Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut Novel

Jill Krementz, NYC blackouts & Joe Biden

By Average Jo | Expressions | 15 Oct 2020

I found myself reminiscing about Joe Biden tonight and took myself back to August 14, 2003. This is that story.

I'm a nobody. Literally. A shadow of my former self. Thankfully, I can still reflect.

I was 33 years old at the time (no shit) and my boss and I were in NYC visiting brokerage houses and quizzing "the quant traders" in order to determine if we should recommend an allocation in the equity portfolio of our pension fund for such a strategy and, if so, was it possible we could construct it ourselves? We were basically engaging in corporate espionage because these "traders" told us EVERYTHING in order to try and get us to invest in their strat. We never had any intention of doing that but they didn't know that. And we didn't tell them. My boss was a genius himself, he understood their high level math chatter and I understood their high level narcissistic chatter (thank you Mum). We were having a blast at their expense, as they wined and dined and "impressed" us.

So, enough about that, on to the story. There we are, mid-late afternoon on the 14th, overlooking the JPMorgan derivatives trading floor, keyboards clacking, loud chatter, phones ringing, CNBC in the background with Maria Bartiromo there to ease the pain of dicks everywhere and BAM, the lights go out!

It took a few minutes for the back up power to kick in and the room was utterly silent; it was creepy. When the lights didn't immediately come back on, you could feel the tensions rising. Justifiably so too, this was only two years after 911. That's still fresh for people who were starting to feel like the worst was behind them. The panic eased off when the back-up power came on but then came the buzz of bodies trying to find out what happened. (Blackberry for the win, look it up.)

While all that chaos was happening, there's my boss and I, from the middle of butt-fuck nowhere suddenly in the middle of yet another New York event. We just stood there, for a what seemed like a long while. Neither of us knowing what to do and neither of us willing to admit that to the other and each of us respecting the rights of the other on said inaction. We had our bags with us because we had a 7pm flight out and the JPM guys were taking us for an early dinner and then on to the airport. Surely they could figure out how to pull their magical strings for us, once they got a handle on the situation. Right?

Wrong. They didn't have a handle on anything, it was pure chaos. Looking back, I never considered the level of cocaine that was probably coursing through the veins of the "top performers" but boy did they perform! They went from polished charlatans to raving lunatics in a VERY short amount of time. It was a sight to behold. Finally, the dude who was leading us around told us that there were no hotels available. His phone was working and he called his connections but no dice. We were shit out of luck. Finally, he said there was a rental car place a couple blocks away, if we hurried we could rent a car and drive to the airport and wait there for the power to come back on.

So, off we went. Into the streets of NYC, during a blackout, rolling a suitcase each. We found the rental place, just as the JPM guy said... and they had cars available to rent.... but... they were on another floor and the elevator to bring one down to street level wasn't the hand-cranking type. Shit out of luck again.

We decided to just keep walking, maybe find a hotel or something. We didn't have any cash on us but maybe an old hotel might still have one of those credit card carbon slidey things, so at least we could pay somehow? After we got over our own shock, we stopped and started discussing the various alternatives when suddenly, this latino woman runs up to us, beckoning for us to come with her. Pleading almost, it was weird, like something out of a movie. She kept pointing over to this townhouse on a side street and there was a refined looking older woman sitting on the steps, also beckoning to us. So, like good obedient children, we succumbed to her beckoning.

We discovered later (after she was sufficiently self-inebriated and free to talk) that when she first "scanned" us, she thought we were a married couple and she just wanted to help. If she'd known we weren't married, she might not have offered shelter because we likely couldn't be trusted. (I never could wrap my simple brain around that logic, but whatever. If anyone can explain it, please share!) The point being, when she invited us into her home, it was based on a lie of her own making. She never verified her own story, how weird is that? To be that sure? Just based on watching two people from across the street? Fascinating.

When we walked in, I was genuinely wow'd. It looked like something from Home & Garden TV or Houses of the Rich & Famous. I mean, truly spectacular. Three floors and a finished basement. Narrow, old, refined. Just like the owner. The sitting room she sat us in was at the front with a fireplace and all the appropriate books. A quick glance told me which political party she was likely to support. This was intellectual money, 90% chance she was a die hard Democrat. (I was right)

As I sat there on the sofa pretending to listen politely to her talk about herself, I kept giggling to myself thinking how my mother and her sisters would just die to be where I was sitting right then!!! She kept telling me that I was such a beautiful young woman, I just needed to lose a little weight. So I begged her forgiveness for being "fat" by telling her all about the new diet I was on. She told me to do Atkins. I told her I would. It was all very proper and polite.

The power still wasn't back by early evening, our phones worked briefly and we were both able to call home and let our spouses know we were safe and where we were. She offered to let us stay in one of the bedrooms upstairs and had to get another room in the basement ready when she found out we weren't actually a couple. She was not impressed with the inconvenience but even she couldn't retract the offer in a blackout after giving it. (An aside: I sure do wish those phones back then had cameras... I have no proof of any of this other than my word. But I digress, I'm not required to offer proof.)

After we took our bags to the rooms and settled back into the sitting room, she "dropped the bomb", so to speak. She suddenly mentions that the press might show up because of who she is and just lets it hang. We both stared at her expectantly because neither of us had ever heard of her before (she's a "famous" photographer). Then she says her husband is famous too, but her tone conveyed it like he was an irritating afterthought who gets more attention than he deserves or something (more than her maybe?). She said his name, and again, both of us just kind of looked at her. I mean, we had heard the name before but neither of us really knew anything about him. Kurt Vonnegut was more of a hero in the liberal arts than he was for engineers and mathematicians, you know?

She was floored that we didn't know who he was, in the way she knew him to be. And, suddenly, she was in her own spotlight! She'd found two people to shower her profound attention on without standing in the shadow of her husband, who she deeply loves (she told us repeatedly). He was in the Hamptons and she had us all to herself. She kicked back and asked if we mind if she smoked and I was delighted because I smoked too. My boss squirmed a bit imagining his future death from second hand smoke at our hands but eventually he got over it. When she actually started using one of those Miss Scarlett cigarette holders, I thought I was going to die too. When in Rome.

This is when things really started to get fun. She starts calling for the latino woman, her servant, to get her drinks. At first, she was nice enough in her requests, but as the night went on she became increasingly rude. Alcohol, like coronavirus, doesn't care who you are, it works just the same. My boss wasn't a drinker and I wasn't about to get drunk in front of him, so I sipped away at maybe two glasses of wine the whole night while I listened to this woman talk. The old lady was hammered in under two hours! And boy could she talk.

I'd only become interested in US politics after the dark forces behind Bush stole the election for him in 2000. By 2003, I was watching all the political shows on all the channels every night and the Sunday morning ones too, just in case I missed anything some random Senator or pundit might have said. So when she hauled out the photo albums of one of Kurt's birthday parties and started showing me pictures of the Gore's and the Clinton's, and bragging about her lunches with Hillary, I did kinda get excited that I was actually in the presence of one of the "big donors" from the left. Drunk as she was, I decided to start listening to her and engaging in some spirited debate to see if I could learn anything juicy!

I was a Wesley Clark fan at the time and she scoffed to the point of laughter, telling me that was never going to happen. It was already decided it was going to be Kerry and that Hillary was to come after that. She seemed pretty confidant and I was pretty sceptical, even though she did turn out to be mostly correct. Regardless, based on what I'd seen on the political shows, I liked Joe Biden too. He seemed affable and charming and clever, with a ready smile. I said Biden could beat Bush too. And she LOST IT!

She called Biden everything but a white man! It was vicious. She wanted him evicted from the party!!! According to her vitriol he was a liar, a plagiarist, a charlatan: the worst person in the world (hat tip Olbermann). Her words, not mine. I was stunned! She told a few stories, in detail, none of which I can even really remember let alone repeat. But I don't forget her vibe. I didn't necessarily believe any of it either. She had that kind of overheated hate thing happening that usually hides something dishonest within oneself but it was genuine enough that I knew there was also something to it and not to be ignored.

Over the years since, I regarded Biden in a different light. Yet still, I didn't see anything obvious about him that showed the man Jill Krementz described that dark night in 2003, but I looked because she planted the seed. And today, I looked again, thanks to Twitter blocking an unfavourable NY Post story about Biden. And again, I was reminded of the Joe Jill knew. And I wonder, could Jill have been right on her measure of the man? Maybe, maybe not. It's really none of my business anyway, I'm Canadian. I just wanted to share an inside tale.

The next day we managed to make contact and get a flight booked out of New Jersey. Jill had a limo coming to take her to the Hamptons and she invited both of us along for the weekend. My boss refused on both of our behalfs and it's the one time in my life I wish I had acted independently but I knew work wouldn't reimburse the cost of the flight if I stayed, so I was forced to leave with him. I didn't have the courage to get into that limo with her and deal with the consequences later, though today I would. Age changes people.

I did have occasion to speak to Jill again; I'd forgotten my glasses on the night table of the third floor bedroom I slept in (it was her daughter's room she said) and I called to see if she could return them to me, and she did. She was a truly gracious hostess and I'm sure she'd be offended at my truthful portrayal of her if she ever has occasion to read this, which she never will. I actually enjoyed her presence and performance very much!!!

I've told this story a number of times since, knowing most people don't believe it, but no matter. I'm glad I finally wrote it all down. For me it was one of my life's highlights and I'll never forget it. In fact, there IS proof on video somewhere! The media DID show up that night, one of those news magazine shows, maybe Dateline? I can't remember. They interviewed us in the sitting room but it didn't air, we got bumped by a baby being born in a grocery store or something.

And that's the end of that story. It's anecdotal so grains of salt may be required (up to you) and I thank you for taking the time and spending it with me back in the summer of 2003. As for my current political views, I haven't obsessed since about 2012 but I have observed at a distance. My belief is that it doesn't matter who you vote for because both sides always win and the losers never really had a choice to begin with; it's just a trick.

My shadow approves this message. 

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Average Jo
Average Jo

Gen-X closet millennial with a husband, no kids. Everything else is just noise.


The art of expressing. I struggle with it, my filters have been clogged for so long. As the filters continue to clear, this space will house my practise sessions at communicating abstract connections to real world things and to project those connections in a way people can (hopefully) understand. The true intent, should I be honest, is actually to help my own understanding of myself. Please, bare with me.

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