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Sunday, February 27, 2011

One More Story From Law School

Thinking about the last post ("The Exploding Alarm Clock," February 19, 2011) led me to another memory from that same year. Before I relate that, however, I have a request for those of my readers who are former students of mine. I invite you all to send me your memories of things that happened in my classroom that are worthy recording on this blog. Email your favourites to me at, using a "Subject" heading that mentions the word "Blog" so I don't have a "senior moment" and accidentally delete it as spam.

The new post:

In the Spring Semester of the 1966-67 school year, I was a second year student at the University of Texas School of Law. That semester one of the more interesting courses was Criminal Law taught by Albert Alschuler (now an Emeritus Professor on the University of Chicago faculty, but then in his first year of teaching).
Albert Alschuler in 1967
Texas, of course, had huge classes (my class consisted of 500 people) and classrooms, and this particular course had about 150 people in the room. I had recklessly raised my hand and gotten involved with a Socratic dialogue about some point of Criminal Law (okay, I admit it---I was never the shy, diffident type). Professor Alschuler was a master at this sort of thing, and as he subtly changed the hypothetical I became more and more uneasy about my position. Finally, trapped and desperate, I said, "Why don't we just pretend you never called on me?" To this, Alschuler replied, "But, Mr. Whaley, you appeared to be prepared. I mean, you weren't wearing sunglasses or anything to indicate you had a hangover and were trying to hide, so I naturally assumed you were fair game." Then he mercifully moved the discussion on to some other topic.

My Yearbook Picture from 1967

Not one to pass up some fun (and egged on by evil friends), for the next day's class I attached some clip-on sunglasses to my usual glasses and went to class, expecting Professor Alschuler to make something good out of this. Disappointingly, Alschuler took not the slightest notice of my appearance and conducted class as usual. However, all over the classroom I could see people nudging each other and pointing in my direction. I took care to seem Joe Cool about this, as if I sat in class so bespectacled all the time.

At first this was amusing, but as the class went on I began to feel silly. The sunglasses made it hard to see my book and notes and felt awkward on my face (I never wear sunglasses and do not own any---I have no independent memory of this, but I probably had to buy the clip-ons for the purpose of the joke). About two-thirds of the way through the class, and with Professor Alschuler busy with his lecture, I decided to remove the sunglasses and be done with it all. Very slowly so as to not attract attention, I lowered my head and unclipped the sunglasses.

Alschuler called on me instantly.
Related Posts:
“How I Became a Law Professor,” January 27, 2010
“The Socratic Dialogue in Law School,” January 31, 2010
“Clickers,” March 17, 2010
“The Summer Bar Review Tours,” June 15, 2010
"The Exploding Alarm Clock," February 19, 2011
"Adventures in the Law School Classroom," September 10, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Exploding Alarm Clock

Austin, Texas
In my last two years of law school at the University of Texas in Austin, I roomed with Jay Westbrook and James Kunetka. Jay, about whom I've written before (see "How I Became a Law Professor," January 27, 2010), and I were in the same law school class, while Jim was a year behind us.

Jay, Doug, and Jim in 1967
We three were soul mates and had a great deal of fun both years. Jay and Jim are wonderful human beings: intelligent, funny, personable—all-in-all, great roommates. We developed running gags on many topics, and at the drop of a hat could plunge into improvised skits ranging from imitations of various law professors (there are incredible tapes of these) to mock TV interviews (a terrified Olympics luge athlete, for example). When bored, we often had more-or-less impromptu playreadings (for an explanation of my playreadings, see "Elena Kagan and Me," May 23, 2010). Let me give you an example of the sort of running gag that amused us. Once we three were watching TV when a truly dreadful commercial came on. One of us said that the producers of any commercial that bad should have an exploding chip surgically implanted in his/her brain, and viewers should also have access to a button on a handheld device. If a sufficient enough viewers thought a commercial really terrible and then pushed their button, the chip would explode in the offending producer's brain. As a consequence—and, trust me, this happened quite often—when we were watching a show and a bad commercial would blare its inane commercial message, simultaneously all three of us would silently push an imaginary button on our armchair.

It's possible to mine those two years for many fascinating stories, but, regrettably, some would get me into trouble, and, of course, I'd have to omit ones in which I myself would be shown in a less than flattering light (like the time I forgot to tell Jim that the Austin Public Library had called, awarding him a job for which he should report the following Monday). Jay, normally the most centered man on the planet, was afraid of spiders, but that difficulty didn't come up much. Jim, on the other hand, had a constant battle with orthophobia (fear of birds). One day he returned to our apartment from class and, to his horror, found a dead avian laying on our doorstep. He promptly accused Jay and me of having planted it there! Jim's phobia led to a running gag where, as a punishment for some supposed misdeed of his, Jay and I would muse aloud about tying Jim to a chair in front of the TV, and making him—doubtless screaming—watch Alfred Hitchcock's thriller "The Birds."

But this post is really about Jay's famous alarm clock and the trouble it caused me and a number of his prior roommates. Much of what I know about the provenance of this machine is hearsay—well, let's call it legend—but apparently from its first day of operation it was overly loud when sounding its wakeup call. As a consequence it had been pounded by a succession of angry roommates trying to shut it off before their foggy heads exploded. Jay swore these attacks had damaged the offending object in some way that made it even louder. He related a story about his poor visiting father (like his son, not a morning person), waking to the claxon of this monstrosity, and pitifully pawing a box of tissues sitting next to the clanging clock, trying vainly to silence its deafening din.

The arrangement in our 1967 rented apartment was that Jim was alone in the smallest bedroom, while Jay and I had beds in the larger one. Thus I was exposed to the blare of this mechanical terror on a daily basis, but, frankly, since I myself am not a morning person, I need something this loud to force me from the warmth of bed. So I tolerated Jay's alarm clock, and never thought much about it until the morning I'm about to describe.

On this momentous day, I was awakened by the ringing of our sole telephone, located in the living room. Annoyed that no one else seemed to hear it, I finally struggled free of bed covers and, wearing only underpants, padded into the living room and blearily answered the phone. Understand, reader, that not only am I slow to achieve full consciousness in the morning, but also that in those days I needed my glasses in order to see anything, plus a cup of coffee, and a cigarette before achieving anything like coherence. In addition it was cold in that apartment. Grumpily, I murmured, "Yes?" into the telephone before hearing the voice of Jay's father. It was 8:30 in the morning, and I was amazed that he himself was up (though, since he was a lawyer with a busy practice, why that would have surprised me I no longer remember).

Father Westbrook asked to speak to Jay, and that presented me with a social difficulty. Jay wasn't there. He was at the home of Polly, the woman he would marry two years later. Truth be told, Jay wasn't spending many nights at the apartment he shared with Jim and me (and, since that effectively gave me my own bedroom, that was all right with Doug). However, in those days (this was the sixties, remember) his nocturnal romance with Polly would have shocked Jay's parents and embarrassed both of the young lovers if I'd blurted out his current location. I was just mumbling some lie about Jay having to go down to the law school early, when I heard a bizarre sound from our rather large kitchen. Telling Jay's father I'd be right back, I put down the phone and stumbled to the kitchen, where I was amazed to see all four gas burners on the stove alight and creating quite a glow! Why? I wondered, only to remember that Jim (in spite of severe warnings by Jay and me to stop doing this) thought it was an efficient way to heat the kitchen on chilly mornings. Annoyed, I went to turn the burners off, only to find that (improbably) none of the knobs doing this worked. I moved each of them back and forth stupidly, but all were disconnected somehow. The burners blazed brightly on.

While I stood there, flummoxed, twirling knobs in vain, Jay's alarm clock suddenly went off in my bedroom and promptly exploded with a loud BOOM!!!
Not knowing what was going on between the un-extinguishable kitchen burners and the clock detonation, I raced back to my bedroom. Smoke was pouring out of that room, causing me to pause, frozen with indecision. I noticed the phone receiver sitting on the table next to the phone, where I'd left it—Jay's father! I picked it up and mumbled, "I'll call you back," before slamming the phone down on its cradle. I then tried to enter the bedroom, but was forced back by lack of vision in the smoky miasma. I turned around in the hall, coughing, and then noticed that our only bathroom door was shut.

That could only mean one thing: Jim was home and he was in there. Gathering my wits about me, I knocked calmly on the door. "Yes?" Jim responded happily. "Are you aware of the number of disasters I'm facing out here?" I asked. "No." "Well, the burners in the kitchen can't be shut off and my bedroom's on fire."

To his credit, Jim leaped from the bathroom in a flash. With almost superhuman efficiency, he bounded into the bedroom, pulled the plug connecting the alarm clock to the wall (thus extinguishing both sparks and smoke), and then did some sort of magic in the kitchen to calm the burners (the knobs really had ceased to work, so he may and pulled the plug there too).

When he learned of all this later, Jay was very upset that his beloved alarm clock was now defunct. He thought my detailed story of its demise most unlikely.

My former roommates are still in Austin, Texas (both are natives of that state). James Kunetka went on to become a much-published novelist, and he's currently the Senior Development Advisor for the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory. Jay Westbrook holds the Benno C. Schmidt Chair of Business Law at the University of Texas School of Law, and is an internationally known name in bankruptcy law—but to this very day he still believes I deliberately destroyed that damn alarm clock.

The Three Roommates in 2011

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bowling with Charleyne

I was never a bowler of any noticeable ability. As described before in this blog (see "Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk," August 20, 2010), my parents were both fine athletes, and their considerable skills included bowling. But as I grew up my attempts at rolling a ball down an alley confirmed their suspicions that my DNA lacked their bowling genes. But, also as reported in this blog (see "The Marina City Party Crowd," January 13, 2011), when I was practicing law in Chicago (age 25), I was in two bowling leagues at once, where I finished in the middle of the pack of male bowlers, with my average being 145 or better. Later in life there was the odd bowling experience, but nothing steady. Now that I'm in my 60s, I suspect my bowling days are over.

All of that is a prelude to this story, which is about the most important single game I ever bowled. It attained that status because of the magnitude of the stakes involved. The game occurred in 1973 (the year I turned 30) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

If you're a law professor it's very common to receive an invitation to be a Visiting Professor at a strange law school for a semester or even an entire school year. I have said yes to these invitations on a number of occasions, with the first one being for the school year 1973-74 at the University of North Carolina Law School. My wife Charleyne had just graduated from law school, and our son Clayton was born on December 29, 1972, so the following summer the three of us decamped from Indianapolis, where we were living, for a year in a beautiful part of North Carolina, where I had a very productive and rewarding experience at UNC's fine law school.

Clayton was the cutest baby, and before we left North Carolina in the summer of 1974, he was walking and talking. The woman I married was a dedicated feminist, and when it came to raising the baby, chores were agreed to be 50-50 parental involvement. This included everything: feeding  (Char didn't breastfeed, due to an infection, once she and the baby came home from the hospital), diaper-changing and all. As anyone who's cared for an infant can attest, it has its rewards but it’s also a pile (pun intended) of work. Just getting out of bed in the middle of the night to tend to a crying baby can be the hardest thing you do in that 24 hour period.

Charleyne, Clayton and Douglas in NC
One evening Charleyne and I had hired a babysitter for Clayton and gone to Raleigh for a bridge tournament. As we were driving home that night through the beautiful woods, somehow the topic of bowling came up. Char said she'd bowled in high school, but hadn't done it since. I mentioned my Marina City league experience, but when she heard that my average was only in the 140s, she scoffed at how low that was. "Well," I said defensively, "it was about average for the men in the league." With a dismissive wave of her hand, she commented that without practicing she could easily bowl 145. I was having none of it. "You couldn't bowl 125 in three tries," I told her firmly.

"Oh? Want to bet?" she challenged. Hmm, I was sure she couldn't do it, but the real question was what to bet? Our finances were mingled. I mentioned that problem to her, and the car went quiet while we both thought about it. Suddenly Charleyne came up with the solution: "The loser has to take care of Clayton for two entire weekends while the other person does whatever seems fun."

The car was silent again as we each thought about the awful implications of losing versus two weekends of idleness. Added into the mix was the fun of winning the bet itself, so we finally shook on it.

A few days later we took Clayton with us to a local bowling alley, choosing a slow period since neither of us wanted talented North Carolinians laughing at our lack of ability. We agreed to play three games together, though what I bowled was irrelevant to the wager. I started first, and was predictably lousy. I no longer remember, but my scores for the three games were all somewhere between 130 and 150.

Charleyne was a different matter. In her first game she kept throwing gutter balls, and she finished with a score of 87. Annoyed at herself, she informed me she was merely getting warmed up. I nodded sympathetically. And, by golly, her second game was better. She rolled 95, or something like that. At this point she became depressed—partly because she wasn't the bowler she'd been in high school, and, more importantly, she faced the prospect of losing the bet. That would mean not only relentless teasing by me (lasting, perhaps, forever—witness this blog) but also two weekends as Clayton's sole caregiver.

Moreover, her right thumb was throbbing. She said so, and held out the poor thing for me to see. "I think I've really sprained it, Doug," she said in obvious pain. Of course, I was all sympathy. "Well, honey, don't make it worse! Just forfeit the last game, and we'll go home right now."

Perhaps that was not well phrased. I'd forgotten what a tiger Charleyne can be when aroused.

With a sort of growl, she attacked the pins with renewed determination in the final game. While I don’t remember any of the other scores (hers or mine) with any precision, I am absolutely positive that on that third game she rolled a 126.

My darling son Clayton and I bonded closely over the next two weekends, while Charleyne was all sweetness and light as she became a woman of leisure during the same period. Kindly, she insisted on tucking Clayton into his bed each of those nights, after which she'd give me a most loving smile. After all, a child needs his mother, and a husband ought to feel appreciated.

Practicing Walking
Side note: I still have my bowling shoes and my Marina City bowling ball (which I think has my name engraved on it), both gathering dust in my basement. If anyone wants them, let me know. They're yours for the asking.
Related Posts:
"My Competitive Parents," January 20, 2010
"I Married a Hippy," April 14, 2010
"Far Too High in Las Vegas," September 1, 2010
"Charleyne and the Giant Cookie," September 16, 2010
"The Marina City Party Crowd," January 13, 2011
"The Cheesecake Incident in Williamsburg," January 6, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World

The incredible homophobic furor sweeping Uganda (see my post "Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight, January 25, 2011) is largely sponsored by Americans—sad but true. These Americans include not only evangelical types like Rick Warren, but also major politicians who are part of the C Street "Family," currently being exposed for the incredibly dangerous international force they are. If you think I'm exaggerating, read the current bestseller "C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy" by Jeff Sharlett, or, instead, merely Google up "C Street" and explore the hundreds of sites that will pop right up on your screen. These helpful American advisors warn the Ugandans that homosexuals have now conquered the USA, and their next step is to take over the entire world.

Wow! A homosexual agenda that subjugates the planet Earth! Who knew we gay people could do that! Double wow!

But when the rhetoric is absent and only facts remain, let's take a deep breath and ask what's true, and what's not (a common theme of this blog). No matter the gains gay people have made in the United States—and they are big ones—homosexuals are still second-class citizens under any definition of that term. They cannot marry and have their rights recognized on a federal level (though some small number of states do so), they are treated with contempt by many religions, gay politicians are almost never elected to office, and no legal protections exist nationwide to protect gays from being fired, denied housing, turned down for licenses, given the right to adopt children, being turned out of restaurants, and, depressingly, much more.

But there is a the true worldwide homosexual agenda, a startling and diabolical plan of action, and I hereby announce it. This plan is to have the world, all over, in every country, treat gay people the same as everybody else. That's it. Nothing more. I dare to say I can speak on behalf of the vast bulk of homosexuals when I proclaim our goal is only to have each of us judged by our worth as human beings and not by the question of who catches our eye on the street or who we choose to share our life's story.

Why do people believe homosexuality is wrong and must be discouraged if not actively punished? Why is there such hatred, even revulsion, against gay men and lesbians? How is it even possible that some parents turn their children out onto the street and shun them thereafter on discovering their "deviation?" Take the Mormons, for example (though many other religions react in an identical fashion). The Mormons I've met have always been decent and kind human beings, but if their children come out of the closet, many Mormon parents abandon them instantly. Salt Lake City has a disgraceful history of gay children living in the sewers! [If you think I'm overstating this, watch the DVD "The Mormon Proposition," the last 30 minutes of which deals with this very issue in footage that will make you squirm.]

Homophobia has many causes. For the Mormons, Ugandans, followers of Islam, and fundamentalist Christians, it's their religion that commands this hatred. That any religion demands such a closing of the mind to reality and fairness always astounds me, but what can I say? It's true—these believers hold that their God commands death and eternal damnation for homosexual behavior—and you have to ask yourself what punishment could be worse than horrible death in this life and unending torture in the next? Typically they will not hear or believe evidence that homosexuality is genetic and not a chosen behavior, but even if they admit that's possible, their response is then that murder might also be genetic, but that label wouldn't excuse it. True enough, but society can adapt to homosexuality, while murder is, well, murder.

Another justification for homophobia is the instinctive revulsion many people feel when they contemplate homosexuals in bed making love. If it's icky to them, it must be condemned. Hmm. I know some gay people who are repulsed by the idea of heterosexual coupling (this is not true of most homosexuals). But if the gays who can't stand the thought of heterosex were to be in the majority, would their revulsion be a legitimate ground for discriminating against straight people?  You don't have to want to do something yourself to understand that it might be important to others.  A tolerance for differences makes civilization run smoother.

By far the chief reason for disapproval of gays is lack of thought about the matter. A combination of history, inertia, ignorance, and indifference piles up, and gays have to climb over this mountain to gain basic rights. Ah, but let a straight person know, or, even better, like a gay human being, and he/she can't keep up a habit of mindless disapprobation.

As countries all over the world relax their prohibitions, both social and legal, against homosexuality, more and more gay people walk into the daylight. This has an exponential effect, and soon almost everyone in, say, the United States knows at least one gay person. It's a rare family of any size that doesn't have one member or more who's obviously not straight. When something is everywhere—in the family, on TV, discussed in news stories, referred to in song and story . . . culturally invasive, in short—it no longer seems odd. Some fundamentalist churches in the USA have had to answer questions from their flock such as "Is it all right to for me to have a gay friend?" It would be interesting to hear the pastor's answer to that query. Decades after the Stonewall riots in 1969 sparked the modern gay movement, the whole issue of "acceptance" is starting to seem silly in this country. The vast majority of our straight people have come to believe that homosexuals should be treated no differently than others. This particular cultural revolution is nearing end game.

But note well that the desired ending is not homosexual dominance of the United States or any other culture (which, given the small percentage gays constitute, would be impossible). The desired ending is much less daunting: treat gays just like straights. In a perfect world gays will not be regarded any differently than, for instance, people who are left-handed or who have red hair: a minority that's part of the whole human family.

I close with a poem that A. E. Houseman wrote in 1895 when the British playwright Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor in prison for the crime of sodomy:

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.

Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they're hauling him to justice for the colour of his hair.

Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet
And the quarry-gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair.

Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011

"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013
"Disowning Your Gay Children," October 9, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,” February 14, 2014

“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015;
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Friday, February 4, 2011

Electricity and Cave Man Living

Like much of the eastern part of the country, Columbus, Ohio, where I live, was caught in an ice storm last Tuesday evening (February 1st). About 8 p.m. the electricity abruptly died. Barney and Mama, my two cats, and I were suddenly in a very dark house with temperatures falling fast. We blinked at each other in confusion. The cats looked at me expectantly. 

2003 Blackout, Northeast USA
Whenever the lights go out, we experience not only the shock that civilization has failed at a very important level, but also the bigger surprise at how fast we revert to primitive needs, those of cavemen. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration because, after all, we have flashlights and automobiles that still work, as well as some other nifty devices (though it took me 15 hours to remember the Coleman lamp I bought after the last blackout), but it's also true that our first thoughts concern basic matters: food, heat, care of our loved ones, being able to survive the night. Just like the people of the caves from whom we're all descended.

Of course, in 2011, our facile first assumption is that the lights will be back on shortly, but then, as the hours drag by oh so slowly, the possibility of days (weeks?) without power begins to gnaw timidly at the brain, leading to speculation about the collapse of our world and all that that would mean. Laugh if you will, but weeks of subzero cold coupled with an inadequate response from civil authorities would make people with firearms glad that their weapons don't depend on electricity for utility. Milktoast that I am, I don't own weapons, so when I jumped at loud noises just outside my bedroom window in the middle of night (causing Barney and Mama to scamper), I looked around for any object that might offer protection (a kitchen knife being the best I could manage). Nothing happened and I later surmised I'd merely heard ice-laden tree limbs crashing first on the roof and then the yard.

If you want to know how basic electricity is to modern life, just wait till it stops. You find yourself mindlessly flicking light switches, stumbling over objects you've forgotten were on the floor (or cats, who have deliberately planted themselves in your way, as is their wont), thinking about food thawing in the freezer (finally I had the happy idea of putting it in the garage), and dozens of other tasks and objects demonstrating the stranglehold electricity has on our daily lives. Hell, more than ten hours without a computer always gives me the shakes. Or television! TELEVISION!!! I missed weather reports, news, favorite shows, and an important Ohio State basketball game, damn it! Plus there are other little irritants too: just as my washer finished a load of clothes, but before I could put them in the dryer, power went out, leaving me with wet laundry to worry about on top of everything else. What a wimp I am! A caveman would sneer at me.

Michael Faraday
In prior posts I've made much of the idea that we don't appreciate the 21st century even as we're living it (see "Related Posts" below). A sudden ice storm should make us aware that we don't even appreciate the 19th century with sufficient clarity. As Benjamin Franklin (flying his kite in a thunderstorm, risking a lightning bolt travelling down the string and into his body) and others developed the idea of electricity, the world initially took little note. When Michael Faraday (1791-1867), the first to produce an electric current from a magnetic field and the inventor of both the electric generator and the electric motor, first demonstrated his discovery to Queen Victoria, she was, according to legend, less than impressed. "What good is it?" she asked. "Madam," Faraday supposedly responded, "what good is a baby?"

As electrical lighting became popular, dramatic alterations occurred quickly. In just a few decades the world went from being mostly dark at night, to being as brightly lit as it wants to be. The reason paintings of evening parties pre-1830 appear to be so dark is that in real life such affairs were hard to illuminate. When electricity replaced candles (or the messy, smelly gas lights of the day), people could see each other too clearly so fashions had to change dramatically. Some people, including portions of the upper classes, resisted electricity because it wasn't "romantic." But the middle class saw its advantages, and soon electricity was everywhere. It still is.

Until, that is, last Tuesday, when it just annoyingly disappeared, and—poor mortals—we scrambled for candles, returning to the early 19th century. On one such occasion I made the uncomfortable discovery that I couldn't open canned goods because my can opener was electric! Last Tuesday night, in bed, the cats and I became a tangle of mammals protecting each other with our mutual warmth. My friend Pam, who has seven cats, told me that on very cold nights she wakes up feeling much like Gulliver weighted down by many furry Lilliputians.

And then (in my case 24 hours later) the electricity suddenly comes on with a little blinking noise (pop!), and we're jerked back into the 21st century and its usual marvels. It's always a great moment when that happens so unexpectedly, and I found myself yelling, "Thank you, power workers, thank you!"

We tend to live the future, or—the very luckiest of us—in the moment (I don't mean me). But we rarely stop to appreciate what we have, where we are. When electricity deserts us we're forced to confront the basic realities of life. But as soon as it returns it's all too easy to resume our 21st century life with nothing more than a little sigh of relief. Oh, but, people, that would waste a wonderful opportunity! Readers of this blog know I'm star-struck by how lucky we are to be born now, here.

Find that wonder with me!

My electricity returned in the evening on February 2nd, which was, as it happens, Groundhog Day. I never saw an official report so I'm making this up, but I'll bet when Punxsutawney Phil was asked how soon we'll be basking in nice spring weather, he uttered the groundhog equivalent of "@%* ¥ *?_# $!!!"
Related Posts:
"Benjamin Franklin Riding Shotgun," May 29, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"Rock Around the Sun," January 31, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013