Winter Blackouts… No Fun at All

I’ve posted in here about blackouts that have happened in the summertime, and all the fun that comes with wandering the neighborhood where the traffic lights and street lights are all dark, all the while searching for any business that is open for customers.

Winter blackouts have none of that.  And I speak from experience.  There was one tonight.

I didn’t come directly home from work tonight.  I went straight from work to the Whetstone branch of the library to pick up some reserves.  (I didn’t have much time, since the libraries close at 6 p.m. on Friday.)  It was around 6:30 once I finally got home.  I had been online checking email for about 15 minutes when all the lights went off on the first floor.  (I didn’t go upstairs to see if the second floor was affected.)

My first thought was that a circuit breaker had tripped.  When I first moved here, I was worried that the basement would have fuses instead of circuit breakers, since the house dates from 1910.

I stumbled through the living room to my front porch, and the neighbor on the other side of this half double was standing outside.  No, he and his family didn’t have lights, either.  Also, half the people on the block (not including the house directly across the street from me) were without power as well.

When I got on my phone to post to Facebook, I showed my frustration: What is it about power poles in my neighborhood?  Someone hit one, and much of this area has no electricity.  This had happened earlier, and it was because someone had run into an electric pole.

This meant, besides no lights, no Internet.  I had told my neighbor I was going to AEP’s Website and see what they posted as the estimated time we would have the lights back.  Just as I said this, I realized that I couldn’t do this, since I have a router, and not a 4G card.  I texted Steph in Florida, and asked her to check for me, and she texted back 10 p.m.

The temperature is in the teens tonight, so there was no hanging out on porches, no walking around the sidewalk comparing notes on how inconvenient the blackout is.  Also, there was the worry about what would happen if AEP’s estimates were unrealistic, and what would we do without furnaces.

During all these worries, I was grateful that I didn’t have to worry that my electricity was off because of non-payment.  I have been there too many times in the past than I should have, when I was more foolish with my money, and came home more than once to flip a switch and… nothing would happen.

Excellent system... when it works.

Excellent system… when it works.

Because of the cold, I wasn’t going to meander around in search of a place that did have electricity.  If it was warmer, I would have gone to Kafé Kerouac, or taken the laptop to McDonald’s and eaten two apple pies for a dollar while draining the Golden Arches of iced tea and Wi-Fi.

One reason I did not do this was because of all the ice on the sidewalk, still there and still dangerous despite being under a layer of snow.  After last year’s spill on the ice, I have been extra cautious on anything that looks like it might be slippery.  I have come to the stage in life where the LifeCall commercial’s trademark phrase, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” is no longer funny.  In the early 1990s, I would laugh at these ads when they came on in the predawn hours during reruns of Perry Mason or The FBI.

Another reason I could not leave was because I had ordered food online just before the electricity went off, and I wanted to wait for the delivery person to arrive.  (My lunches are usually pretty Spartan.  I eat at a deli on the same block as the William Green Building and, depending on the day, I either have a tuna salad sandwich or a chicken salad sandwich.)

I had just about decided to cut my losses and head to bed.  I wasn’t especially tired, but I wanted to be somewhere warm in case AEP’s guess was wrong and power was going to be off a lot longer.  I learned from my heat-less days on Maynard Ave. during the polar vortex that bed was often the only warm place in the house.

So, as I was planning to head upstairs, and be sound asleep at the magic hour of 10 p.m., the lights came back on.  I heard some knocking in the basement, and within 30 seconds or so the furnace came back on with a whoosh.  I had to be patient for another minute or so before the router was back on and I was able to log back online.  It was 8:15, a little less than two hours ahead of schedule.

According to the Friends of Kafé Kerouac page on Facebook, they had no power, either.  But, they still went ahead with the Scotch tasting scheduled for tonight.  (It reminds me of a picture in The Night the Lights Went Out, which is The New York Times‘ excellent book about the November 1965 Northeast blackout.  One picture shows men playing pool by candlelight.  The caption is: The important things go on.)

So, with restored electricity and a working router, you have this entry!

“Me” Time This Weekend: JAWS, Journal, Joaquin

I’m afraid the title of my last post was too prophetic.  I just came home while treading very lightly on the icy and bumpy sidewalks, and sighing in relief once I crossed my threshold.  (After breaking my wrist last winter, walking on ice is now an extended game of Mother-may-I.)

I haven’t posted any entries to the blog lately because the spring semester kicked off at Columbus State Community College.  With that comes my seasonal evening and weekend job at the bookstore.  In all, this means a 12-hour workday, and I was often too tired when I came back to do anything that required mental or physical energy.  All appearances to the contrary, posting in here does require mental energy.

The spring semester rush was not as chaotic as the fall one at the end of last summer.  Many of the customers knew what they were doing, and knew where to look for textbooks.  The evening of the first day of classes was the same day as Ohio State’s game against Oregon, so people who weren’t in class were glued to a TV at home or in a sports bar.

When there are no customers around, those of us working on the customer floor compare notes on the stupidest question we have heard, or the least competent customer.  The undisputed stupidest question has to be, “Is this where I buy my books?”, but there have been many others.

My contribution to that discussion had to be when I escorted a mother and her son, who was maybe 19 or 20, around the shelves and showed them where each subject was, and what books he would need for his classes.  As they headed downstairs to pay for the stack of books, the mother turned to me and said, “The cashier will check and make sure he has the right books, right?”  Uh, isn’t that kinda your son’s responsibility? I thought.

The mantra that kept me going throughout the 12-hour workdays earlier in January.

The mantra that kept me going throughout the 12-hour workdays earlier in January.

The rush ended at noon last Saturday.  I was on hand at 8 a.m. with four co-workers, and we kept a tally of the number of customers.  At most, three customers came in at a time, and the grand total was around 37 or 38, of whom about 24 needed help.

I breathed a sigh of relief when noon came, we clocked out, and I retired my blue Discovery Exchange apron to Locker 50 for another semester.  (Since it’s a given that I return every semester, my friend in Loss Prevention lets me keep the same locker, and I carry a key to it–a small Master about the size of a diary key–on my ring at all times.)

The rush was much easier to bear because of the Martin Luther King weekend.  That Sunday morning, I went down to Athens to see Betsy, and we spent many quality hours together.  The combination of Athens and Betsy was quite therapeutic, and was definitely in the best interests of the bookstore customers and my co-workers at both of my jobs.

The idea of unstructured time had become so alien to me since the first week of January, so I jumped into unscheduled time with both feet until it was time to return to work for the State of Ohio on Monday morning.  I spent the rest of Saturday reading or online, until about 10:45 that night.

Fritz the Nite Owl was featuring Jaws (1975) as his monthly show for January, so I headed toward the Gateway Film Center about 10:45 Saturday night.  I have Jaws on DVD, and have seen it quite a few times, but there is nothing like seeing a movie with Fritz’ commentary and trivia.  (Susie enjoyed watching Jaws with me, and she even likes Jaws 2 (1978), which never received the respect it truly deserved.)

The movie let out late enough that I didn’t have to weave my way through drunken bar patrons, and I made my leisurely, though brisk, way north to my abode and I arrived home shortly before 3 a.m.  The rush of heat that greeted me when I opened my front door helped lull me to sleep.

I had planned to go to church (the 11 a.m. service, of course), but the allure of not having to roll out of bed when my alarm sounded was just too great, so I remained under the covers until almost noon.

There were only two items on my “to do” list for Sunday afternoon.  I went to CVS to pick up my prescriptions for Lipitor and Coreg, and then took a walk in the wet snow drizzle to a house near mine so that I could pick up a blank journal a woman was giving away online.  She was quite conscientious.  She wrapped it in two layers of plastic and put this in a plastic Target bag, and put the whole thing under a metal table on her porch.

She had advertised on one of the Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook groups for my neighborhood, saying her goal was to de-clutter by giving away x number of items in her house every week, and I emailed dibs on the journal right away.

The journal is quite handsome, and I marveled at it once I was able to unwrap it.  However, I doubt I will ever write in it.  It’s a thick volume, about the thickness of a hardcover of Moby-Dick or Les Misérables.  It has an off-white woven cover, a leather binding, and deckle-edged hemp pages.  Its biggest minus is that the pages are unlined.  I’ve kept diaries in unlined pages before, and my handwriting goes downhill by the time I reached the middle of the page.  And I have had the same problem when someone gives me a really nice, aesthetically pleasing journal as a gift.  The blank volume looks so nice, you feel guilty ever marking in it.  Also, Susie gave me four composition books for Christmas (a real steal at Office Depot for $.24 apiece), and I want to fill them first before I even consider using this handsome volume–which I admit would look better in a glass case at Alden Library at O.U. or the Ohioana Library.

Also, without lines, I tend to write my lines too close together.  When I was teaching the editorial staff of The Harvard Crimson the intricacies of the CRT Linotype, I mentioned leading to them.  (In this case, the word rhymes with “bedding.”)  Leading is the space between lines in a column or on a page.  I told them to always leave two points of leading between the lines, so the tail of a lowercase j would not bump into the top of a capital letter beneath it, etc.  I never was able to apply that wisdom to my own penmanship.  Those who cannot do, teach, I suppose.

The only scheduled activity on my Sunday agenda was the 8:30 showing of Inherent Vice (2014) at Studio 35.  The movie stars Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin, as well as Reese Witherspoon and Katherine Waterston.  (An interesting side note: Brolin’s and Waterston’s fathers, James and Sam, respectively, played astronauts in Capricorn One (1978).  The third astronaut was O.J. Simpson.)

I never thought that Thomas Pynchon would ever allow any of his works to become movies, and I initially thought that the stories about filming Inherent Vice were just rumors.  For those who are unaware, Pynchon is not an easy read.  Five pages of his prose requires as much effort and concentration as 20 of any other writer.  His prose is so dense that the word Pynchonesque has actually entered the language (I’m not sure if it’s made it into the Oxford English Dictionary).  Click on the link for the Wiktionary definition.

My admiration for Pynchon comes from his insistence on privacy.  He is not so much a recluse (like Howard Hughes or Syd Barrett) as one who wants nothing to do with celebrity.  He never gives interviews, the few photographs of him date from the 1950s, and until recently no one knew where he lived.  (In the fall of 1996, New York magazine published a story, “Meet Your Neighbor, Thomas Pynchon,” although the writer was somewhat oblique about Pynchon’s exact whereabouts in New York.  And then there is 

this video, which appeared on YouTube in 2007.)

Pynchon became famous with books like V. and The Crying of Lot 49 at the time when writers were becoming celebrities.  Truman Capote was throwing mega-expensive masked balls, and not writing anything worthwhile once In Cold Blood was published.  Norman Mailer was running for mayor of New York City when he wasn’t getting in the ring with professional boxers and serially marrying and divorcing.  Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. practically came to blows on live TV when ABC was covering the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Pynchon, by contrast, was wedded to his writing and letting it speak for him.

When Susie was younger, she thought Pynchon was crazy to be so insistent on his privacy.  I pointed out to her that Pynchon, even now, can decide to go to McDonald’s or take a walk down the street without being badgered by fans and admirers.  Stephen King probably cannot eat a meal in peace wherever he goes, and he has had his own issues with stalkers.

The über-private J.D. Salinger allowed his short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” to be the basis for My Foolish Heart (1949), and it butchered the short story (which appears in Nine Stories).  He vowed after that never to allow film or TV adaptations of any of his works.  I’ve often wondered if this experience was the basis for Holden Caulfield’s snide comments about his screenwriter brother in The Catcher in the Rye.

The movie was quite good, although it required total concentration.  I posted on Facebook that you needed a flow chart to keep track of who was associated with who through what venue.  It was the “six degrees of separation” idea truly writ large.  That may be as much a Pynchon thing as a Paul Thomas Anderson thing.  (As for Anderson, I remember The Master (2012) because I love anything that ridicules the loons in the Church of Scientology, and because I remember watching it at the Wexner Center while Susie and company were en route to Romania.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to receive text messages or news about the flight from her, because my cell phone didn’t work in the theater.)  The plot and the setting (Southern California in 1970) made it sound like a 2½-hour Cheech and Chong movie, but it was much more intelligent than that.

Once I was back at work Monday, I knew that leisure time was over.  I plunged headfirst into the backlog of dictation and I can see the end from here right now, but it was a rude turnaround.  I kept thinking of the refrain “Back to life, back to reality” from Soul II Soul’s song “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me).”

And part of that reality is that it is almost 1 a.m., and I need to be at work in seven hours.  On that note, I’ll wrap up this blog entry.

It *Is* January, Right?

Between the mercury standing at 56 degrees, the thunder this afternoon, and the fact that almost 9000 of us in Olde North are currently without electricity, I would have a hard time believing my calendar.

Since my domicile is currently without power, Susie and I have relocated temporarily to the McDonald’s near the OSU campus, each of us on our respective laptops.  I haven’t eaten all that responsibly today, so the Golden Arches is the last place I need to be, but I’ll pile on some unnecessary calories so that I can use the Wi-Fi here.

There does not seem to be a pattern to the areas affected by this.  I had been reading posts about “Anyone’s lights go out?” on the SoHud News Facebook page.  I wondered what they were talking about, since my lights and my Wi-Fi were working just fine.

I didn’t see this first-hand until I called Susie while she was at Starbucks, and suggested we meet at Kafé Kerouac and decide where we would eat dinner.  As I walked south on N. High St., I saw that most of the houses and businesses on the west side of the street were dark, and the opposite was true of everything on the east side.  This meant that we could not eat at Cazuela’s Grill, but both of us were relieved when we saw the Blue Danube did have power.

I went to American Electric Power‘s Website and clicked the “Storms and Outages” tab.  There was no further information except to say that it was due to “equipment failure.”  While Susie and I were walking here, we did see several AEP trucks in alleys, so I guess they’re working on restoring the lights.

Kafé Kerouac’s bartender passed us as we were walking here, his arms laden with candles he had just bought at CVS.  Susie and I had stopped in the blacked-out café to see how they were dealing with the outage, and there were some real troupers on the small stage.  It was a jazz quartet, playing for the first time in public, and they were plowing along with excellent music, darkness be damned.

The newsroom of The New York Times the night of the July 1977 blackout in New York City.

The newsroom of The New York Times the night of the July 1977 blackout in New York City.

I admit being eager to get online and blog about this experience (not my first blog entry about a power failure, I admit), or otherwise I would have stayed to hear this quartet play a little longer.  The room where they play is tiny, so no one really missed the microphones and the speakers.  I found myself thinking of the video for one of the few rap songs that counts as music, Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”.  The setting reminded me of that.

This is a bizarre ending to Susie’s last night in Columbus.  We’re heading out to Port Columbus at 5 a.m. so she can catch an early flight back to Orlando, and this trip, sadly, came and went without a visit to The Florentine, our favorite Italian restaurant, and one we visited quite regularly when we lived in Franklinton.

Today started with a rather mundane errand.  Steph and I decided that it would be less of a pain for all concerned if I took Susie’s paperwork to Ohio with me and had her blood draw at a lab here, rather than try to find an in-network lab in Merritt Island.  So, Susie and I slogged through a cold rain this morning to go to LabCorp way on the west side of Columbus, one of the few labs open on Saturday.  The bus ride was depressing, as we saw how the west side of Columbus has deteriorated in the years since we lived there and I worked there.  Empty storefronts, rent-to-own businesses, check-cashing joints, and day labor establishments seem to dominate.  The site of the former Media Play is now an Ohio Thrift Store, and the Hollywood Casino now stands on the site of what had been Delphi Automotive’s plant when I worked at Merck-Medco.  Susie keeps saying she hopes something is wrong, because otherwise we would have gone all that way in all the cold and rain for no reason.

Reports from SoHud’s Facebook page say that power is back on in our block, although we thought we had dodged that bullet earlier tonight, only to be proven wrong.  Susie and I both have to be up at 4 a.m., so maybe nursing three or four cups of iced tea wasn’t the brightest idea we could have had.  Also, the lights better be on, because Susie needs to pack for the journey, and that won’t be much fun in the dark.

The Year Thus Far…

There was a Peanuts cartoon once where Linus’ first homework assignment was an essay on “What I did last summer.”  He was unable to get past “I read comic books and watched TV.”  Sitting down to type the first blog entry of 2015, I am feeling pretty much the same way.  (The year is less than 21 hours old, so maybe I get more of a pass than Linus.)

I have seen Susie for a total of less than one hour so far.  She saw in the new year at the Upper Arlington home of her friend Kat, while I whooped in the new year at The Pirate House.  (I actually saw the ball drop on Times Square, whereas Susie and Kat dozed off around 10:30 p.m. while watching Gravity Falls on their laptops.  They woke up around 2, realized they had slept through midnight, cursed this, and then went back to sleep.)

Our hosts at The Pirate House were gracious enough to provide a bottle of non-alcoholic bubbly so the teetotalers (I seemed to be the only one) could herald the arrival of the new year.  We were watching a live stream from Times Square (Ryan Seacrest), and it was as much fun and as exciting as the first time I “saw in the new year,” with 1972 becoming 1973.  My dad, however, preferred that we watch Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians’ celebration instead of Dick Clark’s.

I stayed at the party until about 1:30 a.m. and made my way home.  I think the cold temperatures kept the number of drunken idiots stumbling around lower than it has been in previous years.  There were people going to and coming from parties in houses here and there, but none of them were belligerent or careless.  I am sure some of them tried to drive home, but I hope they were restrained by their more rational friends.

I fell into bed sometime between 3 and 4 a.m., and slept until 11.  Susie was still not back, so I treated myself to several consecutive episodes of Law and Order on WGN America, while Susie and Kat resumed their Gravity Falls binge.  (Susie describes it as a Twin Peaks for kids.)

Joan Colebrook wrote a 1968 book about juvenile delinquency called The Cross of Lassitude.  Lassitude is the one thing that I have to push to the side by the time 6:45 rolls around tomorrow morning, since the work day will be beckoning at that time.  I dealt with the attack of the killer ex partes for most of yesterday, and managed to made some progress in reducing the dictation backlog that piled up during last week, when I was in Florida.

Late Tuesday afternoon, after I returned from seeing Betsy off on the bus to Athens, I stuck my head in at Used Kids Records, so I could sift through the large cache of records they were discarding.  I came home with quite an armload, which provoked that eye roll typical of all teenagers in the presence of a parent, and I sat down at the laptop and cataloged them, setting aside the ones that could not find. Part of my haul included some stray records from the Ktav Publishing House (“Better things for better Jewish living”), most of it Hanukkah music.  Although I have zero interest in baseball, I did take a record called Reds Greatest Hits ’76, produced by the Cincinnati Reds to celebrate winning the World Series for the second consecutive year.

And there were five or six sealed copies of a cassette from the Cincinnati-based Wolverton Brothers, their 1990 Sucking Hind Tit (OKra 33012-4).  I have never been much of a live music fan, but I did see their name on flyers and club marquees during my years in the Clifton and Corryville sections of Cincinnati.

Susie is at Kafé Kerouac, and I’m typing while listening to Seals and Crofts, and debating about whether to get to bed at a sensible hour so my first day at work in 2015 will be a productive one.

This is me on January 1 of every year.

This is me on January 1 of every year.