Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kevin Smith "Silver Lining" Storm Story

I tried to share the story on FB but all I got was the photo. So I put it here-

From Kevin Smith's Facebook Page-

The New Jersey Nor’Easter of ’92

My heart goes out to all the folks on the east coast who're staring down weather so nasty, NYC is suspending mass transit services. Batten down the hatches, make sure you've got your smart phones charged, and keep a flashlight and a stack of comic books handy for when the power goes off.

But I'd rather light a candle than curse your darkness - so lemme tell you a quick story about the storm that changed my life.

Pictured is my childhood home at 21 Jackson Street. Hardcore fans might recognize it as Randal's house in CLERKS II, but at one point twenty years ago?

It was underwater.

I grew up in the seaside borough of Highlands, New Jersey - a tiny town most know as the home to Gateway National Park (or Sandy Hook to area folks). While the beach community earned the name from the rolling hills that overlook the Shrewsbury River and the Atlantic Ocean, there are parts of downtown Highlands that fall under the "below sea level" measurement - even though it's dry land.

When you're not from a well-known, happening city, anything big that happens to your town - no matter how dire - somehow validates you as well, earning the world you live in a "place on the map". This is especially true in childhood: At 9 years old, I was told in school that my house and many others in my neighborhood were technically below sea level. This captured my imagination no end: Would Highlands one day suffer the same fate as Atlantis? Fuck the dazzle and danger of living in NYC: at any minute, the mighty sea might claim MY hometown!

21 Jackson Street is about a block from the Shrewsbury River. Whenever there was high tide, we'd see puddles of water bubble up from the sewers. And while severe storms would often bring some of the river pouring over the bulkhead and into my street, we'd never had water IN the house.

That all changed on the morning of December 11th, 1992.

About a month or two before the storm, Jason Mewes and I had purchased two Volkswagens: a Beetle and a Rabbit. The Beetle we were sharing as the car we’d use but Mewes was fixing the Rabbit to replace it. Once he'd gotten it right and plum, we intended to sell the Beetle and split the loot.

Jason called me the night of the storm and said "They say there's a big storm coming and it's gonna flood. Maybe we should move the cars uptown."

“They’re safe in my driveway because it never floods here,” came my famous last words. “And they’re Volkswagens, so I think they’re like waterproof or something.”

My Mother woke me that morning barking "If you wanna save your comic books and laser discs, get out of that bed right now! You've already lost your CARS!"

Half awake, I stepped out of the bed onto the carpeted floor. And as my foot pressed into the wall-to-wall, water engulfed my toes. With my second step came the same result.

That woke my fat ass up.

I immediately pulled all my bagged & boarded comics from the bottom shelf of my bookcase and threw them on my bed. I lifted my laser disc trunk onto the bed as well, even though the bottom was already soaked.

When I ran to the living room window to check on the cars, I saw my Mother wasn’t kidding: I’d lost both cars. They were still in the driveway, mind you – but both were submerged to the hood in water. Submerged and filling, as I saw through the windshields.

A ferocious low pressure system called a "Nor'Easter" brought gusty winds and heavy rain that quickly evolved into tides 10 feet above the norm. If you lived uptown in Highlands, you lost power for 102 hours. If you lived downtown in Highlands, you lost everything.

50 mph winds and torrential downpours coupled with catastrophic tides hammered Highlands for nearly three days. The Nor’Easter drove the river over the bulkhead so the banks of the Shrewsbury River were now my living room and kitchen. Evacuations were mandatory but I stayed in the house with candles and the cats. I remember sitting on my couch watching blown up cat food kernels float by and thinking "Fuck my stupid life..."

Two days later, I finally waded out of downtown Highlands in hip-deep water, got up on the highway and walked the 5 miles to Quick Stop, thinking the whole time “We’re supposed to start shooting CLERKS next week…” I called Scott Mosier in Vancouver from the Quick Stop pay phone to tell him we’d have to delay production ‘til spring ’93 the earliest - if we did it at all. After that, I sat behind the counter and vended cigarettes to some of the most serious smokers I’ve ever met – all of them willing to brave disaster-level weather just to calm their nic-fits.

CLERKS never seemed further away than that moment. Everything I owned was waterlogged and all of my dreams were suddenly submerged, so how could I think about making some stupid movie? I was gonna be homeless, for shit's sake! Hell, I couldn’t even drive anywhere even though I had two cars: both were sleeping with the fishes. I was 22 and trying to start my life but a storm system wouldn't let me. The Nor’Easter of ’92 destroyed by world…

For about a week. That’s when the FEMA folks showed up.

I’d never heard of the Federal Emergency Management Agency before the Nor'Easter of '92. The government sends FEMA into natural disaster areas to help with rescue, recovery and rebuilding. They’re the calm voice in the worst moment of your life that lets you know all of your shit can be replaced and your home can be rebuilt.

Then they give you the money to do so.

It was like something out of a dream. The only caveat: naturally, you couldn’t ask for money to replace dopey shit like comics and laser discs: it was for home repair.

And car replacement.

With their engines and car seats marinating in sea water for three days, our Volkswagens were no longer usable. So Jason Mewes drags me to Borough Hall to file for the only real property we owned that was on the FEMA approved reimbursement list: our two waterlogged Volkswagens that we’d bought for roughly $400.00 combined. The FEMA agent who took our information couldn’t figure out our relationship with the communal property arrangement so she put the paperwork under Jason’s name. She said we’d know if we qualified for reimbursement in a month.

“We’ll never hear from them again,” I told Mewes as we walked home.

A month later, my Mom comes to the door of what was left of my post-flood bedroom and says “Jason’s on the phone. He says it’s urgent.”

When I picked up the kitchen phone, I couldn’t get my greeting out before Jay was screaming “FEMA SENT US FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!!”

“Four thousand dollars?!?” It was then (as it still remains) a lot of money to a guy raised in a lower, lower, LOWER middle class family. “For what?!”


We were so excited, I didn’t have the heart to correct his math.

I went car-less for awhile and sunk my half of that four thousand bucks into CLERKS – which we started shooting three months later in March of 1993, thanks in no small part to FEMA.

And so, East Coast: As you await the wrath of Sandy, worried it'll turn your life upside down, lemme just throw this into your ever-bubbling brain soup for you to stew on…

You never know what good’s gonna come out of the bad.

For what it’s worth, I’m sending you positive vibes.
May Batman protect you all.

No comments:

Post a Comment