Thursday, October 29, 2009

A good alternative to nothing

It was blowy as hell in my neighborhood last night, and we lost power from around 7:30 until the time I went to sleep. It was the second outage in three weeks, the last one coming about 15 minutes earlier in the evening. But that one lasted only a half-hour, and occurred early enough that it didn't endanger any of our scheduled DVR recordings for the evening. Last night was a different story -- good thing Tuesday nights are a pretty light TV night for us.

When it became clear that this was not going to be a momentary power flicker, the next thing that became clear was that I don't know what the hell to do with myself during a power outage.

Like most people would have been doing, I was technologically multi-tasking at the time of the blackout. I had my laptop in my lap and a basketball game on in the background. Actually, the game I cared about -- the opening night matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and my Boston Celtics -- had been over for about ten minutes. But because I was engrossed in my laptop projects, I was willingly subjecting myself to the Lakers being presented their NBA championship trophy. I know, crazy.

When the power cut, and once we'd done the necessary things like finding our flashlights and lighting a dozen candles, I was then so lost for ideas of what to do that I literally lay on the couch staring at the ceiling for five minutes.

Have we fallen this far? Is our dependence on technology so great that we no longer know how to pass an evening without it?

We gave the power about a half-hour to come on before we decided I should forge ahead with making dinner. It was a pretty easy one -- carne asada fried up in a frying pan, one of our standards, and a Greek salad I'd gotten from the salad bar at the fancy Ralphs. I know, carne asada and Greek salad don't go together.

We ate by candlelight -- it was nice -- and then had a whole evening in the dark ahead of us.

We had tossed around the idea of playing Scrabble. Board games were how we passed the time during power outages when I was a kid. But we didn't discuss it too seriously. Now that my wife and I play Lexulous against each other online, we've lost some of our verve for the actual physical version of the game. In fact, I've gotten so much more accustomed to Lexulous than Scrabble that I think I would be confused about having only seven letters rather than eight, and the Q being 10 points instead of 12. Another way technology has defeated our ability (or desire) to do for ourselves.

And so it was that we decided to watch a movie on my portable DVD player.

I should be honest and tell you that this was one of the first ideas that came to me as soon as the lights went out. You know by now that I'm always looking for my next score, and I knew I had a freshly charged battery on my DVD player, a consequence of failing to make it to the gym last Friday afternoon.

My wife agreed, and we popped in The Class, a 2008 French film about an ordinary teacher trying to get through to an unruly group of mostly lower class students in a French public school. To continue the discussion I started here, The Class is not its actual French title, which would literally be La Classe. Rather, in France the movie is called Entre les Murs, which my wife translated for me as Between the Walls. Why that couldn't have been its English title, I may never know.

Interesting film -- very French. While I was expecting a French Stand and Deliver with an inspirational ending, instead, the film is very ambiguous, and quite bleak. The protagonist is kind of a dick, and suffice it to say there is no moment when his efforts with the students bear fruit in some obvious way. I'm still processing, but I think I'm going to ultimately say that I really liked the film. It's brave and uncompromising, I'll give it that.

There's also little doubt that it eventually took a toll on me that The Class was 128 minutes, subtitled, deliberately paced, and on a small screen in the dark. I found myself fighting off sleep for the last 30 minutes.

But that's really just as well. It left me without another tough decision of what to spend my time doing without power. Like watching a movie, sleep is definitely also a better alternative to doing nothing.

However, it's pretty telling what my wife's next decision was: to put in another movie. When I got up this morning, I saw the DVD cover for Election sitting out on the coffee table. I'm assuming she watched it until the battery was juiced, at which point, she joined me in the bed as well. And at some point after that, the power finally came back on.

Ah, technology -- our crutch, our drug.

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