James Davis

Black Start Generator

It has been raining and there has been thunder and lightning for the past week.  When it dies down, you can smell ozone in the damp air. In the evening the air feels clearer, less swampy, and I like to sit in my chair and listen to the radio.  There are a few stations that still broadcast over AM, for and by people like me who need a place to hide, outside of time. When did history end? Anticlimax. I drive past houses now where the windows are all staring inwards at themselves.  The hyperreality machines don't throw off any light and you see none from out the windows. It is an odd feeling that I get. People cross the highways on foot now too, you see them, under the sodium lamps. Sad and shuffling through the dark.

The transformer on the corner needs to be replaced, I can see it in the blue glow of that light on the corner attached to its pole.  The power company won't replace it until it explodes on its own. It doesn't matter what I tell them. When the storm kicks off again I should just shoot it through the attic window with my rifle- that would get them out here, fixing it.  I would but the tenant would hear. It's just that soon they won't know how to replace it. It's an old model, it has no internal diagnostics chip, can't be dialogued with remotely. It is too simple a machine for them to understand.

The grid has changed.  It used to live at the very end of itself, cascading off of its own edge, every joule of current mingled, being generated and distributed all at the same moment.  The power had nowhere to go besides out into the world, and it's only storage, the only place power which could not be used went was the massive concrete flywheels, like great mills, storing power as glacial momentum.  The system which turned on every lamp and washing machine, every computer and air-conditioner, any power that hummed through the wooden crucifixes on the sides of the road, it had been alive in a way that it no longer is.  Now they have the batteries inside the houses and every watt is metered by algorithms which map its distribution to curve out spikes. The system has become efficient, and when you call for power to turn on your bedside lamp in the middle of the night, no dormant power-plant in New Jersey will have to turn itself on just for you.  Your energy is mediated by a massive battery in your house. The system runs cooler and easier, flows like osmosis through the counties. The system was a breaking wave with no end to its crest, the system was caught in a perpetual climax.

I remember when they started installing the batteries, ours went in the garage.  It sat in the corner next to the red plastic storage bins we'd got from Target. It was totally silent.   Like old topsoil. It is the buffer between the house and the grid. It mediates our connection. This neighborhood alone, the charge from all the batteries could power a single house for a month.  

The garage has almost the same smell as it did ten years ago, warm and dry, dusty.  I was happy once, I think. She used to move through these hallways and rooms and I think they remember her as a fine blur. In entropic time systems decay, energy can neither be created or destroyed, all things serve the beam, etc. . .  I have been alone for a long time now, and I feel sometimes as though my life is happening somewhere else, without me, and I can only hope to one day find myself inside of it again. The grid has changed.

There is a theory I have read which is metaphorical and states that oil is alive, that oil wears the world economy like a glove.  This is a deep and powerful idea. I had a deep and powerful idea once, staring up at a pylon, one of a chain cutting a swathe through the wilderness, that the third largest event in history, after the creation of life and the dawning of consciousness, was the discovery of petroleum.  The earthly avatar of capitalism's spiritual being -- capitalism, which is of course simply the codification of a stronger organism destroying a weaker one. Monolith rises out of the earth. Power, eternal. A system to control the body and another to bind the soul, church and state. In entropic time systems decay.  It is thoughts like these I think about lying in bed at night, knowing as I do where all the wire in my walls run, and I wonder what it is my house is thinking about, what dark dreams it dreams. I have heard that electricity is neutral, it only wants to go home, back into the earth. I have also heard power corrupts. I do not know if the high-tension wires rust but I know the spars of their towers do.

For instance, just to show you as an informative image --  behind my house, behind my neighbourhood, there used to be a block of houses.  They sank into the earth one night. Just like that. What kind of a world is this? In the middle of the night, they were gone, all of the families inside.  There had been a cavity in the earth, deep in the earth. A gaseous bubble, goes the theory. Sinkholes like that, you would hear about farther out, closer to the Marcellus fault.  From the deep, high-pressure natural gas wells evacuating their slurry into the groundwater. No one talks about it, it's been years since it happened. It never really got cleaned up and you can still go back there, find pieces of plastic siding or insulation.  Water sits in it now, the cavity, it doesn't drain well. I was down there the other night as it was getting dark. Trees hang over the crater, and inside is covered in dead leaves. You can see the trees reflected in the water. I stood on the edge and looked down into it, into the cavity.  There were lights, I realized, in the water. Blinking softly, dead lightning bugs. Dying. Dozens of them, floating in the pools of water. I stayed at the edge of the cavity until the stars came out, and they were reflected in the pools of water, and their light and the lights of the fireflies mingled.