It's not quite accurate to say we lost power in last week's harsh storm. It's not like I couldn't find it. "Hey, who had the power last, and where did you put it? Did it roll under the sofa? Wait, never mind — it was in my other pants pocket."
No, the power was taken away. The transformer was hit by lightning, which seems to be the sort of thing a transformer would like: "Whoa! Awesome. That's the good stuff. Set me up again, bartender." But no, the transformer decided to do its best impersonation of a large star going nova while some snapped wires danced on the ground looking for squirrels to murder.
No juice. No internet. Did someone just reset the calendar to 1917?
I promptly called the power company to report the outage, of course. Every time I do that, I always expect this response:
"Oh, that big red blinking light on the board we're looking at now, next to all the other red blinking lights? That means the power's out? Thanks. That one had us all scratching our heads."
With that out of the way, it was time to experience the six phases of living through an outage.
Phase one: Excitement. It's kinda fun! It's different, anyway. We're so used to all our modern conveniences, it'll be good to get back to basics and figure out what really matters, which is: (1) family, and (2) electricity.
But what if the power doesn't come back all day? Then we will play Monopoly by candlelight. We can use a Bic lighter to make popcorn, heating each kernel individually like the pioneers did. We can go to bed at 9 and realize there is virtue and simplicity in a life without these electrical distractions.
Or we can check into a motel.
Phase two: Swinging into action. You're not a prepper with 10 years of freeze-dried beef stroganoff in buckets in the crawl space, but you are reasonably prepared for short-term trials. You have your cellphone, and there are flashlights in drawers all over the house, which you quickly distribute to family members.
"Sure," you tell the kids, "it's only noon, but there could be an eclipse. Remember, if the flashlight is dim, shake it; this loosens up the electrical charge in the batteries."
Phase three: Boring labor. There was tree debris from the storm — sticks all over the place as if someone had dumped a thousand hypodermic needles on the lawn. And there was a 9-foot limb from a miserable antisocial tree that has 5-inch hard spikes on every branch. Three hours before I'd been thinking, "Ah, Sunday: coffee, the paper, pancakes with lingonberries." And now I'm bracing a branch so it doesn't whip a knife in my eyeball when I snip it from the limb.
When I was done, I looked like I'd been tangoing with someone wrapped in barbed wire. And I was starved, which is a problem because ...
Phase four: Fridge panic. You hope the power will come back soon. But just in case, don't open the refrigerator door because that lets out the precious coldness. If someone opens the door, the pastrami that has so many preservatives it makes Lenin's corpse look like a newly bloomed tulip will turn rotten in a second.
But you're hot and sweaty from yard work. Somewhere in that fridge is a beer. You get the beer out in three seconds, but that still is long enough that you actually hear the chicken rot. If the coldness doesn't come back within four hours, everything will have to be thrown away. Eggs. Shredded cheese in bags. Heck, your pickles have botulism now.
"What's for dinner?" someone asks.
"Toothpaste on crackers," you snap. That's the only safe thing in the house.
As minty-fresh as that sounds, maybe you could drive to get something to eat. Surely there's power somewhere. You get in the car and go in search of sustenance. You're the descendant of the hunter-gatherer who stalked the plains with a sharp stick, thinking: "Gazelle? No, we had gazelle two nights ago." Your drive leads to ...
Phase five: Jealous anger. As you drive around town, you see that other people have power. Look at them with their lights and TV and internet, feeling so fancy and special. You think: Life is so random, so capricious. We think there is order and logic, but whether you have power depends on which side of the street you're on. We should all be more aware of our common humanity at a time like this.
The radio says the power is back in Maple Grove. Oh, how you hate everyone in Maple Grove now!
Phase six: Elation. It's back! The air conditioner starts up, the computers bong hello, the internet router's lights flutter, the fridge hums. The power company, which was Satan Inc. a few hours ago, is now the object of hosannas for at least three seconds.
You think: That wasn't so bad. Everyone was out walking around with dogs and children. You talked to neighbors, swapped stories. Now you can clean out the freezer, taking out the stuff you bought after the last outage and replacing it with stuff you'll throw out after the next outage.
Modern life is fragile, you realize. It's something to consider. Something to take to heart. Something to remind you that we live our lives dancing on the edge of a pie crust.
Speaking of which, is the pie in the fridge safe to eat? One way to find out.