Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ars Lyrica

I sing the Body Electric

Have you ever seen that Three Stooges film where they are living in a "house" that is entirely outdoors? My memory of it is vague, and perhaps your youth was not as ill-spent (one can only hope), but walking around the backyard littered with the stuff (all of it so essential to suburban existence!) removed from the wreckage of the garage (and none of the stuff wrecked, miracle of miracles!), the pleasures of living outdoors suddenly became clearer. It is life without electricity; and it is good. Not quite the garden of Eden, but close. Maybe the Garden after the expulsion, but with gardening tools and birdsong and no angel with a flaming sword looking menacingly at you. Although that flaming sword will come along soon enough. That's why you're out watering the pot plants that have wilted again in yesterday's heat. Life within walls has its drawbacks, but at least it keeps away the flaming sword.

Hello, walls

Walls are only good for keeping bugs out and the roof up, which keeps the rain off. They also decrease the noise of generators, roaring in the night like so many insane lawn mowers left running. Windows are the enemy. They let only sound in, not air. Air stays outside and cools. Miasma and humidity stay inside. Outside in the morning just after sunrise the air is pleasant, the grass green, the light good: you can actually see without artificial illumination. Later that same light will drive you indoors, but in the morning you think you could just move your "house" outdoors, and it wouldn't be so bad. A tree for the mirror, so you could shave. An air mattress on the ground where you could sleep. And where to put the kitchen sink? No matter, you aren't cooking anything anyway. You still haven't broken the habit of "leftovers," but you can't have those, so you avoid meals altogether. Life outdoors might not be so bad after all; and then you remember the mosquitos.

Love at First Bite

Mosquitos love hurricanes; this much is apparent. They socialize in the eye, copulate in the winds, lay eggs in the raindrops, and each drop explodes into a thousand new mosquitos each fully grown and ready to use the energy of the winds and rain to do the whole thing over again. It is the only explanation. They also have an insatiable thirst for human blood and, though as large as dachsunds and aggressive as ravenous wolves, they shrink themselves to microscopic size and swarm invisibly upon you. Only walls and windows seem to confuse them, but they wait for you just outside, they know where you are in the house, and they are always ready when you come outdoors. Whenever you begin to think again that "outdoors" and "indoors" are artificial distinctions created solely by air conditioning salesmen and the purveyors of electricity, you remember the mosquitos. And you light another citronella candle, hoping the aroma will be pleasing to the Electricity God.

Of Electricity and the Lines I Sing

"Generator" and "generous," you come to realize, sound like almost the same word. You notice this because the neighbor across the street asks if you have enough extension cords to run a line from his generator to your house so you can light a lamp or power a fan or run the television set. This is generosity beyond measure, the supplying of power which the System, upon which you so rely, has so thoroughly failed you. When you finally plug in the TeeVee, you watch the local news and hear beleagured (but not beleagured enough, you feel) leaders of the System explain their failures and their lack of foresight and the collapse of their wisdom in the face of something no more remarkable than weather. When you realize he sounds just like the people on Wall Street and in the Treasury Department and those who run the Federal Reserve, you put down the shoe you were about to hurl. It isn't the TeeVee's fault, after all. No reason (yet) to shoot the messenger.

The Other Other Glass Teat

The TeeVee is the last thing to plug in; that comes days after the line was stretched across the street. Days later, because plugging in the TeeVee is an admission that the High Priests are not going to visit anytime soon. It is a sign of defeat. It is the acceptance that hope is lost, at least for this week. The TeeVee is plugged in on the night you declare, over yet another meal at yet another restaurant (the one meal of Li'l Smokies cooked on the stove top on barbecue sauce and a can of peas for a vegetable is still with you, and not just in memory. Everything had to be eaten as nothing can be saved. The horror! The horror!), you declared that you had been abandoned by the God of Electrical Power, forsaken by the High Priests of the Power Lines, and so you, too, would buy one of the gas burning, exhaust belching, static motorcycles that generate electricity: at least enough to light a lamp, power a fan, run a TeeVee. You have had enough, you tell the family. You are going into the wilderness of the marketplace tomorrow and coming back with the kill. You are going to provide for your family, and damn the cost. You will send the bill to the insurance company anyway, and you sternly insist they will pay it, too!

So that night, in celebration, you plug in the TeeVee. Wiser and younger heads insist the DVD player should be plugged in, too; for it turns out that not only as the God of Electrical Power abandoned you in your time of need, but the Panjandrum of Entertainment has also left the building, left, indeed, every building. The cable is out. All the TeeVee will show is PBS (very fuzzy), CBS (not fuzzy at all; perhaps because old people would just turn their sets off if the picture was any worse), ABC (fuzzy), and, oddly, a Spanish language station on a triple digit channel. You shrug: it could be worse.

You are, you think, reconciled to watching even what network TeeVee has to offer, though you haven't watched network TeeVee in decades. And you try to watch. You devote yourself to it. You are sure that, having been starved for 10 days of anything approaching a televised image, except occassional glimpses of cable news in some restaurants (why do they have cable, and not me? When the thought finally occurs to you, it's too late to do anything about it; in fact, you don't even care), you will watch anything, and enjoy it. You are wrong: profoundly, awfully, mind-numbingly wrong.

Or is that just the programming? Everyone speaks in cliches, and every police team or FBI team devotes untold hours to just one case (as if the world were that simple, and any one individual really was the center of the universe and the sole concern of everyone. This Bud's for you!!!!), every plot point is predictable and telegraphed from ten miles away and every look of concern, every change of scene, every possible image, right down to the "sexy" FBI agent who dresses more like a Hollywood starlet than Dana Scully (or anyone you ever see in any office anywhere), is so bad that even after 10 days in the dark and being cold turkey from Ellison's "glass teat," you can't take it. The battery powered radio tells you the High Priests of the Power Line have announced a promise to have "almost everyone" restored to the graces of the GEP by the end of the coming weekend. You know that might not mean you, but aside from the air conditioning (which no generator will power), you decide you aren't missing that much after all, and you cancel the trip to the generator store.

When would you use it again, anyway? This'll never happen to you again and, if it does, it'll be your own damned fault for staying in a town where hurricanes happen.

He ain't heavy, he's my...well, one of them is!

In the Dark Period, I received good wishes from many, all of whom have gone unacknowledged. I wish to correct that oversight now:

Grandmère Mimi --Thank you.

Bluemeadow--Thank you.

Jubilation T. Cornpone--Thank you.

dej--what are you doing here? I owe you a phone call, too, don't I? And what is this family predilection for initials? Perhaps there is some counseling in our future.... Thank you for keeping people informed that I was still alive and well.

RglrLrkr--Thank you.

ProfWombat--Thank you.

Catalexis--Thank you.

Phila--Thank you.

Irony of ironies that technology makes all this possible, and that it can all be taken away just as easily. (If my power is ever restored, it doesn't mean my internet access is back as automatically. That's up to the Supplicants of Ma Bell.) Still, the failures of technology do not defeat the friendships, do they? The machine may be powerful, but the machine is not all. There is, indeed, great power in powerlessness.

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