Sunday, September 04, 2005


from 1988...

The other night I lived through what is becoming a common phenomenon around here: a summer evening power outage. Seems that any time we get a thunderstorm, I have to go without electricity. I think the gas & electric company has a regulation posted in their control booth that reads, "At first sign of thundershowers, disconnect power from Block 37M." I, of course, live in the middle of Block 37M.

Seven years at my old address, a mere five miles away, and not once did I have to reset an alarm clock, light a candle, or put batteries in a flashlight. Now I have become a master at setting my VCR, cable TV, stereo presets, and answering machine. Maybe I should start an 800 number to help other victims of blackouts get their household electronics back in order. No, that probably wouldn't work - my cordless phone's dead too.

As always, my lights were on, then they went off. The lights come on - the lights go off. One more time. On - Off. It's Music Hall at the end of intermission. Suddenly everything dies. At least, if household appliances were to die, this is what they would sound like. Nothing quite compares to the cry of the refrigerator spooling down and the freezer anticipating its inevitable thaw.

"Well," I thought, "Wonder how long this one will last." Probably all night the way it's storming. Where did I put that flashlight anyway? I felt my way along the wall to the closet. I knew it was just past the bathroom door handle, which was presently implanted in my right hip. I found the flashlight on the third shelf down between a bottle of Amway dog shampoo and a package of sweeper bags for the vacuum I left at my old apartment. It was the shelf of misfit junk. And yes, the batteries were dead. Never fear, there are extras here somewhere - if only I could see.

I flicked the hall lightswitch to shed some light on the problem. Nothing happened. I flicked it again. Still nothing. "Oh yeh," I remembered, "no power". I felt around the back of the shelf for the other flashlight. I found what appeared to be a very dense spider web, but my mind rationalized that since I couldn't see it, I was just imagining. I was easily convinced. It was the ten million goose bumps running up and down my arms that were hard to persuade.

When I found the other flashlight, I was in luck. Its batteries weren't dead. In fact, it had no batteries at all. That's okay, I thought, the big flashlight's in the bedroom. A shin and two toes later - I was contemplating the combustion properties of dining room table legs - I got there. I flipped on the light. I realize now that I must be a subconscious believer in miracles since reality tells normal people that none of the lights will work when the entire block is blacked-out. So, of course, I flipped the switch again. Nothing. The flashlight was hiding on the floor behind the desk, and deja` vu - that one didn't work either. Now I know what to ask Santa for this year.

On the stumble back through the living room, I remembered a little candle on the knick-knack shelves, so I turned on the table lamp. Of course nothing happened, but I was determined because I knew this one was a three-way light. So I kept turning the switch a few more clicks, just to check all the settings. "Now how many times did I turn that little knob?" I had no idea, so I did what men always do in this situation - I kept turning the switch and listened for the one loud click that signifies OFF. Click, click, click, click, CLICK....I know I heard it, really. I still don't know how it came on - with every other light in the house - at 3 AM.

I got a match and lit the little wax ball on the shelf. It wasn't much of a candle - one of those violet scented bathroom things that I need when cousin Bubba comes over from the chilifest downtown - but it did burn longer than the match, although the static from my socks gave off more light. Well, with no electric there's apparently not much entertaining to do. Couldn't read, write, watch TV, listen to the radio, make coffee or tea, or play Nintendo. Nothing. No wonder people were in bed by dark in the old days.

I grabbed a beer and a chair and parked myself outside on the porch to weather out the storm. Across the street, I saw a faint glimmer in my neighbor's front window and heard a loud crash. With all the commotion I couldn't quite make out his mumbling, but I think it was something about burning a few of his table legs.

I could have been wrong about the evening's lack of entertainment.