Rock down to Electric Avenue

The oozing bandage probably wasn’t the first indication of my tension, but it was the goriest.

I’d been picking at my cuticles. This oh-so ladylike habit had replaced my fixation on mangling pen caps with my teeth, and I swear I’d kick it if it wasn’t so ridiculously satisfying. The best habits tend to be the ones that require no thought but yield perverse rewards; I’ve found the twingey sting of a fresh-plucked cuticle suits me quite well in moments of contemplation.

This particular cuticle had all the makings of a crime scene after I was done with it. Who knew a finger bed could bleed so much? The bandage did little to absorb my aggressive ministrations and I was soon leaving little bloody fingerprints on everything I touched.

But since we’d been without electricity for four days it really wasn’t noticeable.

By that point, random tracks of blood were the least of our concerns. I’d peed in the dark so many times that I started to curse the Amish. Not that they had anything to do with the power outage – that I could blame on the unlucky combination of a microburst and an oblivious driver crash landing on a local power grid – I was just looking for a place to direct my surplus of rage when the batteries on my computer died and I could no longer post thinly veiled threats on the ComEd Facebook page.

Those Amish creeps just appear so damn pleased with their electricity-less existence. They toil away peacefully hammering nails into barn walls and churning butter while I had spent the better part of an evening trying to figure out a way to hotwire my curling iron to a double A battery. (Hence the severed cuticle – I pick while I think.) I was rapidly falling apart.

It all seemed like such a cute adventure when the power first went out. My guy and I watched Tropic Storm Suburbia tear through our neighborhood with mild interest on Monday and rolled our eyes when the power went out. An overweight jogger is enough to knock out the voltage in our townhome community, making ComEd just slightly better service providers than Comcast.

We dutifully closed our blinds, pulled last-chance cold drinks from the fridge and set ourselves up on the front lawn with cocktails. Not that we needed an excuse of course, but given the circumstances there wasn’t much else to do.

Neighbors we never even knew existed soon began to stagger from their homes like the living dead. “You got any power?” became license for introduction up and down the block. My guy is always game for conversation, but I glowered behind him like some kind of rabid dingo.

A casual nod is the height of my neighborly acknowledgement; conversation breeds far more familiarity than I’m comfortable with. Before you know it, these people, people whom you cannot ever get away from because they’re always right next door to you, are interrupting a perfectly lovely drunk on the patio to whinge about the tardy garbage pick-up or the genius of their trumpet playing son.

By 6 p.m., rumors spread that this was no ordinary power outage. The few who could navigate ComEd’s labyrinth of phone lines learned from tired and cranky operators that the problem was wide spread, and complicated in our particular area by a car accident. Our power, they estimated, wouldn’t be restored until late Wednesday.

The color drained from my guy’s face. All the benefits of working from home – solitude, comfort, convenience, a functioning internet connection – had just been yanked away, and I could see him imagining the horror of working from a coffee shop the next day. I quickly poured him another drink. This was going to be a long, long week.

We slept on the floor in the living room that night. It was the coolest area in the house short of the bath tub, and the cat had commandeered that spot for herself. To see the sweat seep from our bodies you’d think we were on the lam.

Reality sunk in Tuesday morning. We’d been holding out vain hope that we would awake to the wonderful mechanical whir we are accustomed to. Instead, our phones flashed “low battery” warnings and the electric stove mocked us. There would be no coffee or tea this morning, only vicious aches and the vague notion that we had somehow been shipwrecked in our own home.

Survival mode kicked in: I started hording liquor and my guy rationed batteries. We all have our priorities.

He soon vanished in search of free wi-fi while I napped in the shade of a tree. Occasionally, I’d rouse to find a neighbor staring down at me, a befuddled look on their face.

“Still no power?” they’d ask in greeting, to which I’d reply, “Oh, ours came back on hours ago. You’re the only one without it.”

It alarmed me to see so many neighbors out and about. I’m constantly amazed at how people in general band together during times of hardship. Our “crises” was trivial in comparison to many, yet it didn’t stop the neighbors from wandering the blocks in a stupor to seek companionship.

Maybe I’m just wired differently, because my inclination is to scream “Every man for himself!” not stop in the driveway of a stranger to chat or spread idle speculation as the people in my neighborhood are wont to do.

I didn’t want to hear when they figured we’d be back on the grid. I didn’t care that two pounds of liverwurst was smoldering in their hothouse. Unless one of these people worked for ComEd and had something useful to say, I really just wanted to be left alone to my Jim Beam and heat stroke.

Adversity, however, is the mother of invention. Inspiration struck my guy that night, and by Wednesday morning our house was jury-rigged like a Tom & Jerry cartoon. He’d unearthed power converters that could be plugged into our cars, giving us the ability to string a series of cables through the garage and up the stairs to our main level. We immediately got a fan blowing and juiced up our computers while our cars droned away in the background.

It wasn’t ideal, of course. With both our cars idling we were likely pumping enough carbon monoxide into the neighborhood to off a few house pets. Plus, the cables wound up tethering my guy to the front stoop, which was the only area where he could plug his computer into his car and still steal an unprotected wireless signal.

And it all would have been fine except for the stoop’s correlation to our neighbor’s front room window. Somewhere between my guy’s Google searches on alternative power sources and my lethargic sipping of room temperature bourbon, we heard it.

“Is that …. Scales?”

It seems that the genius trumpet playing offspring of our neighbor practices from that room. Once he’d massacred most of the notes to the C-major scale, he switched to “London Bridge Is Falling Down.” My guy added a healthy shot of whiskey to his flat soda.

The kid chose “Theme to Star Wars” for his next number and played it in such fits and starts that I would never have been able to identify it if his dad hadn’t been humming along. It was only fitting that he followed up with “Taps.”

And that is all I care to recall about Wednesday.

By Thursday, the neighborhood was on the fringe of feral. All the friendly greetings had turned to seething assessment. Do they have a generator? Is that a refrigerator running in the garage? Would they notice if I stuck my face in it?

The community became so primitive that I half expected to find a boar’s head on a spear and men hunting rabbits in the common areas. The barbeque pit was controlled by a gang of rogue soccer dads. The communal carwash area had been overrun with unmerciful children who wielded the hose like a horse whip. A couple down the street nearly came to blows over a bag of ice. So much for the common good.

And then, between the clawing and the cannibalism and the looting, a current buzzed through the air. Someone had finally flipped our switch and the neighborhood was alive with the magical spark of electricity once again.

Normalcy took hold quicker than penicillin. With air conditioners churning out chlorofluorocarbon and washing machines ready to agitate four days of sweat and grime from clothing, we all returned to our homes and the conveniences we needed to maintain order.

And somewhere, the Amish laughed. Jerks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *