It Was a Dark & Townie Night…


“The Outsidah”


It Was a Dark and Townie Night

Doug Brendel



Since I love Ipswich, I’ve decided to think of power outages as “charming.”

It was extremely rare for the electricity to shut down unexpectedly in the various places where I previously lived. Of course these were either big cities, like Chicago, with bazillions of dollars in taxes flowing into the local utilities department, or much newer, younger cities, like Phoenix, where the technology was all brand-spanking new. Or newish. Or at least post-FDR.

I have no idea what the utilities situation is in Ipswich. Maybe it’s just outer Linebrook? Are we not paying our taxes? Do the power lines get funky crossing Route 1? Maybe the electrons get as far as Route 1 and stop and say to themselves, “Hey, is that really Ipswich over there? Let’s go back and find out.”

All I know is, for whatever reason, the lights keep going out, and if you cut power to the dishwasher mid-cycle, you can have frosted glasses without paying extra. Warning: Your drink may taste quite dishwasher-detergenty. However, if you can pitch it to your dinner guests as “Cascade cocktail,” you may be able to get away with it.

At a certain frequency of power failures, it becomes wise to develop a life-strategy for dealing with them. You’ll need a flashlight or two, and you’ll need to do a better job than I’ve done of making sure the batteries are good. You’ll need to remember where you stored your flashlights. By trial and error, after innumerable stubbed toes and head-bumps, I’ve discovered that the best place to store a flashlight is smack in the middle of the kitchen table. Someplace out in the open, where there aren’t a lot of confusing, competing objects that can feel like a flashlight in the dark. It’s very disappointing to find that you’re trying to light your way with a can of Glade.

You also discover that your appliances, like people, have different responses to a power failure. Some simply go dark; this is the equivalent of your dad rolling over in bed and mumbling, “It’s OK, go back to sleep, it’ll come back on soon.” Other appliances replace their clock numerals with the message “PF.” This presumably stands for “Power Failure,” not “Pffft!”, which is the sound I imagine the Ipswich power station making at the moment the power goes off.

Other appliances blink 12:00, 12:00, 12:00, even after the power is restored, until you can’t stand it anymore, and you have no choice but to reset the clock.

But the most helpful appliances are the ones that start from 00:00, when the power goes out, and begin keeping time. This tells you how long it’s been since the last Ipswich power outage. On a hot night toward the end of June, we had so many power outages, it occurred to me that we were establishing a whole new system for keeping time. Forget B.C. and A.D. and B.C.E. and all that. Forget the Gregorian and Julian calendars. No need to account for the 11 days they shaved off the calendar in 1752, which goofed up George Washington’s birthday. In fact, A.M. and P.M. are probably obsolete now.

What time is it? At our house, it’s 09:37 S.P.O. — Since Power Outage.

No, that’s not a postmodern peppermill; that’s our flashlight.



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