Monday, December 11, 2006


Have you ever swept an entire grocery store? Down every aisle? Around every vegetable stand? Charging oncoming customer carts with your dust mop, like a matador, one handed, swerving parabolic arcs with panache?

It was 1986. I was working the night shift.

I would map out my dry mop maneuvers. I would start with the general merchandise on the south end, and work in zig-zag-fashion down each aisle until I reached the sticky-floored produce and meat aisles along the north wall.

As the cotton-millipede-like mop-head glided over polished tile, its many fabric tendrils would stretch out, snatching bits of dust and dirt, pushing it along like a bow wave. The trick was to see how far I could push the accumulated debris, before it flanked the wide gliding scrubber, and spilled like a dusty contrail behind me.

I could usually make it to the dairy section, the halfway point, before needing to scoop.

It was late Spring, and some dreary deity decided to drown Los Angeles with a deluge. The rain had been falling hard, and my usually-dry and frequently-smooth surfaced floor was tacky and tracked with moist, but drying, mud. "Dry Mop" was a misnomer. I worked my way along my usual path, avoiding black foot prints (I'd get those with the wet mop in a few minutes) aiming with vengeance for the light-brown, dry and flaky footprints, which fled with fear before my oncoming broom of doom.

I rounded the dreaded cookie aisle. I passed the row those hateful butterscotch Keebler abominations, and pushed on toward the rear of the store. Just then, without warning, without even a buzz or pop, the lights went out.

Completely out. Pitch black. I don't know whether you've ever been in a grocery store during a blackout at night in a thunder storm, but it's dark. Dark like Dick Cheney's heart.


I froze. I was completely without reference. My once taken-for-granted bearings were gone. The absence of any horizontal reference made me dizzy, and I sat down.

In aisles to my right and to my left, I heard the voices of similarly stranded clerks, apparently with more advanced training than I had, giving the same instructions to assumed customers. "Stay put. Don't move. If the lilghts don't come back on, we'll come and find you with flashlights."

That sounded comforting. I wondered where the flashlights would come from, or who would come find the stranded clerks. Then, I remembered, somewhere up in front, probably in the office, was our night manager, Roxanne.

Perhaps I wanted to make sure she was there. Perhaps I wanted further emergency instruction. Perhaps I was just getting freaked out by the darkness, but in the best calm-voice I could muster, I called out her name.

Then, out of the darkness, somewhere in the vicinity of the bakery, a nervous sounding female voice called out: "Roxanne?"

Then in a best-impression of a British pop singer, I think from behind the dairy case, Some one sang out, "You don't have to put on the red light!"

Nervous laughter erupted in the darkness, from the canned-fruit aisle, from produce and from all over the store. Now egged on, or perhaps in just an attempt to lighten the mood, a chorus of (likely-high) dairy clerks attempted a few more lines. Soon, however, the lights and the familiar whirring and humming of refrigeration snapped back on. The singing stopped, and Roxanne's familiar voice was heard over the loud speaker, thanking shoppers for their cooperation and the dairy choir for their performance.

The light seemed bright. The shelves seemed almost white. However, the mud was still on the floor, and I still had my mop...

I thought about that blackout this morning, as I sat in a dark office staring at a blank computer screen. Power went out around 9:00, which can cause, as you may imagine, complications for a law firm.

The bubble wand and filter in my aquarium were silent. The printers and copiers slept silently. The phones were dead. Small quiet conversations down long dark hallways carried with clarity. It was oddly soothing.

Natural light is plentiful in my atrium-like office, and active attorneys found ways to work. I huddled near my sliding glass door, and read a large notebook of medical records with a very low-tech highlighter pen. As I sat there, I noticed that the new janitor had recently swept the dirt and mud from my private patio, and I began to hum old Police tunes quietly to myself.


  1. When the electricity goes out where I work, we hold our breath till the emergency generator kicks in. Because if it doesn't we're fucked - well not us but the patients are

  2. You have an amazing ability to expand the mundane into a pleasant story. My morning just became a bit more contented. Thanks.

    And "Roxanne" is my favorite song of all time when sung Sting live in the Rose Garden to a buzzed Inog and me.

  3. Dude, you got to get some new stories. I listen to my father-in- law talk about 1953 all the time and wonder why he is stuck in the past. I think to myself, wow I guess when you are old you think about the past all the time.
    Oh wait...when is your birthday?

  4. dude, not everyone has heard the stories yet. you're just the lucky one..

  5. A black out is sometimes more pleasant than the blue screen of death. You know when your computer gets the blue screen of death there is nothing you can do, but grab your purse and walk to the nearest mocha shop.

  6. amanda3:31 PM

    Brian often has that feeling. I love the way his purse sets off the colors in his sweater vest.

  7. The panty8:32 PM

    It's usually pitch black on one side, unless I am left laying in the middle of the floor.

  8. I was also scared in the dark, but I was surrounded by singing stoners. I had a real reason to be frightened.


Be compelling.

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