Dave Sim's blogandmail #163 (February 21st, 2007)
One of the net effects of having nearly four weeks
Of mail pile up while you're sick is that you end up with
A more than unusually large number of
Honking HUGE Letters that are too good
Not to post but too long to justify typing them myself
(when I could be making money at something)
So I got Marie W. of Kitchener's Clerical and
Transcribing Services to input them onto a CD
For me. Let's see how this works:
CAD has been sending me his stuff off and on over the last while after a hiatus of twenty years or something between our first and second communication (I forget exactly how that story goes but it was pretty funny). Sometimes he sends cartoons and then just lately he hit on this idea of doing "picture-less" comics—i.e. all text. His cartoons are usually well into the "blasphemous" category but I don't take it personally. This newsletter came in mid-month in January when I was pretty much hitting rock bottom with my Strange Illness. The fact that the events documented started the same day as my illness (Dec. 30) was strangely reassuring to me. Whatever I was going through there were a lot of other folks out there whose lives—for no discernible reason—were suddenly "no day at the beach", as well—and yes, I do see the finger of God in the fact that this came in when it did. I hope CAD doesn't mind me giving his own ordeal a little wider exposure. He's got a born narrative voice, CAD does:
Put on your mittens for a journey through the outer darkness – the 2007 CAD Letter:
Whew! It's been quite a year for the CAD family – and it's only three days old! The second of our two ice storms was far worse than the one we got the week before Xmas. My French girlfriend, Laetitia LeSabre, was completely encased in a sheet of ice ½ inch thick – up to almost an inch on the north side, trees, of course, tired from the strain of maintaining their postcardish beauty, collapsed like substance-abusing supermodels. Filaments of stray blades of brown grass poking through the light snow looked like baby carrots sculpted in glass, or crystal fungi from a J.G. Ballard novel.
I was taking my usual "power nap" on the floor after my night shift the morning of December 30th when the power went off. After awhile I realized that what I miss most about being without electricity are my air purifiers: without that little wall of white noise to block out traffic noise, or the sound of my neighbours, my astonishingly acute Clark Kent-like super-hearing makes rest impossible, but the power was back on at 1:30 and so I was able to have hot food before I went to bed.
I was back at work a little after midnight and was proceeding with my normal routine – bread and rolls were raising, the donuts were on screens and about to go in the proofer, and I had just mixed the 25-lb. batch of cherry cake donuts when the lights went out. So: Get the flashlight, turn down the fryer so the place doesn't fill up with smoke with no vent fan to suck it out, and go out for a smoke, something I did several times that night. Rob and I would stand out in the wind and blowing snow and gaze out over the entirely lightless – if we exclude the occasional headlights and the flow from the centre of KY, which still had some power – expanse of east and southeast KY. Quick blue flashes across the sky were, so Rob told me, "transformers blowing", back inside I would go do some work by candle and flashlight, but there wasn't much I could do. A huge spooky supermarket with the power off is sort of fun; it would be spookier without the beeping of ½-a-dozen cash registers on backup power, each beeping at a different rate, making an interesting sort of dissonant musical counterpoint. I looked at it like that, anyway. Rob and Patty were more annoyed.
Finally around 6:00 a.m. – the power had gone out at 4" to 2', Rob told me – Bob told us on the phone we might as well go home, and another guy, John, showed up to watch the store. With the wind, cold and ice crackling on everything and the complete absence of electric lights, and the fact that since I live near the tracks, my neighborhood has a shabby, semi-industrial wasteland look, the walk home could only be described as creepy.
I tried to nap awhile, after a light lunch of port and party mix, fully clothed and with long underwear and 2 pair of socks under the covers, but without much success, without my air purifier, when the bozo next door went into his bathroom with his cell phone, I could hear almost every word. He babbled for about a half hour about the gaming he'd been doing on his computer before the power went, and I transcribed a little for my amusement, crap like "I didn't lose a single hero but Matt and Kyle were losing heroes right and left," "I had to rebuild the city three times," and something about rifles and catapults," I didn't think my opinion of gamers and cell phone users would get any lower than it already was, but life is full of surprises.
All this time I'd been worrying about the stuff I'd left behind at work. By 6:00 a.m. everything had raised to its limit, and beyond. The wheat bread already overflowing its pans. One of the few stations still on the air was saying it could be days before power is restored. My apartment was getting pretty chilly.
What a mess.
Then, right about 11:30 the lights came back on. I put my work clothes back on, dashed – well, slid – back to Bob's Superstore Bakery to assess the damage and salvage what I could.
A checker was knocking on the door as I walked up, and John let us both in. Bob himself was there, and soon the parking lot was full and the store busier than I'd ever seen it, considering that I'm not usually there in the middle of the day. What were all these fools doing out in this weather, on these icy roads?! Well, as was pointed out to me, a lot of them were probably people still without power who came in to keep warm … meanwhile, I'm back in my corner, loading the oven with all this stuff which had against all odds survived ten or eleven hours of suspended, or at least diminished, animation, frying donuts, doing at 1, 2, 3 p.m. what I'm usually doing at the same time a.m., which is rather disorienting. I got the last stuff on the shelves about 5:00; there was room for it, the starving masses having cleaned out the stuff I'd marked down (by flashlight!) 12 hours before.
But wouldn't you know it, after working like a fiend to get done by 7:30 so I could watch my favorite cartoons, Family Guy and American Dad, Fox was off the air. Fortunately I was still able to enjoy that traditional New Year's treat, sardines (in oil) on crackers, with smoked cheese. I was in bed and asleep before midnight, of course, having not had much sleep – I'd gotten even less than usual on Friday, to boot, having stayed up late to drunkenly dash off the attached Creation Comics, that further documentation of my vertiginously declining abilities, looking like I could've drawn it in 1980, well, maybe 1981.
Monday morning, New Years Day, things were back to normal, in KY, anyway. Freddy was on the frying shift and I was in for my usual 4-hour morning shift. After work I did laundry and had a jolly time drying huge hunks of ice off of Laetitia – the sun had already melted off the driver's side for me – they'd come off the windshield and slide down the icy hood with a mighty crash. By noon I had liberated all but the north, passenger's side, and still debating the wisdom of trying to get to Roverton that day, decided to nap on it.
When some scumbag's car stereo woke me up again about 3:00, I knew the decision had been made for me. Stopping again at Bob's to get some milk for the cats, I very cautiously hit the road.
I figured the highways should be pretty clear by now, and they were, but I always leave Kearney by the parallel, less-traveled "coal shute road", so for the 1st 8 miles I was driving mostly on ice, and got a good look at what the power company had to deal with – in some spots the road was one-lane where lines had fallen onto it, and there was a crew stopped to check it out and put up pylons. The most stimulating moment of the trip came as I turned on to Highway 10, which goes straight south to Franklin. I noticed some lines hanging lower than usual, thickly coated with ice, crossing over the intersection, and just as I got on the highway – Crash! – a huge chunk of ice smashed into the windshield right in front of my face. When I got over the shock, I had sense enough to be glad it was only ice that had hit me and not the power line itself.
After that the drive was smooth, so I could afford to glance off to the right and enjoy the view, the sun sinking closer to the horizon over the completely ice-covered, glistening trees and fields. It was even better after I'd passed through Minden and there was less traffic. Laetitia's namesake crooned to me from stereolab's Fab Four Suture album on the CD player, nice icy music to fit the occasion.
Freddy had naturally suggested I call ahead to see how the roads were – and to see if the power was on in Riverton, but we all know how much I like to use the phone. AS I topped the rise just south of Macon ("unincorporated") and gazed out over the vista of the darkling Republican River valley, I began to wonder if maybe it might have been a good idea, the sun had just gone down, maybe the street lights weren't supposed to be on yet. Hey: The stoplight at the highway intersection is on! But there weren't many lights on in the windows of the houses. Well, maybe everyone was still hung over from the night before and bright lights hurt their eyes…
It was still a pleasant drive in the dusk the last 10 miles east to Riverton, but it was no surprise to come around the hill and down into the Johnson Creek Valley and discover it too, was without power. At the post office, no mail. I did have the foresight to swing by the house south of the highway and get some batteries out of a radio there (that house was shut off, anyway). No one at Pat's house, the street lightless trip to the edge of town was eerie, but I was home! At the "retreat".
It was a job unloading the car, searching out all the candles, and feeding the cats, all by the light of candles or (dying!) flashlight, but I got it done. And once I figured out you could sort-of make hot tea by putting the pan on the gas furnace in the living room and turning it up, I knew I'd made the right choice.
I went back to Pat's house and rescued some food that was thawing in the freezer, got more oil lamps, and turned on a trickle of water in both sinks to keep the pipes from freezing. I noticed that the huge cottonwood in the neighbor's back yard had finally fallen over, but it wasn't till daylight the next day that I saw how it had lifted the chicken shed at its base up off the ground!
Aside from the eyestrain, I could live quite cosily like this for some time – reading by lamplight either in the nice warm living room (- or playing the piano, or fiddling with the portable shortwave-) or out on my freezing cold "smoking porch" with the windows open, minus the electric space heater that usually keeps my toes from getting blue and brittle.
A correspondent in Washington State recently wrote me about all the books he read in the aftermath of their recent storms and days without power. I confess I've rarely read less than in the last couple days – I've been just farting around with candles, lamps, cats and radios, and things like stringing a wire antenna across the living room for the shortwave – all my usual antennas leading into the smoking porch. Not to mention walking in the woods under a shower of melting ice during the day, or going out to enjoy the almost-full-moonlight at night, which for once didn't have to compete with the streetlights, standing in the road in a powerless small town, looking down its length bordered by trees ghostly with ice, the only sound the rumble of a couple generators in the distance … Then going back in to read a couple ghost stories by August Derleth and a couple issues of Tomb of Dracula. Those of you who were lucky enough to read my autobiographical fragment "Death and Art" can imagine how much I enjoyed reading the comic Richie Rich Vault of Mystery, #2, Jan., 1975 ("The Ghosts of Dracula! Frankenstein! Wolfman! as Richie is caught by the Frankenstein Gang!' "). I picked this up in Lincoln a couple months ago, and finally read it this week, freezing by candlelight, much as I may have read it 32 years ago out in my spooky old chicken shed. To savor it the more, I spread it out over 2 nights – not easy with a Richie Rich comic.
Tuesday morning, the 2nd, the radio warned me how small towns needed to conserve water, since there might not be power for the pumps. Fortunately I'd already had a nice hot shower, but I went to Pat's house to shut off the trickling faucets. As I write, it's Wednesday, and there's still plenty of water, but that could be because half the town has fled, according to Pat, who showed up a nervous wreck Tuesday afternoon, and who made me lose an hour of sunshine while we emptied her water heater, in the basement, bucket by bucket. Our friend, Velda, was emptying her freezer prior to fleeing, and I took some sausages as a treat for the abandoned neighbor dog, Frank. Pat went back to Lebanon. Flee, cowards!. I'd still rather be here than listening to car stereos and cell phones in KY! I wonder if there's any mail today?
Tomorrow: The next in our series of Honking HUGE letters
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