[Last winter, during the ice storm of December 13, 2008, after after a series of texts amid news reports of regional blackouts, Lisa sent in this story about the terrible weather they were experiencing in New Hampshire. Took a while for me to post it but now with the website redesign I think it’s finally time. ~Rob]
The Frigid Northeast
Ever The Provocateur, Our Very Own Lisa Carver Finds Ways To Have Enjoyment Amid Cold Chaos And Malfunction
NEW HAMPSHIRE ICE STORM [From 12.13.08 ~Ed.]
by Lisa Carver
7 a.m. I realize the alarm should have gone off a half hour ago.
7:01 I realize I’m very, very cold. I don’t think much of it. We have storms, the power goes out, it gets cold, it gets dark. Bad stuff happens in New England. Nature bad stuff: cold, dark. Out west, it’s the humans who riot, and there’s fire. People get thirsty out there. People get greedy. Here, they just get grim.
I go out for coffee. There are fallen trees everywhere! Half the roads are impassible. The traffic lights are dead. A truck almost rams me. Hey, I had the right of way Buddy! You think no light means green light? I will die if I don’t get coffee, so I’m not afraid of you, Truck.
Most of the gas stations are without power, plastic yellow bags covering the nozzles. I’m on Empty. So stupid of me, living in New England, to ever let it get that low. I find a station open, but the line stretches two streets long. I’ll run out of gas idling. It looks like it’s not working the normal way anyway– two old men are going back and forth with five gallon buckets they pour a small amount from into each tank. The process is interminable. I am an addict. I can’t wait in line. I park and walk all the way in the freezing to Dunkin Donuts. Thank god they have a generator. The line there stretches out almost as long as the one at the gas station. I think about going home and rooting around in the compost pile for old coffee grounds to eat. I pity the junkies. Their dealers might not have generators like mine does.
3 p.m. The house isn’t so bad. Fifty-five degrees. We wrap Christmas presents and use the last of the hot water to wash dishes by hand. The only news I get is over my iPhone, whose battery is down to 20%. It says the work crews are concentrating first on removing felled trees and fallen live wires, and over a million homes and businesses are out of power and can’t expect it back until maybe Monday. One death confirmed so far.
The fish are sluggish; one seems in a coma. Craig uses a power inverter, which converts a 12 volt battery from DC to AC, to plug in the tank heater, but it’s a losing battle, with the cold air surrounding the tank.
4:30 It’s 19 outside and 50 in, and it’s dark. Everyone is reading by candle light. All the hotels are full up or without power. Sadie’s dad has power; I take her there. I’d rather keep her here. Shivering all night long under piles of blankets builds character and realisticness. One should always remember that the apocalypse is only one little twist of man or nature away. That’s how I grew up — a pawn to sudden disaster, and look how resourceful I became! However, some may consider it child abuse, to keep a six year old in the cold and dark when she could have access to microwave dinners and TV and landlines and computers and steamy baths and the continuing fantasy that everything is always going to be all right.
8 p.m. Craig and I are under all our covers and those of the guest room. We have both cats in with us for the little heat they give off, like Germanic tribes did with their livestock. Outside, it’s ten degrees. We’re listening with great jealousy to the neighbor’s boisterous generator. I’m afraid to have sex because we might undo the careful covers configuration, but we do anyway. Now what? There’s nothing to do but talk, which we haven’t really done since we met two years ago, being too busy watching movies, listening to music, going to parties, working, doing errands, flying places, helping kids with homework. I find out what his favorite number is and whether he’d be emperor if asked. I can’t believe I agreed to marry someone and I didn’t even know his favorite number! But I guessed right — 8. Because it matches, top to bottom, and because it’s the infinity sign having gotten to its feet. You would think my favorite number would be 0, because I Heart Death so much, but it’s not. It’s 3. I just can’t help loving three. And he guessed right! This feels perspicacious. However, his answer in the affirmative about being emperor gives me pause.
“Emperors can get assassinated,” I argue, “or dethroned and outcast.”
“Yes, but it would be such a high life right up till the end.”
This thirst for glory at the expense of a future is what causes me to fret. But then we move onto happier topics:
“If you had to have sex with a man, who would it be?”
He demurs, but I tell him the situation is you have to have sex with a guy or you die. It’s a hypothetical imperative! Still, he is stubborn, and wishing to keep him alive in my hypothetical world, I answer for him:
“The Neighbor! Then, when you guys are done, invite me over to partake of the fake heat from his mighty generator.”
8 a.m. Craig is out looking for a generator. He siphoned gas from the lawnmower in order to wait in line for gas at the pump. There’s no generator to be bought anywhere, so he drives to Massachusetts where he has a little one in storage. He stops at Wal-Mart on the way back, but there are no more flashlights, candles, or D batteries (which the lanterns and flashlights run on). He decides to seek out a more old-fashioned means of survival instead: alcohol. And there, behind the wine, is a hidden cache of batteries! An employee must have stashed them there for his friends and relatives. There was a rampage when people in line saw that Craig had some and he told them where the rest were.
I forgot: the sump pump runs on electricity. The basement has flooded. Craig uses his generator to get the sump pump running and we wet vac the basement the best we can, then use the generator to heat the house up so the pipes don’t freeze, then switch it back to the sump pump. The first day, it took about 15 hours before the house got from 65 down to 50 degrees. I don’t know how much lower it got in the night, because my thermostat doesn’t measure below 50. This afternoon, the little generator got it back up to 65, and it only took two hours of it being off to get down to 52. So it was losing degrees at seven times the speed as before. That’s because once it gets below 55 or so, heat drains from the objects in the room as well as the room itself. Furniture, walls, floors, knickknacks. So when you heat it up again, you can heat up the air but not the objects, at first, and so then when the heat stops pumping, nothing is holding onto it lingeringly. It travels on the air out any leak as fast as it can go.
The refrigerator is at room temperature, so we had to put the frozen food outside. But tomorrow it’s supposed to hit 50! We cook all the meat we can on the propane grill. I only eat farm-raised, so it’s four times the cost of normal meat, plus it’s little bodies that gave their lives for my satisfaction. I don’t want to throw them in the garbage. So I just eat it and eat it. It’s a meatfull day.
PSNH say as soon as they repair one line, it seems another breaks. The temperature hit 40 today, and trees that had bent down with the weight of the ice are snapping back when enough ice melts, whipping lines off poles.
The official death toll is up to four.
It would be anarchy, but it’s too cold for that. No one wants to loot and rape if it means getting out from under the covers. I can’t imagine things like the L.A. riots ever happening in NH. To mess with other people’s things, to take advantage, to not mind our own business and nobody else’s…to walk through an unlocked door just because it’s unlocked…is unalterably antithetical to our nature. It will happen here and there individually…probably by people who spent summers in a city growing up or something…but en masse? A mob? I can’t picture it. Craig says it’s a matter of time. He says in the city, all people need is ten minutes, a brownout, to start asking themselves what they can get away with, where are the police, what happens to alarm systems at the gas station and the bank when the power goes out? One day of battery back up at gas stations, two days at banks, answers Craig. After the first day we started noticing cars parked with their headlights trained on the glass doors of businesses not up and operating. Craig said they’re either security guards or the owners or relatives of the owners. But anyway, Craig grew up in Maryland. He doesn’t really understand these people like I do. These cold, private, unimaginative, morals like metal bars impossible to bend or question, New Hampshirites. Of course, I’m one of those who formed spending summers in cities…mostly in Southern California. So I have a criminal mind. But my other nine months in this state throughout my youth kept that criminality locked up tight in my terrible mind. My body doesn’t listen to it, my hands won’t move.
Some businesses are running now. In the haircutting place, Craig is acting odd. He’s trying to hide his face with his briefcase. Finally I figure it out. “You fucked that hairdresser, didn’t you?”
“It was two years ago!”
“She looks sixteen! Two years ago she must’ve been fourteen! What is WRONG with you?”
“She was at least 21, I know because she had to show i.d. to order drinks.”
“Have you ever heard of a fake i.d.? Even if she was 21, she looks 16. How could you get an erection looking at that little girl face?”
While modern distractions hamper intimate, extended conversation, they also diffuse fights. This conversation would have been much better interrupted and resumed at a later date. But there was nowhere to go, nothing to watch, no one ringing our doorbell. I stewed, and Craig disappeared down the only hole he could find: into the opened bottle of WalMart wine. We continue with the alternating heat for two hours, sump pump operating for two hours. We go to bed at 11 and wake up six hours later, freezing. It’s routine now. It’s just life. Except that it’s skimpier, stark. I can’t stop picturing him fucking the little hairdresser, because nothing else tugs at my peripheral vision; the cold somehow firms up the outlines of things; there is no background. Warmth melts things. Cold keeps them solid. The picture in my mind of him on the hairdresser remains steady, frozen, intense.
A friend of mine is a home-care nurse. The old lady she takes care of who is on oxygen is without power as well. My friend tried to keep her in bed not moving so she would be able to breathe okay without her oxygen, which runs on electricity. But the old lady is so senile she kept forgetting there was a power outage and that she is an old lady who can’t breathe without her electric oxygen, so the nurse kept having to push her back into bed. After her seven-hour shift was done, she left, hoping the lady would just sleep, or the family would stay awake and keep pushing her back into bed, so she wouldn’t A. get up and exert herself and suffocate to death, or B. get up and forget to get back under the covers and freeze to death.
At 1:11 p.m., the power’s back. It’s disappointing, somehow small-feeling. Have you ever gone back to your hometown, back to your old house, your old school, and been surprised at the scale of it all, the paltriness? It was so much lusher in your memory, a jungle of an abusive yet intriguing childhood with hiding places and dangers, and as an adult you see it was just the equivalent of seven or eight trees– everyone could see you hiding; they just didn’t care, and what and who you thought were so powerful were running solely on your helplessness, and once that disappeared when you became an adult, so too did what they were dissipate.
I turn the radio on, start the washing machine, crank the heat, start going to appointments again. I’m really pretty sad that it’s all over — the nothing — but it is only probably a few minutes that I notice that before it — the noticing — is washed away in Business As Usual.
They’re barely talking about us on the news at all. I wonder why. Massachusetts is getting so much more attention, and they didn’t have it half as bad as us. Craig says it’s because they complain more. No one here said anything about our suffering. We secretly liked it; it felt like home.