Here’s a philosophical question for you, one you’ve heard before. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I don’t know the answer to that question. My knowledge of forested areas and the sounds therein is pretty limited; I didn’t do FOOT. But here’s another question: if a tree falls on a street and cuts out power to the whole block, can anyone see it?
As a resident of Lynwood Place, the historic and leafy one-way boulevard just one block west of Pierson College, I unfortunately know the answer to this question. Obviously in the daytime you can see it. As I write this it is now four days after Irene graced us with her company, and there is still a huge fucking tree suspended in a veritable hammock of electrical wires just 50 yards or so from my front porch. At night, though, you can’t see it. Lynwood, usually brilliantly lit by a series of flood lights worthy of any movie set, has become an inky vortex within which I basically have to use muscle memory to find my house.
It is a strange thing, to be powerless. The first day my housemates and I realized that we had been sent reeling into the domestic conditions of a bygone century, we sort of enjoyed it. We happily conversed, congenially played a few rounds of Taboo, cheerfully began to reorganize our living space. The distracting ping of Gchat nor the seductive allure of Netflix instant streaming could break our group momentum. Nor that ever-present itch to just turn a light on and off, you know? (Man, I miss doing that.)
Now I wish that this could be an uplifting moral tale, one in which we as a group came together in some profound way during our blackout and realized something about ourselves, some way we operate differently without power or discovered some creative alternative. Some Chicken Soup for the Off Campus Soul shit. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. Our Stone Age conditions lost their charm pretty quickly, and I haven’t seen many of my housemates since then, as we scattered across campus to charge our phones and computers in whatever wayward outlets we can find, technological vagabonds. Also, if we’re home, I literally can’t see them.
That isn’t to say I haven’t had any epiphanies. For example, I’ve discovered that when there is no electricity in a house, appliances become fucking stupid. Lamps, it turns out, are just ugly sculptures that are scattered all over the place doing nothing but keeping light bulbs from hitting the floor. Refrigerators become big white condiment holders that intermittently leak all over a kitchen floor like some dumb beached jellyfish. And vacuum cleaners, which would be put to such good use in our house, are just waist high plastic things you bump into on the way to a midnight pee.
The other nice thing is that the designer of our house (or designers, there may have been a team, who knows) decided that the bathroom on my floor didn’t really need a window. So even in the middle of the day a trip to the shower or the toilet becomes a fun flashlight adventure. Dark showers are fun because sometimes you grab your housemate’s body wash instead of your dandruff shampoo and your scalp is flaky and smells like Old Spice Swagger for a day or so. Also, no need to scour off the grime left by a summer of subletters if you can’t even see the tub, right? (Gross. I was sorry I wrote that as soon as I wrote it.)
I very much hope that by the time you read this my little house on Lynwood has rejoined the land of the lit. I’m not optimistic. But it’s cool, pitch black is the new black. And I’ve totally gotten over my childhood fear of the dark. Which is good, because it turns out that even night lights don’t work when the power is out. What the fuck is that? Luminescent bear holding balloons, where have you gone?
I will say that living by flashlight has reopened to me the world of shadow puppets. Shadow puppets, while perhaps not as engaging as the fifth season of “The Wire” that I could be watching, do very much come in handy whenever I want to see a rabbit and a dog kind of nod at each other.