One of my first purchases when I came to Wisconsin in 2018 was a microwave oven. My apartment didn’t come with a microwave, and while I don’t really like microwaving food, sometimes the convenience of fixing hot food quickly (especially in the winter months) can’t be ignored. In a lot of ways, that purchase drove home to me that I was living on my own in ways that not even the long move from Colorado did, and I still sometimes catch myself looking at my microwave in my kitchen in disbelief, like I somehow can’t believe that I bought it, even as my apartment fills up with so many items that cost much more.
Early on, though, I noticed that the clock on my microwave would fall out of sync with the clock on the oven, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that my microwave was just counting time too quickly. This wasn’t an issue, since I could just look at my oven when I needed an accurate reminder of the time, but it still kind of bothered me. A little over a year ago, I decided to see how far the microwave’s clock would go ahead, and I made the decision to not reset the clocks in my kitchen after Daylight Savings Time ended. (I joked with friends that I was on “Toledo time” in the kitchen.) The clocks didn’t get touched when Daylight Savings Time resumed this past March, and I let them go back to “Toledo time” last month. Needless to say, this meant that I didn’t suffer a single power failure for over a year, and that was certainly welcome.
Last week, though, my luck ran out. Richland Center suffered a massive power surge on Tuesday morning, as I was getting ready to teach my morning class. I had to teach that class without using the overhead projector, which was certainly possible but not ideal (especially given the material I’d planned for that class), and then I came back here to my apartment to have lunch and start my virtual office hours. I’m teaching both in-person and online classes this semester, so I split my office hours between my physical office and Zoom, and Tuesday just happens to be a day when I return here to my apartment to hold virtual office hours, teach my (online) afternoon class, and fix lunch. When I got back to my apartment, though, Internet access was down. I put a call in to the apartments’ owners, set up my phone as a temporary wi-fi hotspot, and fixed lunch, but when the time for my afternoon class was coming up and I still didn’t have Internet here, I bailed and went back to my office to teach my afternoon class (which stunk, if I can be honest, since the day’s events had messed me up so much).
I had to stay on campus for a couple of Zoom meetings with students after that, but I got back here before sundown. The good news was that Internet access had been restored to the apartments, so I could resume my normal activities there. However, when I opened my refrigerator to get something to drink, I noticed that things in there seemed a lot less cool than they needed to be. It was only then that I realized my refrigerator was getting no power. Nearly everything else in my apartment was operating normally, but the power surge had knocked out power to some of my outlets, and the one with my refrigerator was one of them, and it had been without power at that point for close to nine hours.
Without a suitable backup plan — I’ve never bought an extension cord since I moved here because I’d never needed one until last week — I realized that I was about to lose a lot of the food in my refrigerator. Most of the food I buy is shelf-stable anyway, but I had just placed a big order with a company that ships vegan frozen food nationally (including a lot of brands I just can’t get here in rural Wisconsin), so that was a bit of a pain. Since an electrician couldn’t get out to my apartment right away, I wound up ordering pizza a couple of times (and making myself sick, since I had no way of saving leftovers and my stomach just can’t handle lots of pizza the way it could twenty years ago), but I got through it all. I haven’t replaced all the food I lost yet, but I should be able to do that quickly enough, and I realize how fortunate I am that an episode like this, which would be devastating to so many low-income families, wasn’t more than a moderate inconvenience for me.
Having said that, though, I can’t deny that having to go through this took a lot out of me last week, distracting me from a lot of the other things I was trying to do there. Again, I don’t think this would have been such a big issue even two years ago, but because the pandemic continues to throw all our lives into chaos, and because we’re all dealing with so many concerns that just keep getting heaped onto one another with seemingly no end in sight, every little thing feels a lot bigger than it is. Even now, the fact that my freezer is a lot more empty than it was at this time last week still kind of digs at me a little, reminding me of all the uncertainty I faced as I waited for an electrician to fix that last lingering problem from Tuesday’s power surge.
This is the last full week of classes for the semester; finals week starts a week from Wednesday, and even though we have longer winter breaks here in Wisconsin than I’m used to, I know that my days off from teaching will already be full of me tending to research and personal matters that I’ve been putting off for weeks, sometimes months, because I just haven’t had the time to deal with them. At this point, though, I’m pretty much counting on another major problem popping up here and taking me off-task again as I struggle to end this semester on a strong note. That doesn’t seem like a healthy attitude to take, but after what the previous couple of years have brought to me, it sure feels like a realistic one. It’s like I’m still looking at my microwave clock, gauging things in my head to figure out when the next big screw-up is going to happen.