I remember walking back from Chelsea to my apt in the East Village in what is now recorded as the second most widespread power outage in human history or Northeast Blackout of 2003. It was a hot sweaty August afternoon as power outages spread throughout 8 U.S. states. Except for backup services, a blinded landscape of frozen “AC's” and electronic clock boards railed millions of workers striding steadily towards the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges as if rehearsing a post-apocalyptical movie set in a hurry before dark. Lucky it was still 5 p.m. "ish" and with 3 more hours of daylight, it all appeared orderly considering blackened stop lights havocked transit. Very few police were at sight and not enough for each intersection. To direct traffic I saw honorable but a bit crazy civilians calling rights of way on major streets. Histrionically tickled by the calm in such massive malfunction, several subway systems were still evacuating riders to the ground. Twenty minutes into the black out it was rumored that we would spend the night in darkness, I remember thinking how cool it would be to see the Milky Way with my naked eye. Within no time candles, lanterns and batteries became scarce and few corner stores would sell you a bag of ice. I began to think that maybe the structures of society were beginning to fall apart, like a house of cards. Instead of panicking, the crowd drew connected with commonality, like feudal cultures where reciprocal relationships based on mutual needs were the norm. In this way friends, family and community become irreplaceable. But our society has turned relationships into services and nature into its downright commodity, I mumbled... Turning off 14th St. and 1 Ave, restaurant and local owners had realized that their goods would perish quickly. With no refrigeration, an empathic frenzy ignited gelato and ice-cream parlors to give scoops for free. Mobs of hipsters were lining up for their favorite flavors, I confess I got a triple chocolate fudge, it was sweet, as a gift, in complete abundance, consuming everyone to compete in the act of giving. If only security came from giving, not like its set up by the money system were security comes from the acquisition of goods and services. What if those who gave the most had the most wealth, we would be beyond the end of growth, living in a gift economy and ecosystems would no longer be considered annual cash. Soil, ground water, trees and mountains are all sacred along with the free oxygen they provide us to breath. I remember feeling a cold blob of dripping sundae on my left thigh when a nervous neighborhood kid shoved and pushed the passerby's. When economic decisions become aligned with what's good for the planet, we will live in "the gift". A few blocks down, several sushi restaurants had set table stands on the sidewalk and were giving away crab sashimi and their best white tuna. I don't remember eating in such abundance delightfully for free, as the impending darkness of the riot-less skyscraper shadows caressed the city sunset. I remember feeling true with the connected self, that moment was for all of us, nothing left to convert to money, perishable goods had become gifts. Approaching St. Marks, the smell of burning suit consumed Tompkins Square Park, I noticed a cop in every corner equipped with clubs and heavy flash lights, a big glare came form the center of the square, right below the Hare Krishna Elm. Alphabet City residents playfully celebrated the fall of our current energy grid. In what I thought was a postindustrial tribalistic happening, a huge bonfire burned with found junk and garbage, the smokestack lit up 12 feet into the canopy giving the ceremony a spectral tattoo like. Rattlers and drummers danced in roundabouts, runaway's with their pit-bulls circled barefooted plucking dollar beers and yelling or chanting to a token song, it was apparent, just for that night, we could all be free, anything was permitted. A feeling of connectedness brought us together in this hour of structural systems failure.
I finally made it to my roof access apt on 6th St., standing on the tar in total disbelief I looked up at the dark sky, longing for a clear shot of the Milky Way, for a split second recalling that in gift cultures the connection with the firmament is an irreplaceable experience that ties us with the cosmos. I opened my eyes to great shock and disappointment, discovering frankly that it wasn't enough for 8 states to burnout, there was still way too much light output residue and reflection in the eastern continental seaboard. My reality check was cold in that blackened blazing summer night, I could Only see a very fuzzy faint first magnitude lonesome Orion star.
Carlos C. Brown