Tuesday, July 03, 2012


I doubt you’ve ever been driven to do it. Who wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I’m going to save my shower water and dump it into the toilet when I’m through”? But on Day Three of what’s being called the largest non-hurricane power outage in history, I did it out of necessity. A feeling of complete incompetence had begun to set in, and I was blown away at my own ingenuity… so blown away I almost got high. Well okay, the ingenuity wasn’t mine… I sort of borrowed it. Let’s rewind.

As you know, on Friday night a freaky storm arrived in the mid-Atlantic states, which had been cooking in 100-degree temperatures, and it still refuses to leave. We were driving back to the D.C. area from New York, anticipating a hot shower and ice cold air conditioning, when lightning began streaking from the right and from the left, meeting just in front of us. It looked like two long electric hands coming together, fast and menacing, over and over. Then the wind kicked up to 70 mph. Through the hard rain, Chuck began picking out low, sheltered spots along the road into which we could make a quick dive if the lightning took exception to our being there. But we made it safely to his place, figuring we’d seen the worst. We hadn’t.
We now refer to last Friday night as The Beginning of the Op - it’s a Green Beret thing - as Chuck began to initiate countermeasures. When we got home we saw the electricity had been knocked out. It was so hot in the house, my lipstick was melting. And there was no relief: no fan, no A/C, no igniter circuitry for the gas hot water heater, no paddle fans, no cell phone charger, no juice for the computers. But who needs a computer when there’s no WiFi? Out came the standby generators, along with a truckload of lanterns and hurricane lamps, the ones I had bitched about taking up space in the basement. The place was turning into Little House on the Prairie. Or Gunsmoke. That night as I hand-washed the dishes in cold water in the darkened kitchen, I saw myself from a distance standing at the sink in bare feet wearing my pink robe, illuminated by kerosene lamplight, and I cursed the electric company and nearly threw up.
Day Two dawned. It was Saturday, and we’d gotten good at heating water on the gas stove and dumping it into a bathtub containing only about three inches of colder water. The Operation was going as smoothly as possible, and we decided to face it with grace and style, making the most of what we had. At least there was water. Chuck would make morning coffee, as I went to the linen closet for real cloth napkins. I heard him yelling so loud I thought he’d dropped a knife on his foot. He was hollering at the faucet… there was no water. And the mercury was headed up again. And one of the generators had gone on strike. This was the day we drove around town making a list of which cool restaurants and fast food places had WiFi. Meantime, there's still Chuck's daily gourmet dinner to count on. Today: tilapia sauteed with lemon and cilantro. Wine: Sauvignon Blanc.

Day Three, Sunday. Still no water or electricity. The telephone landline was temperamental and functioned only intermittently. But even intermittent service began to look good, when our cell phones stopped working. The Green Beret’s Water Management Program had been in place since the beginning, and now included using the bathwater to flush the toilets. Since one person can’t hold up a toilet seat with one of those fluffy covers on it and balance a pan of water at the same time, we hovered over the bowl as a team. After ten romantic months together, now hot, tired and on edge, it was this level of necessary cooperation that threatened to move us out of the Bogie and Bacall area and into Benny and Joon. Dinner: turkey and cauliflower casserole in a white parmesan sauce. Wine: Chardonnay.
Day Four, Monday. Bogey and Bacall are still in the auditorium! But elsewhere, at stores and other gathering places as hundreds of thousands of customers still go without power and water (and with the temperature still in the 90’s) the thin veneer of civilization is beginning to peel away as people stand in long lines for free ice and water. Their patience is running thin. In the parking lot of one of those places, we saw a Jersey Power truck idling… one of the electric companies that have sent crews to help restore service. Chuck launched into a clever Sopranos soliloquy in a Jersey accent - "OH, Jersey!  When're you gonna deliver the goods? She was born in Newark... by choice, I might add. I used to live in Mahwah. We got no electricity. So whaddaya gonna do?" - and the woman was so taken with the comic relief that she promised to send a crew out in the morning. Dinner:
pasta matricianna with Italian bacon. Chianti.

Day Five, Tuesday. Today. The water is back… sort of. A white, frothy liquid is slithering out of the tap. The Jersey Power folks came out, looked at our situation and delivered the news: huge power poles on the mountain above us have snapped in half and will have to be replaced… someday, and not by them. We’ll have at least five more days without power. But we do still have wine.  The wind is back and the sky is dark early tonight. The dog, a Weimaraner, has begun howling at the fire trucks that are going by more often. Dinner: chicken chop suey.  Fumee Blanc. Film at 11.

1 comment:

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