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Thursday, July 18, 2002  

Trash and I were in the middle of enjoying our tape of Monk the other night when the screen abruptly went black. As did the display on the VCR. And the DVD player. And the overhead lights. With my nine years of homeowning experience, I was able to diagnose the problem instantly as a power failure. Impressive, no?

We headed right for the cabinet where we keep the flashlights. Not only were they there, they had live batteries in them. Now I could look up the number for the power company. I had to find a non-electric-powered phone to actually call the power company, but that didn’t take too much longer.

Normally during an outage you get an automated system that allows you to report the situation by pressing buttons on your phone, whereupon caller ID technology checks whether the outage has been reported and gives you an estimate as to when you can expect to finish watching the show you taped. In this case, the outage seemed to be affecting the outage reporting system. Instead, I got hold of a flesh and blood—albeit harried-sounding—employee of the power company in human form. Hearing an actual voice on the other end threw me for a second.

“Uh…yeah, our power’s out?” I stammered.

“Okay, where are you located?” he asked. I told him.

“Oh, yeah, we got trouble there,” he said. Something about feeders and switching stations and grids followed, but I didn’t get it all. Normally I get irritated when people throw jargon at me, because their next move is usually to try to make me feel stupid for not knowing what they’re talking about. This guy knew perfectly well I didn’t know what he was saying, but his tone made it clear that he didn’t hold it against me. I actually appreciated that in a perverse way.

“That doesn’t sound encouraging,” I remarked honestly.

“Yeah, we got big, big trouble,” he executive-summarized.

“Do you have an ETA for when it’ll be back up?” I asked. Did you like how I dropped that “ETA” in there? I just wanted to prove that I’m not totally jargon-impaired.

“No idea,” he responded, sounding like Han Solo wishing you’d stop asking questions so he could get back there and bring the hyperdrive back on line already. We wrapped up the call and I barely contained the impulse to wish him luck, as if he were personally going to clamp a pair of cutting pliers between his teeth, strap on an acetylene torch and start climbing poles, when the greater likelihood is that he just put his feet on the desk to wait for the next call. He was good, though. He had me convinced.

I went to Target to pick up a bunch of candles so we could sit and read in the living room. I called the power company again; the automated system was back up and estimating that our electricity would be restored at 3:17 a.m. I thought that if they were able to predict it that accurately, maybe they should reallocate some of their resources to actually fixing it. I don’t mind if they round the ETA (see, I did it again) to the nearest half-hour if that means I have to spend one less half-hour in the dark.

When full dark came, our living room looked like a Police video or one of those “first time” scenes on a soap opera. Our bathroom had tea lights burning on the toilet tank to prevent anyone from falling in in he dark. Our bedroom is upstairs and poorly ventilated, so it’s uninhabitable in the summer without air conditioning. I dug out the air mattress we use when camping and manually inflated it. Trash collected bedding and spread it out in the living room. I made sure the fire extinguisher was handy because all those candles started making me nervous. We found our wind-up alarm clock and set it so Trash wouldn't be late for her 8 a.m. meeting. She also figured out how to program the alarm on her cellphone as a backup. We left a spare flashlight in the entryway next to a single lit candle and a note for our roommate, explaining the situation and asking her to please not trip on us on her way to bed. I cradled a shotgun in one elbow to discourage looters. At 11:30, we flopped onto our makeshift bed, savoring the romance of the situation and congratulating ourselves on our own resourcefulness and adaptability.

One minute later, the lights came back on.

I’m starting to suspect that the power company just adds four hours onto every repair estimate. This happened one morning a couple of weeks ago as well. On that occasion, the outage line said that power would be restored in four hours. I hung up and relayed the info to Trash.

“Okay,” she said.

“Or perhaps now,” I said, over the sound of my computer rebooting.

I’m familiar with the idea of “underpromise and overdeliver,” but it stops working when people figure out you’re underpromising. It’s like customer service by Scotty from Star Trek.

Now, in addition to being tired, we just had a mess in our living room and way too many candles going. So we blew them out and went back downstairs to finish watching Monk, because it was really good.

How about that? You thought you were getting an anecdote and it turned out to be a TV review all along. I love keeping people guessing.

posted by M. Giant 3:38 PM 0 comments


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