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Part 2: Water, Wood and Earth

In February, mysterious water leaks had developed in my downstairs neighbor’s bathroom. On four consecutive days, four different workers came to locate the source of the leaks and were unsuccessful in doing so. While there were several different theories, nothing was visible to the eye, so it was decided to dig up my bathroom floor. Thus, all the contents of my bathroom needed to be transferred to my main room along with the items from my kitchen.

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The first day of repairs started with most of my apartment being covered in plastic like a Christo installation and my toilet sitting in the bathtub. Next came major excavation by the plaster/painting contractor’s workers, which involved digging below the level of the pipes, perhaps 6-8 inches. Underneath the tiles was not only dirt, but actual soil! And wood. (It is an old building.) Four heavy bags of debris were carried out by strong, young workers staggering under their weight, and leaks in three separate pipes, were discovered. The plumber came to look late in the afternoon and said to be ready for them the next morning at 9 am.

The plumber’s mechanic and an assistant arrived at 9:30 am and began to unpack and set up materials in the hallway. At 10:30 am the plumber came to tell them what needed to be done. He left and they began cutting away the old pipes. The heat for the entire building needed to be turned off while they worked. Ditto the water in my apartment. As my repeated attempts to warn against the possibility of the pipes freezing had been ignored, I was grateful that it was the one day during a week of arctic-like weather when the temperatures rose above 30 degrees.

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It took them forever. There was constant foot traffic and disagreement amongst the four plumbers, the building handyman and the contractor. Finally, at 7 pm they were able to turn the heat on and test the new piping. At 7:30 pm, after cursory cleaning and removal of the ‘body bag’ (leaving the toilet in the tub and dark grey fingerprints on the wall) they left. The third day, the contractor’s workers returned, concrete was mixed and poured—and needed twelve hours to dry. The fourth day, with tiling and grouting materials, a new floor was put down. And I spent the following four days cleaning.

Part 1: Air and Fire

With the recent arrest of DOB inspectors leaving DOB even more understaffed than usual, it took until February 27th for DOB to send inspectors who, I am told, looked at the plumber’s gas re-piping paperwork and then chose just a few actual apartments to actually inspect. We were told that the next step is for Con Ed Gas Service Turn-on to send their inspectors. Instead, a field inspector who is not authorized to turn on gas came to the building on March 6th. So, until such date as an inspector from Gas Service Turn-on appears, much of the contents of my kitchen still sit in the main room of my apartment.

A few weeks ago, a tenant smelled gas and the respondents from the Fire Department/Con Ed found three leaks where the plumbers had not attached the pipes tightly enough (and the Con Ed Gas Service Turn-on Group inspectors had not inspected carefully enough) after months and months of supposedly “professional” work.

Explosion_04Mar15Then this past week an electrical transformer in front of my building exploded and caught fire late in the afternoon, interrupting subway service and requiring the entrance to the building to be blocked for several hours; there also had been concern that the building might lose power, which—thankfully—did not happen.

Next post Part 2: Water, Wood and Earth.

naturalgasfiLast fall I realized that I would not be able to conceive Cooking with Gas fully until cooking–gas service was finally restored to all the tenants in my building, a prospect that now appears likely by the end of March.

Our Xmas Eve “present” from building management was a memo stating that work on re–piping gas lines to restore service to tenants still without it since April 13, 2014 would begin on December 30th, almost two months after work permits were issued November 7th.

The work being done has consisted of constant chaos and misinformation as well as exposure to lead dust and other health hazards that occur when plumbers drill and cut holes in walls without following required protocols for a building that was built around 1930.

I have dismantled my kitchen twice. Its contents have been sitting in my one–room apartment, as I can’t bear the thought of taking my kitchen apart again if the inspector determines that my wall needs to be broken into.

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Curiously, the dictionary tells us that the word gas derives from both the Latin and Greek words for CHAOS: “the confused state of primordial matter before the creation of orderly forms,”—an apt description of our experience as tenants, dancers, and human beings!

VTS_01_5In speaking with someone I had just met, I mentioned that my current creative work was focused on environmental issues—including both iterations of Pig Tales, which juxtaposed excerpts from children’s stories with greedy short-term approaches to fracking, and Cooking with Gas, the project I am currently developing.

He asked if I were also active with these issues in the rest of my life. My response was a description of co-organizing a small contingent for The People’s Climate March this past September, which included my leading Chi Kung/Qi Gong practice in Central Park before marching.

Later, as I thought more about his question, I realized that my involvement with environmental issues goes back decades and that in one way or another, it usually related to food and nutrition.

Biodynamic Agriculture Project I recalled attempting to organize a biodynamic farming project for Tibetan refugees in India in the late ′90s and early ′0s. Although it did not work out as expected, I did get in touch with Peter Proctor, a highly respected biodynamic specialist from New Zealand who was spending at least half the year teaching workshops and supervising projects in India. He was proud of teaching Indians and Pakistanis and Bangladeshi farmers in the same workshop, and was happy to include the Tibetan and American sent to attend one of his workshops. Later, he connected with Tibetan refugee farmers in a different community and they were glad to learn methods for improving the soil and increasing crop yields.

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Preserving Homeland and Livelihood I also remembered receiving an urgent letter from the US Tibet Committee around that time, which explained that the World Bank was preparing to fund a dam for China that would destroy the land and livelihood of thousands of traditional Tibetan nomads. I drove to Washington, D.C. with a friend to join the rally in front of the World Bank and then, while the others marched to the Chinese Embassy, because my friend had a broken toe, we drove from the World Bank to the Chinese Embassy and rejoined the group.

At the time, Working Assets was my long-distance company and on every bill they wrote about an issue that customers could respond to without charge, by phone or fax. When I returned home, from D.C., it occurred to me that this issue would make an excellent Citizen Letter, and I sat down and wrote a letter to the president of the company. The next month, this issue was described. Almost 40,000 people faxed or made phone calls to the World Bank against the project, and it was tabled.

gas-cookingRecently As per a previous blog post, “Beginning New Piece,” this past year my focus has been much closer to home or, rather, in my home without cooking-gas service for several months, the only silver lining being that during those months I was not exposed to radon from gas from the Spectra pipeline. Now, while I am grateful to be able to cook, I do keep my kitchen window cracked open, even when it is very cold outside.