Then there was the time I drove through a perfect storm of fish…
Dunno what’s prompting me to keep diving into memory lane, except that I’m swamped with work and sculpture and friends and not finding a lot of new stories. When you’re not listening to strangers on a train or a park bench, the storytelling muscles tend to turn inward.
Anyway, the fish.
I moved to New York to work for Windows Magazine. Typically, I’d work in the office until 2 or 3 in the morning, head home for a couple hours’ sleep, then dive back in. It wasn’t just that I was a workaholic; I tried to spend as little time at home as possible because my apartment truly sucked.
Apartments were almost non-existent around Windows’ headquarters in Jericho. At first, I’d rented a tiny home from a fellow editor stationed in France, but he was called back to New York a month later and I was homeless.
After two weeks of frantic searching, I rented a tiny clifftop cottage on an estate just outside Mill Neck, overlooking Oyster Bay. Formerly the playhouse for a millionaire’s children, it looked like something from a fairy tale. It was built of big boulders and old timber, with a huge fireplace sporting a crooked chimney, 20-foot ceilings and a small balcony overlooking the water. The view was gorgeous, the house was lousy.
It was a studio, with a bath literally 2 feet by 3 feet; for a bedroom, the owners had suspended a swaying platform on chains from the ceiling, about 8 feet off the ground. At night, I’d climb the rickety ladder to bed and watch the mice and snakes and roaches and spiders come out of the walls to swing on the vertical blinds.
The boulders WERE the walls, and they hadn’t been chinked; in places I could nearly get my hand through the gaps. In winter, the wind whistling through the walls could blow out candles. I turned up the heat the first month; the resulting $600 propane bill had me stuffing towels in the cracks, and investing in extra layers of clothing and down comforters instead.
The rent, by the way, was $2,000/month and my coworkers envied me my find. I, on the other hand, found the office much more appealing.
One night I wrapped up work at about 2 AM and headed for the car. It had been raining for hours, raining so hard you could barely see out of the windows, and the water was ankle-deep and cold in the parking lot. I decided to take the short cut home, through a side road that ran between Oyster Bay and my cliff. It’d be faster, and I’d be snug in my little vermin-infested wind tunnel in time to catch the late-night news.
Light poles were blown down, so the streets were dark. I could barely make out the lines in the road as I made for the cottage. At their fastest, the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the rain, and my little Corolla was buffeted back and forth by the wind. I was driving almost by feel but I didn’t have much choice as there was very little between work and my cottage. If I didn’t keep going I’d be spending the night in the car.
I crept round the corner to Oyster Bay, and conditions got worse. I’d never seen so much rain. It’d be merely heavy for awhile, then whoooosh–it’d be like someone aimed a firehose at the windshield. The wind howled and threw leaves, branches and even seaweed across the hood.
I liked dramatic weather, but this was a bit much. I could barely see where I was going, but I knew my driveway had to be within a hundred feet or so. I turned on my brights to avoid missing the turnoff.
And a fish landed on the windshield.
He wasn’t all that big, kinda perchlike and maybe 8 inches long, and the windshield wipers quickly swept him away. Another fish plopped down on the hood and it finally dawned on me: I wasn’t driving beside Oyster Bay, I was driving IN it. Those periodically heavy rainbursts were most likely waves. Uhm….
Not much I could do about it. Getting out of the car would have been stupid(er), turning around was impossible. I crept on, dodging fish and seaweed, until I could turn up the driveway and get to the top of the cliff. When the drive swung around my headlights briefly illuminated the bayside road–it was covered in whitecaps.
I went inside, had a hot shower and climbed the ladder to bed. The guy on the news announced that Oyster Bay had flooded in the worst nor’easter to hit New England in many years (it was, in fact, the “perfect storm” that they made a movie about), and all the roads were closed.
Right. My back-road shortcut had probably bypassed the police barriers I was seeing now on TV.
When I got up the next morning to go to work (the roads were still closed, so it was a futile effort), the front bumper of the car was clogged with seaweed. I’d always figured that an internal combustion engine would die when filled with water, but apparently Corollas are waterproof. Or something.
All I could figure was that somebody up there has a soft spot for idiots.