Tuesday, June 20, 2006

We are a broken set of Christmas lights here. The old kind: one light's going causes the rest of the string to go dark. Such was the case last night, when Simon and I were turning in for the night. We'd settled in with our reading--I with a short story collection and Simon with a thinking-man's magazine--when the power went out.

Had I known the outages would be so regular (there has yet to be a month since we've returned that we've nto had at least one) and so frequent (particularly when the wind blows or a single rain "drops,") I might have kept score, tried to make a game of it. One needs to do that now. And once upon a time--months and months ago--the outages had their charm. How rustic! How spontaneous! See how we can do without TV! See how much we are willing to put up with for our beloved New Orleans! Cheers, cheers, cheers! We went out for a walk in the dark back then, admiring the hue of FEMA tarps in the moonlight. Or we stayed inside, lit dozens of candles, and played romantic.

But it happens again and again, and the fragility of our power grid does, indeed, make life in New Orleans seem very third-world. Very un-charming. Anger-inspiring. And yet, never the least bit surprising. Even the outages that are apropos of nothing are old news to us. (Usually it is rain or even the lightest of winds that causes the power to go.) And yet.

And yet last night I just wasn't HAVING it. The night was perfectly still. It was hot and the air thick, thick, thick, but there wasn't any heat lightning or other evident reason for power failure. So I called 1-800-9-OUTAGE (as I do) to find out the estimated time of repair (usually the patient but frazzled customer service rep at Entergy will give you a ballpark hour that is at least somwhat accurate). I sat on hold.

We are angry at Entergy here. Not only do they have a monopoly on our power in the city, but they also play the Katrina-card and blame everything on that f-ing storm. The hardier ones among us urge patience and understanding, but when one pays their bills, damnit! When one is living in America, for chrissakes! Well, we want a single drop of rain to be allowed to fall without our losing electricity!

It was a single drop of rain that appeared to cause our last outage two weeks ago. My dear friend, Jackie, who is indeed, hardy as hell, went to the French Quarter and had a T-shirt made that said "Got Electricity?" We in the Marigny-Bywater all laughed. And yet.

I was on hold. For a long time. The recording mocked me, saying, "Entergy cares about your high heat bills. Winter is here, and Entergy has a few simple steps that can make a difference in your bill." WINTER is here!?

Finally, after, I don't know, a dozen runs-through of this recording, I spoke to someone. They had only begun to receive calls fifteen minutes ago, she said. They were working on figuring out the problem, she said. Would I like a wake-up call? I would, dammit, yes. (I scheduled one for Simon, whose alarm clock plugs in.) If I can't have electricity, then I am entitled to concierge service as consolation, thank you very much.

The power stayed out until 4:30, and I couldn't sleep. It was HOT. Our house is always hottest at night (and coldest, too, when it does get cold), and I tried not to move as I lay on top of the covers, nude. At 2:00 I went into the kitchen and made an ice pack wrapped in a towel. Put it under my neck. I finally slept.

When the power came back on, our neighbors' ridiculous alarm system squealed, the ACs all churned back to life, and the lights we'd not yet turned off all came on. Simon and I stumbled around switching them off, cranking up the window units to high. Somehow used to our little power-restoration dance by now, we didn't even speak. Just dealt and went back to bed.

Six-thirty was mean this morning, but worse was the news that the power outage was the result of a fire in the neighborhood. I told Simon about it when he came home this afternoon from his occasional construction work. I was trying to nap, and was cranky because here he'd woken me up. "Well, at least there was a good reason for the outage," he said.

"Whatever," I replied (as usual, inconsolable these days). "What, are we like an old string of fucking Christmas lights--where one goes out and all the rest do, too? What the hell?!"

Simon smiled. "We are," he said. "We're just a broken string of Christmas lights." Then he rubbed my feet and I let myself smile, too.

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