Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pennies in the parking lot

It was difficult to get home safely at 8:30 pm. There was a storm with a lot of wind. When I got home, the lights were out, so I had to find the phone number for the electric company in the dark. I normally get billed electronically. I had trouble finding the phone number. I called the electric company, but the line was busy. I ate noodles (the gas range still worked) and gouda and I played a new zombie game on my iPod touch—I figured, since it’s dark, I might as well seize the opportunity to get properly frightened.

I called the electric company again, and finally got through. They said that they hadn’t noticed a problem in my area. I thought that maybe I was just the first to call. I told Regina that we were going to be heroes. Regina said, “No, the real hero will be the working person who fixes the power lines.” She always makes good points like that. I went outside, trying to figure out if mine was the only house on the block without power, which was difficult, because most houses on my block are vacant. I didn’t see any lights. I then checked to see if my main breaker was still on, and when I did, I saw that the basement was flooded, because there wasn’t electricity to run the sump pump. I ask for them to send someone out.

I stayed up a little, waiting for a service truck to come, but it was dark and I had gotten bored and decided that I had nothing better to do than go to sleep. At five in the morning, I got a call telling me that the truck was on its way. Half an hour later, a worker knocked on my door. While his partner drove the cherry picker to the lot behind my house, he waded in galoshes across the flooded basement to the breaker box to confirm that the power was out. The interruption in the middle of the night, the worker with the head lamp and boots, the problems with ducts all reminded me of the film, Brazil. They then positioned the bucket of the cherry picker where the line from the power pole meets my house, and saw that I had power at that line. They told me that I’m responsible for the service conduit, the line that drops from the point outside my bedroom down to my basement. I was charged $80 for this. I went back to bed.

When I woke up, I had a little breakfast and then I texted Google to get phone numbers for electricians and I asked the first business that was available to help me. R got there first, but he had to drive a while from his work site. His boss, J, got there not long after. They looked at the conduit, and confirmed that the problem was the wire in it. J went to the store to get wire and other supplies. While he did that, I spotted R as he climbed a ladder to the top of the conduit. The conduit is a metal tube, capped at both ends with openings just big enough to let the wire through. R tried unscrewing the top of the conduit. He banged on it with his wrench. It didn’t come loose. Then R and I waded through ankle-deep water in the basement to the breaker box. I felt bad for R because he was in jeans and steel-toed boots. I held the flashlight as he tried to unscrew the bottom end of the conduit, with no success.

Just then, J got back. R told him about our setbacks. J asked why there were pennies in the parking lot: we looked down, and there were maybe a hundred of them. I didn’t know what to do, the electricians seemed to not need me for a while, but I couldn’t eat or take a shower or get work done. So I said, “Do you mind if I sweep these up? Maybe the change will help me pay you.” They chuckled at that. I got a broom. There were bits of glass in with the pennies, and I didn’t know if it was worth the trouble to sort them out. I was having trouble thinking clearly, and I didn’t have anything to do so I did something. The electricians wound up just running the cable down the outside of the conduit, securing it with zip ties.

R went down to the basement to flip the breaker. I was afraid that a power line might be in the water and that R could get shocked, but we tried to be careful. The power came back on. We heard a kind of whooping, rushing sound: the sump pump was working, jetting water out across my patio. I paid the electricians. The bill was several hundred dollars. I checked the basement. Boxes had been floating around and they were now askew. I re-lit the burner on the water heater, which had been partially submerged.

I hadn’t eaten lunch and it was five. I had some toaster-oven pizza, and then I took a shower, packed my things, and headed up toward Philadelphia, to visit my girlfriend. On my way, I was still hungry, so I stopped at Burger King to get a veggie burger. I played Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent as I ate. My throat was sore from the stress, so I had some ice cream for dessert.

When I drive, I always listen to podcasts; music doesn’t normally hold my attention. I was having difficulty paying attention to the words in the podcasts, though, because I was so tired and unhappy. I wanted to listen to some music, I was especially in the mood for music made by friends. I listened to I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) as covered by Blue Electric Mongoose, as I drove up to the Girard Point Bridge.

The first time I had an article get rejected, I took a walk and sat on a bench and felt sad. The second time I had an article get rejected, I wrote a Python script to decode gibberish in a Harry Mathews novel, The Conversions, and I ate four plums. The third time I had an article get rejected I bought a new digital camera and went to the zoo and took pictures of animals.

Last summer, as I was leaving my house, I tried to start my car and it didn’t. I called a friend over to take a look at it. He recommended a mechanic. I called the mechanic. I called a tow truck. The repair shop closed for the day and I had no word on my car. I could have gotten some work done at home but I felt drained. Instead I walked to a coffee shop. I got a mocha and a waffle and read the City Paper and My Life in CIA by Harry Mathews. The next day, I woke up to a call from the mechanic telling me that my engine was no good and I needed a new one; this would cost more than the Blue Book value of the car. I called another tow truck to take the car to My Trusted Mechanic. I went to Grilled Cheese and Co while I waited for word on the car. The Trusted Mechanic called, saying that the engine was dead, but for a different reason than the first mechanic. A friend helped me clean out my trunk and gave me a ride to the lab. I got to the library just before it closed, so that I could check out Fargo: I needed Fargo.

The storm and the power outage and the flooded basement and eating in the dark and the cherry picker and the worker with the galoshes and the headlamp in the middle of the night and the loss of hundreds of dollars and my articles not amounting to much and my car dying and two two trucks and two mechanics and a new monthly payment, resulted, somehow, in zombie games and sweeping up pennies in the parking lot and a shower and ice cream at Burger King and I’m gonna be and a bench and four plums and a new camera and zoo animals and a mocha and a waffle and grilled cheese and Fargo and two Harry Mathews novels, with cortisol and norepinephrine somewhere in the middle.


  1. I really like this one. It feels a lot like some of your old posts, in a way that pleases me, by telling a few stories without explaining why until the end (and even then you don't necessarily make it explicit).

  2. I agree with Tim.

    Also, this post reminds me of hanging out with you in college. I couldn't always quite keep up with your point, but the conversations were always fun.

  3. Bah. That was me. Blogspot doesn't seem to want to let me log in.

    - Josh Yeager

  4. Thanks, guys!

    Tim, I think it was you who identified my essay format as a story followed by meandering. You had said something like that. I didn't like that, at first, because I don't want my writing to be hindered by adherence to a form; that is, middle school five paragraph essays suck, but picking a different form won't necessarily be any better, I might still be stuck on a format. So, that was a helpful observation, because I try hard to break out of that format in some pieces. In this one, the meander is one paragraph, and it's shorter than it would have been if I hadn't seen my normal form as story plus meander.

  5. Also, Tim, do you have a good link for I'm Gonna Be? I like your cover of it.

  6. Coincidentally, I'm having one of those days today. It resulted in a small hole in the wall and watching the MLS All-Star game.