Two weeks before writing this, I was in sunny Los Angeles with VICE’s global editor, Andy Capper, filming retired porn star Belladonna for an upcoming episode of my Skinema show. The family was back in New Jersey, and I could drink until sunrise, pick fights with Parisians, and walk around my hotel room nude; I was on vacation without a care in the world. I should have just stayed in LA, because the day I arrived back home in New Jersey the airport was full of fearful folk running around with their hands above their heads, doing the Steve Martin and screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
We were 24 hours away from getting ass-raped by Hurricane Sandy. California refuses to acknowledge any part of the country outside its borders, so during the week I was out there I had heard nothing of this megastorm. I had to prepare my home, my skate shops, my family, and my world in general for outright disaster, and I was very late to the party. None of the stores in or around my town had any generators, flashlights, food, or really anything left on the shelves.
Luckily, every skateboard filmer owns a generator, and my friend R.B. Umali was kind enough to lend me his since he undoubtedly wouldn’t be able to run it in his Manhattan apartment once Sandy hit. Less than two hours before the city closed the Holland Tunnel, I raced in and out of NYC to grab the only hope I had of keeping my family warm and our fridge running.
Thankfully, I was spared. My home received only minimal damage, my shops were unscathed, and I was only without power for a week. But the rest of New Jersey was absolutely devastated. My hometown and the boyhood home of Jon Bon Jovi, Sayreville, was flooded by the Raritan River at high tide on the night of October 28, and the full moon only brought the surge farther in. Houses are now kindling. The high-water marks show that, in some places, the surge reached well above head-high. Many good, hardworking people lost their homes, which were condemned because they were flooded with toxic water contaminated by a feces-filled sewage plant on one side of the river and the Edgeboro landfill on the other. Every town in New Jersey along the river, the Atlantic Ocean, and Raritan Bay suffered the same fate. I have been overwhelmed with sadness and despair for my fellow New Jerseyans.
In the aftermath, while delivering food and warm clothes to those in need, I have seen underdressed infants shivering in cold and dark homes without power; as of press time, there have been no signs of power being restored, and aid workers are nowhere to be found. One father I met was working diligently, without light or heat, to cut open all the walls on the first floor of his house in an attempt to remove the drenched and damaged drywall and insulation before mold set in. He told me that FEMA had cut him a check. I asked whether it would cover the damage, and he laughed and said, “It wouldn’t even cover a new heating unit.” And because his property had been rezoned two years ago, he was without flood insurance. With tears in his eyes, he removed his glove to shake my hand and thank me for the box of donated clothes that skate companies had sent me. His palms were so cold it was like shaking hands with a corpse.
Someone in California texted me, asking, “Is everything back to normal over there? The national news isn’t covering it anymore.” I laughed. We are going to have to create a new definition for “normal,” because things will never, ever be the same for the people of New Jersey.