HOUSTON VOICE • DECEMBER 24, 1999
VOICES AND ECHOES
The night the lights went out-and we had to talk
by Rich Arenschieldt
Earlier this year I attended
a piano recital by Russian
wunderkind Evgeny Kissen, one of the best
masters of the keyboard in the world. The
audience was comprised of a "Who's
Who" of pianists and teachers from the
His playing permeated your soul. Rarely
do I sit in a concert hall and think, "I am so
lucky to be here." This night was one of
Then it happened. The shrillness of some
bozo's cellular phone splintered the sound
in which the audience was coccooned.
I latred for the perpetrator was visible—
how could they violate what composer
Alan Hovhaness called "The Temple of
Sound?" At that minute, I wished that
telecommunication devices would be rendered obsolete, like the lumps of nonbiodegradable plastic that they are.
Some months later, I viewed a wry television commercial that poked fun at Y2K
calamities and being stranded on a dark
planet as greasy-hair techno-geeks who
can't get a date control our future and bring
the planet to a screeching halt.
The scene is wearily familiar; midnight
on New Year's Eve, celebrations in full
swing. And at a second past the drop of the
ball in Times Square, anything invented by
Thomas Alva Edison becomes useless.
Enjoying this thought, I wondered one
step further. Wouldn't it be cool if all the
lights went out, too?
I'm not advocating a return to the hunter-
gatherer way of life. Having been camping
all of once, I am an avowed lover of nature.
But rooting around for nuts and berries and
competing with vermin for food is not my
idea of a smashing good time.
Having said that, I am somewhat hyper-
connected to the universe, especially during
the last minutes of this millennium. Just
looking at the stuff plugged into my walls
makes me dizzy At home I have two phone
lines (and am contemplating DSL), one big
computer, a laptop, a cell phone, a pager.
The computers come with two e-mail
accounts. Like most gay men, I have one for
"Sunday school me" and one for "cruisy
me." Add to this my other computer, fax,
phone and e-mail access at work and I'm
the main character in a bizarre Stephen
If only Houston's power company
would become temporarily inoperative,
then I would be free. My life would change
as quickly as a bug that gets fried on one of
those blue-colored zappers. Sitting in the
dark, realizing that a major morph has just
occurred, how would I pass the quiet time?
First, I'd make a run for the melting quart
of chocolate ice cream in the freezer about
as quick as that little Taco Bell Chihuahua
heads for the chalupa. After that, then I'd
wonder about the neighbors and the
woman who lives next door, raising three
kids in a single-parent home.
The electronic gate surrounding her compound would now be useless. She'd probably be out in the carport looking around,
concerned about the safety of her brood. I
don't really know her. We usually just
admire one another from a distance. Our
communication is polite but almost always
With my rechargeable spotlight, bought
in a rare act of Y2K preparedness, 1 would
check on her and the little bambinos.
Something strange might happen—maybe
we would communicate.
With the advent of new technology, our
spoken lives have the brevity of a
Hemingway novel with none of its accompanying imagery. The world has become
verbally instantaneous. It is crucial that
we're never out of reach, but our fixation
with technologically insular communication prohibits us from reaching out.
People shy away from conversation that
has any intensity. As long as quips and jokes
are bantered about, all is well. But let the
topic turn thoughtful or deliberative and
people flee. Communication that takes time
or effort is becoming an endangered species.
Our quest for verbal accessibility and
immediacy have come at the expense of
intimacy. When—and if—the lights go out,
make sure you have a candle nearby. Then
you will be able to see the expressions of
those around as they are forced to talk with
you. Don't miss this opportunity.
Houston resident Rich Arenschieldt writes
about tlic arts, HIV and adixxacy issues for tiie
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