Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friday the 13th

Friday the Thirteenth is associated with bad luck (especially for triskaidekaphobics) and one of the longest running slasher film series of all time.

It’s origins have to do with a tragedy from the 12th Century. On Friday, October 13, 1307 King Phillip IV of France (also known as "the Fair") finally persuaded his Puppet Pope, Clement V, to order the Inquisition to arrest and "investigate" the Order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, a.k.a. the Knights Templar. Phillip’s ambition was to acquire the Order’s voluminous assets to continue funding his court and his interminable wars with England. The fact that Phillip was deep in debt to the Order, who lent him a great deal of money over the years, was probably a considerable motivation, as well.

By papal decree the Order was disolved. The entire French chapter was systematically tortured and executed. The chapters in England and Scotland went into hiding. Other chapters abandoned affiliation with the Order and renamed themselves or affiliated themselves with another Order, the Knights Hospitallers, to save themselves.

Since that day, Friday the 13th has been associated with foreboding, woe, ill luck and all manner of Things That Go Bump In the Night.

This past Friday the 13th was right up there for me and Mrs. Wit. At the stroke of midnight we lost power thanks to the seemingly neverending storms afflicting the Midwest these last few weeks. We slept fitfully through the night and I hoped power would be restored come morning.


That wasn’t so bad. I was still planning to go into the office until, around five in the morning, I saw someone from the power company wandering around our back yard with a flashlight. And he seemed way too interested in the electric pole in the back corner of our lot.

I threw on pants and shoes in a hurry and went out back. The power guy was gone, but I figured he would be back, based on what I saw.

Our section of town used to be a farm. It was converted into a housing development in the late Fifties/early Sixties (our own home was built in 1960). One of the things that drew us to this particular neighborhood was the trees: they have had several decades to grow, at this point, and they stand tall and proud over the rooftops, giving the streets a very comforting feel. It really reminds me of some of the North Side Chicago neighborhoods my wife and I played in as children (we both had our founding years in that fine city). We are especially fond of the two trees, a towering maple and an equally impressive oak, in our front yard. Of course, the downside has to do with household maintenance. Cleaning my gutters is a nightmare, particularly in Spring and Fall. I have already had to de-muck the front gutters twice, already, this Spring. And I had a clogged downspout that almost resulted in a flooded basement… but I digress.

In back of our property is an electrical pole right at the crosshairs of four lots. I nice tree that was behind it got snapped by the wind during the night and collapsed onto the power lines. Worse yet, the ground line had been broken completely meaning the outage was not confined to us. Chances are the whole street, if not more, was out.

Worse yet, the wind, still going strong, was rocking the twisted, broken tree, straining the wires. I assumed the severed ground line must have tripped something on the grid and killed power to the live lines, but I was not 100% sure.

"Oh, crap!" Was my reaction when I saw this.

I turned to go to the front of the house and start scouting the street to see if the street was indeed out. That’s when I saw another large chunk of tree partly in my yard, straddling the fence and extending into my neighbor’s yard, completely in my wife’s rose bushes.

"Damn it!" Was what I shouted when I saw that.

There was not a whole hell of a lot I could do, at the time, so I called in to the office, told them the situation and informed them I doubted I was going to make it in.

Again, if it had just been the power, I would have gone to work… but snapped power lines potentially falling into my yard? I think I need to be home for that… Besides, I needed to get to work on that tree in the rose bushes. My neighbor is a nice old widow who lives alone. It would not have been fair to leave that mess for her.

I waited for Mrs. Wit to get up so I could show her the damage. We placed a few calls in to the power company, over the hours, wondering when the heck they were going to show up and fix the damage. No notice. And the town we live in was sending out crews to collect Chunks of Damaged Tree. We were not the only victims of the storm (no surprise, there).

Mrs. Wit was just glad nothing took out our house. She has a point, there… (remember the dangling limb we once had by our power line? See the post previous to this.)

We were warned by one of the tree-and-brush collection crews to get our fallen trees out into our front yards for pick-up, or wait until next month for regular brush collection. I had to get to work, quickly. I confirmed the power was out in case wires came down around me and set to work with a saw and hatchet on the tree in the bushes. It was hard and heavy work, but I managed to get the thing into semi-manageable segments and into the front yard.

Then came the waiting.

Our power went out at midnight. We did not see the cutting crew for the tree in the power lines until 2:30 that afternoon. No complaints from us, but we were wondering if we would need to rescue our stocks of chicken and fish from the freezers.

An hour after the cutting crew left, some fine representatives from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers showed up and restrung the broken ground wire. They informed us there was another pole being repaired further down the chain, but we should have power back within the hour… baring unforeseen issues.

(Amusing side note: I happen to have a bright orange t-shirt I sometimes sleep in. It's comfortable and has the additional benefit of being easy to see in case I'm around hunters during deer season. I never bothered changing out of it until after the power came back on. The electrical workers were in gear the same bright orange as my shirt. They were amused.)

Power came back on, and I felt relieved. No electricity for almost sixteen hours reminded me how dependent we are as a society on power. I’m okay with that.

But I’ll probably have nightmares about the Monsters on Mulberry Street for weeks to come.

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