Bad Ju-joules

Ironically, this TV is an “Element” — an element that can’t withstand the elemental forces of Nature. Why yes, that is a VCR you see below it.

Electricity must be a wild thing, right, like a mustang, something Benjamin Franklin grabbed hold of and broke to harness for the greater good of mankind? Or most mankind. Just not me, bedeviled by this modern-day necessity.

One of my friends named Bruce, an early adopter of solar power, once talked about how we take electricity for granted, how we walk into a room and casually flip a switch, automatically assuming the room will light up. There is little awareness on our part, Bruce noted, of the effort it takes behind the scenes to make this modern “invention” happen.

But electricity wasn’t invented — it existed out in the natural world. What took humankind a very long time to do was learn to manage it and make it work for us. Instead of trying to time the recharge of our flux capacitor to a random lightning strike on the courthouse as in Back to the Future, we run water through dams, or burn coal, or even set up panels where Ol’ Sol can create this magic power that runs the very essence of our modern lives.

And unless you live in Texas at either end of the weather spectrum, this generally works pretty well. Or unless you live at my house, which appears to be haunted by the Spirit of Bad Electricity.

I don’t know why this is, and no one else can tell me either. And most people don’t believe me, but Lynn and I have had more meltdowns and outages in the two years we’ve been here in Riverwalk than probably all the rest of my years combined.

At least once a month our power goes out. It’s almost always just a blip, lasting just long enough for me to sigh in exasperation and say, “Oh, great” before it comes back on. But this is long enough to take out two clocks (never the one on the kitchen range, for some reason) and cause the TV satellite to need to re-set, a process that takes much longer than such a short blip would seem to warrant.

Our vacuum, which is not too many years old and which had never caused any sort of problem at our old house, promptly blew one if not two breakers in this new house. The installing electrician, who took great umbrage at what he assumed was us questioning his work, assured us early on that every fault was our appliances and not his work.

We weren’t questioning his work so much as simply trying to figure out why breakers were overloading and blowing in a new house when our appliances hadn’t disrupted anything in an old house. But even a second, less prickly electrician who didn’t take these as personal attacks couldn’t explain everything.

Some of it, I guess, is that new breakers are far more touchy, which I suppose is safer even as it’s more annoying. The best I could gather as to why the breaker in the new garage kept failing, for instance, was that this one was tripping on overload while the old house was just living with overload — clearly not as safe a situation, even if it felt more functional.

To make the new garage work, we had the second electrician add a completely new circuit for Lynn’s commercial freezer and that did put an end to problems out there.

The second electrician couldn’t really explain the vacuum, though: he had assumed it was an ancient beast that would start up with a huge draw of electricity. But when he looked at it, he said, “This shouldn’t be a problem.” And it hasn’t been since those early days, but it — or something — did blow a brand-new breaker that had to be replaced.

Lynn’s mixer died. She blamed it on the age of the mixer, which I didn’t really think was that old, nor that overused despite my fairly continuous supply of home-baked cookies. She bought a replacement mixer, so it’s less than two years old, and the last time she used it it started lugging and gasping like it was on its deathbed.

Lynn opted to blame the mixer company; I am opting for evil spirits. And this is why:

My brother-in-law Don yesterday managed to liberate my oxygen concentrator that had been held hostage by a repairman too busy to answer his phone or send me the machine I’d already paid for. Of course no invoice was forthcoming, so I asked Don to ask what the problem was, fully expecting to hear the compressor had gone down for the count.

But no: the motherboard was “fried,” Don reported, adding the guy suggested I use a surge protector. Which would be great advice — except I already had the concentrator and everything else I own on surge protectors.

Now, I don’t know what a “joule” is or does, but when I go to Ace Hardware and stand in front of the power strips and surge protectors, it becomes apparent, based on the prices, that when buying a surge protector you want more joule protection. Higher joules = higher price; ergo, you want your surge protector to rate against (or for) lots of these little buggers. (I’m assuming they’re little, just like everything else you can’t see about electricity until it reaches lightning status.)

So I always try to balance my rather cheap wallet against the need for protection, and I will concede the possibility that some of what I buy that I think are surge protectors might really just be power strips. But I make a layman’s effort to protect devices that need to be plugged in, especially in this house.

Not that does any good, fried motherboards and all. But now Bad Electricity has taken a jolt too far: it has messed with my TV.

Once, long ago, way back to when that concept of department stores was only beginning to feel a bit wobbly, I bought a small television from Montgomery Wards. It lasted probably two decades before calling it quits, at which point I went to Walmart, closest thing to a department store anywhere near here, and bought a similarly-sized TV, only now it was an LED that was supposed to last forever and cost me $4 per year to run.

Well, our power blipped out the other night, and while the TV worked a couple hours after that, it died shortly thereafter. Three years, or less, into its 10,000-hour life and it is kaput, suspiciously on the heels of yet another of our power outages that Lynn insists could happen in town but oh, they never did. And, I would like to note, the TV is definitely on a surge protector. High joules and everything.

Now the TV light turns from red to blue, and it sounds like it’s trying to come on, but the screen remains black and none of the remedies I’m finding on the internet are working. Oh, internet: my computer is crashing on a daily basis, and the one time I followed what was supposed to be an internet fix, I lost my cursor for over an hour and had to try to use my phone, which competent people can manage but is way above my pay-grade, to fix it.

So I may be in the market for a lot of new electronics, although I’m kind of wondering what the point is, and thinking I need to adopt a new strategy: go cheap on the electronics, and spare no expense on the surge protectors. It may not be enough, but it’s all I have, here in this place of bad ju-joules.

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