It was an eerie, supernatural kind of thing. The three of us – sleeping many, many miles apart – woke up with the same premonition.

Today our power would come back on.

But don’t call “Unsolved Mysteries” just yet. Three days later, features editor Steve Greenlee, copy editor Gary Christian and I were not only as powerless as ever – we had lost faith in our psychic abilities as well.

There is – if you dig very, very deep – a lighter side to the power outage. No psychologist has mentioned it yet, but among all those stages of emotional distress, there also comes a point where you just have to laugh.

Call it black humor.

Let’s look at the funny side of hoarding, for example. I was talking to George Smith, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and he wasn’t taking being powerless very well. At first he insisted – very huffily – that there was nothing funny about it.


But then he told me of his desperate search for candles – the new gold (along with batteries and propane) in darkest Maine. And how his eyes gleamed and his heart pounded when he stumbled upon a basket containing a dozen candles in a small country store.

“Big, fat ones, ” he said, and the very thought got my greedy heart pounding, too.

He took them all. Every last one. And the clerk rang them up and said, “That will be $25.”

It was a cold jolt of reality, a bucketful full of icy Gatorade in his face. Saddened, he put back half the candles. And even now, his happiness at the glow of their hand-dipped beauty is dimmed by the thought of how much he paid.

But Smith says he managed to turn away from the lone package of D batteries – he already had enough to get Maine Yankee back on line – on the theory that someone else might need them more.

“That was my humanitarian gesture, ” he joked.


Another interesting storm trend is the etiquette of how to treat the powerless. Be careful. Be very careful. Do not tell us how you suffered during that 12-hour stretch before your own power came back on. We don’t care if the Popsicles in your freezer melted.

Don’t even ask if someone’s power is back. If it is, you will know: They will appear unexpectedly happy. And perhaps well groomed.

If they are still in the dark, that too will be clear. They will be wearing a grim expression and clothes you’ve never seen before – perhaps similar to outfits last observed on “Hee Haw.” Their socks may not match. And they will not care.

Pretend not to notice any major mood swings – giggling and groaning are both perfectly normal reactions – or those little fashion faux pas, such as traces of last night’s dinner. Gary reports mysterious stains on every pair of jeans he owns. “I guess it must be eating in the dark, ” he said. “I don’t even know it till the next morning.”

For women without power, here’s a fashion tip: avoid mirrors. One woman caught sight of herself attired for a chilly night’s sleep and decided she looked remarkably like Amelia Earhart, the lost aviator. Why? Because her head and neck and various other parts of her body were swathed with scarves.

Most of us are sleeping in so many layers of clothing, it’s hard to turn over. Personally I favor the chic combination of an insulated shirt, flannel nightgown and heavy socks, topped off by a nubbly wool cardigan.


Not only is it warm enough to stop those polar bear nightmares, it also serves a safety role. I never sleep long enough to let the fire go out.

Each morning, I reassure myself that the natural look – frizzy hair, fire-flushed face, makeup skillfully applied by flickering candlelight – is in fashion. If anybody says one single word to me about it (so far, no one has dared), I’ll snap back, “I look pretty darn good for someone living in the Stone Age.”

You can spot a woman without power by her purse, which bulges with enough personal gear for a quick Arctic expedition. This is because the powerless must look sharp for any chance to brush their teeth with someone else’s water.

Water has become a precious commodity – not drinking water, that can be found at various good-Samaritan waterholes – but flushing water.

Reporter Eric Blom decided early in the blackout that keeping the toilets going was a prime objective. So he walked out into his yard in the naive expectation that he would simply fill a bucket with snow for melting.

“There was a layer of ice atop the snow, so I stomped down, ” he said. “The ice didn’t crack but it sure made my foot hurt.”


He searched for thinner ice and finally managed to make a dent. When he thrust the plastic bucket into it, the bucket cracked. Finally he gathered enough ice chips to fill several containers and left it to melt in the “warmth” of his house.

“The snow was still not melted three days later, ” he said.

Blom tells these stories in the past tense. They already are fading into myth. “We’ve got the power back now, ” he said cheerily. “So, things are peachy.”

I’m happy for him. Very very happy. Of course, I’m happy. Although Steve, my boss, confessed a dark side of his personality that I’m afraid I share. Whenever he asks someone if they have power back yet and they sadly shake their heads, he looks suitably sympathetic. But in his evil heart, he whispers, “Allllll right. I am not alone.”

Of course, Steve may have a reason to be in a bad mood. Features reporter Lloyd Ferris was kind enough to lend him a portable kerosene heater. Unfortunately it was a heater with a somewhat sordid past. It had been sitting unused in a shed for at least three years. The shed was a favorite spot for cats. Not just the Ferris cats, but every cat in the neighborhood.

“Fortunately I decided to light the heater in the shed, because the moment it warmed up a horrible smell of tomcat pee filled the building, ” Ferris said. “Actually, you could smell it in the house right through a closed door. For some reason, the cats had used the heater as their potty. Luckily, the odor burned off.”


Or so he hopes. But he won’t know for sure until Steve does his next job evaluation.

Another interesting development is the reaction of the powerless to power-company workers. There certainly was no excuse for that caller who told CMP he planned to cut down a utility pole with his chain saw; then, once a crew arrived to fix it, he would use his shotgun to hold them hostage until his electricity came on.

In my neighborhood and many others, power-company workers are welcomed like the U.S. Army troops liberating Paris. I’ve heard stories about restaurants full of storm refugees giving power crews a standing ovation. My own sons stood beside the road Friday cheering and waving when a power truck carrying electrical poles passed our house.

I only hope that some day – some bright, bright day – they will come back and fix our power line. I know it can happen, because Steve just shouted to the world that his power was back on. Now he can let that stiff upper lip he’s been bragging about relax.

So Gary and I are the only two left in the dark in the whole features department – a fact that a warm and toasty co-worker tactfully pointed out, yelling, “And then there were two.”

When I called Gary on Friday afternoon – really, truly hoping his power was back on – he said his house was getting colder floor by floor.


A neighbor had a premonition they would get power back today, but Gary doesn’t believe in premonitions any more.

Still, he said, he and his wife were just sitting there, laughing.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Nothing, ” he said. But he kept laughing.

Comments are no longer available on this story