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The minus is loveless

July 14, 2011


The storm rolled in around 8:30. The sky went from sunny to black in the blink of an eye. Then the wind kicked up so fiercely that we all went down to the basement. Within maybe 15 minutes it was all over.

It wasn’t until after we came upstairs that the power went out. It flickered first, then died. We have battery backup for the phone/internet that buys us a couple of hours. I filed a report with ComEd and got back to work. Power goes out all the time around here. It’s usually fixed quickly. It wasn’t until my neighbor posted to facebook that one of our trees had fallen down that I realized the extent of the damage. We lost three big trees – a basswood, a cherry, and something else as yet unidentified – but all fell into the thick of the woods, so we couldn’t see them from the house. The biggest one, the basswood, took out a utility pole.

AJ and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. The wreckage was astounding. The streets were paved in fragments of sticks and discarded leaves. Enormous trees were down everywhere. Not one was uprooted. All were twisted from their trunks or split by lightning. One of our neighbors had a 200-year-old oak tree plunge into their roof. Another had an enormous sycamore miss the corner of the house by inches. Everywhere roads were blocked by enormous branches or fallen power lines. Everywhere people drove and walked and biked, gaping at the destruction.

With no power, no phone and no water, we were forced to make other arrangements. After we scraped together lunch from our warming refrigerator, we drove two towns over to the public library for air conditioning and outlets. The place was packed with others doing the same. I used the bathroom and was grateful for flushing. At the sink, several others were washing off with paper towels.

School of Rock had power, so I got to teach and said goodbye to several of my students who are leaving on vacation next week. I also got to recharge my computer and cell phone. Between students we were swapping war stories. School of Rock had some shingles ripped off the roof and the rain collected underneath, bringing down part of the ceiling in the back of the drum room, where I teach. It was still dripping when I arrived. Many of my colleagues had no power. Some, like us, had no water as well. Lots of my students’ parents plugged in their phones and computers while they waited. The wife of one of my fellow employees stopped in to ask her husband what he wanted for dinner, which she was picking up from the Chinese restaurant, since she couldn’t cook at home. Cell phones weren’t working well either and she couldn’t get a hold of him. No one was sure if it was because of overloaded circuits or if a tower had been knocked down. The wife also told us that the gas station up the street, the only one in town with power and able to pump gas, was gouging. Prices had risen from $3.89 to $5 per gallon in matter of hours. We all vowed never to go there again.

I was hopeful on the way home. The one traffic light I pass through on the way had been out all day but was now back on again. So were the lights at the drug store. And the mechanic’s by the railroad crossing. Someone on the little residential street I turn onto for just one block had a porch light on. But as I turned into our subdivision, it was clear that the power was still out, because everyone was outside. A red-headed girl sat on the tailgate of a truck playing with her DS. Kids were skateboarding and biking. Grownups were walking around and surveying the damage and chatting with their neighbors and the tree surgeons who are making a killing. It didn’t look so unpleasant.

AJ and I went down to the pool to cool off and clean up – after playing in/sitting through three baseball games on a 90+ degree Sunday, none of us had been able to bathe other than with a sponge at the sink. We were not smelling so good. The pool was closing, but the lifeguards kindly let us take a dip to clean off. The water felt wonderful, cool and clean. We dunked our heads, dried off and headed back home.

By this point, it was getting dark. Mr. Spy had grilled up all the meat that hadn’t yet gone bad in the refrigerator and we picked at it with our fingers and wrapped it in lettuce leaves. We slurped the melting ice cream through straws. When it got too dark to see, we lit all the candles we could find and sat in the family room, which is halfway into the basement and thus cooler than the rest of the house. We all turned in early, driven to bed by the lack of light. We read a chapter of Summerland by flashlight.


We were crabbier in the morning. The novelty was wearing off and we were hot and smelly. We went out to breakfast to check email and recharge Mr. Spy’s computer. Everyone was feeling grumpy and even several cups of coffee did not help much. After we got back, though, AJ showed me what he learned in his guitar lesson the day before. His teacher gave him Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” which I recently coached for Studio 2’s recital, so it was fresh in my mind. The nice thing about it is it uses both electric and acoustic guitars, so we were able to play together (minus the amp, of course). After a while, AJ got frustrated. He’s a perfectionist and doesn’t suffer his own mistakes lightly. So he went over to find The Boy Across the Street and I kept playing until my ring finger, always the first to cry “uncle,” started to blister. Then I picked up some of the debris in the yard, being careful not to work up too much of a sweat, because I had to work in the afternoon and I hadn’t had a proper shower since Sunday morning.

When it was time for lunch, I walked across the street to find AJ and knocked on the door (no phones, no doorbell). The boys were in the middle of building an enormous city out of pencils (to outline the roads) and baby sippy cups (buildings) and blocks (more buildings). As we walked back to our house, AJ said, “I think you should just turn off the power sometimes because when the power’s on it’s like I just HAVE to play video games. But when it’s not, I have to find something else and this was better than video games.” I wished I’d had a tape recorder, but of course it would not have been working.

We drove to a restaurant we like that has free wi-fi and begged for a table near an outlet. While our stuff recharged, I picked up some emails I’d been waiting for, one from my boss at Studio 2 telling me the power was finally back on and one from my boss at the new job that totally made my day for two reasons. The first was I finally got the info I needed to book my first set of plane tickets. I hadn’t realized quite how much not having travel plans was stressing me out. As it was, all the best flights were booked, but because of this, I’m going earlier in the day, which means more quality time with Cranky and Baby J and plenty of time to unwind before my first day of work. Insofar as unwinding in that particular situation is possible for me.

The other reason the email made my day was this: “I cannot convey to you the joy I felt upon opening my inbox and receiving news that you accepted the position – both T and I were dancing (only a slight exaggeration) in the halls!”

And that kind of sums up why I’m so excited about this job. It’s not just that I really wanted the job. It’s that they really wanted me too. It’s not just that I’m excited about the job itself, which I am, but also that I’m excited that both sides of the equation feel like it’s a perfect fit. Also, how cool is it to have a boss who tells you things like that? I know it won’t all be wine and roses from here on out, but it’s not a bad way to begin, don’t you think? I really can’t wait to get started. I’m going to be doing something I’ve always wanted to do in a place I’ve always wanted to live for people I really like. I feel lucky, lucky, lucky.

After lunch, I raced over to Studio 2 to teach one lesson and then came home to help pack our things and a load of laundry to take over to Mr. Spy’s sister’s house, where we spent the night. I can’t tell you how fantastic a hot shower feels when it is the first one you’ve had in three days. Around 4:00, shortly before Mr. Spy took AJ to baseball practice, the first ComEd truck was spotted. AJ was so excited, he came running back into the house to tell me, completely forgetting why he had gone outside in the first place. But no one has so much as glanced at the utility pole in our backyard, now nearly sideways. So it didn’t seem like we will have our power back anytime soon. Still, it was hopeful to have seen a few trucks around. Right now, they seem to have moved on. I no longer hear the sounds of the trucks. Only the sounds of generators, which many of our neighbors were running to power their freezers and wells. We are guessing that we were the only ones keeping our food cold by immersing it (inside a lot of plastic bags) under the ice cold water of the spring in our back yard. This was Mr. Spy’s idea. He recalled it from a passage in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, where wine is chilled in a mountain stream. More proof that good literature can save you.


We hung around my sister-in-law’s house for a while in the morning, stopped in at my mother-in-law’s to say hello, and then did a run to the store for shelf-stable milk and assorted non-perishables, where we were met with much sympathy from the staff. Fortunately, the weather was stellar – cool and dry and sunny. We went home and opened up the house. I threw out several garbage bags worth of spoiled food from the refrigerator and freezer and mopped up the pool of melted ice on the floor. Right after I slipped in it. Oops. In the afternoon, I left to teach at Studio 2 and Mr. Spy took AJ to his baseball game a few towns away. After my teaching wound up for the night and my computer and cellphone, which I’d plugged in at work, were fully recharged, I headed to the local bookstore for some free wi fi to pay some bills. I called Mr. Spy to check in.

He answered, “Why are you calling me on this phone?”


“Why didn’t you try the other phone?”

“What other phone?”

“The other phone that’s working now.”

“We have power?”

“We have power!”

I did a small happy dance, packed up my stuff, picked up a celebratory dinner, and headed home where all the lights were on.

We are thrilled to have the power back, but as Mr. Spy observed, it is also a little sad. We had banded together for the greater good. We spent hours sitting on the porch, Mr. Spy and AJ reading, me playing my guitar – a new guitar, a hand-me-down from my sister-in-law, that is so much easier to play than my old one that I can hardly put it down. As soon as the power was back, there we all were, back in our own separate electronic worlds. But there were and are things to do.

Today the reality is kicking back in. I have a conference call for my new job tomorrow and some preparation to do for it. I have another conference call next week and there’s actually quite a lot of work to do for that one, but it’s fun and intellectually challenging work so I am looking forward to it. But then there are the bills. Between the cleaning up of tree damage, the food losses and the cost of dining out, I’d say this outage probably cost us a couple of thousand dollars that we weren’t planning on. And what do I have to do this afternoon?

Pay the electric bill.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 2:39 pm

    I am so glad you have power again. I kept thinking of you and your family sweltering in the heat wave. Yuck.

  2. freshhell permalink
    July 14, 2011 3:01 pm

    Me too! I hate those days that seem so disconnected to reality. Funny how that’s all it takes – loss of power and water. Glad you all are back to normal (minus some food).

  3. July 14, 2011 4:15 pm

    What a punch line!
    I really sympathize about the cost of a power outage. And one day I want to meet Mr. Spy because we really think alike sometimes…food storage advice from Hemingway.
    That is so great about your new job and how happy they are to have you!!!!!

  4. July 14, 2011 5:29 pm

    Actually, we were really lucky with the weather. It could have been much, much worse. Day 2 was the only really unpleasant one and we were able to decamp to air conditioning for sleeping. Jeanne, I thought you might like that story. I’m not sure we want to follow all of Hemingway’s advice, but this worked quite well, although I don’t recommend trying it with lettuce.

  5. July 14, 2011 6:32 pm

    I am so happy for you about the job. It really sounds like a good catch on both sides.

  6. IWOM permalink
    July 15, 2011 11:15 am

    Spooky. Didn’t somebody tell me to read Hemmingway when I was in Paris Monday and Tuesday? Didn’t save my life but I probably looked cool in that Montmarte cafe reading him, bags of fabric stacked near my feet….

    Just remember, New England and New York get some pretty damn bad weather too! Big city blackouts are no fun but at least they are less frequent or get sorted faster.

    Nothing beats a typhoon iin Hong Kong though: everyone heads for the nearest pub for a lock in!

    Hang in there.

    IWOM (London at the moment)

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