2016-03-03 / Viewpoint

Feel the power

It was about 2:30 in the afternoon last Wednesday, and suddenly the fan stopped spinning. The TV went dark, the satellite receiver stopped whirring away. From the other room, I could hear a thump as the subwoofer attached to my desktop computer shut down. Nothing provokes prayer like a sudden blackout. Oh please, Lord, don’t let the power be out, please let the lights come back on.

Nothing.

I hate camping, and I’m not afraid to admit it. It makes no sense to me — working for a perfectly good, functioning house, and then deciding the heck with it, I’m going to go sleep on the ground in a mosquito-infested, videogame-less, flimsy, water “resistant” temporary shelter that smells like Deep Woods Off and neglect.

I’ve been through lots of power outages in my life, so I don’t panic the moment the lights go off.

Back in my college days, I lived in a house with some friends and unfortunately, our power got shut off for missing payments. I had just gotten paid, and the money I had in my pocket could have prevented the whole thing if I hadn’t been at my girlfriend’s house when the technician came to shut off the power.

I caught him in the driveway, but unfortunately, he said, since he’d just turned the switch, it would be an additional $285 for a “reconnect” fee. The total exceeded my two-week check, and although my one roommate coughed up all the money he had on him, our other friend who paid $8 for an organic egg salad sandwich every day for lunch said he didn’t have any money — the technician drove away.

So, this being Friday afternoon, everybody bailed on me. Both roommates took off for the weekend, leaving me with a dark, dark house for the duration.

I went to Meijer and bought a $10 “emergency lamp” — what they used to call an “oil lamp.” It is made from clear glass, with a simply tapered globe. I grabbed a couple jugs of oil and went home.

Thankfully, living in the city meant the water still worked.

These days I enjoy having well water out in the country, but when the power goes out – no power means no pump means no water. That means no showers, no brushing your teeth in the sink and — no toilet.

But, as soon as the daylight started fading, I brought my lamp down from on top of the hutch, trimmed the wick and lit it. It’s light seemed underwhelming at first compared to my flashlight, but as my eyes adjusted, a warm orange glow filled the room. As I sat reading a book by lamplight, I thought to myself, “No wonder we don’t get more done, in spite of modern conveniences. We are constantly bombarded by sights, sounds and information – borne to us on waves of electricity and through the internet to our handheld devices. It’s all very distracting.”

Sometimes it’s nice to have a break from technology, but it was still a great relief when the light on my Xbox 360 flickered on.

The oil lamp returned to its spot on top of the hutch. Hopefully I won’t need it again for quite a long time, but if I do, I know I can rely on it. bpetzold@mihomepaper.com

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