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Revisiting California’s Rolling Blackouts

As if we needed more evidence of Enron’s misconduct, the L.A. Times just reported the recent unearthing of more taped telephone conversations of glib Enron electricity traders conspiring to shut down perfectly running power plants the day rolling black outs were scheduled throughout California.

Back on those cold, grey electricity-bereft days while some corporations were merrily plotting the financial and electrical ruin of the men, women, and children across California, still others were busy parading their indifference. Literally.

The following was written in the midst of such gauche, and increasingly typical, corporate behavior.

* * *

I had not been inspired by a commercial since that night in 1976 when I was convinced my life would be unutterably revolutionized if only I had a can of Psssssst!©, the instant aerosol spray shampoo. I was overdue.

Enter the “Save a Watt” ad. It’s the one that pleads with Californians to use electricity as sparingly as possible to help with the current energy crisis. “We can all make it through this together,” says the encouraging voiceover. Somehow something in that corny commercial got to me and I found myself filled with a sense of community and purpose. “Yes. We can make it through this together,” I thought. So hand in hand with my fellow Californians, I vowed to do my part; whatever it took. And I began working out my strategy. But then, boom: directly after this ad, came one from Disney for its “Electricland Parade.”

As I was resolving to wash my dinner dishes in the shower with me to save a measly watt, Disney was putting on an ELECTRICAL PARADE – an electrical parade with 10-foot tall, light bulb-covered dwarfs, gigantic electric princesses, and a jumbo-sized Mickey Mouse with the gleam of all the state’s electricity in his eye. This while we are afflicted with insufferable blackouts that jam intersections and all but stop iron lung machines.

My sixty seconds of altruism and self-sacrifice left me after that Disney ad, and I found myself relegated to a previous existence whose only inspiration had been the promise of “Spray, Brush and Go!

It really is a perfectly constructed metaphor. I couldn’t have scripted it any better. A giant corporation parading its power ­ literally parading electrical power – while at the very same time the little guy is asked, again litereally, to disempower himself. Perfect.

In protest, I had an idea to start a “Waste a Watt” campaign. Much like any respectable two year old with only one viable way to dissent against oppressive parental authority, I was going to throw a tantrum – an electrical tantrum. My plan was to use as many electrical appliances as often as I could. I’d have my dehumidifier running right next to my neighbor’s borrowed humidifier. I’d play the stereo, the TV, the DVD player, run streaming videos on my computer, thoroughly puree every item in my refrigerator, run all my heaters, duct tape all my light switches in the “on” position, herd the dust bunnies around my apartment with my hair dryer for amusement and continually run my “white noise” machine until the appliances, my little high voltage militia, would finally succumb to battle fatigue and be forced to withdraw their cords.

I ultimately decided against this because when I use my heater, my stereo and my blender at the same time; I blow a fuse. And no matter how you look at it, using two appliances just isn’t an electrical tantrum. I also realized if I managed to pull it off, I’d be out something like an extra $500 a month in increased electric bills. And let’s face it, that’s just sticking it to nobody but me. But most of all, it is a preposterous idea ­ almost as outrageous as the insult of Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s parade is to all Californians.

I think Michael and the folks at Disney must have lost their minds with such a gauche juxtaposition. Maybe it’s just me. Is it? Did you not notice it? Maybe I’m looking at it too negatively. Maybe giving parents the opportunity to bring their kids to the Electricland Parade, paying top dollar to see what electricity looks like is really a public service.

/”Look, honey. See those big bright dots all over Cruella de Ville that make her light up like that? No sweetheart, I do not think she looks like grandma after a few grown-up drinks. Anyway, if we had some of that special juice called “e-lec-tric-ity” to go into our dark light bulbs they would glow just like that, too.”

“Could we see at night to say our prayers if we had some of it, Mommy?”

“We sure could!”

“Wow! Just imagine! It’s all so beautiful. We are so lucky to be here to see this!”

/It’s like bringing famine victims to a hotdog eating contest to help keep their minds off their wienerless lives.

Then there are those “Power Down” commercials, reminding us of how many of our appliances really need not be on full power, which I agree with ­ except for the part about the heat. San Francisco mysteriously manages to be the coldest city on planet Earth year-round even when the temperature reads 59 degrees. Living in a city in the Northern Hemisphere where you can see your breath on the 4th of July requires robust, unswerving, everlasting heaters. But robust heat produces robust electric bills.

In the wake of these skyrocketing bills, I’ve begun exploring alternative heat sources. I don’t have a fireplace, but last night I built a crackling fire of tampons in my biggest frying pan that I balanced on an oven mitt on my living room floor. My neighbor and I huddled around it, hoping like hell we weren’t inhaling some sort of Toxic Shock Syndrome-producing microfibers airborne in the tampon smoke.

Tomorrow I have slated for the frying pan: a large calculator that refuses to compute the number five, an inexplicable stack of Toy Story 2 Dixie cups, a wad of cat hair retrieved from my atop my neighbor’s trash, and 53 pencils without erasers that I’ve always known deep in my heart I was saving for a good reason. My boyfriend finds it tiresome to have to keep an ever-watchful eye on his valuables. He has recently announced that he is unsure if he can continue to remain committed to a person who has begun to think about objects, people, and pets solely in terms of their combustibility.

“Whadya got in the bag,” I’ll ask when he comes over. “A burritobut it’s my dinnerI haven’t eaten all day.” “What do you think the max burn time is on beans and guacamole?” And later in bed, “Are you gonna use those toenail clippings?

But, it doesn’t have to be this way, the haves and the have-nots, the luminous and the lumi-nots, because I have a plan. Michael could take the whole Electricland gang on tour and parade up and down neighborhood streets, sharing his light with us Blackouters. More efficiently, perhaps, he could disperse the dwarfs to various California cities – I guess technically it could only be to seven – but he could also send around some random mermaids and the entire gigantic, glowing cast of Rolie Polie Olie: An Easter Egg-Stravaganza. And if he threw in all 101 Dalmatians, cities and towns across this great state could all share in a moment’s illumination.

Little Johnny in Fresno waiting expectantly by the window will finally be able to do a sentence or two of his homework from his very first school reader as Tinkerbell glitters by his unlit house. This while his plug-in Mickey Nightlight and Beauty and the Beast Electric Alarm clock, bereft of life-giving current, lay unresponsive in the shadows.

And while I think this is truly an inspired plan limited only by the number of Disney characters and battery packs and extension cords; better yet, why not get rid of the parade altogether and save I can’t even imagine how many gazillions of watts? That’ll free up a bunch of current so Johnny and the rest of us can get some of it the old-fashioned way through outlets and sockets. Whadya say, Michael? C’mon. Let’s both do our part, huh? I’ll tell you what; I’ll save a watt, if you off a dwarf.

*The word “dwarf” solely references the Disney cartoon characters and is in no way meant to suggest or disparage any group of people.

CAROL NORRIS is a freelance writer, psychotherapist and activist with CODEPINK. She can be contacted via her blog: http://carolnorris.blogs.com

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Carol Norris is a psychotherapist, freelance writer, and longtime political activist.

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