By the time I woke up Tuesday morning there was a noise somewhere in the distance. It was a chainsaw. Some guy — I'm guessing he was paid by the city — was calmly walking around, sawing down every loose or suspicious-looking tree branch.
The funny thing is that hardly anything happened in my neighborhood in Queens — the power was still on, there was no flooding. It was actually kind of beautiful and placid outside. But here, miles from all the flood zones, where you have crews working around the clock, here you have this one man, methodically doing his work, anticipating the next disaster.
A long time ago, I was in Calcutta, walking down the street, and it starts raining, and in less than an hour, I'd say, we find ourselves wading through thigh-high water —and the one thing that kept me focused, was fear: not so much a fear of drowning, but of whatever effluents, and organic chunks, and creepy underwater organisms were surely working their way up my pants. But of course, for the locals, they're all blasé, like hey, it's just another day in Calcutta — what's the big deal? Don't be such an American, and so on.
If you hang out with a fair number of immigrants in this city, as I do, or you know a lot of people who live in other countries, you've probably heard something like that before — that we Americans, or we New Yorkers have this absurd and completely disproportionate reaction to the most inconsequential matters, things like...bed bugs.
But there is a flip side to that, and I think it's worth recalling at moments like this — when something genuinely big does happen.
When I returned from my morning walk back to my apartment in Queens I went online and saw that my brother-in-law had posted an interesting comment: he noted the relatively low death toll from what he called the "greatest storm of the century," and wrote: "In this country 100 die during a normal monsoon every year. When are we ever going to learn disaster management?"
Another friend watching from abroad called, on Facebook, for a Standing Ovation, for America.
Here at home, we invariably politicize these things. But I don't think my friends and relatives abroad care all that much about U.S. party politics — what they see is how we as a society function, and how we place high expectations on ourselves, and how much more likely we are to hold people accountable.
So I do feel lucky right now, but I also feel a certain sense of pride.
Because I'm reminded that the world is watching, and I like to think some of them are taking notes as well.