Hurricane Diaries, part 1: Blackout Masquerade

Welcome to the Hurricane Party! We’re getting on 48 hours since we lost power during Hurricane Sandy, so, to alleviate my boredom, I thought I’d start rambling and see if it makes for a good post.

Today’s Halloween, 2012. We lost power in my suburban New Jersey home at 9 pm on the 29th, after a neighbor’s tree was uprooted by the wind and fell against the overhead wires. It’s still there, resting comfortably against power lines, cable, phone lines, and whatever else gets strung along those poles.

Last night, one of the power lines snapped. It began arcing all around our next-door neighbor’s mailbox. Some cops arrived, didn’t do much but put up cones to warn cars away, announced by loudspeaker that we should all stay inside because of the live wire, and left.

At some point, the electric company must have turned off the current to that one. It stopped arcing, but the insulation of the wire had caught fire, and began slowly creeping up the line, like a fuse of a bundle of dynamite in an old western. I stood outside with another neighbor and tried to figure out how to put out the flame. He’d called the fire dept. earlier and they told him there was nothing they could do. We’re clearly heading toward Walking Dead territory here.

So my neighbor and I figured that if it was an electrical fire, we’d cause more harm by spraying it with a fire extinguisher or hitting it with sand. And the possibility that it was still live kept us from trying to do anything to smother it.

The fire climbed on, about 10 inches in length, burning its way up the cable. Lucky for us, when it reached the stretch of line that was enmeshed in a tree’s branches, it died out. My neighbor and I waited a full minute before celebrating our reverse pyrokinesis. In truth, it was just that the wire was no longer hanging perpendicular to the ground, so the flame couldn’t feed up into it. Still, it was a big bag of not good.

As is the fact that AT&T’s cell tower in our area went kablooey about 12 hours after power wen down. So we have no phone and no data, except for my wife’s iPad, which uses Verizon to grab data. We go on that to grab e-mail and look for updates on our situation, but try not to stay on too long, to preserve the battery. We’ve got chargers in the car and a Trent battery that’ll work on pads and phones, don’t worry. (Update: woke up at 3:00 a.m. on Nov. 1 and AT&T service seems to be working again, after about 40 hours down.)

Still . . . Walking Dead territory. Several of our neighbors have generators, but the lines at the few remaining gas stations are a mile long, so who knows how long those will hold out? Meanwhile, we’ve got the wood-burning stove going down in the library, and moved down here to sleep. The upstairs of the house reads 59 degrees, according to the thermostat.

But you guys don’t want to hear about all that doom and gloom! You wanna know about books, right?

Well, a few days before the hurricane hit, I finished reading 7 Pleasures, essays about ordinary happiness, by Willard Spiegelman. I’m supposed to have him on the podcast this January, so I gave it an early read and took a bunch of notes. I enjoyed it quite a bit; he reminds me of myself, in terms of finding joy in certain aspects of the day-to-day. I hope we have a good conversation for you guys.

Once the storm hit, I took up The Emigrants, by W.G. Sebald. I may be interviewing a pal of mine about Sebald next week, depending on how this situation works out, so I thought I’d give that one a read to pair it up with this year’s earlier reading of Sebald’s book Austerlitz. He’s a remarkable and weird writer. That first-person but not really first-person style of his, along with the fake documentary stuff like photos and documents, make for a very strange atmosphere.

This one’s like a proto-Austerlitz, with a little too self-conscious artifice, but some amazing and arresting segments about people who were uprooted by the 20th century. I’m sure I’ll get to his other two novels in the next few months.

The thing is, since I finished The Emigrants in one day, I had to decide on something else to read last night. This is no easy task. I didn’t want to start anything huge, because of the uncertainty about when we’ll have power, and where we’ll be staying if things get worse. For a minute, I flipped through my copy of The Recognitions, thinking maybe …

Nah. I’ll reread that someday, but not while I’m ekeing out the few daylight hours and having my brain numbed by the constant thrum of the generators.

I picked up Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, which I last read around 20 years ago, but couldn’t get into it. I didn’t need that much meta just then.

My wife & I hung out with out neighbors for a little while, and then I came back, walked the dogs, and made a concerted effort to find something on the shelves that would be quick, and easily digestible. I wound up with 800 pages of Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy.

I think I read the first volume, Fifth Business, also around 20 years ago, but don’t recall much of it. I’ve read about half of that one today; if this power outage keeps up, I may knock out the whole shebang by next week. I’ll keep you informed.

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