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May, 1946

Hello, this is Alan Scott saying things about this and that:

This edition really ought to be called notes written by candle light or some other such eighteenth century essay title. Because, in fact, that’s what happened. The Scott household pulled a two century backflip last night and it was a strange and in a way exhilarating adventure. I hope you will forgive this personal bleat but it’s this way. When you’re backed into a corner where you must read through your papers and jot your notes by the flickering light of a candle you find it hard to groove your attention to anything but.

Through circumstances, as they always say, beyond our control, there was no electricity at the Scott residence yesterday . . . nor was there this morning when I left home. That is far from being the toughest of all breaks. I mean to say people have and still do in many places get along nicely without an assist from Ready Kilowatt but when you’ve been leaning on a source of power to make your house light and warm for a number of years and it’s suddenly yanked away, you find yourself on your ear and anything you have to say sounds like a lament in A flat minor . . . except that this isn’t a flat but a one and a half story semi bungalow. If you have been exposed to this column for more than a few weeks you know that the Scott family has, like so many others, been faced with the problem of finding a permanent foxhole.

When I was separated from the service last December all we could get was a six month rental proposition and beating the deadline was a very near thing. We made it finally . . . last Friday. And on Thursday I telephoned to the business office of the local utilities and thought I had arranged for the service of gas and electricity. Faults no doubt on both sides . . . but something conked out in the arrangements. When we came into the new place on Friday and made ourselves as comfortable as we could on packing cases, the lights were there and the gas range functioned. And incidentally, it was right about there that I caught a renewal of my awe and admiration for the resourcefulness of woman.

a a hand hodling a candle

When I left home Friday the place looked like a chapter out of the boy scout manual on “camping in.” What little furniture we have, which is far too little to spread around, was piled undecoratively in odd corners and from the look of the place you would have thought it would be necessary to rub two frankfurters together to get a meal. But by Friday evening when I got back . . . the house was neat and orderly if still rather grimly empty . . . and we had a cooked meal by candlelight. I don’t know how Maralene accomplished all that. But that’s part of the genius of woman. The magic touch. However, little did those candles know that night . . . that though they were just being used as additional light to lend a festive touch . . . it wouldn’t be long before they were serving a basic utilitarian end. On Saturday we had a hard blowing storm in these parts and damage was sustained by some of the wire supports or something. Service failed for about an hour and then was resumed. That’s why, when yesterday morning the radio gasped into silence, Maralene thought that it was another temporary failure in power. She reasoned that perhaps make-shift repairs had been made during the storm Saturday night and now the men were back yanking off the adhesive and doing a permanent job. It did occur to her once or twice during the day that she might do well to phone the lighting company and make sure . . . you see she couldn’t see lights in any of the other houses . . . but then it was a bright enough day . . . and lights ordinarily aren’t turned on at this time of year until knee deep in the evening. But she couldn’t call anyway because (a) the phone has not yet been installed and we have been cheerfully advised that we won’t have one before the end of the year. There is a new classification of priorities. There are eight grades I understand and a returning veteran who is the head of a family rates the eighth grade priority, and (b) She couldn’t go out to phone because she couldn’t leave Jeff and besides we don’t know the neighbors well enough to be bothering them by borrowing their phone.

I mention those details because they form the hitch that rendered us electric-less last night. By, the time l got home . . . the utility business office was closed and all we could reach was the emergency repair fellow who was affable enough and perfectly ready to be helpful but powerless to do anything. What had happened was this: The previous occupants of the house had not been in it for some time, and on several occasions the utility man had called around to shut off the electricity and had not been able to get in. So an order had been put through which they call a No Access Order. That means that next the man goes around and can’t get in he is to cut the wires at the source on the pole outside the house. That order was carried out yesterday. There was someone home all right but the cut off man hadn’t bothered to see and had just carried out his orders. What had happened to my last Thursday telephone order to reestablish service I haven’t yet discovered.

Well, there we were . . . no electricity, no telephone . . . no nothin . . . and it was a bleak, gray chilly day to boot, That’s no excuse for this long broadcast wail. But did suggest a possible topic for the column. If I can do this without sounding like one of the minor poets with a cherubic message . . . I’d like to propose that all families institute frequent days . . . or at least moments of concentrated thanksgiving for the many conveniences which are never noticed until they’re absent. So many things around the house depend on electricity these days. There’s the refrigerator for example. You keep forgetting that with no electricity . . . no refrigeration. You open the door and are astonished each time anew that there is no light on the inside. And of course you worry about the dwindling butter supply. The little you have left you are husbanding carefully . . . not knowing when you can get more . . . and how it’s going to keep with no refrigeration, Of course the good old refrig will coast along for some hours . . . taking cold from the ice cubes or the stored up chill within . . . but not forever.

And then . . . the heater operates in some way I don’t understand by electricity. So the house is too cold for Jeffery’s bath. And besides there is no hot water for his bath . . . Or for his mammy’s or pappy’s for that matter. The wild idea occurs to you that you can heat enough water for Jeff’s bath at least on the gas range . . . or possibly you can just give him an oil bath. Sure, that’s it. Lug the bathinette into the bathroom . . . warm up the room with the electric heater and you’re all set. What’s that again? The electric heater? What electric heater, bub? Well, we’ll skip the baths and sit around by candlelight . . . and since we can’t read the papers anyway we’ll just listen to the radio and go to bed early. Listen to the radio, hey? What radio? And that’s the way it goes. All the things you take quietly for granted are suddenly swiped. If I can talk the Long Island Lighting company into patching up those cut wires today, I think we will have small thanksgiving ceremony at home tonight . . . and make ourselves realize how good it is to have heat and refrigeration and light and hot water and the radio going again.

But that realization didn’t do much to solve my problem of note making by candlelight last night. I finally gave up and decided to fall back on a few items I had had in mind for emergency use . . . except that they were very few and at that I had already destroyed at least one. There was a yarn in the late issue of the New Yorker I had vaguely lined up for possible use in one of these editions . . . but when I went to look for it this morning I discovered it was in one of the flock of magazines we had burned in the fireplace last night to take the chill off. Our predecessors left no logs and we haven’t had a chance to shop for them. When you move into a house at the tail end of May in forty degrees of latitude . . . kindling and logs are the last thing on your list. But the New Yorker Yarn I believe I remember fairly well . . . it was about the tragic-comedy of a Mrs. Adams. Mrs. Adams maiden name had been West, Helen West I think it was. And as Helen West she had remained on the charge account lists of a downtown department store. At a meeting of her bridge club or somewhere Mrs. Adams learned that said department store had received a shipment of nylons and was notifying its charge account customers of long standing to come in and avail themselves of the precious commodity. Mrs. Adams called the store . . . she’s one of the lucky ones who has a phone you see . . . and demanded indignantly to know why she had hadn’t been notified. The department store representative told her that the establishment was taking all customers in turn and was sending out notices alphabetically . . . What was the name please? And then Mrs. Adams remembered with considerable shock that she had never advised the store of her married name and was still on the lists in the W’s. She hurriedly explained that her name now was Adams and that ought to rate a pretty high alphabetical priority. The store clerk just laughed hollowly . . . really Madame . . . don’t try that gag on us . . . And there she was . . . shut out. I realize as I tell it now . . . that it’s not much of a story except that it’s a touch of irony whose vintage can only be the mad postwar scramble. But you see, ye olde editor reduced to nylon stories. That’s what comes of having no light to read by the night before. Come to think of it, today’s edition should be called, Once over no-light-ly.

Fortunately however the lights were on the train this morning. I noticed them gratefully and I was probably the only one who did. I had the morning paper with me and found a few items spiced with a dash of columnar vinegar. There was for example the tabulation on the number of phone calls made in New York on Monday. 14,108,893. And that’s without the Scotts making any calls at all. Monday was the biggest day in the history of the New York telephone company. The previous all time high was December 19th of last year. The score ran to thirteen and a half million on that day. The phone company has no explanation for the heavy wire traffic on Monday. For one thing Monday is always the busiest day of the week and for another it was rainy which always helps . . . and in addition many security houses and brokerages were closed on Saturday and other business backlogged what with the rail strike . . . and there it was. To all of which the phone company adds sardonically that people are getting more talkative. I hope they say that without a sneer. After all . . . the more talkative . . . the better for their business. At that fourteen million calls is only half of what the two million 95 thousand phones in this city can carry it they really put their relays into their job. The company says twenty eight million or maybe even thirty million is more like the peak potential . . . that is, if people didn’t try to talk all at once but spread their calls evenly through the 24 hour period. Can it be that we have that much to say to each other? It’s almost incredible to what extent we have come to rely on mechanical means of communication when one city in a single day piles up more than fourteen million telephone calls.

And here is an item under an Atlantic City dateline . . . right from the floor of the 59th annual meeting of the Association of American Physicians. Dr. Harold G. Wolff of the Cornell University Medical School read an interesting paper all about noses. The good doctor showed that he is a man who can see not only as far as his own nose but as far as the other fellow noses. He says that anger can and often does cause sneezing. He also says that great fright, sadness or dejection will render the nose pale and dry whereas the stimulation of anger will charge up the red membranes. I wonder it that angry sneeze observation has anything to do with the never violated custom of keeping a silver box full of snuff at all times handy in the halls of congress. Then when the gentleman from Indiana becomes incensed by the remarks of the gentleman from Missouri he can simply help himself to a pinch of snuff and sneeze by way of reply. The gesture would be eloquent enough but it might be difficult for the clerks to make notes on it for an entry in the congressional record.

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