Authors: Fay Jacobs
Without warning, 7:15 p.m., Monday, August 8, was the day the music died. And everything else electronic. We suffered a blackout.
What the heck? Was this an isolated incident to drive me insane or was this blackout community wide? Outside, our neighbors wandered about, also wondering what had stopped their lives in their tracks. A car pulled up, with friends reporting that all of Route One, from Lewes to Rehoboth, was blacked out, traffic running amok, cars playing chicken at darkened signals, horns honking and people cursing.
As the sun quickly set in the West, I panicked. My daily to-do list stood incomplete as Bonnie and I sat quietly in the living room, no hum from the fridge, no TV, no computer, no A/C, dishwasher and laundry mid-cycle, and of course, damn cell phone battery waning. I thought of Simon & Garfunkel. The Sounds of Silence. I didn't like it one bit.
Well, at first, it was a relaxing little break. Sitting, talking, laughing, enforced tranquility. I never realized the dog snored that loudly. But then it started getting really, really dark in the house, increasingly warm, a bit spooky, and on my very last nerve.
Channeling Audrey Hepburn in
Wait Until Dark
, I rose from my chair, and feeling the walls along the way, went to the bedroom closet to find the battery operated light/radio. Emergency preparedness tip: don't stash the emergency device in the darkest, most inaccessible crevice in the house.
Borrowing the Braille method to search for the apparatus, I rummaged through purses last used in 1987, discarded brassieres, and a surprising number of errant golf balls plopping off the shelf (ow, ow, ow). Of course, once located, the radio was without batteries. So I used the hand crank, swiveling my rotator cuff to kingdom come to produce five
minutes of radio reception. And I only got our local conservative hate radio. I'd rather be in a news blackout.
Meanwhile, Bonnie felt her way to the kitchen, found matches and lit a candle. It had an aroma like a Creamsicle ice cream pop. Pretty soon the house was hotter, only a flicker lighter and smelled like a Good Humor truck had exploded.
Naturally, I started to get the DTs from electronics withdrawal. Couldn't check e-mail or Facebook. Couldn't use my dying smart phone, couldn't write my column, couldn't watch
(auuggghhh!), couldn't do a damn thing but obsess over what I couldn't do. It was not my finest hour.
“We could play cards by candlelight,” Bonnie said.
“You mean cards in your hand, not on the computer?”
“Or, we could go inside and, um, nap.”
“Are you kidding? It's 96 degrees in here.”
“Okay, well just sit there then.”
So I did, wondering what my Facebook friends were saying, curious if I had e-mail, writing my column in my head. I got pen and paper and scribbled without being able to see, most likely scrawling six sentences atop each other, creating indecipherable hieroglyphics.
Proceeding to the powder room, I tripped over a Schnauzer who, in turn, tripped over another Schnauzer. It was like wide world of Schnauzer wrestling in here. Finally, I pawed my way to the kitchen for the phone book (remember those?). Between my senior eyesight and the creamsicle glow I felt like Mary Todd Lincoln proofing the Gettysburg Address.
So I staggered to the antique hard-wired phone and found a dial toneâno lighted dial, mind you, but at least a dial tone. I thought I knew where the numbers were, but first called an exterminator, then a disconnected number. I was verging on completely disconnected myself when I finally got through to Delmarva Power.
“We estimate service to be restored by 11. We are evaluating the outage in your area.”
Evaluating? If they're still evaluating, how do they know
when the lights will come on? And what are they evaluating? How long it takes to remove a tractor trailer from a light pole? If Glen Campbell is still a lineman for the county? How many lesbians it takes to change a light bulb?
My mind wandered. How many lesbians does it take to change a light bulb? One to change the light, two to make organic, free range supper, three to process alternative solutions?
Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again. The vision softly creeping, creeped me out. Deadlines missed, communication cut off. I fidgeted, then cursed and finally, risked letting the cold out of the freezer by opening it for ice cubes. The martini provided only temporary refuge from my panic. My name is Fay Jacobs and I am an electric junkie.
That's it. 9:30 and all I can do is go to sleep. So I tried. But there will be no alarm, so what will wake me up? I lay there, wide-eyed, terrified I'd be late for something I wasn't prepared for anyway because I hadn't done my work on the computer. Insanity, thy name is Jacobs.
Then, all of a sudden, my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light that split the night. It came from the hall. Then, I heard it. The air-conditioning. Ahhhhh. And Kyra Sedgwick whining from the TV (yaaay!), and I saw the delicious glow of the telephone number pad. (Wheee!) Everything in the house started blinking, including Bonnie, who had been asleep on the sofa.
And in the naked light I saw my life return to normal. But the vision that was planted in my brain still remains. Clearly, I hated the sounds of silence.
So right then and there, I vowed to cut down on my electronic dependence. I would take up Scrabble again and crosswords with a pencil. I would turn over a new leaf and it would be the pages of a paperback book, not an e-reader. No more Facebook dependence. I would make old fashioned phone calls. I would meet people face to face. I would be a
recovering tech addict. I would counsel others. I would no longer fear the sounds of silence.
But, of course, I was curious. What caused the blackout leading to my great epiphany? I ramped up my computer, went to our local news site and discovered the following report:
“Delmarva Power officials report that the cause of the power outage that hit the Rehoboth area just after 7:30 p.m. and affected over 3800 customers was a dead squirrel found in a transformer box.”
Clearly, Toto, we're not in Manhattan anymore. In fact, it appears we are just one squirrel away from Gregorian chants, number two pencils, and subsistence farming. Let there be light. Please.
Have you seen me lately, running around like a Perdue chicken with my noggin cut off? That's me, frantic, clothes wrinkled, gray roots showing, flying around town getting my chores done so I can go to my home office and spend all day, every day, not reading, not writing, but social networking so I can sell books.
But today I had a flash that hit me like a pail of cold water, which, was actually refreshing because it was 106 degrees out. Nobody's buying books because they, too, have no time to sit and read or iron or get their roots dyed because they, too, are spending their entire lives social networking.
UNCLE!!! I cannot Facebook, Twitter, web page, Branch out, or LinkedIn one more time today. I'm having a nervous breakdown and all I can think of is how to describe it in 140 characters or less. I have become seriously unglued and the only cure, as my book publicist says is to “step away from the e-machine,” which is funny because she instructed me to do all this stuff in the first place.
Frankly, I've been social networking for years, writing columns about my life and pretty much being an open book collected in three open books. But, unless there was a point to it, I never stooped to writing I had lox and bagel for lunch or my dog had the trots unless it was part and parcel of a larger, hopefully amusing, story.
The magnitude of social media messages I get daily about what people are eating, wearing, and sadly, eliminating, is stupefying. What books they are reading, of course, is important, but it is clear to me from the posting that nobody has time for that old fashioned trivial pursuit. Noooo. Now we are tweeting and twirping non-stop, damn the torpedoes full 4G ahead.
But, thankfully, I had life savers like ice-cold Yeungling and fabulous air conditioning blasting away as I sat, portable
e-machine on my lap, in my cool RV, social networking like my life depended on it.
Remembering I was at a campground with a pool, I donned my bathing suit and ran over for a short dip but felt guilty. I'm the short dip. I should be working, networking, e-talking, net-blabbing and otherwise surfing for promotional opportunities, not dunking in this delicious pool. Frankly, what I really should be doing is surfing at the beach, which is where I live, after all, but I never see it because I am too busy surfing the freakin' net.
Look, I'm capable of creating great feelings of guilt for just about any reason. Hell, it's in my DNA. But even I know I have reached a new level of manufactured angst with this kind of guilt. Step away from the e-machine.
So I did. I went out to lunch (No, unlike tweeter freaks, I will not tell you what I ingested). Hell, I'm semi-retired for pity's sake and I'm guilty going out to lunch? Even chain-gangs get lunch.
But when I got back, I got yelled at. Not by my publicist, not by my boss (me), but by the graphic of an owl on the Hoot Suite program I use to tweet, twitter, blather, and blog.
“You have been inactive for over an hour. I was bored, so I decided to take a nap. Let me know when you get back.”
Jeez, even cartoon owls get to nap. I haven't had time to nap since kindergarten. I considered not telling the owl I was back, but since I'd failed to tweet for an hour and a half I was afraid the web would put out an all-tweets bulletin on me, declaring me AWOL, MIA or otherwise having left the information highway.
When I pushed enter to refresh my screen, I could see my Facebook page. And, in the upper right corner was the oddest thing yet. Under the heading Friends You May Know, there was a profile picture of composer Stephen Sondheim, with a note saying You have eight mutual friends. Really? Eight degrees of separation between me and Stephen Sondheim?
I clicked on the mutual friends and found two people I
know who really might be actual friends of the Broadway legend, but six others who, like me, are merely drooling fans. No, I do not believe I should bother to “friend” my pal Stephen.
And that's where Facebook gets interesting. When I get a friend request from somebody whose profile says “you have 253 friends in common” I know it's probably another writer and our mutual readers. Fine. But when I get a request that says you have 12 friends in common, it might sound like a lot, but it's probably that you both frequent the same dry cleaner. I have so many Facebook friends for the book biz I no longer know who I actually know and who I virtually know. I admit it. I'm an e-mess.
Which brings me back to my original point. Am I'm destined for the Betty Ford Clinic for tweet addicts? Am I about to be committed for a third degree text offense? All this tweeting and blogging has got to stop. Or at least be put on hiatus. Which is why, as you read this, Bonnie and I have taken off in The Bookmobile for parts North, heading for a quiet, relaxed, cheap and easy vacation. I will allow myself about 45 minutes a day to report to you via the e-machine. Til thenâ¦I'm signing off. Over and out, real and virtual friends. The e-machinist has left the building.