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ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
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"i'm taking care of it now"
july 1, 2008
We have a power line that runs behind the back of our property, high up in the treetops, from telephone pole to telephone pole.
Every once in a while, it lets out a loud pop.
Tuesday, June 3, as the winds picked up here in north Texas, it started popping a lot.
When we woke up Wednesday morning, our bedroom felt warm.
I got out of bed, careful not to wake Mary. Went upstairs, followed by our cats, to my study, where I checked overnight emails. It felt cool up there. (We have two separate air conditioning systems, one for downstairs, one for upstairs.)
Downstairs, warm again, I made coffee, fed the cats.
When Mary woke up, she held her hand up towards the air-conditioning grate high up in our bedroom wall, as if saluting it. Shook her head.
We all have swords hanging over our heads. If you're reading this and you own your own home, you know somewhere back in the worries of your mind is an image of your roof being ripped up and replaced because of dry rot; an image of a screwdriver being easily poked into the wooden framework of your home showing the extent of the termite damage; an image of half a dozen guys pulling out onto your driveway your complete air conditioning/heating system, not only the indoor unit itself, big as an atomic bomb, but also the endless, silver-coated intestinal coils of the air ducts.
Our air-conditioning/heating system is seventeen years old. That's like ninety-five in air-conditioning years. It got into some trouble as a teenager (what air-conditioning/heating system doesn't), but since the new millennium it's been running ominously great, at a time in its life when it should have a broken hip, thick eyeglasses, and a closetful of Hawaiian shirts.
So when Mary's salute confirmed the first floor air conditioner wasn't working, my first thought was, fifteen thousand dollars.
But I did remember the lower floor air conditioning failure had been precipitated by the power cable popping.
When that happened once before, years ago, an air conditioner repair man we called, answering his cell phone while on another job, suggested we try resetting the circuits in our circuit box. It seems a lot of times, that'll solve the problem.
So after a cup of coffee, I went out into our back yard, causing dozens of birds to take flight off the ground and tree branches.
I opened the tall circuit box screwed to the brick wall outside our breakfast nook window.
It didn't look like any of the circuits were tripped, but another thing that guy told me on the phone years ago (may he ascend straight to Heaven while still in his white cotton hospital gown) is that the way circuit boards are built now, they'll often look like they aren't tripped, even though they are. The only way to be sure is to flip all the circuits to the middle, forcing them if you have to, to make sure they're really all the way to the center, and not just three-quarters of the way there, then flip them all the way to the opposite side, again making sure they're fully flipped, not just three-quarters flipped.
Before I did that, I made my way farther down the path along the back of our home, past our bedroom's bay windows, watching out for orb-weavers and possums, and walked down a side path to our back yard gate. To my left, the wide flower bed that slopes up to the east side of our home was bumpy with the bright, cheerful blossoms of different lantana bushes. Last time I saw them, about a week prior, they hadn't bloomed yet, so that was nice. The two outdoor air conditioning units were at the wooden fence by the gate. Sure enough, although the upstairs unit was blowing hot air straight up, the downstairs unit was still.
I walked back up the paths to the circuit breaker, threw the switches, threw them back. Checked the outdoor units again. Now, both were noisy.
As I headed back up to the patio, Mary, inside, lowered her salute from the air conditioning grate in the kitchen, gave me a thumbs up.
Okay. We fixed our air-conditioning problem for free.
Except, during that day, Wednesday, that power cable kept popping and popping and popping.
It's like being unfortunate enough to choose a seat in a doctor's waiting room next to someone who keeps clicking and unclicking their pen as they slowly fill in the verticals and horizontals of a crossword puzzle.
Around mid-day, our doorbell started ringing, simultaneous with loud knocks at our front door.
I pulled aside the white lace covering the tall, skinny window alongside the door, looked out.
I couldn't see anyone on our front porch, but I could see, at the curb, a parked police car.
I opened the front door.
No one there.
Then, like in classic vaudeville, but without the really funny hats, I looked down and saw a very short policewoman staring up at me.
"May I help you?"
She shifted her weight. "Sir, we've received complaints that you might be shooting guns in your backyard?"
There's probably a dozen different humorous responses that can made to that kind of set-up line, but I instinctively realized it probably was not a good idea to make a joke at this point. "That's not true." I explained the situation with the power cable popping. Her cop eyes didn't seem entirely convinced, but she left.
I called the electric company, TXU, to report the problem with the popping cable. It was one of those detestable automated systems, where after they asked if I were calling from the number where the problem was occurring, they told me to hold for an estimated repair time, a hold with a lot of loud clicks and the type of sanitized music that's supposed to be cheerful, but is probably the type of music bad people hear during their elevator's descent to Hell. Five minutes later, a recorded voice announced, "Repair time cannot be estimated."
About three hours later, we noticed there was a TXU truck on the country road behind our home.
I went out in the backyard, yelled over the back privacy fence to get the guy's attention as he got ready to climb up the telephone pole.
The power cable popped again, and for the first time ever, after all these years, I saw that each time it popped, it rained a shower of orange sparks down onto the ground.
The TXU guy gave me a thumbs-up. "I'm taking care if it now."
I wished I had brought my camera with me and taken a picture, and put it on the Internet. Every home in the world should have that picture thumbtacked on the wall, next to the phone. This TXU guy, with his little hard hat at a jaunty angle, one booted foot on the lowest rung of the telephone poll, giving a confident thumbs-up signal. Underneath that photograph, in bright yellow font, it would say, "I'm Taking Care Of It Now." But if you leaned closer, in black skeletal print it would say, "Prepare To Get Fucked."
Because that TXU guy did not fix our problem. I don't know what he did up there. Maybe he listened to talk radio while eating a tuna fish sandwich.
An hour after he left, the line started popping again.
I called TXU back. Kept hitting the "O" button until I got a real person. Explained the problem, the failure of the temporary fix, the fact live sparks were showering down.
Twenty minutes later, we had two huge yellow fire trucks parked in the narrow road behind our rear privacy fence, facing each other. (Why are they painted yellow now? Who voted?)
A tall firefighter showed up at our front door, big metal helmet on his head. "We're advising everyone to stay indoors."
I asked if TXU was on its way. "They've been contacted."
Well, they may have been contacted, but apparently that doesn't mean much in TXU-land. Three hours later, the two long trucks were still thrumming behind our fence, firemen sweating in full firefighters' regalia, still no TXU in sight. I realize there were probably other electrical problems in the metroplex that day, but when a live wire is shooting sparks everywhere onto dry ground, and apparently the City feels it's enough of a danger to station two fire trucks on the road for hours, I'd like to think TXU could be a little more responsive.
By now, our power had been cut off.
We raised the windows in our bedroom, to catch any type of night breeze, even if it was a warm one, while we tried to get to sleep.
Both of us tossed for hours, hot and sweaty.
I remember being a boy during the big east coast blackout of 1965. I was the only one at home. The rest of the family was out somewhere. I turned on the gas burners on the stove, but turned them off after a while. It was enough to know there was an alternative available.
I woke up from dreams to a series of sounds. Still the middle of the night. It took me a moment, forehead beaded, to sort out what the sounds were. One was high, tinny, like someone drilling with an electric screwdriver into a brain. Every once in a while a chainsaw would start up. They must be restoring power. I looked out a window. The moon, dark tree tops. Was there movement in the tree tops?
I finally realized men were suspended in the trees, cutting down branches. The tinny sound I optimistically thought was a screwdriver was just a smaller saw.
I went back to our warm bed, eventually fell asleep again.
At one point I was dreaming and there was this really pleasant sound in my dream, a kind of whirr, stop, whirr sound.
I opened my eyes. It was dawn.
The whirr, stop, whirr sound continued.
Mary was on her back, lips puffing out air.
From the window, in the dawn light, I could see a guy with a yellow helmet high up in the tree tops, sliding backwards along a wire, pulling a new power cable across our backyard, from telephone pole to telephone pole.
The pleasant sound (and it was quite pleasant), was his sliding motion.
An hour later, the trucks on the road behind our privacy fence left. Still no power.
We sat in the breakfast nook with all the windows open. Sure would be nice to have some coffee. I walked into the bedroom, to check on the cats. Beauty, our black cat, looked up at me from the top of the DVD player with her pretty green eyes. All the lights came on, phones clicking, ceiling fans starting up.
We checked the food in our fridge and freezers. Milk still cool to our fingertips, frozen shrimp still crunchy with ice crystals.
Once the sun came up, we saw there was a huge pile of cut limbs in our backyard, like clumps of hair at the bottom of a barbershop chair. We sipped our coffee in our air-conditioned breakfast nook, decided we'd devote tomorrow to going out in the morning, before it got too hot, to cut up all the branches, bundle them, carry them to the front curb for pick-up.
But later that day, more trucks showed up on the back road, including a wood shredder as long as a fifties horror movie grasshopper. Crews in black and yellow hard hats climbed up through the trees, shaking down cut limbs; one skinny guy jumped over our fence, started sliding felled limbs over the top of our privacy fence, where another guy fed the limbs to the shredder.
After thirty minutes, our backyard was clean again.
It was like everything in the past forty-eight hours had never happened.
In publishing news:
My short story "Grappling with Urine" will be published by Chimeraworld at the end of this year.
My story "Strangers Wear Masks of your Face" will be appearing in the October issue of Theaker's Quarterly. This is a long story, a little over 15,000 words. In addition to the standard print version of Theaker's, the issue will also be available for free, as a PDF file, at the Theaker's site.
At this point, that's six stories of mine that will be published between now and the end of the year.
"Damp" will be appearing in Grasslimb (U.S.)