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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA



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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Powerless-on, Learned

I woke up yesterday to what I assume will be hereafter called the “Great New England Electrical Nightmare of 2011”.

(Or “that time the power went out for a couple of hours one spring”.

Clearly, mine has a much better ring to it. I know which one CNN would run with, is all I’m saying.)

In the end, the crisis wasn’t so extreme, I suppose. Sometime between six and eight in the morning, our power — and the electro juice flowing to several of our closest neighbors — shut off. From what I could piece together later, our building and a few others were affected. Maybe a whole city block, give or take a brownstone. Not exactly a major grid failure, I guess.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t hellish for those of us swept up in “Nor’Eastern Nightmare ’11”.

(Just trying that one out. Little catchier; might be easier to fit on an “I SURVIVED THE…” T-shirt. Successful disasters are ninety percent marketing, don’t you know.)

I woke up around nine to a dark and bewildering reality — no lights, no internet, no television, no computers, no microwave, no radio, no appliances of any kind. The power company managed to restore service around noon, but the intervening hours were quite the harrowing ordeal. Here’s a partial blow-by-candlelight-blow account of “Boston, Violently Unplugged”:

(Yeah, scratch that name. Sounds too much like a story about repo men coming for a certain ’80s band’s equipment. We don’t want to panic the general public over the wrong travesty.)

Some indeterminate time — I wake up. The room is spinning very gently round my head. Or at least it would be if I could see it which I can’t.

It is pitch black. I have a splitting headache, and no tea.

With a queasy monochrome sense of deja vu, I make a note not to stay up reading Douglas Adams again on the night before an impending disaster. And wonder where the hell my towel’s gotten off to.

Some indeterminate time, plus three minutes of towel worry: It actually is really dark in the bedroom. With the alarm clock down, I have no idea what time it is. Could be four AM, could be noon. Could be Tuesday, which would get me out of some tremendously tortuous meetings the office has planned for Monday. But I can’t be that lucky.

I reach over to see if my wife is still in bed — nope. So it’s either eight-to-nineish and she’s at yoga class, or the grues that live in the dark of night came to get her first. Either way, my motivation to get up is nil. I roll over for another nap.

Thirty seconds later — “Full bladder detected. Abort nap. Repeat, abort nap. This is not a drill. We are at PEECON Four and counting. Man the zipper hatch and prepare to evacuate!

The next two minutes — You’d think I could safely navigate from my bed to the bathroom in my sleep by now. I’ve only made the trip every single freaking morning for nearly two years. It’s not exactly crossing the stupid Himalayas.

“Evidently, the traffic controller in my internal control tower was still in the middle of that nap. Or drunk. Or an idiot. Leave it to me to have Gary Busey running my internal GPS.”

In the twelve feet from the bed to the toilet, I banged my shins, toes, knees and hip no fewer than nine times. Evidently, the traffic controller in my internal control tower was still in the middle of that nap. Or drunk. Or an idiot. Leave it to me to have Gary Busey running my internal GPS.

9:18 — After the bathroom break, I find my phone — still mostly charged, thank goodness — and see the time. It’s mid-morning; though my eyes are starting to adjust to the dark, I think about raising a window blind to let in some light.

But I’m still in my pajamas, and who knows what I look like now? The bathroom mirror is useless, and there’s no way I’m unleashing myself on the world without a self-check. Did I even get my pants back up after the bathroom emergency? How could I even tell without the lights? The blinds stay down, for everyone’s safety.

9:24 — I determine the problem is not simply a tripped breaker, by feeling my way through the condo and attempting to turn on every light, radio and kitchen appliance I could find. Nothing works. I cower in a corner, staring with horror at the spot on the microwave where the time used to be.

(Thanks to my efforts, by the way. this ordeal would also later be referred to as the “Really Loud and Bright and Embarrassing Thing That Happened with the Immersion Blender When the Power Returned 2011”.

But that’s not something I really want getting around, frankly. And it certainly wouldn’t fit on a T-shirt.)

9:33 — I need to know whether the outage is affecting the rest of society, too. Am I alone in this, or has the Technopocalypse finally arrived to smite us all?

With great trepidation, I peer out of the front door peephole into the condo foyer, fully expecting to see wolves literally at the door. Instead, I see darkness. The light in the hallway isn’t working for some reason — oh, wait, duh. Of course.

The wolves have eaten all the light bulbs. Obviously. I bar the door with a pile of my wife’s purses and hide in the bathtub.

9:51 — It occurs to me that we might still have hot water. I take a shower in the dark, as best I can. I’m not entirely sure I was fully undressed, or whether everything I washed was actually mine.

(Either my calves have gotten a LOT hairier since last I checked, or the dog snuck into the tub for safely, too. Either her or one of the wolves; I didn’t ask. Loofah first, and ask questions later, I always say.)

Dressing is a particular challenge, since I couldn’t see what I was pulling out of the drawers. But I got something that felt like socks onto my feet, a pants-like contraption pulled up to my waist, and a shirt that more or less fits, so I’m feeling a little more human.

(When the light returned, I found that I was wearing one tube sock and one half of a pair of my wife’s black hose, a backwards hoodie — which explained the generous ‘chin pocket’ that I thought was maybe the latest fashion thing — and a pair of the missus’ sweatpants with “PINK” emblazoned across the back.

Only the pants were on backwards, too. I’m pretty sure if I’d left the house in those, I’d have been auto-registered on some sort of ‘assumed sex offender’ list. Particularly if I was rocking the chin pocket at the time.)

10:03 — An hour into the ordeal, and reality is starting to set in. My entire morning routine — really, pretty much my entire life — requires electricity to properly work. And I’ve got none, which means no television, no music, no gaming, no email, and no microwave burrito for lunch. And without any of that, what the hell else is there? I’d say it’s like living in caveman times, but even Neanderthals had basic cable and AOL. They weren’t complete savages.

Meanwhile, I spend half an hour at my desktop computer, clicking my mouse and loudly pretending that I’m reading email and surfing the web:

MY, THAT’S AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE! I’D BEST SAVE THAT IN MY ARCHIVE FOLDER!

HEAVENS, WHAT AN INTERESTING PAGE I’VE FOUND! TIME TO BOOKMARK ANOTHER WEB GEM!

The line between ‘trying to maintain some semblance of routine’ and ‘convincing myself that I’m really reading The Onion right now’ is blurring pretty badly now. It’s somewhat disconcerting to find yourself making up clever parodies, pretending that you’re reading them and then deciding, “not bad — but I could come up with better”.

I’m just in the process of deciding whether or not to pretend-Digg a story that never existed on a website that I couldn’t currently see, when I’m saved by…

10:35 — My wife comes in, wearing her yoga clothes and a thin sheen of perspiration.

Or is it alien slime? Perhaps the body snatchers can’t help but ooze a little when they’re wearing their people-skin costumes?

Before I let her through the barricade of purses, I make her answer a barrage of questions only she could answer — “What’s my middle name?”, “What are you thinking right now?”, “Why hath god forsaken us — and where did you get these fabulous ‘PINK’ pants?”

She passes with flying colors. And she makes me change pants. Says I’m ‘stretching them out’.

(In all the right places? ‘No. In the butt.’

I don’t see why we can’t both be right.)

10:53 — I’ve now gone nearly two full waking hours without proper internet, and I’m twitching badly. I’ve checked email on my phone and tried surfing, but it’s just not the same. Even if I slide the phone around on the desk like I’m clicking a mouse, it’s still hollow and wrong. My left-button finger ‘clicks’ the air every few seconds, out of habit. My world is pain.

I look over at my wife. She’s perfectly cozy in her chair by the window, sitting with the shade half-raised and reading a book.

That’s right. An actual book, like some kind of Oliver Twist street urchin. Poor girl doesn’t even know our world is falling apart.

I try rocking gently in a corner, imaging what Facebook statuses other people are writing and muttering under my breath, “Charlie likes this. Charlie likes this. Charlie likes this.” It’s no help.

11:14 — My wife is still ‘reading’ — though how you call it that without a working LCD monitor is beyond me.

I’ve gone back to surfing the internet on my phone, but it’s draining the hell out of my battery. I decide it’s very important to take a picture of a Google search, so future generations can at least have a glimpse at the pinnacle of our technological achievements. While I’m at it, I should probably snap a pic of NASA’s site or something, too. It’s so much pressure deciding what information to save — does CERN have a Facebook page? Was Einstein on Twitter? How many pages are in the LOLcats archive, anyway?

I rush to get started and grab the digital camera. The battery’s in the charger. Dead. No juice. Humanity’s greatest feats, condemned to the obscurity of time because we don’t keep a cheap disposable camera around the house.

But wait! My phone has a camera — I’ll just use it to take a picture of… uh, itself, showing the internet because all the computers are down. I just need three mirrors, a unidirectional light source and a glare filter app that I can download from-

Battery at 0%. Shutting down…

KHHHHHHHAAAaaaaAAAANNNN!

11:56 — The power finally comes back on. I’ve spent the last half hour making ‘boop-boop-beep‘ noises at the microwave, hoping to jog its memory enough to thaw a burrito for lunch. No such luck.

I’m just in the process of beating the ice out of the burrito with a stick (hence the embarrassing incident with the immersion blender) when the power suddenly and miraculously returns.

My wife calmly puts down her book and checks her email. I propose out of the blue to the TiVo, in hopes that will keep it from leaving me ever again.

(I’m a big proponent of the old saw, “If you love something, check the ‘Record Suggestions’ box. If it tapes ’30 Rock’ and ‘Archer’ for you, it’s yours. If you find fourteen hours of ‘Hee Haw’ on your play list, it simply wasn’t meant to be.”)

Anyway, things are pretty much back to normal now. I spent the last day and a half glommed onto every electrical device I could reach, equilibrating my system on bad sitcoms, web sites, internet radio and nutritionally-questionable interpretations of Mexican food staples. Now I just need to buy a backup generator, a backup-to-the-backup generator, fourteen emergency disposable cameras, and tasteful flowers for the civil union ceremony with the TiVo, and I’m all set for the next power emergency.

Maybe just one more generator. In case the other two have problems. You can never be too careful with these things.

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