Karen Heller: Halloween horrors storm through a household

Posted: November 01, 2012

Zombies are not frightening. Too messy, lumbering, careless, and undiscriminating. They're the toddlers of the underworld.

Vampires never did it for me. Pale, haughty aesthetes, and, even with all that neck-nuzzling, savagely undernourished.

Know what's really scary? Trees.

Really, really scary.

Basements, too. Even without Sandy, our basement is a little workshop of horrors.

Also, the presidential polls. Craving insomnia? I suggest you consult any political website, like Realclearpolitics.com, conveying what a cloudy mess this election may turn out to be.

That knowledge will keep you up, storm or no storm, for nights on end.

In a rare mash-up of wretched weather and an exhausting, infuriating, mind-bogglingly endless political campaign, this Halloween is hands down the most anxiety-producing one on record.

The Weather Channel became the monster horror chiller theater, creating a wide swath of panic before the storm. Many people suffered pre-traumatic stress disorder before the rain and wind made landfall, watching hyped-up professional weather worriers anticipate surviving worst-case storm scenarios.

Weren't you just a little bit bummed, given the hype, when the hurricane was downgraded to a "post-tropical storm?" Is Sandy male (hurling left-handed pitches), female, transitioning? See? Confusion abounds.

Sandy is possibly the most ludicrous name imaginable for this devastating storm. The name is too sunny, summery, and breezy, sounding like someone who travels with a beach chair, cooler, top-40 playlist, and a full bottle of Hawaiian Tropic. A storm like this should carry a wallop of a name, a clearly menacing moniker. Like Milton. Or Bernie.

"Hey Sandy, my girl," Bruce Springsteen crooned, so at least the New Jersey provenance is right. Yet not even Sandy could prevent Gov. Christie from launching a fight, this time with Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford over storm preparation. The contretemps extended into its second day Tuesday, with the mayor offering "to confront the governor mano y mano."

No survivalist stockpile of D batteries can prepare you for when nature takes charge and renders most modern conveniences useless. In our house, the first thing to go, for some bizarre reason, was the landline, that relic of an earlier time, which provided us with a rare gift: All political robocalls ceased, providing some shelter from the political storm.

Next to go was the electricity, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, mid-dinner of pasta Bolognese and post-bailing the basement. (Apartment dwellers are geniuses to be rid of all worries of roof and cellar.) The heat ceased. Scrabble ensued. I was treated to the technologically confounding sight of my husband reading Jo Nesbo on a Kindle by candlelight, a first. I relished David Copperfield the old-fashioned way, the real old-fashioned way, in book form, by candlelight and hunkered down in a cold, old, dark house.

We were in our little house in the city, doing without most vestiges of modern life. Trees crashed through the woods. Otherwise, the night was like something out of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events: The world is quiet here. We heard no cars, no trains, and, with all major roads closed, no sirens.

Tuesday morning, we surveyed the wreckage. Trees were down everywhere, two across the way. Wires, too. A severed electrical line lies shredded at the end of the street, suggesting we may be in the cold darkness, living our Dickensian scenario for some time to come. The cable line slumped on our driveway. Misery? Rarely have you witnessed such misery. There is horror, and then there is the horror of facing days without cable and Internet. Light, heat, and phone pale in comparison.

Without power, you come to realize how quickly our daily habits wither. You think you're a genius for stocking up on D batteries and candles only to realize that having superior, fresh coffee beans means nothing if your blasted electric coffee grinder won't work. Only apples, not your shiny Apple products, provide nourishment. First-world problems, right? Makes you humble and grateful for what you have. Like Dickens and candlelight, and a house that survived the wrath of trees. Because, honestly, zombies and vampires have nothing on trees.


Contact Karen Heller at kheller@phillynews.com or 215-854-2586, or follow on Twitter at @kheller.

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