A Close One
Before I fell asleep I was thinking of the chili in the freezer. I made it — well, probably four or five months ago. It was mostly ground beef, not too many pinto and black beans. Some red onions, tomatoes. I went a little overboard with the cumin and chili powder. Also the black pepper. I think I threw in a little Mexican oregano. There was easily a half bottle of hot sauce in it. It was sooo good. And SO spicy. My wife and kids wouldn’t eat it, which meant it was mine all mine. So I saved it for a cold day.
Today is not that day. It’s closing in on the end of June. It’s hot. And muggy. And our air conditioner went out tonight just after last bath. As did the appliances and most of the lights on the main floor. The basement was a blanket of dark. Only the upstairs lights were all working. It was like our house had a stroke.
I called ComEd. The recording suggested it was the circuit breaker. I went to the basement and flipped them all off and on. Nothing. I called ComEd again. I chose different buttons — short of an emergency — and got a person.
“Yes, there’s an outage in the area. We should have it fixed by midnight.”
It was close enough to bedtime anyway, so, shhh, everyone just go to sleep…
I thought about power as I laid in bed. I thought about how once the power goes out, you can’t do anything. All of a sudden you’re in Abe Lincoln times. You might as well light a candle and read. It’s SO boring without power. If terrorists wanted to really mess with us, they should just cut the power. People don’t know what to do with themselves without wifi. Or cold milk for their cereal.
Of course, I also thought about Syria. I thought of the devastation and destruction. I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve read the articles. Well, not all of them. But enough to know there is serious suffering. Incomprehensible suffering. Suffering I will never fully understand because I’m LOSING MY MIND THAT THE A/C IS OUT. Also my brilliant chili is melting. Once something unfreezes, you can’t freeze it again. I mean, sure, you can. But it’s like some of its DNA got lost in the thaw. It’s never quite right — you know what I’m talking about. There was also our collection of frozen pizzas. And the lemon ices I got at Gina’s I was saving. Those lamb chops from Costco. And… Zzzz.
I know we’re not supposed to talk about our dreams*, but I was on the phone talking with ComEd.
“This is the fourth time I’ve called,” I explained. “At one you said the power would be on by three. It’s now four in the morning. What’s the deal?”
The phone (on ComEd’s end) fell and there were some muffled words, most of which I couldn’t make out. But the ones I did said, “I’m done talking with this asshole.”
So I hung up (on my end) and called back. As it was a dream, I didn’t have to punch in the phone number linked to the account and the last four numbers of my social.
“I’d like to talk with whomever I was just speaking,” I said.
“Do you know who it was, sir?”
“No. Well, whoever it was who called me an asshole.”
“Oh, that would be all of us, sir.”
I laughed. The guy laughed. And then he said there were people working on it.
That was it. That was the dream. I think it was a dream anyway. I can’t sleep when it’s hot.
At five I called ComEd again. They said my house was the only one out in the area and that I should check the breakers again. I ran through them with the woman on the phone.
Wuh-CHAP wuh-CHAP wuh-CHAP!
“Nope,” I said.
“Alright,” said the woman. “There’s a crew assigned and they should have it fixed by nine.”
I stayed in the basement. It was the coolest place in the house. At 5:30 I could hear the birds. This is usually good. It means it’s a brand new day and everything is going to be ok. But damn, they were so loud.
“Nola,” I said lumbering into her room at 6:45 and sitting on her bed. “It’s time to get up and get ready for camp.”
A — Clearly she wasn’t.
B — I needed to just cut to the chase.
“Daddy didn’t sleep well,” I said calmly, evenly, and in the third person. “He’s very tired and grouchy. He’s hot. There’s no power downstairs. The lights aren’t working. So daddy doesn’t want to hear any fussing. Just get up. Ok?”
“Ok, daddy. You want me to scratch your back?”
Well played, pumpkin.
I went downstairs and opened the fridge. The light was off. I waited for a waft of rotting/spoiling food, or to see some sort of murky liquid pooling at the bottom. But no. The refrigerator did a remarkable job at being a refrigerator. The chili would live.
I made and set out breakfast in the gray greasy din of the morning light. I was so tired. And hot. I felt sticky. I moved on to preparing Nola’s lunch for camp. The peanut butter and jelly jars were cold to the touch. They felt good in my hands.
Judah came in to the kitchen and stood next to me.
“What are you doing, dad?”
“Making lunch for Nola, bud.”
“What are you doing?”
“Judah, I just told you.”
“Are you making lunch?”
“Yeah,” said Judah holding my leg. “Daddy’s making lunch.”
“Space, bud. Daddy needs a little space. Can you sit in your chair please? You want a kefir?”
I was fairly certain Pam also did not fare well last night with my snoring, the heat, and whenever early hour Judah made his way to find her. She was probably upstairs.
“Pam,” I shouted out on the landing. “Time to get up!”
“Ok,” said her voice from somewhere on the top floor.
Pam took the torch and finished getting the kids dressed. I splashed cold water on my face, went downstairs.
“I’m going to sit outside,” I shouted. “It’s cooler.”
As I opened the door I saw the ComEd truck. It was like seeing the ice cream man. I waved. The driver waved back. I made the sign that says ‘yeah, just keep going around the corner to the alley and then I’ll walk around and meet you there’.
(Yes, apparently I know that sign.)
“What do you think,” I asked as the ComEd guy and I stared at the meter on the outside of the garage.
“I don’t know. Everything seems to be working. How long have you lived here?”
“About a year and a half.”
“How about the house?”
“Well,” I said. “We redid everything. I mean, this is probably too much information, but this was a fixer upper when we found it and since we were in it for the long haul, we redid EVERYTHING. It should be all to code.”
Next to the meter was a metal box. The ComEd guy took the panel off. There were two switches. One in the up position, and one in the down position.
“I think this is your problem here,” he said pointing to the switch in the down position. “Whatever you got inside probably controls an individual room. Or the stove, or what have you. But this is your master switch. Go ahead and flip it up.”
I turned to the house. I could see lights on in the family room. Pam opened the back door. “Lights are on,” she called.
I turned back to the ComEd guy.
“It’s probably awkward to hug you, right?”
He smiled and put out his hand.
“You have a great day,” he said.
As I went inside to confirm success and set all the clocks, I made my way to the freezer. Because let’s face it, any day is a good day for chili. And this had been a close one.
*If you’re unfamiliar with the unspoken rule about sharing your dreams;
A — I’m sorry to be the person to tell you.
B — No one cares.
C — Seriously.
D — No one.
Full disclosure: We keep our peanut butter and jelly in the fridge. Like normal good people.
Fuller disclosure: It’s actually sunflower butter; no peanuts — the one that’s safe for schools. And it stays stirable. You can make a sandwich without destroying it.
Fullest disclosure: Yes, we keep our bread in the fridge, too. It lasts longer.