29 December 2004

Rockets' red glare

I'm back on the grid! Miss me? I missed you!

So I know everyone has been distracted by the horrific and devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean (and rightly so, good god), but folks, I have been shivering in the cold and dark here on the cape of cod. We got blasted with 18 inches of snow in one night, the power went out, my front yard caught fire. Electrical fire. Twenty-eight thousand volts of white-hot true love.

But I'm back. After dodging exploding phone poles for a full night. And boiling water for warmth for two days and nights straight during which time the temperature dropped to nine degrees at night.

But it sure is tough to feed your self-pity when the only contact you have with the outside world is the NPR station you finally found after three hours of fiddling with a twenty-year-old boom box that has stickers on it that say PINK FLOYD LIVES and listening to nothing but horrific news of a giant tsunami coming out of nowhere and destroying everything.

But I was cold. And exploding electrical stuff is goddamn terrifying.

Here's how it happened: we were forecast to have rain turning into maybe a few inches of snow on Sunday night, which if you're from Cape Cod you know means rain and maybe a few hours of that crappy sloppy not-rain/not-snow slush showers, followed by a day of watching snow-related cancellations and school holidays and bank closings on all the Boston channels while the sun shines down on Olde Cape Cod. Not that I'm bitter, but an entire childhood of watching punks from Revere for god's sake get the day off from school while I have to go -- and there's a math test -- can make you cynical about weather forecasters calling for snow. Yeah right, you think, tell me another one, jackass.

So of course we got clobbered. Classic Nor-easter, apparently. Eighteen inches. Just kept coming at us, from about 6 pm Sunday until about noon the next day. The wind was howling, the snow was flying, the trees were bowing solemnly towards the ground. I was happily editing my latest pile of papers from New York, while occasionally telling Matt that he really ought to get off the computer, what with the lights flickering every ten minutes or so. Prudently, I did manage to unplug the stereo equipment.

All of a sudden: BOOM...... BOOM.

The lights were OUT. No flicker, just gone. But there was a bright orange glow out the front windows. We opened the curtains to reveal two volkswagon-sized piles of flame, right outside the door. Rainbow flames -- blue, green, orange and purple -- such festive, inclusive flames on either side of our driveway. With a yelp, we both jumped up and started pulling on socks and shoes and hats and coats and cats. I called 911.

The primary line outside our house had snapped, and now we had both ends of a 28,000 volt line sparking and writhing and burning like an enormous, two-tailed fuse in our front yard.

The fire department got there in a few minutes, but they couldn't do anything about it until the electric company turned off the juice. And of course the electric company was extremely busy that night, what with all the wires going down all over the place. I would have thought that evil green and purple flames would have put us close to the top of the list of priorities, but then who am I.

So the guys in the fire engine stood a safe distance back on the street, and Matt and I stood inside the house (feeling none too safe) and watched the motherfucker burn FOR TWO AND A HALF HOURS. The last hour of this festival of lights was punctuated by about twenty periodic explosions that felt like they were shattering windows for miles around, and that showered sparks across our roof. I could see them coming down on the other side of the house. Fortunately, I had been watching WW II documentaries recently, so I knew to jump behind our futon/foxhole during the shelling, pull down my hat and shout obscenities. Seemed to work for most of the guys in Band of Brothers. Worked for me.

The flames finally went out for good, the explosions got further and further apart, and the fire department checked our roof for smoldering bits, then left. We lit some candles (I know, I was nervous too, but it was dark) and piled up the blankets and turned on the (battery-operated) radio. I stared out the window for a few hours, being hyper-vigilant.

Amazingly, the only damage was to our fence, which is severely charred. My beach rose bushes got caught in the crossfire, but they'll live through anything. Probably bloom better than ever next year. Our computer and audio equipment are fine, but the coffee maker and the microwave bit it. Matt's out replacing them right now.

We got our power back two days later. The roads are still barely navigable, and all my fancy cheese from Christmas went bad in the fridge. But there is nothing -- nothing -- like walking into a house where the rooms are warmed, the lights are lit, and the water heater is humming.

And nothing has exploded in the front yard for a whole 48 hours. So far. I remain vigilant.

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