— Steven Wright
(b. Dec. 6, 1955)
Reaction last Monday morning by popular WOOP radio personality and area historian Ron Moore, who once managed the former Telecable of Cleveland decades ago — long before fiber optics were cool — was swift, simple and to the point:
“I had nothing to do with THAT power outage! I was at home minding my own business. I didn’t cause it. I didn’t think it. Frankly, I didn’t believe it.”
The likable fellow couldn’t help but feel a little punchy after last Sunday’s epic fiasco short-circuited Super Bowl XLVII and left some of New Orleans’ finest scratching their heads in wonder. The whole drama stoked the embers of bad memories from Ron’s own Super Bowl nightmare.
Much to his dismay, and because I consider it a renewed purpose in life as a born-again newspaperman, I used last Sunday’s column to reminisce to Jan. 20, 1985. On this day in gridiron infamy, a Bradley County ice storm crippled the local cable company, snapping its lines, severing its connections and leaving legions of Super Bowl Sunday revelers staring blankly into fuzzy TV screens whose irritating buzz sent howls of rage across Cleveland skies.
I was a victim, and probably one who howled loudest. My wife still laughs at those theatrics almost three decades later.
Ron still hasn’t quite laughed. Such healing takes time. Last weekend’s column resurrecting unnatural disaster didn’t help.
When the former cable guy opened last Sunday’s edition of this newspaper, only to learn that I had dredged up this nightmare from the deep abyss of lost causes, he understandably closed his eyes, slowly shook his head, moaned in quiet despair and removed his landline phone from its hook.
On the same day and less than 10 hours later, another Super Bowl went dark — only this time it was the stadium, not big-screen TVs across Bradley County.
Last Sunday’s electrical debacle brought a network to its knees, left thousands of Superdome fans snoozing in the unexpected quiet of partial darkness and interrupted living room celebrations from sea to shining sea.
And that was only in America.
Some believe the Super Bowl blackout was a sign of the Apocalypse, a global warning that even raised the hairs on the back of Al Gore’s neck. When reminded by a group of South American doomsdayers — Mayan, I believe — that the super shutdown was a “warning” and not “warming,” Al’s response was refined, dignified and politically correct, “Oh ... never mind.”
It came with little surprise when Monday morning — only an hour into the new workweek and just a few hours after the Super Blackout — my office phone rang.
As I sometimes do when this happens, I answered.
“This is Rick Norton, may I help —”
“— I had nothing to do with that power outage!” the voice exclaimed, my ear ringing from the shriek. “Nothing! Nada!”
I recognized it immediately.
“Ron!” I exclaimed, almost tearing up in laughter. It’s rare that I laugh on Monday mornings so this speaks to the hysteria in my friend’s voice.
“I did NOT cause that power outage in the Super Bowl last night!” the voice roared. “I wanted YOU to be the first to know. I had nothing to do with it! This sets the record straight. Because of your column yesterday morning, I’m back in counseling.”
He added, “And when that Superdome went black last night, just like your TV screen went snowy an eon ago, I knew I had to get on your radar first thing this morning before you started typing!”
Since that ice storm of ’85, the cable retiree hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in 28 years of Januaries. And when talk of another Super Bowl rolls around, I’m told he quietly escapes to a lost cabin retreat somewhere high in the mountains where cable is just another word for steel rope, the letters T and V are forbidden in dinnertime conversation, and the only nighttime howls heard in the distance come from hungry wolves and lonely coyotes ... or from his wife, Debbie, when he forgets to take out the trash.
Gathering my composure, but unable to feign true empathy, I assured Ron the Super Blackout from the night before in no way reminded me of the travesty from our past. It was a lie worthy of my boyhood when confronted by angry parents demanding to know the reasons for an “F” on my report card in fifth-grade English.
“Ron, Ron, Ron,” I managed. “I know you had nothing to do with that blackout in New Orleans. I’ve got your back on this one, my friend.”
“You sure?” he asked.
“... Trust me.”
Ron wasn’t buying.
“Yeah, right,” he chuckled. “Guess I’ll just have to wait for your next column.”
“Guess so,” I agreed, happy that we weren’t Skyping for it might have exposed my demon smile. “In the meantime, I won’t breathe a word to anybody about this phone call.”
Scratching my forehead, I felt what assuredly was the emerging tip of a horn.
“Til next year,” Ron offered in closing.
“Next year,” I concurred. “Make it a super one.”
A low moan sounded from the other end, and then a familiar click.
My work was done.