Friday, February 19, 2010

A Shrinking World View

Fifth in a series.

After the gunshot incident, I decided the safest (and warmest) place to be was bed. By 9:00 PM Friday night, Bob and I were both huddled under the blankets of my four-poster. I read a couple of chapters from Gregg Hurwitz's thriller TRUST NO ONE by candlelight.

Luck had been with me when I'd purchased a half dozen fat decorative candles on sale months earlier. You know the kind: five or six inches high and just as wide. I quickly learned that, when you're in survival mode, these candles are far better than tall tapers because they drip inward and also because they only burn about an inch every eight hours. Over the days that followed the snowstorm, I slept with a candle burning beside the bed at night. Normally I don't need a nightlight, but having those candles helped to allay my anxiety during troubled nights. When I lurched awake as I did frequently, I'd sit up and read the Hurwitz book until I could fall back asleep.

Clutching Bob to my chest like a feline teddy bear, I curled up in a ball and closed my eyes. Bob purred loudly and periodically gave my hand or wrist a swipe with his sandpapery little tongue. I considered this a peace offering after his temper tantrums earlier in the day. While appreciating the gesture, I would have been happier without it.

My loved ones kept calling to check on me. Those voices from the outside world kept me apprised of the weather reports and helped keep my spirits up. I learned over 200,000 customers had been left without electricity Friday morning. By nightfall Oncor had restored power to 83,000 of them, leaving 117,000--including me--still in the dark in below-freezing temperatures.

Neither Bob nor I got a lot of sleep Friday night. Without the thick blanket of snow to muffle sound outside, we could hear the periodic crashes as overburdened limbs finally gave way to high winds. And, of course, there was the shouting and gunshots I mentioned previously. By 5:00 AM, I couldn't stay in bed any longer. I got up and returned to snow collection duty.

Remember what I said about tall candles not being practical? I experienced my first serious casualty Saturday morning. I was holding a candle over the stove when a drop of hot wax landed on the back of my hand. My involuntary jerk brushed my right hand against a boiling pot. The burn immediately blistered in two places even though I thrust my hand into a pot of snow.

Keeping that burn clean and dry became a real challenge. I periodically poured rubbing alcohol over it, which provided a real jolt to my days.

Saturday morning, I looked out the window and saw the plumber's truck from the previous day climbing the hill again. This time the driver triumphed over the slope, and I did a little dance around my den before answering the front door.

The prognosis came as no surprise: I needed a new water line, which meant a trench dug down the hill to street level. Moreover, he couldn't begin the work until I removed all the downed trees.

His visit gave purpose to my day. I needed to hire a tree-cutting crew. A friend called a few minutes later for an update. When he asked where I was going to find the cutters, I responded that I expected the cutters to soon find me. Fourteen years of experience living in the woods had taught me that gypsy cutters are attracted to downed trees like flies to a fresh kill.

Saturday morning tasted different. Instead of the hushed, still world to which I'd grown accustomed, I could now see and hear activity everywhere. The snow was melting, the roads were drying, and I nearly had an orgasm when I saw an Oncor truck working on a power line less than thirty feet from my property.

As I'd anticipated, four cutting crews stopped by the house before noon, offering to clear my fallen trees. These two- and three-member teams, whom I suspected were mostly composed of illegal immigrants, aggressively trolled the neighborhood for customers. The noise of chain saws soon overrode all other sounds.

Price gouging was the day's watchword. I was astounded at the chutzpah of the first crews to arrive with their extravagantly jacked-up prices. I thanked each group that came to the door, but told them I couldn't afford their services.

The second plumber arrived mid-afternoon and said essentially the same thing the first plumber had told me.

The snow had melted enough that I felt safe walking next door to knock on Ken and Linda's door. No answer. I checked their driveway. Their cars were gone. Made a note to self: feed Penny again.

By afternoon, the tree-cutting crews' prices started becoming more reasonable. Plenty of competition and too many reluctant buyers drove the estimates down. Two crews came back to offer me "special" discounts [Ha!] In addition, new players in the price war began to emerge.

Around 5:00 PM, a three-man Hispanic crew showed up at the door. I liked the look and sound of Oscar, and we quickly cut a deal. I'd estimated the job at five hours for three men. He thought they'd finish in four. His crew quickly assembled their tools, anxious to take advantage of the waning daylight. I watched them for twenty minutes to assure myself they knew what they were doing. The last thing I needed at this point was a chain saw injury on my property,

That evening I made the daily trek to the Toyota. Once more, it started up immediately and, this time, I was able to pull into the street.

After nearly 50 hours of involuntary confinement to home, you'd think I would have jumped at the chance to get away. However, something weird had happened. While I didn't understand it then, today I have no trouble recognizing the dynamic.

My world had shrunk. During those scary two days alone, the house had become my safe place, my den. I was now reluctant to leave it.

Instead of grabbing Bob and taking off for a family or friend's home, I parked the car in my driveway and returned to the cold, dark house.

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