Sunday, September 02, 2007

By Candlelight & Two Magic Words

Yesterday a peculiar thing happened: a minor problem with the transformer that delivers electricity to the house I'm sitting caused us to be without power from about 4:30 pm on Saturday to 12:00 pm on Sunday.

Everything was working fine, but when I returned with friends to start our movie night, we didn't have power. In a period of less than 3 hours, the world had ceased to function.

Intuition had warned me to charge my cellphone before I left the house—when I considered waiting until after I had returned. The issue is that it was Jewish Sabbath until sundown, which meant it would be up one of the non-Jewish members of the neighborhood to call in and find out what was going on. Only neither I nor the neighbors to our north had been home when it happened.

That was when the dependency on electricity really struck home. My friends and I had the brilliant (or so it seemed) notion to use the laptop (charged battery, ergo not needing power) to try and look up the number for the Department of Water and Power. Only, the modem that runs the wi-fi is electronic. No power means no phones and no internet.

Well, we thought, it should be back on after we go for dinner. It wasn't, and a neighbor had heard it would be another 2–5 hours until the problem was fixed.

Only four or five houses on our street were affected—the streetlamp directly in front of our yard was still functioning. So there my friends and I sat, out on the front porch because it was too hot to be in the house, lit by the flickering glow of two candles, as we watched the colors of the TV in house across the street flash in a sterile, preprogrammed dance.

Loss of electricity is the great equalizer, it cares not what your religion, ethnicity, age or gender. None of that matters in the dark. It's sound that indicates we aren't alone. Voices identify and locate those around us. Rods and cones can be rendered all but useless, but eardrums and vocal chords keep us linked to each other.

They used to do this a lot more often. Remember the days before text messaging, when you had to speak to someone and be spoken to if you wanted to communicate? How often now do we stop and realize the comfort found in the lost art of conversation?

This morning, when the power still hadn't returned, a friend of my uncles came by to help empty the perishables out of the fridge. This was accomplished by my calling my uncle—who went to NOLA this weekend—and him calling the friend, as the friend's number was trapped in the brains of the comatose house handsets.

When the friend arrived, we just kept what I would want to eat today and the dog food. Everything else was packed into egg crates, and taken to an empty flower cooler at his house. Then a 20 pound bag of ice was distributed among willing Tupperware reserve members, who had to be happy to take their tour of the fridge, after serving in a cupboard hot as Baghdad.

I washed the dishes by hand, glad for the smooth motion of cloth over plate, spoon or glass. Rinse. Set aside. Repeat. There was something meditative in the act of being made to use one's hands. The part of the brain that's worried about how hot it will get today, or how long before the power returns surrenders the wheel to the simple motions of cleaning.

Maybe that was why the repairs proceeded so quickly, or perhaps it was my gallant effort to save a cricket from drowning—it balances out the one accidentally sucked up into the vacuum yesterday.

Whatever made it happen, I know I have never been happier to hear the freezer fan beginning to spin.

A loss of electricity had robbed the house of sound. It silenced the neighbors, who are usually unable to cease providing auditory reminders of their existence. At 9:30 in the morning, it was still as 2:00 am.

Then came the low whirling buzz. Like magic, life returned to our home, and the knowledge that the two Dalmatians and I would survive the heat wave was cemented in my mind. Venturing outside, I returned the favor with two of the magic words my parents talk me when I was a child: thank you!

"You're welcome!" The DWP electrician called from atop the transformer pole in the yard behind our back fence.

"It must be back on," someone added, "the girl next door just yelled thank you."


Thank you to Christina, Emory, and Rachel who didn't mind Chinese food and candlelight when they had been promised pizza and zombie movies.


Rachel said...

It was a pretty fun night altogether.

Karen said...

Sounds kinda magical all round... Great story. Hope you're still surviving the heatwave. :)