Monday, June 15, 2009

A Dark Night

We had a blackout the other night. Someone hit a pole with a car, or cut a cable while fixing the road, or someone did something they ought not to have done and probably did not mean to do and then, in the middle of our television program, at about eight thirty in the evening, our power went off with a pop. Being the resourceful sort, A. used his cellphone to call the power company and learned, from a recording, not so much what had happened, which evidently we will never know, but that yes, it had indeed happened not just to us but to a total of "seventy nine households" in our "immediate area."

The summerish sun was still up, so we walked outside to survey the extent of the problem. I walked all around our block, down to the super market and back up and around again to home and was mystified to see that, so far as I could tell with just my untrained eyes, ours was just one of three houses on our block or for any distance near that had gone dark. This rather made the failure seem personal rather than the neighborhood misfortune I'd anticipated. There were none of those comforting little knots of curious homeowners gathered on street corners that I had anticipated. Not one head peeped from a single apartment window to peer into the gathering dark. Instead, from the house at our corner, to us, to our next neighbor seemed to be the defining confines of our "immediate" inconvenience. As neither of our neighbors seemed to be home at the time, we were robbed of even such paltry commiseration as we might at least have counted on by standing by our dim front door.

The power company's recorded message told us we were not to expect a "restoration of service" until about one thirty the following morning. Until then, it seemed, we were left to our own devices. We sat and read then in our living room until the sun finally went down. We have a big picture window and, with the shades pulled up, this allowed us a little time of rather sticky quiet. We ate fresh strawberries while we could still see to eat them. I read from my recently acquired Johnsonian Miscellanies, and my husband finally read some of the text from his Christmas gift, The Big Penis Book, from Taschen Books. (The profiles of the photographers and pornographers whose work is collected therein are surprisingly interesting in their own right, though, it must be admitted, Santa did not put this book under the tree because of our curiosity about "Old Reliable Studios." Still, he was reading a book.)

When at last even the aid of the big flashlight seemed insufficient to keep the words from swimming before our tired eyes, we retired to our bedroom. Usually we are kept cool there by constantly turning fans, drawn drapes and few clothes, but this dark night, without so much as a breeze stirring outside, the windows thrown open to nothing but the enviable glow of the lights across the street, we settled in to an evening of candle light. Just here I suppose I ought to reflect on a world restored to something very like a natural silence, the dark of night pierced only by the flickering etc., etc., but ours is a quiet street in a quiet neighborhood, and we enjoy the television, and the ice in the refrigerator door, and the computers and all the rest of it. I should like to tell you that we filled the evening hours with song or some such, but in truth we talked no more, in the case of my husband, than he ever does, nor any less in my own case than is usual for me on a long summer's day together. I complained of the heat. He played with his phone.

These phones we have now are awfully advanced. We have cellphones at all because my husband can not resist such gizmos and because he does not trust me, quite rightly, to not get lost on my way... anywhere. Our first cellphones were purchased back in the back of beyond when I first learned to drive a car, at age thirty five, and A., much concerned that I might drive off and never find my way back, insisted I keep mine in my car. Since then we've had two subsequent models, each sleeker than the last, the current ones being so elaborately decked with entertainment options and communications software of such an advanced character as to offer the owner seemingly endless uses beyond calling home to see if milk is needed or to ask, yet again, for directions home from the store, and yet, that is pretty much all our phones have ever been good for, so far as we've ever been concerned.

So here we were in the dark, with no chance of seeing the rest of "Nurse Jackie" until the next day and unable, with our weary eyes to read much more in the drear, so we decided to try and make our respective cellphones do something. Specifically, we were trying to use the phones to check our email. Now neither of us gets much in the way of email that might not safely be left for another day, but there we were anyway, starved for distraction, so we lay there, beached, on the dampish sheets, our faces aglow with the unnatural light of modern telecommunications, trying to find a cursor on screens the size of a cigarette pack, using keypads designed for the nimble fingers of preadolescence Japanese, and we cursed, and giggled, and ultimately despaired. Oh, we eventually found our cursers and even managed to open our respective email accounts, each on his own little phone, but the labour involved by no means justified the effort. After hours filled with tiny bleeps and haphazard instructions traded back and forth between expletives -- "I think if you touch the blinky thingy more slowly..." "No, Honey, you've gone past it again" "Well, mine just shut down inexplicably" -- we read a few sadly uninvolving messages and, thoroughly exhausted, blew out the candles and dropped down at last to sleep.

My greatest regret was having been unable to write all night. I do not make notes or drafts on paper, as should be sadly obvious to anyone reading this, but rather I just come down to my desk each night and blithely type away with two fingers whatever nonsense I might feel the need to commit to posterity here. Missing a whole night, when I was already well behind by at least a full day, rather threw my whole routine out and left me desperate to catch up. That I didn't do so until just tonight, but that I've done so at all, hopefully says something more positive than not about my dependence on a regular schedule and uninterrupted electricity. Gods only know what might become of us had we to do without the miracle of coal-generated power for more than five hours! As it turned out, having alternative technology requires a level of sophistication and manual dexterity we are sadly unlikely to ever acquire. My readers might not feel the loss specially hard, but you may trust me when I tell you, no one would want to see what I could manage to post with a cellphone.

The best of the blackout, no real surprise, was how good cold strawberries taste in the dark.

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