Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Blackout

This past Thursday, the city of Pittsburgh experienced what the papers are now apparently calling a triple-hit of violent storms (which included dangerous "microbursts" and tornados), stripping trees of branches, flooding basements, shutting down businesses (including the restaurant where I work) and stranding up to 120,000 people without power for several hours (as of Friday morning, 20,000 to 34,000 were still without power, and as of my writing this, one friend of mine is still whistling--or in her case, going quickly through her store of beer and cigarettes--in the dark).

This wasn't as exciting as it probably sounds. A coworker of mine informed me yesterday at work that the local electric company was actually referring to it as a "natural disaster" situation, but for those of us who experienced the storm and subsequent black-out, it seemed mostly like more of the same (i.e. more f#&king rain!) and a gradual realization that the fridges and television sets wouldn't be kicking back on to rescue us anytime soon. The power in my apartment was out for approximately eight hours, from around 3 PM until 11 PM (11:04 PM, to be precise). When the second of the three storm-fronts hit, I had actually just left my house to walk to work and pick up my schedule for the week. I waited out the brief black-out (before our restaurant's limited back-up generators kicked on) and the rest of the storm in the dining room, sipping on a soda and watching my fellow servers explain to customers that there was a foot of water in the basement, so they had to turn the pilot light out and the kitchen was closed--but please, help yourself to our delicious salad bar of fresh, local produce! Then I walked home in the light rain that followed, surprised by the number of felled trees within only a few blocks.

Once home, I buckled down and finally started reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal Dreams that I'd been meaning to get to. As each hour passed (on my battery-powered IKEA wall clock), I turned to my trusty sky-blue pocket-sized notebook to jot a few thoughts down. Strangely, some of them ended up being rather interesting, and so I thought I'd share them with all of you.

The power's still out. It's almost 6 PM--it's been out at least since 4 PM, when I got home. Maybe the bookstore is open now and its power back on. In another half hour or so I'll walk down to see.

[The bookstore, incidentally, was still closed at 6:30 PM, and would remain closed until about 11 AM the next morning, when power was finally restored. And gosh darnit, I'd really been looking forward to getting that book on crop circles that I'd had my eye on!]

If I feel any more--if my capacity to really feel gets any greater--I think something bad might happen. I can't possibly meditate or practice opening--I have no safeguards in place for the subsequent disaster. But I think I'd make an excellent lover, the way Venus is an excellent lover--too close, unbearable and burning, but bright and liquid all the way through.

7 PM, still no power. No fans, no air conditioning, no light. The dusk is coming, and more rain.

8 PM, reading Animal Dreams by candlelight (though it's a bit of a strain--and it's only just twilight out still). Got myself a caffeine-free Pepsi and an applesauce from the fridge, though neither are all that cold. Worrisome. I'll have to empty the fridge this weekend when I have time. I wonder what's taking so long to get the power back. I can't remember the last time an outage lasted this long. Once it gets truly dark, everyone will start in on the sex. I wish I could call Ray [my best friend, out of town this week] and tell him I'm lonely, but my cell phone is down to one bar and I need it as an alarm for tomorrow if I still don't have power.

9 PM, it's honest-to-god dark out now. Needless to say, still no power. I'm beginning to think television and the computer were rubbing me raw. Somehow, this dark is soothing, like a balm. So easy. I can feel, but it doesn't hurt so much. Maybe I'll make an effort to leave the computer off most of the time for the next week or so. At least until Ray returns. I feel kind of pathetic that I'd almost rather be a pet, a family pet who gets to sit and watch my lovely people move around and who nobody minds too much. I don't need to be anyone's girlfriend, not for now. For now, let me be a pet, is all.

10 PM, still no power. A little while ago, someone in the darkness on the street yelled something about light, and I found my heart pounding, feeling exposed and vulnerable with all my candles lit--as if they could see my one window barely flickering in the whole dark facade of my apartment building. As if I had stolen something, as if I had done something wrong. I am so much more afraid of human beings than I am of coyotes, of light more than darkness. Still, it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes ago, and already I feel safe and invulnerable again. And outside all is quiet. No rain. No people quietly talking. Not even the noise of sex. [The sex remarks are references to the fact that I have very... enthusiastic neighbors, even on nights with power, and they'd been at it earlier in the evening, around 5-ish, already.]

Almost 11 PM, still dark. I'm not so tired anymore and would like to keep reading, fairly sure there's no point in going to bed when I don't have to be up that early tomorrow. I know that if I had regular light, I wouldn't have to sit up straight and carefully hold the candle over my book--I'd drift off in ten minutes with the lights on. My body wants to lay down, but my mind doesn't. Reading Animal Dreams, I'm jealous of Codi--with a shit hometown to go to, people to watch come and go, a confused family history, a man who wants her to love him. I can't go home or stay put. Once you know the twists and turns of your family's history, there's not much more to do with it, is there? My mother will always be the mother she had, always hard-done-by and cold. She doesn't want to be filmed. She hides behind a camera because no one takes a picture of people taking pictures. Except me. I don't hide behind the camera, I want to be in two places at once. The best conversations are never caught. It hurts to look into a single candle flame, but I could stare into a campfire all night. I have so many thoughts in my head every hour, I sometimes wonder what would happen if I just got them all out, if I wrote and wrote until there was nothing left. How much uselessness could I generate? Reading a story slows my thoughts enough that they don't feel so overwhelming. A few a second, maybe, or vague intuitions and emotions only half developed. Reading someone else's story quiets me down, turns down the volume of my own living--which sometimes feels all tangled up in the living of every thing, so that it's just too big--and for a little while, I can feel human. A quiet, small thing conversing with other quiet, small things. Instead of a rushing vortex of noisy everything.

Everything just came on. It's 11:03 PM.

[The feeling, just as I finished writing the last sentence, was eerie and put me out of my skin with goosebumps for a split second. It's hard to explain the strange presence of everything familiar suddenly rushing back into awareness.]

11:04 PM, after I'd blown out all the candles and reset the clock, the power died again then struggled to come back on. I'm leaving one candle lit this time, so I don't stumble on anything... just in case.

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