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Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2011.
all our ghosts are gone
november 1, 2011
So I woke up in the middle of the night and it was humid in the bedroom.
My dreaming arms had thrown most of the covers off my body while I was asleep. Now I pulled off the rest, lying on the mattress in my pajamas.
Still hot, but better.
I couldn't hear the ceiling fan whirling, so evidently the electricity was out. Power failure. Hadn't heard any storm, but whatever.
The digital clock on the night table on my side of the bed was flashing nonsense red numbers. So there had definitely been a loss of electricity. I tried to get back to sleep. Eventually did. Hoping the utility crews, with their big noisy trucks, would eventually restore power.
But when I officially woke a few hours later, black hair across my eyes and nose, they hadn't.
Mary was still asleep.
I walked through the silence of our downstairs rooms. That's what I always associate with a power failure. Not so much darkness, as silence. Nothing making any noise. Not the overhead fans, the refrigerator, the pipes in the walls. All our ghosts are gone.
As daylight came, and we could see through our windows, it turned out it had been quite a storm (which we had somehow slept through, exhaling against pillows.)
Our backyard privacy fence, the long section at the rear of our property, crawled over with dark green ivy, was sagging against the ground. Several large tree limbs had landed heavily in our backyard, like space junk. Our power riser (the thick steel gauge tube attached to the roof to which all the power lines connect, for electricity, telephone, and cable), was bent over. How much wind did it take to bend steel gauge? Not a single thick black cable was still attached to the power riser-all had been snapped off, their black, three inch remnants sticking stiffly out.
Our home had no electricity, no telephone connection, no cable Internet connection. It was dead, with furniture inside.
We got dressed, walked out the front door.
Neighbors were wandering around in the quiet street in front of our home, like survivors in a well-meaning apocalyptic TV movie.
Our redbud in our front yard had had most of its limbs blown down onto the lawn. As we investigated to the right, we saw our front fence, with a gate for backyard access, had been puffed over, the four-inch thick wood post anchoring it snapped at its dirt base.
Peggy, from next door, met us outside. Their power riser had blown off their shingles, leaving a large, square hole in the plywood of their roof.
The damage was apparently even worse a few streets down, where a satellite truck from Fox News was filming.
I got on our cellphone, under the silence of the pale post-storm sky, to work on getting our services restored.
The telephone guy came out first.
He looked at our power riser. "I can't possibly restore your phone service until your power riser is replaced. And Oncor?" (The company that handles electric service.) "They won't hook you back up until your power riser is replaced."
So I called the electricians we normally use, and asked them to come out. Which they did, a couple of hours later. Tall, young guy with long dark hair. So what would it cost to have our power riser replaced? He tilted his white loose-leaf notebook so I could read the black, bolded figure on that relevant page, like a doctor showing you a diagnosis. $2,500.
I had to ask. "Why would it cost that much to replace a steel gauge pipe?"
He told me it involved a lot of work. About eight hours. Plus the cost of materials.
So anyway, we agreed to the cost.
He was out there all day, and into the early evening, trees darkening. Lots of whirring noises from hand-held machinery.
That completed all we could do that day, the Monday after Sunday's storm.
Tuesday morning, I called the telephone company again. The same guy came out about one in the afternoon. Told me he couldn't connect the phone wire because there were still live wires hanging off the telephone pole (crews had replaced the old telephone pole, because apparently it had blown over during the storm.)
"What happens if I'm up on the pole and I get electrocuted?"
"I will give a really heart-rending eulogy at your funeral."
He laughed. So we got our phone up and running.
Once I had our landline phone up, I started calling Oncor to restore our electricity. And ran into all kinds of bureaucratic glue.
In order for Oncor to hook back up our electrical line, someone at our town hall had to certify they had inspected the replaced power riser, and approved it. Which had happened. The electrician who did the power riser work handed me a green slip with the town's approval signed-off. But for some reason, Oncor hadn't received that thumbs up from the town. Fortunately, the electricians were on our property, both the guy who replaced the power riser and his supervisor, so I asked the supervisor (who had coordinated the town inspection), if he could go back to town hall and get the inspector to personally call Oncor. Which he did. And I got the all-important approval number.
But when I called Oncor back, the approval still wasn't in their system. So we're back to the Go square, not collecting $200, because someone in a cubicle somewhere hadn't yet input an update to our account. The Oncor customer service rep told me he couldn't do anything until the update was inputted into the system. Sorry, sir. So I thanked him, hung up, called again. A different rep said the same thing, sorry, sir, etc. So I hung up and called again. The third rep said, Well, since this happened during a storm, let me see if I can expedite the approval process. Which he did. He got the approval entered into the system.
An important lesson I've learned when dealing with large companies: If you don't get the results you want from customer service, keep calling back, because eventually you'll reach someone who actually is helpful.
Around about this same time, an Oncor truck showed up outside to restore the service to the house next door to us.
Seeing the Oncor truck, I ran outside, trotted over to the driver's side of the truck.
It turned out they couldn't restore that neighbor's electricity, because the fuse panel had blown completely off the side of the house, and was lying in the middle of their backyard.
"So, since you're out here anyway, and you can't restore their electricity, can you restore ours?"
The driver looked at his companion. "Can't do it without an order from Oncor, man."
"I have the approval number right here."
"That don't mean I can do it. I have to have Oncor call me and approve it first."
He made to start up the truck's engine, to leave.
I didn't lose my temper, which would have been the worst thing to do in a situation like that. Instead, I asked again. "We've got a lot of frozen food that's going to go bad if we don't get the power restored tonight. Can you look at our backyard, and see if you can restore it?"
He gestured at the man sitting next to him in the truck. "Let us talk it over."
I went back inside. Five minutes later, I saw the two of them in the backyard, wandering around, looking up at the new telephone pole, the new power riser.
I went out the back door. "So can you do it?"
The other guy, the passenger in the truck, obviously didn't want to take the time. He kept looking sideways at the driver, shrugging. So the driver was obviously the one in charge.
The driver gestured upwards. "All these tree limbs, the property owner has to get them removed before we can restore power. That's on you."
The other guy gestured at the driver to leave, saying, "Can't do it until you get these tree limbs cut down."
I ignored him. Focused on the driver. "Can you saw down the limbs for us? So we can get our power restored, and we don't lose all our frozen food?"
(I remember reading once that if you ask a stranger for a favor, it really helps if you don't just ask for the favor, but also explain how granting the favor will beneficially affect you. For example, don't just say, Can I get ahead of you in line? Instead say, Can I get ahead of you in line so I can get back to my job in time for a one o'clock meeting? When I first read this idea I thought, I don't know. But the few times I've tried it, it's always worked.)
As it did this time. Next thing you know, the two of them are up in our trees with chainsaws, big branches dropping into our backyard.
It took them an hour of chainsawing, but eventually they got a clear path from the telephone pole to our power riser.
Inside our home, the lights flickered back on, lots of beeping noises, ceiling fans starting to rotate.
So we had electricity.
We checked our freezers (we have one in our kitchen, three in our garage.) We lost some meat, mostly sausages stored in the doors of the freezers, but otherwise, all the meat was still hard and cold.
Cool. So we had telephone service, and electricity. All we needed now was cable service, for our broadband Internet.
I called Time Warner Tuesday night.
"We can have someone come out Thursday."
"Can someone come out tomorrow, Wednesday, instead? I make my living over the Internet. It would really help me if someone could come out Wednesday, so I can start working again."
And I got a Wednesday appointment, just like that. (It never hurts to ask for a better arrangement.)
Wednesday morning, we got a call from the cable guy. "So, your connection to the Internet is really slow?"
"No, our cable was ripped down during Sunday's storm." Which I had already explained twice, once during my initial call, and again during a callback to me later that Tuesday evening, by someone I assume was in charge of arranging service visits. "We need you to come out and reconnect our Internet connection from the telephone pole to our home."
"Well, that's something a crew normally does."
"Will you come out here, and let me show you the issue? You have cable in your truck, right?"
So he did show up, but he obviously wasn't happy. "You don't have any cable from the overhead line to your house?"
"No. That's why you're here. We need you to run a cable from the Time Warner box on the telephone pole to our home."
I could tell he was trying, in a low-browed way, to come up with any excuse to not do it. Admittedly, it was a lot of work, but that's what he's paid to do. Not every repair job is rebooting a modem.
Finally, reluctantly, he agreed to do it, forlornly dragging out a huge spool of black cable from the side door of his white van.
Once he was finished, and rang our front doorbell to tell us so, I had him stay on our front porch while I checked to make sure all our Internet connections were working again, which they were.
I went back downstairs, to where he was waiting.
"It's all up! I really appreciate your help." I raised my right hand to shake his, in thanks. At the moment I started raising my hand, he turned his back, walking away, as if, passive-aggressively, he hadn't realized I was offering a handshake.
Fine. You don't have to shake my hand. As long as you do your job. Which you eventually did.
The lesson a dumb person would draw from all this is that life is aggravation, things continuously falling apart.
The lesson a smart person would draw from this is, Sure, things do fall apart. But you can get them fixed.
After all our powers were restored, we noticed that according to the digital reading inside our Kenmore Elite side by side, our water filter needed to be replaced.
We had an extra water filter, a long, metal, space-age cylinder. The last time the water filter had been replaced, I got down on our wood-planked kitchen floor with the Sears technician, so I could see how to do it by myself next time.
Here's what you need to replace the water filter:
There's a great review by novelist AJ Kirby of my latest short story collection, I Smell Blood, in the October online edition of The Short Review. " Disturbing. Nightmarish. Terrifying. And above all original. Ralph Robert Moore's new collection is unlike anything else I've read all year. All decade. It's also bloody good...I Smell Blood, Ralph Robert Moore's second short fiction collection, reinforces his reputation, amongst those in the know, that here we have a genre-storytelling giant in our midst…Following on from his first collection, Remove the Eyes, this is a surefire cult hit which deserves wider recognition…"
To read the full review, please go here.
To read an interview with me at The Short Review discussing I Smell Blood, please go here.
I Smell Blood, in addition to being available as a trade paperback and ebook download, is now also available through the Apple Store on iphone, ipad and ipod devices, and can also be downloaded to your computer as an itunes file. Please go here to order.
You can also now purchase I Smell Blood for Barnes and Noble's NOOK reader, by going here.
To read more about I Smell Blood, as well as my earlier collection, Remove the Eyes, and ordering instructions, please visit SENTENCE's Buy My Books page. This link also allows you to download the complete text of my novel Father Figure as a free PDF file (it's been downloaded by 75,000 readers so far.)
My novelette Tiny Doorways, a story of mine I particularly like, is in the latest edition of the Cover of Darkness anthology issued by Sam's Dot Publishing. Ordering information is located here.