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Lights Out! (Understanding in a Power Outage)

Memoirs & Miscellany Add comments

By Selena Fragassi

Lesson #1: Don’t get existential on hot summer nights, you’ll just sweat more
Of the many dumb questions I’ve been asked in my life, there is one that takes my attention this evening: If I was on a deserted island, what top five records would I take with me? Of all the times this has been asked by lame music interviewers and lamer dating Web sites, why has no one wondered where you would plug in a stereo on this island?

This is where my head is on a late August night after two days without electricity. I long for any sound besides whining sirens and an army of cicadas buried in the trenches outside my window that is propped open with a PBR for ventilation and any “in case of emergency” situations.

What kind of act had deserved this punishment of giving my life a time-out in the deepest and darkest corner of my apartment? The only thing that gave me solace was knowing that I wasn’t actually on a deserted island this time. It seemed the whole city was lights out, from Uptown to downtown. Thank you, ComEd.

Lesson #2: People in glass buildings should be aware of stones… and hail
The great storm of 2007 that turned my whole world to black only forty-eight hours before had earlier given me a front-row seat to some of the best weather action Tom Skilling had probably seen in years.

Working in a building with a roof made of skylight panels has its benefits in the calm before the storm. You can see the sky turn to a shade of green not seen since the 1970s. You can see the birds starting to fly in formation and take a nosedive for the first sign of cover. And you can also realize how much of a moron the architect is in not thinking of this exact situation.

“To all employees,” a shaky voice blares over the P.A., “stay away from the windows and report to the gym immediately!” Before I could even contemplate how 400 employees are going to fit into a gym the size of Bally’s locker room, I follow the herd on the mecca to the holy land of treadmills and rubber mats, realizing that the breathing exercises my trainer gave me are actually not working once inside the gym. I’m panicking, realizing that I just may die here, next to the illustrated poster of medieval abdominal exercises.

It’s 4pm when we are finally allowed to return to our offices. It’s an hour before I’m supposed to leave but I don’t give a shit. I’m in fight-or-flight mode and I’m willing to duke it out with my boss in order to take off. What I don’t realize is that my twelve-mile drive home will be the longest game of Frogger I have ever played. Dodging downed trees and power lines provides the perfect grid for a maze that I don’t have the patience to figure out.

Lesson #3: Always have exact change
Knowing that my refrigerator, microwave and George Foreman would all be out of order, I decide to stop at Walgreens to get some dinner fare of trail mix and Cheetos. The auto-pilot doors are permanently ajar and, inside, it’s completely ransacked, from the contraceptive aisle to the candy aisle—both just as sticky. I grab a celebrity rag to remind myself even more of how “third-world” I feel right now and proceed to the checkout counter.

The girl at the register is armed with nothing more than a calculator and a cash box. My total is $5 and some odd change. I hand her a ten-dollar bill and don’t realize until I finally park my car that I’m missing around $2, or enough for a twenty-percent tip.

Lesson #4: Remember to send donations to New Orleans
It’s the worst candlelight dinner ever, but at least enough to give me energy for my hand-cranked radio. After two days of listening to dismal field reports, good news finally comes over the airwaves. ComEd trucks have been spotted. I don’t think even Thomas Edison was happier than me to see light again.

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