Monday, September 5, 2011

Hurricane Special


While we were waiting to pick up the new TV, the musique system was playing "My Love" by Petula Clark. It sounded worse than I remember, but so it goes. Her voice is pretty nasal. No wonder they loved her in France. She recorded whole albums in French. This is one of the stupid things I happen to know. Other stuff, well, Helen amuses us sometimes by remembering things about my family that never stuck in my brain. Like a steel sieve it is. But I am already off topic.

It was a good thing I had Central Avenue Bridge all set up ahead of time or you wouldn't have had a post last week.

The reason was called Hurricane Irene.

I realize our house got off better than some. I can be a whiner.

Saturday night, back there on August 27, the rains were falling and the winds were blowing. A friend told me she was awake listening to the wind and worrying about the trees on her property, so she couldn't get to sleep until one. Well, lucky her. I slept fitfully all night.

What do people mean by wind howling? In the city we'd hear it making a high pitched noise as it whipped around the corners. That's howling, right?

That's not the sound I heard. It was more like white noise, but much louder. It was the sound of wind going through the trees. It was continuous except that from time to time it would get even louder for a few moments. Now and then I heard the crack of wood breaking. I kept listening for the deep thump of trees or large branches hitting the ground, but I never did. We've got some huge trees that are close enough to hit the house if they went down.

Around 3:30 early Sunday the power went out. This meant the sump pump went dead, and the torrential rain continued until about noon. We ended up with about three inches of water in the basement. We had about six inches from Hurricane Floyd back in 1999, so the pump must have done a good job while it could.

We figured out how to make coffee in a coffee maker by boiling water on the gas stove— lighting it with a match— and pouring it slowly like the pot would have done. Pretty tedious. The juice was still cold and we had... I forget already, look at that... something to eat.

And we managed lunch. By supper we decided not to eat in the dark. We found a restaurant open in a part of Maplewood that had power. And we went home. Helen read her Kindle for a while and Megan read a book with a flashlight. I just whined and fell into despair and lay on a couch in the dark, and soon enough it was sleepy time. And boy was I tired.

Going to work the next day was pretty much out. I couldn't take a shower— a cold shower because the water had risen enough to douse the pilot light in the water heater— until daylight. Funny how that detail seemed a deal breaker. But even more significantly, no trains were running. I'm allowed to work from home when I need to, but that required electricity.

No Internet! Whine whine whine. Ooooh.

The biggest thing I did Monday was re-light the water heater, faithfully following the directions pasted to the outside. We could wash dishes. Sweet.

Four in the afternoon. One second of electric power! A miracle! Or sweet cruelty you might say, to give and then take away so quickly. That evening I drove to the store, and went down a different road than usual, no reason, and there, a few blocks from the house, I found the cause of the problem.

The biggest tree ever had fallen completely across a main road, knocking down power lines along it. The situation as summarized by the local online group was: the town could do nothing because it was a county road ; the county could do nothing because of the live wires ; the power company could do nothing because there was a tree in the way. Or something like that. Someone said they tried re-energizing the wire and the tree started smoking. If that didn't happen, it should have happened.

I don't know how you cut apart a tree of a diameter four times the length of a chain saw. Maybe they brought in military grade lasers, because I didn't hear any explosives used, but they did something overnight, because at five Tuesday morning, BANG there was light. I don't mean the sun. I mean electrical lights.

What a fine invention electricity is.

I went to work exhausted to find some mad scramble about suddenly needing detailed data for the top dogs about something we've been working on since April. Let's say it was not the quiet week I'd been hoping for.

We did have a nice lunch together with people from one of the academic departments we support. It was postponed from Monday. This was where my friend who couldn't get to sleep until one told me she worked from home on Monday. Don't you have trees?, I asked her. I think she said she has fifty trees, but the one that fell didn't hit the house although it just missed a car, and she had power the whole time.

Not fair. Whine whine whine. Look. Trees were down all over town, there was a part of Maplewood that had no water for a while on Sunday, and a part where the power was out until Friday, and parts of other towns in the area that are still flooded as I write this. So I should shut up.

I couldn't find any time to write though.

Saturday and Sunday, we went up to Helen's parents each day to help them out. The grating in their driveway had worked in reverse and drained a creek into the driveway and from there into the basement, a foot deep. Helen's brother and sister and their partners were there too, and we all had a clean out party.

Their basement always was the mother of cluttered basements. Now it was the mother
of wet moldy cluttered basements. Adding to the fun is that half the basement has a low ceiling, only five feet clear under the main beams. I can stand up in places, but mostly, to protect myself, I walked around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or as her brother said, we looked like extras trying out for Planet of the Apes. Once in a while one of us would forget and stand up, typically while carrying a delicate work of art, bang our head, stagger trying not to drop the art, and try to come up with an exclamation suitable for the ears of my young niece and nephew.

There were works of art. Helen's mother is a sculptor. The bronzes were OK, and the fired clay seemed to be OK. The unfired soft clay was not always OK. She has made some beautiful stuff. Even Helen thought we had not ever seen some of them. So anyway, imagine having to move an uncountable number of more or less delicate and sometimes heavy things under the conditions I have described.

In the middle of the second day my sister in law declared that she was going to call the job done in a short time. I called her the project manager. She seemed to know the most about how to clean up and organize, and it was good to have someone willing to call it. It wasn't that we had tossed out all the junk, but that we had removed everything wet and either tossed it or else dried it and put it back.

We bought two sections of plastic shelving to replace some makeshift stuff they'd been using. I give you one example. A bust of Beethoven made decades ago by Helen's mother, stored inside the wood cabinet of a 1950s vintage television set. The story is that the plaster bust had exploded when they tried to make a mold from it to cast it in bronze, so she glued it back together, and her father (Helen's grandfather) found someone who could paint it to look like it was bronze. Everything seemed to have a story.

When you are carrying something delicate, being told not to drop it does not help you not drop it. When you are trying to make a polite reply about not dropping it, that seems to take over the part of your brain that remembers why you are bent over. When you hear a quiet "watch your head" as you start to stand normally, it is much appreciated, if said in time. Beethoven is OK, nestled in his new plastic tub. I'm just saying those things because they are true.

There is now a pile of water-damaged junk by the road in front of their house, the size of a small truck. Helen's sister took pictures but I don't have them for you. The story is that the town will come take it away.

Again I was too tired to write.

But the TV died. I don't know whether it was the power going off and on a few times, or if it was just its time. On Sunday morning we found it was shorting out, turning its own power off and on, and displaying interesting line patterns on screen. We yanked the cord and put it away to await its journey to beyond on Electronics Recycling Day. It still looks beautiful.

Today, Monday, we researched what are good TVs, ordered one online and picked it up at the store. It's ten inches bigger than the old one.

Then we turned our attention to cleaning the remains of mud from our own basement. Notice our priority list. Helen didn't like the fuzzy white stuff growing on the stairs down there, or the earthy smell.

And then finally I found an hour to avoid breaking the long string of weekly posts. It was a close one! But I am going for the record books. I thought, well, it's been a hell of a week, I should be able to toss off a few 'graphs. Any kind of garbage will do: the readers can't ask for refunds if I give it out for free. That's the kind of deal we make here at World of... I have forgotten the name of my own blog. Seriously, I wrote "World of" and then it looked wrong. At least it did look wrong. I am still tired. There's a couch in my office, but they keep asking me to do things.


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