12:30 a.m. March 15th. Phone rings. I answer.
“This is a recorded message from PSE&G. Due to the recent storm there are power outages in your area. Power will be restored by Thursday. If you have an emergency, call 9-1-1.”
“Hmmm,” I thought. “That’s funny; if my power was out I wouldn’t have gotten that message. Thank God the storm is over!” Then, as if on cue, my power went out. My husband, whom the family calls “Henry Kissinger” because he is a man of peace and rationality, thought this was a bizarre and uncanny coincidence. Not I. No, I was sure this was a vast conspiracy! The timing was just a little too contrived for my taste.
As Jim stumbled through the pitch-black hallway, tripping over the dog while groping for the flashlight that never gets returned to the closet where it belongs, he laughed our situation off by saying that we lost the powerball lottery. I, however, harbored more sinister visions. I imagined some hairless Dr. Evil-like character clothed in a white lab-coat huddled in the PSE&G plant in Ridgefield with his hand hovering over the “Light Bright” grid of my neighborhood’s electrical pattern laughing sadistically while shouting through the post-storm-of-the-century midnight air from his laboratory deep in the bowels of the basement, “Take that you nasty northwest section of Leonia! Oh, and take part of Englewood with you too!”
Ordinarily, a little break from the plugged-in world would be a welcomed relief, and I embraced the silence until my neighbor’s rented generator truck pulled into their driveway. I don’t know what’s worse, the loud incessant pulse of the generator exhaling, “We have power, we have power, we have power;” or watching my neighbors (through the window in the cave I once called my kitchen) eating ice cream from their freezer while watching American Idol. I will admit, they generously opened their house to everyone, but I was too busy opining to be open-minded.
So I spent the daylight hours sharing stories with other power-less people in town. One woman, whose elderly mother was staying with her through the storm, said that when she heard the hiss of her mother’s inflatable bed deflating like a carnival balloon at 3:30 in the morning, she knew her house had lost power. Grandma handled it pretty well, but the family became concerned when she kept insisting that she watch Channel 2 News. Finally, they sat Grandma down into a chair, pointed her towards the wall, and told her Channel 2 News was on. Grandma sat and watched the wall until dinner.
After 18 hours of huffing generators, and no heat in our house, we headed to my mom’s. I was understandably nervous because my mother’s house is pristine. I consider my house to be very clean, but by my mother’s standards the Board of Health should have condemned my house years ago. So here we come – me, Jim, the kids, the dog—with all of our clothes and toiletries shoved into Shop Rite plastic bags. All that was missing was our trailer.
My mother greeted us cheerfully, and like any good Italian mother, she had loads of food prepared and waiting for us on her kitchen table. However, I was consumed with the overwhelming need to levitate. I was afraid we were leaving trails of ourselves wherever we walked. Growing up, my mother hated clutter and never allowed it. Now, here I was, back in her house, except now my clutter came with legs, a leash, and lots of non-eco-friendly Shop Rite plastic bags. I couldn’t sleep. Was the dog drooling on her carpet? Would the kids accidentally take the perfectly folded bedspread from the upholstered slipper-chair and use it as a blanket? Would Jim’s 6’5” frame break the petite frame of her ladies rocker-recliner he was now sleeping in? I tossed and turned.
Finally, after 43 hours, our power returned, the generator truck departed, and the entire content of my refrigerator was emptied into garbage cans. All things considered, we faired the storm with no real damage, and I’m so thankful for that. Still, I firmly believe that deep within the bowels of PSE&G sits Dr. Evil like the “Great and Powerful Oz” anxiously awaiting the next storm.