Unhappily Unplugged

Absence makes the heart grow hassled

By Deborah Salomon

Older Brits say “the lekkie.” We used to call it “electricity,” now “power.” Either way, when a storm knocks it out we are, at first, helpless.

Well, not entirely. Maybe just lazy and out of practice.

I am writing this with a pen, on a legal pad, on the Ides of September. Hurricane Florence holds sway (literally, according to the tall longleaf pines that threaten my roof) over the Sandhills.  The power just ground to a halt, signaled by a click from the TV and the cessation of the AC’s hum I don’t even notice anymore.

Strange, when the absence of a sound is louder than the sound itself.

Oh, where is the manual typewriter that saw me through college? It could even address envelopes, something I’ve never mastered with computer/printer. My only storm-ready ace-in-the-hole is a portable DVD player (remember those?), which I charged up days ago. In desperation, I can watch a couple hours of Downton Abbey before the battery runs down.

People have been talking about the approaching storm for days . . . rain, wind, flooding. Most dreaded seems to be a power outage.  Because those mid-20th century Brits lost only heat, lights and ice cubes. We lose everything. Panic! Wi-Fi’s down. TV, and the cable that powers land lines. Desktops, tablets, laptops go black screen. The hot water tank cools down and the refrigerator warms up. Stores can no longer process transactions. Hair can no longer be blown dry. So power is the correct word — the word that also describes political clout, usually negative, and the armed forces.

I am bent out of shape, cranky, a spoiled brat whose ice cream fell out of the cone.

Which reminds me, with the lights off, first thing I must do is finish that yummy Turkey Hill Colombian Coffee. Because ice cream is a terrible thing to waste.

Minus the electronic bombardment my mind feels strangely unsettled. What better time to clean out a few drawers, straighten the pantry, dust the bookshelves, wash the kitchen floor — manual tasks, all. I just can’t, without cable news in the background. My restlessness comes from waiting for the lights to go on, listening for the hum.

The lights don’t all come from bulbs. I forget how many signal lights twinkle in this living space: The router, the TV cable box, the printer, the phone cable box, tower, monitor, automatic night light, back-lit alarm clock, stove clock make my apartment glow like a Christmas tree even after all lamps are off. Streetlights shine through the window. Now, the rooms are pitch black, kinda scary. The cats seem confused.

Thank goodness Brit John Harrington invented the flush toilet long before Ben Franklin began playing with kites and keys.

Power also goes awry. I am on the record for razzing electronic devices with limited or highly specialized uses. You couldn’t give me Alexa. GPS would spoil the fun of plotting a trip. I don’t want to smell the coffee brewing when I wake up. And if you think electronic car keys are the cat’s meow, wait till you have to replace one.

But I’m not happy with pen and legal pad. A hot shower would be nice. So would the weekend ACC football games.

Therefore, to the brilliant young ITers who spend two months’ rent for the latest cell phone, I propose something practical: Work on built-in home generators or some other power source, maybe solar, that kicks in automatically when the lekkie fizzles. Surely, this isn’t any harder than zippers in the buttons age. Or the printing press, when calligraphy ruled. Hurricanes and thunderstorms pre-dated the dinosaurs. What can’t be controlled must be managed. Sticking batteries in flashlights and taking cold showers until the poles have been hoisted and wires reconnected won’t do.

Because absence makes the heart grow fonder, which confirms that nothing is more powerful than power.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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