The Night The Lights Went Out In My Office

August 13, 2010

Well, technically it was the day the lights went out in my office, but it’s always night somewhere. As a kid I remember a teacher telling me that sunset where I live is dawn in China, which, aside from confirming my belief that some of my teachers didn’t know geography from Shinola, taught me a broader lesson: don’t trust teachers. Although my memory of third grade is fuzzy I’m pretty sure this teacher didn’t have a globe in her classroom. The fact that the Earth is round probably would have come as a shock to her. Anyway, it was one of the hottest days of the year so far and shortly after lunch all the lights went out. There was that initial moment of eerie silence when you realize that every electronic device–computers, lights, refrigerators, Herbert in Accounts Receivable–hums. Then the emergency lights came on. Naturally there was the one person who yelled, "Did the lights go out?" Normally this would be my cue to say, "No, all those years of drinking rubbing alcohol just suddenly caught up with you," or "No, we fell into an alternate reality where lights emit darkness" or "No, we just magically traded places with China."

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to say any of those things because I was in the kitchen slicing up an apple when the lights went out, which is how I earned my new nickname Johnny Nine-Fingers. I know ‘Johnny’ doesn’t appear anywhere in my name, but somehow Chris Nine-Fingers just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Johnny Nine-Fingers sounds like a shady, slightly suspicious character–the sort of guy you’d want on your side when the lights go out, whereas Chris Nine-Fingers sounds like the sort of guy who’d be in the kitchen cutting an apple when the lights go out, and who’d then come out into the middle of the office and yell, "Did the lights go out?" I realize Shakespeare said, "What’s in a name?" but with a name like William Shakespeare he could afford to say that. I guarantee he wouldn’t have said that if he’d been named Shumley Crabtree. Sometimes I think my life would have taken a completely different path if, instead of naming me after Christopher Robin of the Winnie The Pooh stories, my parents had given me a name like Al or Nick or Wilhelmina, but that’s another story. Shortly after the lights went out, and as soon as I was pretty sure I’d stopped my hand bleeding, I suggested that maybe we should send an e-mail to everyone in the office to let them know that the power was out. Sending an e-mail to everyone in the office, of course, is the proper way to respond to any event requiring an immediate response: if there are doughnuts in the kitchen or a tornado on the way or the boss is coming back from vacation e-mail is usually the quickest way to let everyone know. Then someone asked, "How will anyone get the e-mail?" I have to mention that, if you think I’m goofy for thinking that an e-mail could be sent out to let everyone know about a power outage, the first response of one of my co-workers was to wonder how people would get it. At least I thought it through because it occurred to me that most people have handheld devices that are battery-powered, so even if the main power supply goes out they can send and receive e-mails, play Scrabble, find cocktail recipes, and pretty much go on with business as usual. Except, of course, for Herbert in accounts receivable.

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