Word of the day: arithmomania

I learned a new word today: arithmomania, which means a compulsive desire to count things.

I found this word on Wikipedia, where I was reading about vampires. Among the practices used to keep vampires from emerging from their graves, people would sprinkle poppy seeds, millet, or sand over a grave. They believed that the vampire would stop to count these many small objects and, consequently, would not leave the graveyard.

I was instantly reminded of Count von Count, a character on Sesame Street. To help children learn their numbers, this Count would always stop to count things. He had a pale face, pointed teeth, and a long black cape—indeed, he was based on Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula. The joke that Count von Count loved to count was one of the many amusing things the writers of Sesame Street inserted into their educational programming for their own benefit and for that of parents and other guardians who had to sit through such programs with their children.

It is, of course, possible that the creators of Sesame Street knew about the European custom of tricking vampires into counting small objects in the cemeteries. It is more likely that they were unaware of the custom and simply liked joking about the title Count. It is even possible that the sentences attributing arithmomania to vampires are a prank that someone added to the Wikipedia entry. One can never be sure. J.

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About you

One person who is reading this post has been on my mind this afternoon. I have good news for you, Reader: things are not as bad as they seem. I know you have financial concerns, but I can assure you that what you need will be provided for you at just the right time. I know you are also worried about a dear one who is ill, but that person is receiving the proper medical care and will improve. I know that you recently had a strong disagreement with someone you love, and that you feel guilty about some of the things you said in the heat of anger. I can tell you that your loved one also regrets things that were said. A few gentle words from you, and an affirmation of your love, will calm the troubled waters of your relationship.

I know a lot about you. You are generally confident, but sometimes can be bewildered by the problems life throws your way. You like and respect most people, but a few kinds of people make you feel agitated and irritable. You are a good person, but not without faults, and you hope you have been able to keep those faults hidden. You aren’t sure how other people feel about you, and sometimes you are embarrassed by things you say or do that may seem peculiar to others. Yet you believe in the right to be yourself, and you do your best to avoid putting on an act for other people.

How do I know these things about you? Let me explain. Earlier today I was reading something on the Internet, and one thing led to another, and I went on an entire chain of interconnected items. One of those items was the Barnum effect (also called the Forer effect). What seems like a personal analysis can be built out of vague statements, combined with mentioning situations that are so common that they apply to almost anyone. When someone you trust tells you something about yourself, it sounds true—especially if the message is positive and comforting. People who experience the Barnum effect are frequently surprised that a stranger knows them so well.

The Barnum effect is used by astrologists and fortune tellers to draw and to keep an audience. It is especially effective in a crowded room, wherein general statements like those I used above produce a response from some of the people in the room. The performer then uses “cold reading” to make more precise statements to those people who respond to the initial statements. Cold reading involves watching a person’s facial expression and body languages to confirm facts about the person that a stranger wouldn’t know. Victims of cold reading are unaware how much information they are revealing during the conversation—they easily forget every wrong guess the performer made, but they remember all the right guesses that seemed to grow more detailed as they unconsciously confirm what the performer is saying.

A famous example of cold reading occurs in the movie The Wizard of Oz when a traveling performer meets Dorothy, gazes into a crystal ball, and tells her things about herself. (He also uses a bit of “hot reading” when he peeks into her purse and sees a photograph of Auntie Em.) His intentions toward Dorothy are kind, as he persuades her to return home. In most cases, people who practice cold reading are taking advantage of gullible people, often for money, but sometimes just to earn their respect and their thanks.

The Barnum effect combines with cold reading to make the performer appear to have genuine knowledge. When we are anxious to hear some good news, we will take the most general of statements and assume they apply uniquely to us. Personality profiles are popular for this reason—I generally am identified by Meyer-Briggs as INTJ, but I don’t really believe that the world’s population can be sorted into only sixteen types of personality. Quite the reverse; I’m convinced that many elements of personality exist, and that most of them flow on a scale rather than existing at one extreme or the other.

That said, I’m fascinated by the number of applications that exist for the Barnum effect. From making friends and influencing people to establishing a career based upon fraud and deception, the possibilities seem almost endless. J.

The value of old newspapers

This week Doug asked me about the value of historic newspaper. Many people save them, of course: the newspapers that first gave the news that President Kennedy was shot, or that astronauts had walked on the moon, or that a war had begun or ended. I was sorry to have to tell Doug that the answer to his question is “absolutely no value at all.” That statement is more than a personal opinion; it is the word of a trained and certified archivist.

Why do old newspapers have no value? Let me count the ways:

  1. They printed so many of them. Most have disappeared into garbage cans, recycling bins, bird cages, and the like, but many copies of old newspapers remain stored in closets, attics, and basements. At least a bicentennial quarter is still worth twenty-five cents, but those quarters have not increased in value because so many were made. Even in the year 2076, a bicentennial quarter will probably be worth no more than twenty-five cents, because so many were minted.
  2. But newspapers diminish in value. If you tried to increase the value of a newspaper by putting it under glass and putting a frame around it, someone else might buy it from you, but probably only for the value of the frame. The buyer would most likely throw the newspaper away.
  3. For obvious reasons, newspapers are printed on low value paper. Over time, the acidic quality of the paper reacts to air, sunlight, temperature changes, humidity changes, and other factors. This is why newspapers become yellow and brittle over time. Their deterioration can be slowed by keeping them safe from sunlight and in a stable environment (unchanging temperature and humidity). Most of our attics and closets and basements are nowhere close to stable. In fact, it is very expensive to build a room that remains constant in temperature and humidity.
  4. As they deteriorate, newspapers release their acid onto adjoining surfaces, causing them also to darken and become more brittle. They can damage other papers which have more value, such as handwritten notes and letters. As an archivist, I always separate newspapers and newspaper clippings from other collections of paper. My first inclination is to discard the newspaper or clipping. I might, however, keep a set of clippings as an indication of the personal interest of the person who took the trouble to cut articles from newspapers. Especially if the clippings have underlines or handwritten notes, they are worth saving—not for financial value, but only for historic information about a person.
  5. Newspaper publishers and libraries keep copies of newspapers. To save storage space, they often preserve the images digitally or—more old-school—on microfilm. Some companies even make copies of old newspapers available through the internet. Because these images are readily available, no value remains in the original copy of a newspaper.

What should you do, then, with historic newspapers that you or your parents or grandparents have saved? My advice is to discard them. Use the storage space for more valuable items. Reduce your risk of fire, of insect infestation, and of damaging other papers you are saving. Get rid of excess baggage before you die, so that your family doesn’t have to wonder what to do with all your old trash.

If the newspaper has some sentimental value for you—maybe it is the front page from the day you were born—then take a picture of the paper before you discard it. Save that picture at least three different places: on your camera, on a desktop or laptop computer, on a portable memory, as an email attachment, or on the Cloud. Always save a digital image or document more than one place. From time to time you may wish to check your images; if one copy has been lost or damaged, you can replace it from one of your other copies.

But get rid of your discolored, crumbling, smelly, bulky newspapers. You will be glad you did. J.

Pet peeves and pleasantries

  • I’ve been hunting for something clever to say about Hurricane Dorian, something that would connect it to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Perhaps something along the lines of realizing that the storm is remaining unchanged even as pictures of it grow larger. But so far, I’ve not been able to top the local newspaper, which printed a photograph of two people boarding up their home in Puerto Rico with the headline, “Dorian Blues.”
  • For decades, radio DJs have talked over the instrumental introductions of songs. As I age, I find the practice increasingly annoying. With some songs it doesn’t matter, but the opening chords of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” should never be eclipsed. Likewise for Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.” And the opening guitar chords to “Shallow” from the recent movie “A Star is Born” set the mood for the song and should be heard without interruption.
  • One reason this practice of talking during the instrumental introduction annoys me is that the afternoon DJ on our local station seems to think she does it well. She doesn’t. At times she keeps on prattling into the opening words of the song. And she often neglects to restore the volume of the music after she has turned it down to hear herself talk. I could turn up the volume, but then I have to hurry to turn it down again before the song ends and her voice blares again from the speakers.
  • Another reason I’m annoyed by the talking DJ is that I only listen to the radio in my car. At work I don’t listen to music; at home if I want music I choose a CD. Now, many other things rattle my equilibrium when I am driving. Some drivers swerve from lane to lane going ten miles above the speed limit; others drift to the edge of the lane while driving ten miles under the speed limit—they are texting while they drive, which is why they drift; their drifting makes it difficult to pass them safely. Ergo, since I’m already annoyed behind the wheel, the DJ is only going to increase my discomfort.
  • Then there’s the issue of turning right at a red light. All too often I’ve had a driver try to squeeze in front of me when that driver was facing a red light and I had a green light. On the other hand, this happened again yesterday, twice: I was trying to turn right on a red light, but every time I inched forward to look for traffic, the car in the left turn lane also inched forward. That driver had nothing to gain from the adjustment, but it was to my disadvantage.
  • If you are a bad driver, please do not advertise your church or your beliefs with a sticker on the back of your car. If you are breaking the law or generally being rude and discourteous, the last thing you want to do is associate your community of faith with your behavior.
  • On a lighter note, one of my students of history made an interesting observation last night. On Tuesday we discussed the Harappan civilization of ancient India: they reached a high level of civilization many centuries ago, with amazing architecture, indoor plumbing, and a written language that no one alive today knows how to read. Afterward, their civilization collapsed, and no one is sure what happened to their descendants. Then, last night, we covered the Olmec and Maya peoples of the western hemisphere. Again, their architecture and use of running water and many other characteristics are astounding for the ancient world. Yet the Olmec abandoned their cities without a trace, and the Maya also walked away from their dwellings (though the Maya writings are being translated, and there are people living today who are descended from the Maya). My student noted that the common threads in these civilizations are their use of plumbing and the collapse of their civilizations; she thought there might be a connection. I told her to write a paper on the subject; it might make her famous.
  • It is worth nothing that one of the theories about the fall of the Roman Empire is related to plumbing. The Romans used lead pipes to bring water into their homes. Lead poisoning is thought to have weakened them to the point that they were overcome by invaders. It’s not a popular theory—many other causes are also given for the fall of Rome—but it’s interesting, all the same. J.

A riddle for you all

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice joins a tea party which includes a Mad Hatter, a March Hare, and a Dormouse. During the course of the conversation, the Hatter asks Alice, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Alice considers the riddle and finally admits that she cannot guess the answer. The Hatter acknowledges that he also does not know the answer to his question. Over the years, many fans of Alice have proposed answers to the riddle. The best, found in Frances Huxley’s The Raven and the Writing Desk (1976) is that “each begins with an E.”

In the course of my duties at work, I have encountered a similar riddle. It was printed on a scrap of paper, contained in a box with many other papers. Nothing else relative to this question was found in the box. The question, in full, is this: “Which is weaker: a carrot or a pumpkin?”

After looking for some sort of context in the rest of the papers in that box, I tried Googling © the question. I received many recipes containing carrots or pumpkins, and also a digital copy of a book about the history of gardening, but nothing I found answered the question.

If any of you have ever encountered this question and can offer some context, along with an answer, I will be delighted. Otherwise, any intelligent guesses will also be welcome. This little riddle could provide an interesting rabbit hole for all of us, or it may be just a smile before we go on to other things. J.

What I did on my summer vacation

We took a mini-vacation this week and rented a cabin in a state park for two nights. The weather was good, the scenery was awesome, and the opportunity to relax (even for three days) was good.

The drive up to the park and cabin was a bit grueling, a two-lane road with many hairpin turns. To my great relief, it was not raining and there was not much other traffic. Our cabin was ready when we arrived, so we were able to unpack and put food into the refrigerator right away. Then we set out on the Summit Trail, a one-mile loop up and down the side of the mountain. That went so well that we decided to try the Bench Trail next, a four-mile excursion around the mountain. While the Summit Trail went right past our cabin, the trailhead for the Bench Trail was about half a mile from the cabin. We thought it would be silly to drive the car half a mile in order to take a hike, so our total walking for the afternoon was six miles.

There’s one thing they don’t tell you about hiking in state parks. Not only does your lower body get a good workout on a hike, but brushing away spiderwebs and swatting away flies and other insects provides an upper body workout as well. We were accompanied by buzzing insects pretty much every step of the way. We also saw some beautiful butterflies, lizards, chipmunks, rabbits, and a fair number of deer. We spoke with other people at the park who had seen a rattlesnake and a bear. While we were there we heard cicadas, treefrogs, and songbirds, as well as blue jays and crows. One afternoon we sat on the porch of our cabin and watched a thunderstorm travel along a valley some miles away.

We brought food for our breakfasts and suppers, but we had our lunches in the town at the foot of the mountain. We discovered a wonderful Mexican restaurant, as well as an interesting shop that sold anything from tableware to lawn decorations. The town’s Front Street along the river had a sad number of empty stores, and the riverfront park itself was unexciting, but the town seems to be doing well. We were told more than once that it was good we had come during the week and not for the weekend, when the town would be filled with visitors for an annual festival.

All that hiking, especially the first afternoon, led to some tired muscles and early bedtimes. In fact my legs are still a little sore this afternoon. It was good to break the routine (although you can be sure that I brought along some leisure reading!). More than a century ago, we would not have been able to visit this location—it was a resort owned and shared by a few very wealthy families, not open to the general public. National parks and state parks are a wonderful resource. Even though our cabin cost a lot more than a motel room would have cost, we are glad that our dollars are helping to support the state park system. J.

Seven classic novels for children

I’ve been buried in words the last several weeks, as I have engaged in a host of literary tasks. First, I am copy-editing and tweaking my book on Revelation, with the hope of sending it to the publisher in a week or two. Second, I’ve been quickly reading a book about the Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday) to which I’ve been asked to write a response. Third, I’m still enjoying First on the Moon as I celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo XI mission. Add to that my regular reading from the Bible and devotional material (I will finish Jerome on Monday—yea!), and have started reading Steinbeck’s novels, and am catching up on a stack of books I’ve acquired over the years without bothering to read them until now. On top of that, I chose this summer to revisit some old friends from my childhood.

In the family library downstairs I have my reading chair. Just behind the chair, on one of the corner shelves, are two rows of children’s books—some were bought for my children, but most have belonged to me when I was young. Working my way through Jerome and Steinbeck, I’d see these books out of the corner of my eye. Seven particular books are old friends, books that I would read and enjoy every summer when I was a boy. Finally, I couldn’t resist the temptation—I grabbed one of the seven and added it to my daily reading schedule.

In no particular order, here are my seven old friends.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: Mathematician Charles Dodgson created amusing tales for his friend and neighbor, Alice Liddell, and her sisters. Using the name Lewis Carroll, he published these stories to share with the world. Starring Alice, the two stories follow a little girl on two amazing journeys, one down a rabbit tunnel where she meets a variety of interesting characters, many of whom are members of a deck of cards. The second takes here through a mirror where she joins a chess game as a pawn, eventually crossing the board and becoming a queen, also meeting a variety of interesting characters along the way. In both stories, Dodgson (or Carroll) intersperses plot with poetry, sometimes with nonsense poems and sometimes with satires upon classic children’s poetry. He also blends in simple logic puzzles and other signs of his brilliant mathematical mind.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Journalist Samuel Clemens also took on a pen name, calling himself Mark Twain as he wrote amusing stories to appear in journals and in books. His childhood memories that he blended into the character of Tom Sawyer and his friends are among his most remembered and beloved stories. Tom is a lively rascal, flitting from one adventure to another, but getting involved unintentionally in some of the greater drama of his community. Much of Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, is dedicated to his memory; I recommend a visit there during summer travels.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: More than a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn tells the story of a lost boy, son of the town drunk, who eventually takes a raft down the Mississippi River in the company of an escaping slave. Without straying from plot and adventure, the book also wrestles with the problems of race, slavery, and human nature in general. One episode, set in an unnamed Arkansas riverside city (probably Napoleon) has the two travelers who have joined Huck and Jim swindle an entire city of naïve citizens. Tom Sawyer makes an appearance toward the end of the book, but he’s not the same carefree boy of his own novel. Instead, he builds an intricate web of intrigue to rescue Jim from confinement, even though Tom knows all along that Jim has already been freed by his owner.

Heidi: Johanna Spyri describes a young Swiss orphan who is left to her grandfather, a recluse living high on a mountain. The title character brings life and joy to all the neighborhood, but suddenly she is snatched away to be the companion of a crippled girl (probably a polio victim, although the book does not say) in Frankfurt. Heidi is miserable in the city, but she continues to bring life and joy to others. Along the way she is introduced to Christian piety by Klara’s grandmother, who teaches Heidi to pray and to trust the Good Lord. Heidi does as she is told, is whisked back to her grandfather on the mountaintop, once again brings life and joy to her neighbors, and does the same for her newer friends when they visit from Frankfurt. If you have only seen the Shirley Temple movie based on this book, you must read the book for yourself.

The Wizard of Oz: Frank Baum created a story which may or may not be an allegory of American politics. Dorothy Gale lives on a farm with her uncle and aunt and her little dog Toto, until one day a tornado lifts her and Toto to the land of Oz. There, she must travel to the capital city to see if the wizard can return her to Kansas. Along the way she is joined by a scarecrow seeking brains, a tin man needing a heart, and a lion wanting courage. To earn what they seek, they must kill the Wicked Witch of the West. The movie version, starring Judy Garland, omits many of the interesting events in the book; and the movie destroys the story with its resolution of “it was all a dream.”

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew: This story was written by Margaret Sidney. Three boys and two girls are being raised by their mother in poverty, but for the most part they are happy in spite of their lack of material comforts. About with the measles tests the family’s endurance, but afterward they cross paths with a rich family that dotes on the Peppers and mentors them. Unspoiled by their taste of wealth, the Peppers (like Heidi) continue to bring blessings into the lives of those near them. Even though I read the book every summer, my favorite chapters relate the family’s effort to celebrate Christmas in spite of their poverty.

Treasure Island: Robert Louis Stevenson begins his adventure with the son of an innkeeper. One of the inn’s residents is a retired pirate, now in hiding. When the pirate dies, his treasure map falls into the hands of the innkeeper’s son, just ahead of the effort of the other pirates to recover the map. Two wealthy gentlemen join with the son to sail to the island and find the buried treasure. Unfortunately, much of the crew that they hire as sailors consists of former pirates seeking the same treasure. Jim—the innkeepers’ son and now a cabin-boy, happens always to be in the right place at the right time to learn the plans of the pirates, led by the one-legged Long John Silver, and to foil those plans.

This is just some of the classic literature I am enjoying this summer. J.

A Tale of Two Cars

For fifteen years I owned and drove a used Ford Escort. It was nothing fancy, just a common Ford to carry me home. But last fall I sold the Escort and bought a used Honda Accord. It seemed like a fitting car—after all, the book of Acts reports that the apostles were in one Accord. (There are Sundays that the entire gathering at the church I attend could fit in that one Accord.) Oddly, two of my daughters have also bought used Accords, so now the driveway contains three Accords rather than one Accord. I’m not even sure what that means.

When I had owned the Escort for about five years, the air conditioner began to fail intermittently. When it finally stopped working for good, I had a mechanic at the shop examine it. The mechanic reported that the failure was in a relay switch that was supposed to divert power from the air conditioner when I needed to accelerate. The switch had frozen in the “divert” position, so the air conditioner was receiving no power from the engine. A relay switch is extremely inexpensive, but this switch was embedded in a part which would cost $350 to replace. At the time I was willing to pay $350 for necessary maintenance, but finances were too tight to spend $350 on mere comfort. For the next ten summers, I drove with the window open even on the hottest of days.

Then I test-drove the Accord and decided to buy it. The day I paid for the car and drove it home, the car lot workers had left it running with the air conditioner blowing to the point that the gas tank was almost empty. The interior of the car was cooled. It seemed that the air conditioner worked fine.

But as the temperatures rose this spring, it seemed that the air conditioner in my Accord no longer worked. It blew hot air instead of cold, and it made odd noises when I tried to run it. I ignored the problem for a while—I was used to driving with the window open—but when I had the oil changed last weekend, I paid a little extra and asked the mechanic to check the air conditioner as well.

The mechanic reported that the air compressor was not working at all. He could replace the compressor for a few hundred dollars, but the company recommended replacing two other parts at the same time. In fact, they would not warranty the compressor if they did not replace the other parts. I told the mechanic I’d come back about midweek for the repair. That gave me time to think about whether I wanted to risk replacing only the compressor or wanted the full repair done.

Wednesday morning I brought the car to the mechanic and left it in his shop. He had it all day, with instructions to do the complete repair. It turned out that the compressor had failed because one of those other parts had disintegrated, so I wouldn’t have gotten by with replacing only the compressor.

The irony is that I went ten summers without air conditioning in my Escort because I wouldn’t spend $350, but I ended up spending several times that amount of money to have a working air conditioner in my Accord. That pair of decisions strikes me as a little strange, but so it goes. J.

The fading and disappearance of Aurora

I miss Aurora.

This is not the post I wanted to write today. The Bilderberg Meeting was held in Switzerland a few weeks ago, and they discussed several interesting topics that I want to address. There are also some theological issues upon which I wish to comment. And I can share some childhood memories of summer days and activities. My writing has been lagging lately—maybe it’s the summer doldrums—I cannot even motivate myself to complete the first draft of my book about Revelation—I still have two chapters to cover before I’m done.

But last night, lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come, the feeling washed over me like a wave. And when I woke this morning, the same feeling was still with me.

I really miss Aurora.

I don’t know her real name, and she doesn’t know mine. We met as WordPress bloggers; we followed each other and liked each other’s posts and commented on each other’s blogs. Ostensibly, her blog was about “adventures in singleness and misadventures in dating,” but she also wrote about Christian faith, her church, her family and friends, and her job. She was dissatisfied with the later, and in the last year of her blogging she described leaving that job and setting out on a whole new career.

Our attraction was not romantic. Aside from a significant difference in age, there are other important barriers that would not have allowed any romantic attachment. I felt no jealousy as she wrote about the men she met and dated. In fact, I took on a brotherly interest and concern over some of her “misadventures.” She began blogging when her fiancé canceled their wedding after most of the plans had been made; she endured a mental health crisis, and blogging was part of her journey back to health. Along the way she encountered some men who were kind and supportive and others who were not. From August 2014 to October 2017, her online presence was meaningful to me—sometimes humorous, sometimes melancholy, but always interesting and inspirational.

Because our minds ran in similar fashions, we connected online. She noticed and appreciated the quips and subtleties in my posts that apparently went past most readers. She expressed awareness of the ironies of life and of the elegant awkwardness of the English language. We didn’t agree on everything—what two people always agree?—but we saw many things the same way, and we understood each other most of the time.

I’m not the only person to regret her disappearance. Bitter Ben commented months ago about those blogging friends who suddenly disappear. It’s part of life: people move on to new things. They develop other interests and they stop blogging. Social media is not the most important thing in their lives, nor should it be. But when people like Aurora disappear, it leaves a hole, and sometimes that hole cannot be filled.

I understand. Her last post was about the Friday morning that her boyfriend came to her apartment and cooked her breakfast. He left a poem and a note for her. The post was tagged “engagement” and “marriage.” I get it. Her singleness, and her misadventures in dating, were over. But I wish there could have been more of a farewell. More than that, I wish that she had directed her readers to a new blog where we could stay in touch, keep up with her changing life, and continue to share concern and support for one another.

Aurora and I agreed that, in the new creation, there will be a place where Christian WordPress bloggers will gather to meet one another face to face, to remember the fun times we had together online, and to enjoy one another’s company as we experience the ongoing, eternal celebration of the Lord’s victory over all evil. I look forward to seeing her on that Day. Meanwhile, I hope and pray that things are going well for her in her relationship, in her career, in her faith, and in her life.

Dear Aurora, I know you’re out there somewhere. God’s blessings to you in all that you are doing. And if there is some way we can reconnect, just to be online friends and mutual support, please let me know. J.

What about it, readers? What would you like to see next from Salvageable? Are you interested in world politics and the topics discussed at the Bilderberg meeting? Would you prefer theological topics—perhaps some insights gained while writing about the book of Revelation? Or are you most curious about his childhood experiences of summertime and those memories? Let me know!

There ain’t no cure for the summertime blackouts

A powerful storm ripped through this part of the state Wednesday night, providing lightning and thunder, rain, and straight-line wind gusts up to seventy miles an hour. No significant damage happened on my property—just a lot of leaves and small branches to gather and bag. But two stately oaks in the neighborhood were shattered by the winds, one bringing down a power line, as was happening in multiple locations across the region.

The lightning was so profuse when the power went out that I was able to find my way through the house to candles and matches and a flashlight. With the air conditioner disabled, we opened windows for ventilation and went to bed. The power was still off Thursday morning, so I showered and dressed, ate two breakfast bars, drank a cold cup of coffee, and drove to work.

When I returned home that afternoon, my youngest daughter greeted me with a grumble—“Seventeen hours and forty-two minutes, and they still haven’t gotten it fixed!” It happened that her complaint was voiced roughly half-way through our outage. I told her what I had heard on the radio, about the thousands of people without power. When it was time, I drove to the campus where I teach evening classes, unsure if the campus was open, since they had no way to reach me if the power was out and the campus was closed. There were cars in the parking lot when I arrived, though, and the power was on, and students arrived.  So I taught, returned home, read by candlelight for a while, and went to bed.

Sleep was not hard Wednesday night, because the storm had cooled the air and there were still breezes stirring. Thursday night the house was hot, the air outside was hot and humid, there was very little breeze, and of course no electric fan would work. The power was draining from my daughter’s phone, so she went out and sat in the car and recharged it there. I went to bed early but slumbered fitfully through the night.

Friday morning’s shower almost seemed to have been pointless, as I was coated with sweat almost immediately after toweling myself dry from the shower. But I got dressed, grabbed two breakfast bars, and left early for work, buying a hot cup of coffee downtown. Before lunch, I received by text the single word “power,” and by the time I was home that afternoon, the air conditioner had made the house more comfortable in terms of heat and humidity. (I responded “yea” to the text “power”—my daughter, more creatively, answered the same text “to the people.”)

Today, as chain saws roar through the neighborhood, we are doing triage on food that was left in the refrigerator and freezer through the outage. One of my coworkers asked me Thursday if we had transferred any food to ice chests, and I said, no, we were simply keeping the doors of the refrigerator and freezer closed. He said, “I suppose for a while that makes them ice chests,” with which I agreed. The icemaker was leaking water by Thursday afternoon, but we just put a towel on the floor. Once power was restored, we emptied the remaining ice and water from the icemaker and set it to make new ice. So far we have discarded the softer dairy items—the cheeses appear to have survived unscathed. We are also discarding older leftovers.

I did eat some leftover tuna casserole for supper last night, reasoning that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” Before going to bed, I remarked that I did not feel any stronger and would probably die during the night, but of course that did not happen. Actually, when it comes to food poisoning, it rarely kills people and never makes them stronger. I have suffered from salmonella twice—both because of public salad bars, never from my own kitchen. It did not kill me, but it did not make me stronger.

We have not had time to examine everything in the freezer, but it appears that the meat remained frozen through all those hours. Some ice cream bars lost their shape, but they refroze and are edible. We did have a little uncooked pork and bacon in the refrigerator that we have discarded, but fortunately our frequent supply of ground beef and of raw chicken had been cooked and eaten before the outage.

All in all, I would say that we survived the blackout admirably. My stress level listening to chain saws all day today may prove to be the highest cost of the experience. J.