Things I Learned in the Blackout

September 28, 2011
By rots28 DIAMOND, East Hampton, Connecticut
rots28 DIAMOND, East Hampton, Connecticut
85 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Real love amounts to withholding the truth, even when you're offered the perfect opportunity to hurt someone's feelings."
— David Sedaris (Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim)

From what I can recall, throughout my short lifetime, there were very few instances in which my house was without power. And we were seldom prone to serious weather issues as well. The most that would ever occur would be a few hours without power or a bad rain storm for a day, and my mother, father, and I would prepare enough so that we would have enough water and have flashlights and such. Though, as I said, it was never a big deal. The worst occurrences of weather was a mini-tornado when I was 5 that took down a tree in my back yard and the almost legendary snow storm that hit the east in early 2011. But even then, we still had power.
Hurricane Irene was a little bit of a game changer though. Named after what I would have assumed, judging by the aftermath, was a hormonal 16 year old who just found out their boyfriend was unfaithful, Irene was an unforgiving b****. Tearing through the east coast at a rapid rate and leaving thousands without power, it was a privileged middle class suburbanite’s nightmare. I was, however, skeptical throughout the storm as well as the preparation that preceded it. My mother, hustling and bustling to get things ready, would barrage me with annoying weather facts, and I would just respond with a noncommittal “Okay” and sometimes an “I really think they’re making a big deal out of this thing”. Little did I know that the storm would prevent me from ever loving anyone with the name Irene ever again. We were without power for five mind numbing days.
Throughout the storm, though, I learned several things. About myself, mostly, and how I am clearly not ready for the zombie apocalypse and that, if forced to find my way out of the woods using my Boy Scout skills, I would just sit there and wait for a car to pick me up. Because I don’t have any Boy Scout skills to utilize. The lessons are as follows:

I should read more. And I still read fairly quickly. Those speed reading classes came in handy.

Being without internet for the first 24 hours or so was fine. I would always tell my friends that, if suddenly, and against my will, I were to be transported to the days without electricity, I would read. And that I did. There was a time when I had lost my iPod and prior to that time, besides for school (barely for that, as shown on my report card), I hadn’t picked up a book for pleasure in ages. I certainly had purchased several, but sat down and enjoyed them? Not in a long while. When I lost the iPod, I read three books in a week and a half. When the power went out, I found the idea of reading by candle light quaint and enjoyable. So, I finished The Film Club by David Gilmour in a single night, since I had nothing to do. The next night, I reread a few David Sedaris books, skipping to my favorite essays. The next night, I started losing my mind and, fittingly, read Frankenstein. And on the second to last night, unable to sleep, I read Lolita. I took a speed reading class just before eighth grade and I’ve been able to pretty much retain my abilities. This, however, does not make reading in the dark any more enjoyable if you were a slow reader. Instead, it ends up messing with your internal clock and throws off your sleep patterns. But, I guess reading about Humbert Humbert at 5 AM was my own fault.

No one will ever be able to get me drunk. Ever.

On night two, mom and I decided to watch Christopher Nolan’s film Inception on her iPad. It had been about a year since I had seen it in its entirety, so it was a welcome opportunity to look at it again. She allowed me to have a beer. It was one of the fruity things that was supposed to be like a margarita. Not that I had been particularly eager, but I was interested in trying at least one full bottle of alcohol. My previous experiences, though wide and varied in terms of the kind of beverage, were limited to mostly anecdotal sip fulls and the immediate reaction of me making a grotesque face and downing a bottle of coke to get rid of the taste. I had tried a different kind of fruity beer a few weeks prior that my sister had given me. I was allowed to drink about half a glass full and I genuinely enjoyed it. However, this was something else. I took a sip, readying the film to start, and puckered my lips. It wasn’t awful. It was kind of tangy with an aftertaste that’s probably comparable (to me) to Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies. I thought to myself, Come on, just try a little more. It’s not going to hurt. I tried again, and made the face again, trying to hide it in the dim light of the screen. The bad experiences I’d had with alcohol had previously prompted me to label myself, albeit prematurely, a teetotaler. I had no intention of drinking ever, except, I would add, on my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I was more of a designated driver type than the person who has to get trucked home. I even considered, briefly, converting to Mormonism because they didn’t drink either. After barely taking five sips, and not even clearing the neck of the smallish bottle, I gave the beer back to my mother. Which was a wise choice, because, with a movie like Inception, who would want to watch that drunk?

I am too internet independent. To the point where I would do questionable things to check my email.

Starting midday around Day 2, I was slowly losing my mind. The temptation to run away just for internet access was too great. I was getting jittery, grumpy, and all around b****y. If you didn’t already know me, one would have assumed I was a junkie experiencing withdrawal symptoms. I was moaning about being able to charge my iPod, what seemed like the last thing on earth I would want to die. The battery would drain steadily and steadily and it would kill me. Not being able to check my twitter feed and my Tumblr and my Facebook, which I had already been deprived of due to a deal with my friend Seneca, was eating away at my skin. I paced the deck for a few hours, wondering what I should do. The only thing I could do at night was read. And that was, honestly getting a bit old. The lack of any phones was also trying. I had to go over to my neighbor’s just to check if we had school. I would have been able to do it had I Wi-Fi or something, but no. At the end, I reached a very sad, but true, conclusion: I would be completely willing to prostitute myself just to check my email.

I love soup. And I miss the ability to do simple things, like boil water. Also, I love my stove. A lot.

With all of my beloved electronics and the lights and the TV, Irene took our appliances with her. Which meant eating was limited to junk food, junk food, and junk food. My digestive system was unkind to me throughout and the toilet was not flushable. There was a short moment where I sounded a little bit like Gollum in The Return of the King, where he goes “We forgots the taste of bread.” It is not as bad as I make it sound, and I make it sound like I’m a horrible person, but there you have it. I missed being able to boil water. And do normal things without tripping. Because, as handy as candles are, they are not infallible.
No running water is also a big problem, which means no shower (no big deal for me) and no water to brush my teeth (I found a way) and no water to wash my face. By the end of the fiasco, my nose had more blackheads than an aerial shot of a prison yard. It was one of those moments where you wish that your plumbing was not connected to well water and also not electric. In terms of food in general, after several days eating chips and Cheez-Itz, my mother got some self-heating meals from the high school. These things were quaint in how scientifically sterile they were and how precise they seemed to be made. The food itself wasn’t terrible. The pasta I had was a sub-par tomato sauce with beans, slightly lower on the scale tan Chef Boyardee.

All sense of time and space is lost.

In a power outage, it is typical that none of your clocks will work unless you have wall clocks or a phone. I had an iPod, but that was about it. Thus, knowing what time it was, and, as a matter of fact, what day it was, was lost upon me. I was merely trying to survive without killing or being killed. And since I was staying up so late, I didn’t completely know what was going on around me. In a way, however, it was nice. At 2 AM, the stars looked beautiful outside. While I was unaware of time passing me by, I was able to behold the beauty of space and all the heavenly bodies right from my porch.

If you want to destroy what little relationship a boy has with his mother, trap him in a house in an outage.

It’s no secret that my relationship with my mother is, shall we say, volatile. So, one has to learn how to cherish and save the precious moments and the moments of happiness and, generally speaking, the moments when you’re not calling each other “assholes” or “bastards”. What followed during the blackout kind of reminds me of that hypothetical scenario; the one where one is asked who they would rather spend a day trapped in the same room with. The person asking usually names people the other person hates, and the theory is supposed to go that things will work themselves out and by the end of the day, everything will be fine and dandy. That is a lie. A total lie. The last thing you should ever do with someone you have a less than friendly relationship with is trap them with you. With no power. Every day, day one through day five, my mother and I fought. We argued. We yelled. The cabin fever got to us faster than a malaria infection. The shouting, the profanity, the anger; all of it would have shocked the ears of Joe Pesci. It was really awful. If we had been without power any longer, the police would have been wrapping yellow crime scene tape around our house.

Living without my typewriter is a nightmare. I hate writing long hand.

Throughout the experience, I kept coming up with really funny ideas for this essay. But, I am lazy and my handwriting is really bad, so I just scribbled a few things down in a little notebook I keep and left it at that. I would have, under normal circumstances, used my antiquated typewriter and then hired one of my friends to transcribe what I’d written, because transcribing typewritten work is really a pain in the ass and, as I said, I’m really lazy. Sleep deprived and suffering from insomnia, I would lie awake at night thinking of what to write about and be driven to absolute insanity when there was no device that I could use that could properly suit my needs. Sure I could use my iPod, but I don’t want to drain my battery, as it was the only alarm or clock I had, besides my wristwatch. So, I just suffered, not for my art, but for my own lackadaisical motivations.

Purell is flammable.

I never actually knew this before. I was a pyromaniac in a previous lifetime, getting off to burning all sorts of stuff, but one thing I never tried was antibacterial soap. It is, as I learned one evening lighting candles, very flammable. It is kind of like nail polish remover in the way that the icy blue flame just floats magnanimously over the liquid, almost in a nonchalant way. “Oh, don’t mind me,” it seems to say. “I might burn the crap out of you, but I’m just following the trail.” Also, I learned that aerosol cans really can be used as flamethrowers! I certainly knew about this, just not to the extent that it happened. I was, stupidly, spraying my new sneakers with some product that was supposed to rain proof them and the little Devil on my left shoulder popped up and said, “Hey, kid, why don’t you just take a spray at tat candle in front of ya?” Being the submissive child I am, I naturally did. It burst into flame momentarily, like the breath of a dragon, and the reaction was so shocking, that I dropped the can. I decided it would probably be a good idea never to do that again.

I will start jonesing for strange things, like French New Wave films or shrimp fried rice.

There was some ridiculous quote we were asked to analyze as a part of health class that essentially equated to “the body misses what it once had, but once attained, it only leads to letdown” or something along those lines. I have discovered that I am prone to having very strange cravings for almost anything, almost as if I were pregnant. I was just getting back into my normal diet (having had to basically not eat for over a week because of my wisdom teeth being extracted), and then BOOM, the power goes out. The only meal of real sustenance I got to have after I could properly eat was a sandwich from Subway. But, even that was a little hard to eat. Since the surgery, I haven’t been able to open my mouth as wide as I used to, as the gums are still healing. When said out of context, this will lead my friends and my art teacher to question me in many ways and try to resume their train of thought before I had made an accidental innuendo.

My cravings are not limited to food. As I have said, being without electronics was agonizing, but being without film access was worse. I was reading up on Breathless and Jean-Luc Godard and I was getting this craving to watch all these French New Wave films I have. (Or, as the cineaste would call it, nouvelle vague.) Since there was nothing to do, and I still had Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire to watch, I felt that, given my lack of life and my general sedentary lifestyle, I should bone up on my foreign film, continuing my summer trend. Over the summer, I assaulted my Netflix account and watched about 75 films, making up for the time I had lost during the school year. And I have been known to experience withdrawal symptoms if I don’t go see a movie in the theater for a long period of time. So, cravings during a blackout are ultimately useless and completely untimely.

There is no wrong time to watch Bringing Up Baby.

I was introduced to Howard Hawks’ screwball masterpiece when I was four or five, and I have proclaimed it as my favorite film of all time ever since. Yes, I have encountered better films since then, and definitely different films, but it never ceases to make me giggle and make me feel glad. I would watch it a lot when I was younger and then I went through a dry period when I hadn’t seen it for years. I rediscovered it on DVD when I was 12, and then again this last year. It still manages to be one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, and the back and forth play between Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn is timeless. Just before the storm, I watched the film about four times in three days. I watched it once with the audio commentary by filmmaker Peter Bogdonavich, who loosely remade Bringing Up Baby with his film What’s Up, Doc? The screwball sensibility has always appealed to me, particularly the idea of a straight man opening up and falling for someone who was his polar opposite. Unrealistic, but great for the screen nonetheless. And during the blackout, I watched the film about three times; twice on my mom’s iPad and once on my iPod. I wouldn’t mind that kind of kooky romance someday. As they say in the film, “I can’t give you anything but love, baby.”

I basically hate everyone. I can be very cynical and misanthropic.

Walking out on the street, invariably after what was probably another argument with my mother because I was, as per usual, being a b****y little girl (Aasya raised her daughter well!), It occurred to me that I can be incredibly pessimistic, acerbic, and misanthropic. Despite my wish to please everyone around me, there are times when you just want to push people in front of oncoming trains. Like the woman who twice cut in front of me in line at the grocery store, as if I were an issue of Vogue she was going to sidestep. Yes, the woman was maybe 70 or so, but it was rude nonetheless. Did I do anything? Of course not. I barely grumbled. I rolled my eyes, folded my arms, and started humming a Lady Gaga song to cheer myself up and prevent me from speaking up. It got me to thinking about my past and the strange things people had done to me. For instance, the time that, during my teacher’s speech for me at graduation, she had opted to do an acrostic for each of the students and decided to utilize the letter “L” for the word “lazy”. Regardless of its truth, it was such a shock. No one else encountered that kind of criticism for the speeches about them. And I found her excuse that she was operating on two hours of sleep a little weak. It was three years ago and yet it still bothered me. Clearly, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I have trouble letting go of things. And then there was that racist father who always called me yellow and commie, and came up to me at my father’s service and said “Your mom’s a widow now, how do you feel about that?” Who does that? One thing keeps me from hating all mankind, or maybe a couple of things: my wonderful friends and cinema. Despite film being a prime way to showcase human beings at their worst, most evil and insidious (Hey, Apocalypse Now!), at least we live in a world where we can create art. If that freedom is very important to me. The beauty we find in things around us and things that inspire us were taken away, then there would be a real reason, amongst the others, to despise humanity.

When pushed to the limit, I am more than willing to spend $4 on a chocolate bar.

Suffering from a severe bout of cabin fever, I needed to get out of the house and just walk. And I was hungry. However, instead of remedying this by buying something of sustenance, like…cereal, I bought a chocolate bar. It was $4. It was a treat, and while I savored every morsel, I imagined a paradise where the power never went out…there was a movie theater nearby playing old films…I had any food I could imagine… where Lady Gaga wasn’t preachy…Michael Bay retired from directing…Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar for directing…laptops could get flu shots…and Microsoft and Apple decided to be friends and smoke weed together. Ah, what a Utopia! I was transported back to reality when I finished the chocolate, my fingers slightly stained by the candy, and I began to walk home, only to await the next apocalypse.

Living without film at my fingertips is really UNBEARABLE.

Living without film is really awful for me. Considering I’m doing everything in my power to dedicate my life’s work to learning, watching, and writing about film, not being able to have it at all is a nightmare. You either enjoy watching the same screwball comedy over and over again, which I normally don’t mind or you go crazy in need for something different. Like, say, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, or maybe for some comic relief Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. These were both on Blu-ray, so that was out of the question. My mother had decided to take it upon herself to use my portable DVD player to watch her costume drama about Henry VIII, and thus drained the battery. So long any hope of The Devil Wears Prada or Bridget Jones’s Diary! But, no, no, those are just movies. I often have to stress the difference between movies and films, and not many people care anyways. So, not even a film like Twelve Angry Men could be watched or even a jaunty musical like Singin’ in the Rain. Nope, it was limited to When Harry Met Sally (which I’d already watched three dozen times over the course of the summer), Bringing Up Baby, Young Frankenstein (no problem with that), and the two we watched: The Adjustment Bureau and Inception. The summer was coming to a close and I no longer had Netflix. I was going to use the last couple of days to cram in as many films as possible, but oh well. Eventually, when the power returned, I would eat up my Godard, my Wenders, my Aldrich, and my Polanski. But until another vacation, school would have a bite at me first.

Eating by yourself in a restaurant makes me look 25 years older than I should.

Again, around Day 4, the Cabin Fever and the sheer knowledge that my mother and I were the only ones in the house was getting to me. And I was getting very hungry. According to my mother, I may or may not have hypoglycemia, which is to say that when my blood sugar is low, I get cranky and b****y and awful to be around. I decided to walk to my nearby pizza parlor, a place called Rossini’s. The place has some of the best pizza you will ever taste. I can’t testify as to how authentic the taste is in comparison with Italy, but all I know is that it is damn good. One likes to think that they just import their chefs (hand-cuffed and trapped in wooden crates) directly from Napoli. Or, at least, that’s what I like to think. I had originally hoped that, while everywhere else was out of power, and Rossini’s being the sole area with it, they might have some Wi-Fi or maybe a female CL&P worker who might be willing to speed up the process for a few favors. However, the odds were against me. A female CL&P officer in the field? What kind of non-patriarchal society did I think I was living in? I sat down at a booth, slipping my iPod out of my pocket to check the time. It was just before noon, and the waitress brought me my drink. I looked at my watch and studied the second hand solemnly as I sat by myself. For some reason, when one eats a meal by themselves in a relatively crowded restaurant, a cloud of judgment as thick as smoke falls upon you. You look down at your menu trying to decide on what to eat and you think everyone is looking at you, shaking their heads, and saying, “Well, look at him. He must be more single than those dollar bills I stuck in the stripper’s panties last week.” I crossed my legs the way I normally do and tried to hum in my head. The current song in my head was “Valerie”, covered by Amy Winehouse. I looked up momentarily and thought I saw a kid with glasses staring at me from the left side. It was disconcerting. The waitress took my order, and within ten minutes (which felt more like hours), my garlic bread came. To keep my mind off all the “not real judging of character” going on, I imagined that I was on a date with someone and I was buying them lunch. Someone nice, polite, articulate, likes to converse, etc. When I realized that I was pretending I was on a date, the amount of “pathetic-ness” that was already swarming my booth shot up, along with my perceived age. “That one over there in the booth alone? I would guess she’s about…eh, thirty-five. She must have a lot of cats or something.” After finishing two pieces of pizza, I decided to skedaddle. I had overheard a CL&P worker (albeit a male one) who speculated about when we were getting back power. In essence, despite his 20 minute long conversation with the proprietor, the answer was “not any time soon”. I left with plenty of leftovers that should have been able to hold us over for a day or two. All I know is that had I ordered chocolate cake, I’d be more than halfway into solidifying my place as a 35 single year old woman.

Five days in the internet world is apparently a very long time.

As someone who is fairly connected to the internet, and with more social networking sites and blogs than toes (several of which are unused), time passes quickly on the web and things update just as fast. So, when the power finally came back on, and I rushed to my room to hook everything up like an eager dog waiting for food, I learned that: a) my Twitter feed was too long for my computer to actually load it, b) many of my favorite websites had a lot of new news I had to catch up on, and c) my RSS Feed (Google Reader) was bursting at the seams with over 1200 news updates to the various blogs I follow. It never occurred to me that what was in actuality a rather short period of time (not even a week, even though it felt like a month), is quite long in the Internet world. Checking up on all my favorite sites took over an hour, to the point where I didn’t bother checking my Tumblr or updating it much. I just saved what I liked for later and said I would deal with it at another time. Time flies when you’re trapped in a house with no electricity.

What can we, or I, learn from these lessons? What can we, or you as a reader, take away from this experience? Mostly that I am a notoriously materialistic child and, without the internet, I would slowly have to learn how to do things in life without Google’s aid. This is probably a sad reflection on who I am as a human being, but, admit it: you too probably had some of the same ideas when you were out of power. We live in an age where we are constantly getting instant gratification and complain when our DSL is slow. The internet is taking our attention span like candy from a baby. Should anything like this happen again, in the future, when technology continues to rapidly progress, how will people who are internet dependent react? How will they cope? My lesson to you is to take up reading again or card games or something without an IP address. There’s a chill in the air and a different kind of storm heading

The author's comments:
I had been mentally writing this during the black out after the hurricane, but because we didn't have any power, and because my handwriting is atrocious, I just scribbled down some notes but never wrote anything more until I wrote this essay in three sittings.

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