We Will Rebuild
- Joshua M Brown
- November 10th, 2012
I took a walk around the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, it was sunny and we’ve been pretty hands off with this market since before Halloween.
I was struck by the amount of personal possessions that had been destroyed and left on the street – still there 12 days after Sandy. Furniture and clothing and appliances and workout equipment and children’s toys, it’s all so very sad. There are portable storage units on a lot of driveways so people can keep their stuff out of the way while they rip their walls and carpets out of their houses to protect against mold.
There are still downed trees lining all the streets, so many it will take weeks to clear them. Then there are the standing trees with branches cracked and hanging, some of them massive and, as such, very dangerous. And dumpsters everywhere, so much debris.
After almost two weeks a neighbor drove by yesterday while I was reading on my front stoop. He said “Josh, try your lights!” I couldn’t believe it, after a fortnight as a wandering powerless refugee, seeing a television lit and feeling the heat kick back on felt like being in the presence of a miracle. It’s amazing how quickly we adapt to new circumstances and I was starting to accept our situation as permanent, as silly as that sounds. I think that’s what your brain has to do in order for you to cope. It has to normalize the abnormal in order to keep you functioning.
There are still some sections of my hometown without power but the trucks are everywhere so I’m hoping the rest get restored today. The snow is melting as well, a sunny weekend will certainly help matters. In the meantime, I drove by an open gas station this morning and there were only 6 cars in line, a huge difference from just a week ago when we were waiting 3 hours, taking shifts and allowing each other to run to the bathroom or get a drink. The stores are reopening and operating on the electricity from the grid, the ceaseless mechanical vibration of the generators has given way to the chirping of birds. The absence of that horrible sound after so long – just the silence that’s replaced it is like the most beautiful music in the world.
There are general contractors and plumbers and restoration pros and electricians and landscapers and all sorts of builders and fixers everywhere you look in my town. Vans and trucks and equipment in front of every other house. Sandy is said to have cost New York State alone $33 billion in missed revenue and damage. But I can assure you the workmen who have converged on our town are rapidly chipping away into that, they will come away as the big winners when the dust settles.
I’m thankful for the things that got me through these past few weeks. For starters, there’s the NBC show Revolution. It’s about a powerless post-apocalyptic America 15 years from now – I downloaded all the season’s episodes so far to watch on my iPad each night. Unlike the show, my powerless life was short on swordplay and adventure. The closest thing to swashbuckling I’d been involved with was related to getting a place to stand on an overcrowded Long Island Railroad cattle car one night on the way home.
Reading also kept me sane, I went back to Voltaire’s Candide – his hilarious novel in which the title character, his mentor Dr. Pangloss and a host of other friends and temporary acquaintances are hyperbolically plagued by one setback after another. It’s not hard to see how I could instantly relate to this material. The preternaturally innocent Candide’s misfortunes include banishment, torture, forced conscription, battlefield slaughters and natural disasters (he is a first-person witness to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake that kills 30,000 people right before his eyes.). Yet he and his mates always remind themselves that the various tragedies that have befallen them simply represent the “best of all possible worlds” – this panglossian mantra being an acceptance that everything is meant to be just so, and that we should rejoice even at our misfortunes as they are handed down from an ultimately benevolent god. I’m unsure if this is the one that got Voltaire kicked out of France (which happened to him a few times), but the wit and gallows humor was most welcome during a dark time for me.
I also want to mention the new double album from Mark Knofler as a ray of light during this time. Knopfler’s latest, called Privateering, is 20 new original songs he’s written and performed with a world class group of musicians at his studio in England. Knofler does authentic roots music – everything from country to blues to Irish folk songs to British sea chanties. His guitar work is virtuosic as always and the lyricism is somehow both complex and yet simple all at once. This record kept my mind off the despair and struggle, it transported me away and above it all.
Anyway, we’re back on the grid and things are getting back to normal.
The kids are watching a Cars DVD in the playroom, my wife is online paying our bills. Me, I’ve got a plugged in laptop and a steady internet connection for the first time since October. So you know what I’m doing.
It feels good to be a human being again, no longer working out of bagel stores with Wifi or sleeping in four layers of clothing on the floor in front of a fireplace. And now I’ve got work to catch up on and a house to put back to order and emails to return and a family’s company to enjoy.
We will rebuild. It begins today.
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The Reformed Broker is a blog about financial markets and the economy. Joshua Brown is a New York City-based investment advisor for high net worth individuals, charitable foundations, retirement plans and corporations... More.