Thursday, December 31, 2009

Low-tech Entertainment for a
Dark Night
Call me crazy, but I enjoy a lengthy power outage now and then. Especially on a warm summer night when you can step outside and experience true, natural darkness…then plummet off the unseen edge of the porch. 

In our house, within the first few seconds of an outage, someone will invariably make this astute observation, “uh-oh, power’s out,” then the family sits pinned to their seats or holds themselves mid-step like kids playing statue tag. 

Only when it’s certain that this one isn’t just a flicker, do I get up to find a flashlight or start fumbling around in a dark refrigerator for stubby candles. I read once that they burn slower when kept cold. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve forgotten my long-suffering hubby left standing outside the grocery store, literally holding the bag, on several occasions, but I’ll always remember how to store candles.

The next line uttered comes from my husband, “don’t hold the fridge door open, you’ll let all the cold out!” Ceremoniously, I scoop up the cold that has escaped out onto the kitchen floor and stuff it back into the fridge. No one sees my sarcasm in the dark. 

I find the junk drawer and rummage for the weather radio. An incentive gift for opening a bank account. (I had hoped for cash.) My fingers pass over sprung clothespins, a handful of dead batteries waiting for miraculous resurrections, tangles of rubber bands, screwdrivers I’ve hidden from my husband because I’ve used them for stirring paint and fourteen tubes of Super Gloo that have glued themselves together. 

There it is--I can tell by the bumpy texture on the front where all the little holes are for the speaker. This pocket-sized radio has always been there in the junk drawer and comes out only for occasions such as these. And it always takes me back. 

I’m from the generation that brought you the transistor radio. I had several between the ages of nine and sixteen. They were made of cheap plastic (is there any other kind?) in a variety of pastel colors and had a little loop of cord for a handle. It had a chrome antennae that was completely useless. I pulled it up anyhow and pointed it to the south, to the north, out the window, and wrapped it with twists of tin foil in the hopes of bringing in a clear signal. 

This kind of transistor, usually found in my Christmas stockings, didn’t come with earphones. But they were just the right size for slipping under my pillow after my mother had told me, “turn it off and get to sleep and I’m not kidding this time, do you hear me?” 
So, with one ear pressed into a flat feather pillow (best for OVP, optimum volume penetration), I could listen until Johnny Carson came on out in the living room, or until the batteries went dead, whichever came first. 

It was back in those days that I came up with a game that I still enjoy today when we are fortunate enough to have an extended power outage. In the 60’s the rules to the game were simple; all I could bring in were AM stations. As one would fizzle out, I’d tune in to another. Not knowing, in the dark, what station it was or where its signal was coming from, I would try to figure out what town or state I had magically pulled into the little plastic radio under my pillow. 

It usually went like this. I hear a commercial to advertise a sale at a department store on Gulf Boulevard and I’d know right away that I was listening to the station just across the bay in St. Pete, in my own home state of Florida. That was an easy one. So now the score would be 1-nothing. My favor.

I would turn the tiny, saw-toothed wheel of the tuner and through the static and squeal I would find another station, the announcer’s accent thick and slow. Ok, deep south, maybe Georgia. Talking about textile factory workers. Now we’re narrowing in. The music is George Jones and then a message from the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church. There will be a quilting bee this Saturday. Bring your own thread and thimble. Back to the music...Porter Wagoner sings about love gone wrong. Now, the DJ gives it away by saying the call letters, WWGA in Atlanta. No score.

Turning the dial again with the flat of my thumb, I would find the Grand Ole Opry. Way to easy. I move on. The next one is going to be tough. No accent. This DJ had obviously been to disc jockey school. He had one of those generic “I come from nowhere” kind of voices. But he does give me a clue. He tells his listeners that there’s pike action out on Erie. Now, we’re getting somewhere. I would call out, “Momma, what states border on Lake Erie?”

“New York, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, now turn that radio off, I’m not going to tell you again!”

It wouldn’t have been fair to take a point for that one. I had help.

Thirty years later, my game is played with head phones and a remote control. But a good outage gives me an excuse to roll through the AM stations again. Mostly it’s talk shows now and they identify themselves about every 15 seconds. Very little music. The game is much easier these days.
But some things remain the same. I can still pull in a farm report from Minnesota. Complete milking herd for sale...see Carl Olafson...first cutting hay...hothouse lambs selling well. I pick up the DEC hunting and fishing news from the county next door. March 16 closes coyote trout action on Seneca...wooly boogers working well for bait.

This latest outage has lasted a long time. A big storm has brought down wires all over the county. The whistle at the fire hall sounded five times in the last three hours. There’s not a volunteer in ten miles that hasn’t heard it. Moving candlelight can be seen through the windows of our neighbor’s homes like something from a black and white horror movie. I expect Vincent Price to appear at my door any minute now. 

We’ve grown tired of Scrabble by candlelight and my husband has gone to bed an hour and a half earlier than he has to. I’ve tried to read holding a flashlight between my teeth until I thought I felt the crown on my back molar prying loose. I've given up and gone back to my old game. I take off my headphones and call out to the bedroom, “Dan, what towns border on Seneca Lake?”

“Geneva, Willard, Watkins Glen...why?”

“Just wondering, thanks.” 

I don’t take a point on this one either.



At Tuesday, September 18, 2012 4:46:00 PM, Blogger Curious Art said...

I came to your blog via your comment on my Riddley Walker post, & here you are talking about power outages too! Curiouser & curiouser!

I don't know many other Riddley fans (apparently my powers of persuasion are not as strong as yours, because most of my friends took one look at the language & said no thanks) but I was able to convince my husband, & we took turns reading it aloud to each other shortly after that first candlelit exposure. What a tour de force that book is! It's a delight to meet someone else who truly appreciates its tongue- & brain- tickling powers!

p.s. I see this blog has no recent posts-- do you have a newer one?

At Wednesday, September 19, 2012 12:08:00 PM, Blogger gloria said...

Well, thank you, Curious Art, for looking me up here at my dusty blog. Do I have any newer posts or newer blog? No to both. Sad to say, I've let this blog stagnate for quite a while. I started it to have an archive of some of my published columns (newspapers mostly). Or a place to send editors that want a look at my writing. Been out of the freelance biz a few years while I take care of some medical issues. You didn't read all the columns on this blog, did you?? If so, wow, and thanks.

Same here, don't know many Riddley fans. I think you're right, the language scares people off. Not many want the mental work-out that goes along with this book. But that's half the fun. When you finally get a phrase and the light bulb of understanding goes off; better than chocolate.

Also, I hadn't been back from living in Canterbury when I first read the book, so that made it all the more special and almost personal for me.

PS. Your artwork is amazing and the illustration of Riddley is so close to how I picture him.


Post a Comment

<< Home