By ANGELA THOMPSON, in Midtown, Manhattan, New York, 2am Tuesday
Halloween fell on an ordinary old Wednesday this year so Manhattan celebrated early on Saturday night, filling the streets with grisly spectacle.
In the bars of Soho the waiters painted their faces like skeletons and served beers to ghosts, vampires and monsters over counters covered in fake cobwebs.
The next morning ...
A severed plastic thumb abandoned on Second Avenue and some similarly ominous news delivered in a text message to this scribe, and thousands of other visitors booked on flights out of New York City over coming days: all the flights were cancelled.
Hurricane Sandy was coming and she would be a true fright. She would hit late on Monday and early Tuesday – Halloween eve. They started calling her Frankenstorm.
That severed thumb is likely floating somewhere in the Hudson River now, far from our blacked-out apartment on Second Avenue.
The lights here went out several hours ago. A huddle of stickybeaks has formed out of the apartment’s exit, and cranes to inspect the progress of the power company workers further up the road. A blast of rainy wind sends them scurrying suddenly inside, filling the lobby with nervous laughter.
In such a built-up area, there are few trees to show the force of the wind: it is the street signs that bend and whip and make strange noises.
The streets and the hallways are wind tunnels now; acoustic chambers for the mysterious groans, squeaks and whistles whipped up by Mother Nature and the streetscape.
Some of the sounds are like screams but it is impossible to tell what is serious – a skylight about to buckle? Or a person?
The sirens are consistent, but then this is New York City.
With the storm about to hit, only about 20per cent of the restaurants opened on Tuesday and most of them closed by 3pm – usually the opening time for the office that sells cut-price theatre tickets to the hordes of visitors on Broadway.
The shows are all cancelled now. There will be no Jersey Boys this trip, no ice skating at Central Park, perhaps no visit to the Guggenheim. Battery Park – where the free Staten Island ferry departs – is under water. There may not even be time to shop for inexpensive shoes.
Instead, the precious, expensive holiday time has been spent in this dark little brown brick apartment, candle-lit and well stocked with chocolate and wine.
We bought our supplies late yesterday, helping to empty the supermarket shelves of bottled water, ignoring the obnoxious local who rolled her eyes and talked loudly to the checkout staff about people ‘‘freaking out’’.
All right for her – and for us, really. I wonder about the homeless man down on Houston Street. I passed him most days, but hadn’t seen more than his legs sticking out from under his tarpaulin. This morning I met his eyes for the first time, peeking out from under that pathetic shelter, only four hours from when the worst of Sandy hit.
From the apartment window the skyline shows a fat cedar water tank, perched on a metal frame, atop a 20-storey building. There are thousands of these tanks in the city, put there in case of fire and for everyday water supply. The tanks look like precarious targets for the wild wind.
But Second Avenue is quiet now. Perhaps this is the eye of the storm? There is no windswept TV reporter or World Wide Web to offer an answer. Another siren.
It was an adventure to go out in the start of the storm earlier today to see the boarded-up shops on Broadway, get soaking wet, and brunch on Ukrainian soul food at a bustling restaurant made busier by the closure of its neighbours.
But the darkness and the sirens and the sound of the street are unnerving. Australia seems a long way away.
The airport is certain to be chaotic. It is past midnight here now. Halloween tomorrow.