Darkness Falls

When the electricity went out last week in the eastern United States and parts of Canada, the world was stunned: Canada had electricity?!

Ha ha, I kid Canada, regularly, and often cruelly. In truth, the blackout was a sobering reminder that, even in whatever century this is (23rd? 24th?), technology will sometimes fail us. Have we as a society become too complacent? Are we too reliant on the conveniences of modern life? Would we all benefit from simplifying our lives and getting back to basics?

Of course not. What, are you insane? This wasn’t some ultra-high-tech modern luxury like a nuclear-powered bathtub or a cordless elbow massager. This was ELECTRICITY. We NEED that. It’s like air or water or pants.

Yet for a day or so, millions of people were thrown back to the dark ages after large voltage fluctuations caused transmission lines in a major power grid to — oh, forget it. I don’t understand it, either. I don’t know where electricity comes from, nor how it is stored, nor how it is transported. All previous attempts to explain it to me have failed. (In the same category: how radio works, how airplanes fly, and where babies come from.)

At any rate, when the power did go out, Americans were ready to help however they could. Knowing that the Red Cross’ supply of donated electricity would be depleted quickly, thousands of people in neighboring states went to their local chapters to donate. This newly acquired electricity was immediately shipped to the afflicted areas (I don’t know how; did storks carry it?), where it helped restore air-conditioning to dozens of homes and offices. Some citizens were so charitable, in fact, that the Red Cross had to remind them that one can only safely donate electricity once every six weeks. It is heartwarming to see how unified Americans can be in a time of crisis, and when they’re not busy stabbing one another.

It does make one reflect on how far we’ve advanced. Why, 125 years ago, if you had complained about the “electricity” going out, people would have thought you were insane and either burned you at the stake as a witch, or sent you to Washington to receive punishment from President Jefferson himself.

I see how I’ve advanced just in the past six months. Not only can I not imagine watching TV without TiVo, I actually can’t imagine LIVING without TiVo. Yet six months ago, I did just that. If there were a TiVo outage now — well, I don’t even like to think about it. Let’s think pleasant thoughts.

The power was out over a huge chunk of the country, but the TV news focused on New York City, since New York City is the most important place in the universe. Unfortunately, the reporters missed a fantastic opportunity: They should have made fun of New Yorkers, since they knew none of them would be watching.

ANCHOR: We take you now to Wes, reporting live from a darkened Times Square. Wes?
REPORTER: Yes, Skip, as you can see, there’s no light in Times Square, which is just as well, because have you ever noticed how ugly New Yorkers are?
ANCHOR: I have, Wes. They’re even uglier when they’re running around and sobbing like babies, like they are now.
REPORTER: That’s right, Skip. More on this later.

It did not take long for President Bush to address the issue (the issue of the blackout, not ugly New Yorkers). He came out strongly in favor of electricity and was not happy about the blackout, because it meant, as he put it, “Now I’ll have to watch TV in the dark,” which is an old joke, but I still like it.

Oddly, some were criticizing Bush for the trouble. The anti-Bushes said it was his fault for not mandating that the power system be modernized sooner, while the pro-Bushes said any problems must be left over from Clinton’s party-oriented administration. I don’t know who’s right; it doesn’t really matter whose fault it is. The important thing is that Canada’s toaster oven is up and running again.

This column was not published. Several other "Snide Remarks" columns have failed to be published, of course, but those were always due to content. This one was due to my being fired. The column was all finished and everything, but since they fired me, they didn't want to keep printing things I'd written, which seems fair. Anyway, here it is.