Wednesday, August 25, 2010

(Mrs) Adventure #17: The Day the Power Died

There are moments in life when it’s especially fortunate that I did not have access to a magical future predicting crystal ball at age twenty-two. When viewed out of context, certain situations may not appear funny or even remotely comforting but instead extremely bleak.

I am standing in my very dark living room. Granted it’s only 5:45 PM, but my rear alley-facing apartment doesn’t offer much in the ways of view or sunlight. Outside, sirens from a nearby police station whine and wail on the way to their latest mission and on the streets below the cacophonous city music fills and thickens the air: people shout to one another, doors open and slam while restaurant chefs exit kitchen doors and chat with one another as they throw out the day's trash and linger over shared cigarettes. Inside my space, dozens of large cardboard boxes dominate the scene and a red and rusted dolly hides in wait in the corner like a nurse shark quietly stalking its prey. I walk blindly toward the back hallway, groping the walls for direction when I stub my toe on its unforgiving metal. I yelp and hop over the couch where I can do nothing more than sink into its comforting hug. Placing my hands over my eyes and realizing how incredibly pathetic I look in this moment, I let out a long and dejected sigh and think, “when it rains, it pours.” As though nature could read my thoughts, the sound of running water fills the space. I rub my eyes to adjust to the darkness and search for the source. Squinting, I see the small silhouette just five feet in front of me. There amid all the black and cardboard, I witness my dog as she lifts her leg and proceeds to pee all over a box full of freshly dry-cleaned sweaters. She whips her head toward me caught and pauses. I swear her eyes narrow as she throws me a threatening look that defensively questions, “You got a problem, lady?”

In the midst of all the frustration, I completely forgot to take her out.

For the past four hours I have been battling the monopolized electric company that has a mafia like stronghold over the entire city of Chicago. Weeks prior in an attempt to be a responsible adult, I contacted the ‘Dons of Chicago Electric,’ to inform them that my out of state move would not require a transfer of service, but rather a termination of contract. Of course, I was quick to point out that said contract should not end until the first of September. I even threw out the term pro-rate in regards to the remaining days and I honestly don’t even know what that word means. I know I should, but I don’t. It’s one of those words that grown ups use and disregarding the fact that I am nearly thirty years old and by that point in my parent’s life they were homeowners with two children, I still feel occasionally seized with wonder that the state of Illinois granted me a drivers license, much less let me live on my own and get married. Yet, saying these phrases make me feel older and more responsible, like I could mortgage something and on the same day open up an IRA.

In truth, I’d heard countless horror stories of the company failing to shut off the electric and then years later, bewildered and panicked citizens receiving a threatening letter demanding thousands of dollars for failure of payment. Of course, any attempt to argue or suggest innocence or even kindly point out that it is a mistake on the part of the company can only be compared to walking across a bed of fiery nails while a large Samoan man simultaneously hits you in the face with a heavy slab of concrete. It really is that bad.

So I can’t honestly say that I was too surprised when my front desk security man called me in a panic that a large man carrying a toolbox full of death instruments had arrived to shut off my power.

“What?!” I yelled. “Let me talk to him! Where is he?”

The poor man who sits at the front desk probably assumed that he was going to deal with some sort of raving lunatic as I insisted that he hold tight and stall him.

“Stall him, ma’am?”

“Yes! Stall him! Tell him a joke! Tell him that you can’t find the power outlet or whatever the hell he needs! I’ll be right there!” And with that I slammed down the phone and sprinted out of my office and down the street towards my building.

When I arrived I found a very frustrated ‘technician,’ trying to access our power boxes.

“I’ll have none of this! You’ve made a mistake! What are you doing!?” I shout at him. And then realizing that I appeared something of a mad woman on an unrecognizable narcotic, I collected myself and announced in my most lawyerly and judicious voice, “My apologies, but I’ll have none of this shutting off the power business. Let me speak to your supervisor immediately.”

The technician stared at me as I watched a slow smile creep into the corners of his mouth.

“You’ll have to call the company. I’ve got orders that you’ve terminated your electric.”

“Not until the first of September,” I argue. "I said that thing! About pro-rates!"

“Well, it’s the end of the billing cycle and I’m shutting it off. That’s what the order says.”

“We’ll just see about that!” I charge as I started to dial the company. After going through a series of incredibly frustrating automated choices, I become irritated and begin to hit 0 for operator repeatedly. Finally it worked. I was told that I would be transferred to a customer service agent, (if that isn’t a laughable euphemism, I don’t know what it. Customer Service Agent? Try evil minion of Satan. More fitting really), in exactly…fifty-six minutes to an hour and twelve minutes.

“Would you like to request a call back?” The automated chipper voice on the other end mocks.

I pretended to engage in a conversation with someone on the other line. I went into great detail.

“Yes, yes, you’re right. It was your mistake. Thanks, I’ll let him know.”

I spun back in his direction, “They told me it was their mistake so you can leave now,” I directed.

He looked at me quizzically.

“Lemme talk to ‘em.” He said reaching for my phone.

“Oh no, that won’t be necessary. You just move along. I saved you a trip,” I uttered as my finger accidentally tapped the ‘speaker’ button and the voice on the other end loudly announced that someone ‘will be with me in fifty-two minutes.’

He raised his eyebrow, walked over toward the box and shut off the power. Not wanting to show my fear and anger I looked at him and laughed. “Well, I’ll be seeing you later today when you have to come all the way back here to turn it on!”

“Sure, lady. Whatever.” And like that he exited with the kind of flourish that only a soul-sucking troll could. I imagined his home life for a moment and instinctively knew that he was probably married to a parking meter enforcer. In my head, I determined dinner time to be a real riot in as it probably consisted of his wife screaming at him for shutting off the power as she tried to put a ham in the oven, while she found revenge by writing tickets for passing the green beans her direction exactly twenty two seconds too late. ‘I’m sorry,’ she would arrogantly suggest, ‘but the ticket is already written and I can’t tear it up.” I instantly felt better.

“Don’t pass the green beans too late this time!” I yelled after him as he left. He turned and the look he offers me is out of utter confusion and genuine concern of my sanity.

“Yep. That’s right!” I pointed at him in such as stance as though I’d just won some fabulous argument in a courtroom and was waiting for the jury to slow clap and carry me out on their shoulders. Of course, this didn’t happen. All that did happen was a mother on the sidewalk quickly and fearfully grabbed her child as she rushed past me.

Fifty minutes later, something of a miracle occurred. The company admitted the mistake and begrudgingly informed me that someone would be out to turn the power on hopefully later in the day.

‘Hopefully? No, no, you mean definitely.’

No, as it turns out, they did mean hopefully. And I soon learned in their language, ‘hopefully’ loosely translates to, ‘not a chance in hell.’

All of this leads me to the moment I sit in a dark apartment and survey the space. There are police sirens screaming down the alley outside, boxes toppling over one another and the smell of dog urine perfuming the air. All I need is a dirty mattress in the corner and then I have officially redecorated my space to reflect the not so sought after design trend ‘crystal methamphetamine chic.’ So no, had I picked up a crystal ball and seen this image of myself well, I would have to say that it wouldn’t quite reflect the future I had intricately planned for myself those days I lounged at the top of the Hollywood Hills and threw wishes in the direction of thousands of sparkling diamond lights below.

I grab a mop and disinfectant and begin to clean the floor. I find the box I had packed filled with candles and place them strategically around my apartment so that they throw off enough light. Soon, my apartment smells of gardenia and orange flower, fresh linen and vanilla. I wander out toward the balcony and take in the last remaining daylight as I find my place in the latest book. In a way, I am glad that the television isn’t blaring in the background, dragging me out of my self imposed literary world and enticing me with programs that I will soon forget, shows that will leave little if no impression on my heart. I chat with my husband on the phone as he readies himself for a flight, and later my mom as we discuss moving and life. Before I realize, it is nearly midnight and I am yawning as the energy gradually sifts out of my body and warns me that bedtime is near. I smile knowing that I am yet another day closer to my husband. And just as I drift into a relaxing slumber, I hear a whirl of electric and lights flashing and a woman yelling at some unidentified man and I am rendered completely blind and shocked. For a moment, I almost think the city is on fire.

But no, by some unexplainable force, the power instantly returns in all its golden glory at 1:00 in the morning. Even though there are no technicians on duty and no possible way to reach the power box without the front desk’s help.

I freeze, not sure what to make of this situation and I feel slightly like a caveman who has just discovered fire. What. Do. I. Do. Now?

“Raaaaaarreeeeegggggg,” I hear from the floor. Slowly, methodically, stealthily I crane my neck downward toward the floor.

Wagging her tail and sticking out her tongue is my dog. “Rraaaarreeeegg,” she speaks. “I need to go out! Because it is daaaay timmmme!” Is what she is saying.

“Isn’t there a box you’d like to pee on?” I sarcastically suggest as I swing my legs off the bed. Instead of heading out the door closest to me, I wander the halls so that I exit the door by the front security man.

“Did you know my power is back on?” I ask when I reach the desk.

“Hm,” he says and simply smiles. “Funny how that works sometimes, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Funny.” I counter, matching his grin. “Funny indeed.”

Standing alone outside on the sidewalk with the knowledge that the doorman is watching me from a few feet away, I survey the lights and the skyscrapers in the very short distance. The city music returns in the form of laughter between friends as they spill from bars, footsteps up and down the sidewalks as other neighbors wander the streets with their insomniac dogs and a cab floats up and down the street horn honking at every passerby. I crane my neck upwards this time at the thousands of sparkling diamonds and think of my husband under the same blanket of sky. It isn’t entirely perfect at the moment or exactly what I had intricately planned those days on the hills, but I like to think that had I a magic crystal ball at the age of twenty two that revealed this future moment in haze-filled colors, well, I think I’d be pretty comforted, regardless of the context.

I’m glad I didn’t, though. I would have run the risk of missing all the 'funny.'

But I probably wouldn’t have a box full of urine soaked sweaters sitting in my living room, either.


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