Holed Up in Gramercy Park
By Jill Eisenstadt
We were at a wedding in D.C. when Michael turned on the TV to find our neighbors on CNN being interviewed as “survivors.” Our co-op, on 20th Street and Third Avenue, had been the epicenter of a massive steampipe explosion. Back in August 1989, such an event was considered a major New York City disaster; several people died. When our co-op board found asbestos in the boiling mud that spewed through our broken windows, we were not allowed back in for months. Con Ed sent us to live in the still-seedy Gramercy Park Hotel.
By then, we’d been dating for three years. At the wedding, I’d been wondering when and if we might be married ourselves. I was 26 and losing faith. But the blast instantly erased my impatience. Stranded together with no belongings, it seemed as if we’d only just met. It was our first glimpse of how one another reacts to a crisis (I turn mute. He makes himself useful).
At the hotel, then a favorite of bands and foreign publishers, we lay awake in our new Con Ed–funded pajamas as beer cans rained down through the air shaft. Despite or because of the loss all around us, we felt … exhilarated. Shedding past possessions let us fantasize wildly about the future. We’d move to Fiji, or Brooklyn, learn to cook all the fungi at the Greenmarket, design disaster-proof clothing, tend poppies on a roof with a view of the skyline. Paint.
When the air conditioner was working, we’d jump up and down on the bed like children. When it failed, we’d wander downstairs to the bar for a dinner of Pepperidge Farm goldfish. There, a guy in a light blue tuxedo shirt would play his Casio, leading us urban refugees in song: “Hello, Dolly,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “New York, New York.” By summer’s end, we were engaged and busy planning an August ceremony at the World Trade Center.
Jill Eisenstadt is a novelist and screenwriter.