Devastation! Tragedy! Storm knocks out cable!

November 03, 1994|By WILEY A.HALL

Tuesday's storm took out my cable. I realize that thousands of metropolitan-area residents lost power completely as severe thunderstorms swept through. Streets were flooded. Whirling winds knocked down buildings and ripped the shingles off rooftops. Hundreds of people fled their homes. A fire official told reporters, "It's a miracle no one got hurt."

The loss of cable can't compare with those tragedies. And yet . . . I came home. I turned on my television. And the screen was blank.

"The storm!" I cried. "It has taken out my cable!"

It was 6 p.m. Tuesday. Outside, the sky remained preternaturally dark as the tail end of the storm slammed the city. The wind howled and rattled my windows. Dogs barked. My cats huddled beneath the bed. From afar came the hysterical scream of emergency sirens. And I stared at the blank screen.

It was 6:05 p.m. I considered calling 911. Here's how I imagined the exchange.

"My cable is out!" I would scream.

"Stay calm."

"Help me!"

"Stay calm. An emergency vehicle is on its way."

It was 6:15 p.m. I checked the cable connections, fiddled with the television dials, flipped through all of the channels. The screen remained blank. A rerun of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was on Fox and I was missing it. A rerun of "The Andy Griffith Show" was on TBS and I couldn't watch. News was running on the network affiliates and I . . . well, every dark cloud has its gleam of silver.

7:19 p.m. and I continued to sit in darkness, staring at the silent screen.

I began to talk to myself.

"Well, this is a fine howdy-do."

"Shhh, you're talking to yourself."

"Don't you shush me!"

Buried in the basement, packed away in a dust-covered box, are some of my favorite books. I rose stiffly from my chair at 8:33 p.m. The TV listings reported that a 1954 movie called "The Egyptian" starring Victor Mature and Jean Simmons should have been running on AMC. I made my way through the darkness, through the silence, to the basement.

"Why doesn't somebody do something?" I cried.

"Why don't you turn on the lights?"

"Quiet! You're talking to yourself again!"

In keeping with my mood, I lighted a candle and descended, looking for a tome. The basement was silent as a tomb. In the days of my literacy -- before I got wired for cable -- I preferred novels by Graham Greene for his moody musings on religious faith, Vladimir Nabokov for his elegant games with language, and Langston Hughes for the loving way he chronicled the lives of black people.

I picked up Nabokov's novel "Despair" and blew off the dust. But I am allergic to dust. I looked at Greene's "A Burnt-Out Case" but it reeked of mildew. I am allergic to mildew, too. Buried deep in the box was "Simply Heavenly," Hughes' ode to Harlem. By 8:37 p.m. I had given up on the idea of reading through this crisis.

Upstairs, the screen remained blank.

"Perhaps I should call someone and have a conversation," I said, speaking out loud again. I used to talk with people all of the time in my garrulous youth -- pre-hook-up, of course.

A telephone sat by my right hand. In theory, I could call someone without taking my eyes from the screen. (I believed the cable would return to me at any moment.) I decided to call a sick aunt. She had been bedridden for weeks and I had been meaning to call; but, of course, it is hard to fit the time in between commercials.

"Hello?" answered my aunt in a weak, quavering voice.

"Auntie," I gasped without preamble, "My cable is out! The storm took out my cable!"

She hung up on me.

The sound of talking voices woke me at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday. I had fallen asleep in front of the television and at some point during the night, the storm relented and my cable was allowed to return. I had slept through "Night of the Living Dead" on ENC.

At work, everyone was talking about the savage storm and the terrible wreckage left in its wake.

"I know," I said grimly. "It was hell."

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