Flailing at mosquito whines in the dark

Two nights in a row, as I relax on the couch getting ready to write a column, the power goes out. Now, once is understandable, periodically expected here. But Saturday and Sunday nights at about the same time? I don’t believe in that kind of coincidence. Maybe it’s the gods’ comment on reality TV.

My PowerBook is on sleep, its battery only partially charged. If I start writing, my screen will surely turn black before I finish. So I light the candles and try to continue reading “Bush Versus the Environment,” Robert S. Divine’s discussion of the current state of our planet and the slippery slope we’re on with persistent shoves by Number 43. The text is compelling, but the type is small and tends to run together in the flickering light. At seven minutes a page, I decide my aging eyes aren’t up to this.

I contemplate possible reasons for the outage. Utilities have warned of possible blackouts, but why on a weekend? I couldn’t have overloaded a circuit. To comply with conservation requests, I’ve not used appliances in the afternoon, I’ve eaten cold meals, swept and dusted instead of vacuuming and used the ceiling fan instead of the AC unit. Since the rest of the family is on vacation in Montana, there’s less laundry to do (I use only the solar dryer anyway), few dishes to wash and no showering in their wing of the house. When they left, I also disconnected the pump that sends hot water to their bathrooms. The electric meter is barely moving.

I’d like to call my son to see if he has power at the old ranch house, but the blasted phone won’t work without electricity and my cell never works back in the canyon. I go out on the deck and see a spotlight waving around down there, so it’s definitely an overall power failure.

Has the power grid been a terrorist target? Not likely. After all, Tom Ridge elevated only New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C. to orange alert.

Is this a manipulation of the power supply to raise prices again? Haven’t they got those damn power brokers in jail yet? Martha Stewart, who hurt nobody but herself, will be living off us taxpayers (who incidentally paid for the government to prosecute her) for five months, while Bush buddy Ken Lay is still a free man. Where’s the justice in that?


Anyhow, with candles blazing and the ceiling fan stilled, it’s getting hot. I open the windows hoping to catch a breeze. I turn on the lantern flashlight and pick up the book again. I learn the very power generators that at this moment are failing to light up my life are trading in pollution credits. “Open market trading” they call it. Contrary to the advice of government scientists, Bush says they should be allowed to trade credits for the mercury emissions that have poisoned fish in lakes and streams downwind from coal-fired plants. He doesn’t believe “in his gut” that mercury is forever. If his Clear Skies initiative replaces the Clean Air Act, we’re all in for serious trouble.

I can’t read any more of this. My blood pressure is spiking with the temperature. Besides, bugs are flying around the lantern. I turn it off and sulk in the dark. Then I hear the unmistakable whine of a mosquito. I have a bug repeller thingy that’s plugged into the wall near my bed, but of course with no power, it emits no bug repelling noise or vibration or whatever. I also have a tiny solar/battery powered gizmo that I sometimes carry with me in the garden in the late afternoon. It operates on a dubious biological principal. It emits the sound of a male mosquito, barely perceptible to our ears. Now, only the female mosquito bites humans. The female mosquito’s whine is a slightly different pitch from the male mosquito’s whine, which the females avoid at all cost. That’s the theory. I turn on the little gizmo and put it beside me. I can just make out the high-pitched sound, which is constant, coming as it does from a stationary source. I wait. Alert to the swooping whine of the blood-sucking female. Swat! That one almost got me. I suppose it doesn’t work if the female mosquito is in heat.

Groping in a pitch-black cupboard, I find my trusty DEET-free, Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus, believed to repel mosquitoes for eight hours and deer ticks for six. It says so on the label.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t worry so much about mosquitoes, but there is West Nile Virus to consider. I read a third Californian just died from it last week. Sen. Barbara Boxer sent me an e-mail describing her efforts to get federal funding for mosquito abatement. Her Web site helpfully says: “Avoid mosquito bites. Use DEET sprays, wear long sleeved, thick clothing.” Ugh! In this heat? “Don’t go outdoors in the early morning or evening.” Just when I need to go out to tend plants, saving water, or possibly enjoy sitting on the deck in the cool of the evening, saving electricity for fans and such. Thanks, senator, for all your help.

To think: Last year I actually enjoyed the peace and quiet of an occasional blackout.

I must be reading too much.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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