On Day Six of the blackout, I finally entered a Wal*Mart but I was so high on my own sanctimonious superiority that my feet didn’t touch the ground, so maybe it didn’t count. I hadn’t entered a Wal*Mart in a decade, thanks to my strict policy against patronizing businesses that sell pimento loaf under fluorescent lighting in full view of American-flag/teddy-bear designs that were embroidered onto T-shirts by pubescent Honduran sweatshop children whose 401(k) plans are, at least, not plummeting like everybody else’s because they don’t have any. But Wal*Mart, it was rumored, had ice.
Turns out it’s no longer Wal*Mart, but Walmart*, with the typographical bunghole at the end where it belongs: a positive development. Nobody in town had ice on Day Six, but word on the street was there was some sweet, delicious cubage if you were willing to engage in commerce with the great plastic devil.
Normally I would not abandon my principles so cavalierly, but this was Blackout ’08 and compromise was paramount. I’d long ago said goodbye to my friends Stewart, Colbert, Maher, Vince, E, Turtle, Drama and little Stewie. A hot shower was a pipedream. None of the nearby stores had ice or D batteries. We’d been living out of a cooler for six days. Yeah, the Walmart ice was probably made from the tears of those Honduran children and flash-frozen by placing them in proximity of the hearts of the heirs of Sam Walton gathered around a spreadsheet itemizing the profitability of denying employees a living wage — but hey, my beer was getting warm.
Despite the inconveniences, it had been six days of reading and eating and having richer-than-usual conversations by candlelight, so the world had become magical, with darkness at the edges and bouncing, shimmering light in the middle. With no TV or radio or YouTube or Pandora, the stillness became beautiful, like the kind you hear during an overnight snowfall.
Snippets of news crept through. (The White House solved the immigration problem by making the economy so bad nobody from another country would want to live here.) But little annoyances — like that ring-around-the-head look I got from wearing my dorky headlamp flashlight to read — quickly faded away.
Teenagers magically appeared in our neighborhood, driven outdoors and away from their Spore and their Facebook Flixter widgets and their Sims Livin’ Large Expansion Packs and their “Dancing with the Stars,” and they walked around rolling their eyes at grownups, but their faces betrayed how hungrily they were sopping up the luscious togetherness. With my phone on its last bar, I called my son to see how he and his college roommates were getting along with no power. It was a bad connection, but background cries of “Blackout with your crack out!” suggested things were going well, even with no lights or refrigeration or GameDay or Mario Kart.
By Day Six, anything seemed possible, including the chance of escaping Walmart without hearing a parent in camo scream at her toddler, “Delmont-Rufus, you put down that tub of deer urine this second or I’monna tan your hide!” So I went for it. I took a deep, hipper-than-thou breath and made the Walmart doors swoosh open and there it was just inside the door: Ice! Bags and bags of the stuff, frozen and beckoning and tainted and offered at an Always Low Price.
I snagged a bag and darted for the self-checkout, my heart full of optimism and love for my fellow man — and scan, bam, thank you Man, I was out of there quicker than you could say “crush Mom & Pop.”
On Day Seven, the power came back on, turning us all back away from each other and toward our browsers and our e-mail and our “Mad Men,” and now I sorta miss living off the grid — but hey, look on the bright side: Natural disasters are up 570 percent since 1975 and there are bound to be plenty more opportunities to blackout with one’s crack out in the years ahead.
When those storms come, LG&E, hook me up last, after the elderly and the infants and the ill and fans of The Wiggles and professional golf (which many believe to be a sport). I think we should throw a citywide party for the heroic workers who pulled limbs from houses and hooked up electricity. It was an impressive display of American fortitude. I’ll bring the ice.
*Sorry — there’s no joke here. That’s really what it’s called.