Saturday, April 23, 2005

Return from hiatus

Had my own personal episode of Cops yesterday - right outside the study window where I was sitting writing up the net column. Two police cars rolled slowly past the window. How odd, I thought, and went to look out the front to see if they were stopping at our apartment building. But no. I returned to the study puzzled, then, when I craned a little, I saw that they were parked in the far corner of the parking lot, which is the very, very back fence of this large, village-like apartment complex. It is not a spot in which the residents tend to park. In fact, until a day ago, it was still a grimy great snow mound left from the winter road snow clearances. The two police cars were blocking in a grey car and the policemen were talking to a man inside the car. I moved my chair and my computer so that I was in a more comfortable spot to observe the goings-on. After some time, the police ordered the man to get out and empty all his pockets onto the bonnet of one of the police cars. How many times I have seen this operation on Cops!! I waited for them to make him bend over the car as they do on TV - but they didn't. Instead, while one policeman kept talking to the man, the other one donned gloves and began to search the man's car - even getting out a laptop, opening it and turning it on. He put it away - and then thought again, brought it back and examined it some more. Then through contents in the glove box, under the seats, in the back seat, the boot... Oh, boy, when they go through stuff, they go through everything. Since it seemed unhurried, I got a drink and some nibbles, revelling in this opportune dose of reality not-TV. Infuriatingly, I have no idea what it was all about. The man did not look like a criminal really and the police were gentle with him. He was a sandy-haired, clean-faced man of late 20s, dressed in a good t-shirt and chinos. He seemed a bit upset, naturally enough, and spent a deal of time rubbing or wringing his hands while the police talked to him. There was much communication via the police radio - during which the man waited squatting on the ground behind the police car, as if he simply could not bear to keep standing. It was all too much for him. It was frustrating not being able to hear what was being said. We are so spoiled by television reality cop shows that we think it is automatic that we get soundtracks. Believe me, I craned to get an idea and, while I could hear voices, I could not distinguish words. Grrr. Anyway, after about 45 minutes of fastidious searching, the police bagged the man's pocket possessions from the car bonnet, handcuffed him and drove him away, locking his grey car and leaving it there. When Bruce got home, I went down and had a squizz in the car. Fascinating. He had lots of clothes in the car and newspapers and notepads - all in a high degree of disarray, probably because of the cops. The car was left there overnight but sometime early this morning it was removed. I searched the local paper for clues as to what sort of criminal was hiding out in front of my window. Nothing. So I rang the apartment management and asked. "Oh, yes, it was nothing too serious," reassured the clerk, Heidi. "I think it was traffic tickets - a lot of them." Oh yeah?

Meanwhile, life is altogether shocking over here. And I mean this in the most literal sense. One gets electric shocks off everything! Zap. Crack. Zap. Zap.
I approach all switches with immense trepidation. However careful I am, the sparks still fly. And I jump and swear. As if it's not bad enough that the switches are upside down!
Americans don't tell you about this phenomenon. That is because they find nothing noteworthy about it. They think it is perfectly normal that sparks fly every time one turns on a light switch or touches a door handle. Can you believe this? It has something to do with dry air and central heating, they try to explain. It's not so bad in summer when the air is moist. You can buy anti-static sprays and put them on your clothes. Some people use humidifiers in their homes. But, generally, everyone is just used to shocks and takes no notice of them. Even in the supermarket. I was at the checkout the other day and every time I touched the counter, as in to present my credit card and to sign for the purchase, an arc of spark flew between my hand and the surface and I squealed in alarm. The checkout chick and the boy packer seemed mildly surprised by my reaction - so much so that they actually replaced their customary expressions of blob-like ennui with a quizzical look. "Am I the only one getting these electric shocks," I asked defensively. "Awww," drawled the world-weary teenage checkout chick. "We dun notice 'em." Pondering, as she scanned a few more items, she added: "This ain't nutting. You need to see the shocks when I wanna get inner my car!" I'd rather not.
Now this is something they never show in the movies or television. But they should. It's a cover-up. There should be sparks flying! But you note that they always already have the lights on or off on the American screen. They never show people actually turning them on.
Bruce has been giving me advice on how to cope with the daily doses of electricity. "Don't let your hand touch the screws. Use your knuckles to turn on lights," he instructs. "And try to touch something metal before you touch your computer because the static electricity can damage it." Whaaaat? How do these people cope?

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