There might be a reason why I’m staring out the window at 2:30 a.m. watching Pepco’s tedious effort to remove a broken limb that’s sitting on our power lines. The reason may be that, without power, it’s almost too hot to sleep. Or it could be my certainty that in removing the tree limb, the workers will break the power line, and I want to be ready for that. Not that I could do anything about it, other than lament, and call Pepco… again…

On the other hand, maybe I’m enjoying this spectacle. The longer I watch, tedium turns to fascination. I never realized how difficult it is to position a cherry picker. You figure up, down, right? Even once the guy seems ready and in position, there are delays. Although I’m sure there’s a standard protocol, I imagine instead that they’re still trying to figure out how to proceed. They keep shining a spotlight on different parts of the tree—the old saw about blindfolded people describing an elephant comes to mind. And then there’s the problem of finding the right tools. At one point I hear a clatter coming from the truck, as if someone is rummaging around in a disorganized utensil drawer. I’m watching from inside the house, so I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I imagine the guy on the ground is pulling things from the truck and holding them up so the guy in the cherry picker can choose. The guy on the ground is asking, “Flame-thrower? Spoon? Pen-knife? (Damn it, where’s the butter knife when you need it?)”

I’m reminded of a line from Monty Python: “You will cut down the mightiest tree in the forest, with… a herring!”

The guy down below shouts, “Got it!” And holds up a herring.

I’m sure that happened. It’s now 3 a.m.

I am unfortunately not one of those people who will immediately think to use the power outage as an excuse for creative fun, say, a game of flashlight tag, or telling ghost stories, or giving the kids paint brushes and telling them to paint the walls however they like, and we’ll see how it looks in the morning. I admire people like that. Martians, I mean. A power outage is not fun for me, so don’t try to change my mind. These are not pioneer days—I never was a big fan of Little House on the Prairie—nor are we on the farm, so I cannot send the kids to milk the cows and shoot us up some breakfast. Although I’m sure they would enjoy that.

I’m used to (addicted to?) being connected. Instead of creative solutions, I will immediately fixate on the things I’m unable to do right now, and which I fear, rationally or not, I may never be able to do again. Because there are no guarantees, and once the power is out, nothing I’m told about it matters until it actually comes back on, and there is nothing I can humanly do to change that situation. I can change light bulbs; I can’t put them in my mouth and make them light up like Uncle Fester would. This is difficult to accept.

What I can do is call Pepco every two hours, using our one non-electric telephone. Okay, every hour. Just to make sure my first call wasn’t lost in the system. I think there should be a support group for people who fear being lost in the system. Because maybe Operator A didn’t leave the report for Operator B, or Operator C erroneously believes the situation has been resolved. The thing is, we have no way of knowing what’s really going on. Doesn’t that bother anyone? They might be playing with us. Quiet night in Pepco HQ:

“What do you wanna do?”

“I don’t know; what do you wanna do?”

“Let’s flip a switch.”

“Okay, which one?”

“Close your eyes…”

In the past, mysterious, baseless outages have occurred and have taken a very long time to resolve. Regardless of what they tell me about expectations for repair, after 90 minutes, panic sets in. This is because, even in the age of highly sophisticated technology, Pepco cannot tell me with any real certainty when the power will be back on. They say things like, “a crew has been assigned” (translation, progress!) or “a crew will be assigned shortly” (translation, no progress has been made, and we have no idea when progress will be made, but we needed something to say so you’ll leave us alone for an hour.).

Then there’s the forecast: “We anticipate power will be restored by 6 p.m. next Tuesday.” They’re like clever fortune tellers, making predictions that cannot possibly be wrong. It’s a very good bet that within a week, they will have the power back on.

And do not forget that each time you call to check on the progress of your power outage, they will tell you something different. That is part of their effort to entertain you, as well as to win the office bet concerning which customer will be the first to go berserk on the phone.

Luckily for the customer, there is a discernible pattern: If Operator A answers the phone, the power will be back on by Thursday. If Operator B answers, the power will be back on by Tuesday at 3 a.m. If Operator C answers, she will say, “Honey, get some sleep; we promise the power will come back on.” I like Operator C the best, even though she politely refused to sing me a lullaby.

In this case, the terrible moment came when all the trucks pulled away, the tree work concluded. The street was dark and silent. And still no power.

I tried to think what lights might still be switched on and went around shutting them off so that if the power did come on (I was optimistic, still), at least the lights wouldn’t wake us.

Then, an hour later, a violent grinding sound broke the night silence. This was bad, very bad. It sounded like someone was trying to drill a hole in the floor. I dragged myself out of bed and followed the sound down the steps. It could only be a power-related mishap—a dangerous surge, something exploding, burning out. I would have to call Pepco again. There would be the torture of more waiting, uncertainty, major repairs, no access to … I stumbled into the dark kitchen; the sound was loudest there.

It was the garbage disposal.