We the Powerless People 

Wednesday, May 23 2001

When the power goes out, I'm helpless. I have no idea what to do.

I can't work. How do you expect me to write without a computer? I've heard rumors about the existence of such things as "pen and paper" — but how would you use them?

No TV, no World Wide Web, no PlayStation. Read a book? What is this, the 19th century? Am I Lord Byron, for chrissake?

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I've come to love the term "rolling blackout." It allows me to sleep late, very late. My alarm clock does a superb job of not waking me up when there's no power. I don’t even need the snooze button!

It's hot. The A/C is nonfunctional, the fan rendered useless. My entire body feels as though it's covered in Wet-Naps. (No lemony scent.) If I could unstick myself from the bed, I might be able to make it to a movie theater, but the electricity is probably out there, too. Besides, the girls in Josie and the Pussycats make me sweaty enough as it is. The beach is good if you can make it across the sole-scorching sand and actually enter the water, as long as you don't mind sharing your paradise with a thousand or so ill-proportioned strangers. Bars are a convenient spot for swigging back a couple of body-dehydrating beers, and if the power's out, the place will be all but completely dark, perfect for re-creating the way bars look when you're close to passed out. What I really enjoy is hanging out in the dairy aisle at Vons, cuddling wedges of mozzarella to my cheek. But as part of their commitment to conservation, most supermarkets have now instituted a strict policy of no fraternizing with the Yoplait.

How can we end this nightmare? The California Energy Commission (CEC) encourages conservation, by 10 percent or more this summer. Conserving electricity, they say, is essential to preventing blackouts. I hate to tell them, but it's not possible. We as Americans don't want to set the A/C on anything but full blast. We just don' have the discipline. You know it' true if you've ever been to an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. We're consumers, and that's what we do best: consume.

Air conditioning accounts for 44 percent of an average home's power usage, according to the CEC. Small appliances like microwaves, VCRs, stereos, computers, vacuum cleaners and electric toothbrushes use 20 percent. About 16 percent is used by the refrigerator and freezer. And an undisclosed, although not to be underestimated, portion of the remaining 20 percent goes to sexual devices such as vibrators and penis-extension machines.

What can you do to save energy?

Tip No. 1: Set your thermostat at 78 degrees, or even higher. The CEC says you'll save 1 percent to 3 percent per degree, for each degree above 72. That 1 percent to 3 percent off your utility bill will really placate the kids when it's 110 degrees outside. Why not feed them melted ice cream, too? Just tell them liquid Rocky Road is "an acquired taste."

Tip No. 2: Avoid using the microwave and don't dare use your energy-hemorrhaging oven. Eat your TV dinners the way God (and Swanson) made them: frozen. A rock-solid block of mashed potatoes can only be described as "exotic."

Tip No. 3: Don’t open the fridge. Not even if the tiramisù is crying out to you. You'll save both electricity and prolonged taunting at the beach. The CEC also advises against drinking beer, wine or coffee, eating meat, and dancing. What kind of cult is it?

Tip No. 4: Choose pets that don't require water to breathe. "A 180-gallon coral-reef aquarium running 24 hours a day can use more energy than an energy-efficient refrigerator," says the CEC. If you do own an aquarium, you might consider integrating your pets into your new vitamin-E-rich diet.

Tip No. 5: Turn off the lights and make sweet, sweet love. But avoid videotaping your flabby lovemaking, unless you already have a substantial customer base established on your Web site.

Tip No. 6: Open your windows. Burglars don't like a hot and stuffy room any more than you do. This also helps stimulate the economy by allowing the disadvantaged to turn your valuables into hard cash.

Tip No. 7: Don't drive. Traffic signals may not be working during a blackout, and other drivers probably won't notice. If you must drive, don't use your gun unless another driver uses his first.

The price for ignoring this advice?

Breaking news: Los Angeles is powerless. Schools are closed, and children are running amok. Pokémon-card trading is rampant. Desperate cries for Fudgsicles are being ignored. Looting at Toys R Us.

Internet servers are down, and e-mail jokes are going undelivered. Where is the laughter? Cell-phone batteries are dying, even more quickly than our memories of how to use pay phones. Urgent TV news updates on cholesterol levels aren't being heard, and countless Angelenos are downing Olestra chips with no regard for their large intestines.

Caffeine addicts are storming Starbucks, shotguns at the ready. The barristas are helpless. Froth or be frothed, sucker!

There's a bonfire on Rodeo Drive. And the smell of roasted meat. Valets are naked, and they're throwing Rodeo salesclerks into the fire. It's like Lord of the Flies, except Piggy is wearing a thousand-dollar suit.

Movie tickets cost $10.


The California Energy Commission advises that should a blackout occur:

Stay calm.

If you must leave your home, for God's sake take a shower first.

Put your head between your knees, or lay your head on your boss's lap.

Take a chill pill (as needed).

Do not remove your clothes, unless specifically instructed.

Reach the writer at dthomas@laweekly.com

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