Enduring Life

Stories in the Key of Life, from Alphabet City to Hudson Bay:
First, a little moral fable:

Jeda’s Tale

When we moved to the Berkeley hills six year ago, Jeda lived one house over, in the Clown House. We called it that because the residents wore garish outfits and went to Burning Man. They were acrobats and kalimba players and fire dancers. The neighbors weren’t happy about the situation, because these free spirits played music late into the night and brought a lot of old beaters and campervans to the area, occupying a good portion of our narrow, winding residential street. Eventually, the owners of the house returned, and all these colorful characters went to inhabit grayer pastures, Oakland art collectives and warehouse spaces in Richmond.
Jeda had an RV. An old model called a Windrunner, which was brown and cream and had those parallel grooves running across the body like those campers from the seventies will, to make them more aerodynamic perhaps. It was huge.
One evening, Jeda walked down Shasta Road as I was in the process of building a fence around the garden to keep the dogs from running off, and asked me if she could leave her camper in front of our house. I said “sure thing”—we only had one car in addition to the Mutt Mobile, which Lily refused to drive after the breaks went out on a winding mountain road going into Ukiah. Lily’s car was a Golf GTI, which didn’t take up a lot of space. So there was enough room for Jeda and her girlfriend to park their big camper in front of our patchy lawn. Although they spent most of their time at the Clown House, they always slept in the camper.

Four days later, she got a ticket. Neighbors had complained about a “stationary vehicle.” There’s a city ordinance (which people tend to ignore) that says cars cannot be parked more than 48 hours at a time on the street in any given location. So Jeda had to move her camper.
I had a few good talks with Jeda while she was parked in front of our house. She had beautiful aquiline features and expressive eyes that were either green or brown, depending on the angle of the light. She was perfectly bald because she had undergone chemotherapy. The cancer had receded and the tumor had become undetectable, but she had decided not to grow back her hair, just in case. We talked about this and that, little things mostly. Her body painting practice, and the other work she did, which was mostly agrarian. She was a picker, and tended vines in Napa. One day, Jeda came to our door to say good-bye. A vineyard owner somewhere was offering her a “good gig,” so she was leaving with her partner, Crow. She thanked me for the talks and the attempt to provide a parking space for the Windrunner. “You’re a good listener.” We hugged, and that was that.
A year later, after the clown house had been vacated and was in the process of being renovated, I found Jeda sitting on our front lawn. “What’s up?” she asked me. She sounded a little broody, but I didn’t think much about it. She had never been the chipper sort. Her Napa gig hadn’t worked out, and she had joined some kind of farm collective in Mendocino, and then broken up with Crow. She was on her way to San Antonio, where her father lived, and she wanted to come and pay her respects before leaving NorCal for good. I thought there was something a little strange about the whole situation, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. We’d never been friends, only neighbors. I didn’t dare to enquire about her health. So we chatted for a bit, and I asked her if she needed a place to sleep before hitting the road.
“Nope. My camper’s parked down the road. I want to get an early start.” She hesitated, then got up slowly. “I’ll be on my way then.”
“It was nice to see you Jeda” I chirped. “Thanks for stopping by.”
“Keep in touch.”
“Sure.” I didn’t ask her to write down her contact info although I knew I could probably never find the lavender Post-it she’d handed before leaving the hills. The truth was, why would I keep in touch? In this world, who has time for a struggling ex-neighbor? The answer, maybe, had something to do with the reason I found her on our lawn a year after our last encounter. We’d connected at one point, if fleetingly. Maybe her cancer had come back, or maybe she had lost her way and needed a friend. But I was preoccupied with all sorts of things—our baby daughter, the grinding commute to Santa Cruz for Lily’s PhD, our leaky little rental in the mountains, a hard assignment for National Geographic magazine. I didn’t have time for Jeda. When I think about it, it makes me want to cry. Sorry, Jeda.

 Copyright 2017 Noah Sudarsky.

And now for the published stuff:

The Village Voice: Underground icon Dean Johnson died under murky circumstances, but DC cops didn't think so.


The New York Times: It gets noisy sometimes downtown.  What are you gonna do?


The New York Times: the departed.


New York Press: The Lake District in Central Park, and Ice Skating with Rick Moranis


Explorersweb.com. Driving a convertible to Hudson Bay.

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Reporting Ground Zero

EPN Newsdesk
Noah Sudarsky at Ground Zero 
Noah Sudarsky at Ground Zero

Few front lines can be as hazardous as Ground Zero, the abyss in Manhattan left by the destruction of the World Trade Centre.

Thousands of tons of steel and pulverized concrete could shift and collapse at any time.

Floods threatened the rescue and recovery effort, while still-live electric cabling made work more perilous still. Worst of all, hope had all but disappeared for anyone who might still be trapped in the ruins: hundreds of the dead were beyond identification, thousands more were to be discovered in horrifying condition.

Despite the danger, police officers and fire crews had to turn away hundreds of volunteers for the rescue effort. Teams arrived from New Jersey and upstate New York to contribute: many were turned away as so many were already at work. New Yorkers wanted to help in any way they could: circumstances were too dangerous for civilians.

EPN journalist Noah Sudarsky did make it through as a rescue volunteer. An experienced construction worker, a climber and a spelunker, he had exactly the skills rescue teams required.

He spent ten hours digging and sifting through wreckage for personal effects that might be used to identify victims before the zone was declared unsafe. Walking to the ruins of the World Trade Centre’s North Tower, he saw “A burning mountain of wreckage, a doomsday vision of destruction”.

“I had experienced civil war in Africa, mindless violence, bloody massacres” he wrote afterwards, “but this was on another scale entirely.”

He described a vision of Armageddon: hundreds of rescue workers scrambling in the smoking ruins, hundred-man lines carrying wreckage. The remains of walls shifting, threatening to crash down on the rescuers. Body parts found and bagged – little survived intact. Miracles, however, do occur: five firefighters rescued the day before, two more pulled unhurt from the rubble that morning.

Returning to Ground Zero a day later, few felt they could still describe themselves as rescue workers. Sudarsky was plagued by his greatest terror – someone trapped under all that rubble – but driven by his hope of finding someone still alive. Each day he worked at Ground Zero, he descended into the “void”: what used to car parking space, maintenance areas and foundations, still precariously existing, still potentially harbouring survivors, but now as he discovered, a mass grave.

Each day, he was called out of the void when fire chiefs judged conditions had become too dangerous. Each time he was called out, he and his colleagues regrouped and found another way in. Despite the stench of death, the fumes, the heat – Sudarsky’s watch measured the temperature at 132 degrees Fahrenheit at one point – people were still determined to find survivors.

Sudarsky joined the effort as a rescuer, a digger, a climber. Only afterwards did he reflect on his actions as a journalist. He had worked in extremely dangerous conditions, with brave men, some of whom had lost family members in the terrorist attacks. He had watched bodies pulled from the ruins and limbs bundled into body bags. He felt that only a line of force, linking the rescue workers, allowed him to continue without losing touch with reality.

“In a sudden epiphany”, he wrote, “I know what it means to feel like a firefighter, to be ready to die for others and to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that others are ready to die for you. Nothing in the world comes close.”

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