight that old-fashioned board games brought was short-lived. It will probably take another Sandy for the Connecticut kids to return to the Scrabble board. Until then, they’re sticking to Words with Friends.

—Columnist Anjali R. Itzkowitz can be reached at aitzkow@college.harvard.edu.

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