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Power Outages and Midnight Suns

By: Kate Preusser

I recently lost power, and due to the prelapsarian nature of the underground power lines in my neighborhood–a chain of failure difficult to detect by city engineers–the outage stretched from 12 hours to 24 to 36 to 48, consuming first my weekend, then biting into my week.

Days in the dark will change you, said a friend who lives in the country, who was without power for a week one summer, and she was right: being in the dark does change you. It makes you alert in some ways, and absent in others; it makes you forget the set dressing of your everyday life. You walk around your darkened house, hands outstretched to feel your way around corners, crashing into a credenza anyway, putting your foot through midair where you thought there was another stair step. The dark makes your home a stranger.

So too does the dark make you a stranger to yourself. Deprived of lights, heat, hot water, of the ability to shower or clean clothes or cook on a stove, you revert to a pupa version of yourself: eating fast food crouched over candlelight, dirty-haired and ripe-smelling, drinking whiskey warm because there isn’t any ice, waiting for the night to get just dark enough so you can go to bed.

The dark messes with your rhythms; you return to nature’s demands, sleeping when it darkens, waking up at first light, your eyes unaccustomed to the day’s easy brightness. The first night I stayed up reading by lantern-light, and when I closed my eyes I could see a fizzing flicker at the edges, phosphenes charged up like batteries by the lantern’s fluorescent bulb. After a day in the dark, I welcomed the light show behind my eyes.

The Alaska Baseball League isn’t as prestigious as, say, the Cape Cod League–but what it lacks in prestige it makes up for in life experience. Players from the lower 48 travel up to play in the wood-bat league; they stay with local families, go fishing and hiking in their time off, and care for the ballparks and offer baseball clinics to support them financially over their summer. They also try to get used to summer in Alaska, where the sun disappears for maybe an hour a day. Players will describe coming back from a road trip, walking down the street and only knowing it’s 3 AM because there are no cars in the road, no shops open. They go out in the street and play baseball when they should be sleeping, because they can’t think of what else to do. Relentless light, it turns out, can be as much of a challenge as relentless darkness.

Baseball in Alaska is not for everyone–the conditions are primitive compared to many college facilities, it’s prohibitively far away from friends and family, and there’s not a lot to do, other than play baseball and look at nature. Says Ben Taylor, coach for the Mat-Su Miners: “They have nothing else to focus on but baseball – maybe a little bit of fishing or some moose sighting. But there’s nothing to get in the way of them becoming the ballplayers, and the men, they want to become.”

That’s the thing about extended periods of light or darkness–there’s nothing to get in the way of who you are, deep down, as the absence of everything else leaves just the presence of you, knocking around in the empty room of your mind. First, you become a stranger to yourself; then, you realize who, or what, you really are.


Die Rolls

By: Patrick Dubuque

One of the reasons I know it’s the offseason is that I’m not missing a game while my daugther and I string beads. Bead-stringing ranks around the median afternoon pre-K activity for her, beneath Play-Doh and watercoloring and above eating and talking at a moderate volume. We sit at the table and Sylvie tells me which beads to use, and which ones she wants me to pick out for her. Kids are largely helpless, controlled creatures, so I give her this little feeling of power while I exist in a state of utter indifference, the purest possible form of Being There For One’s Children. Find more green beads, dada. I want that purple one. You got it, kid.

As I fulfilled my duties, I found one bead that was basically a die; it had holes on opposite faces for the thread, and the other four sides had an “S” on them. The odds of rolling an S are simple to calculate: (4 S sides / 6 possible sides) = 0.6667. I rolled an S. I rolled another S. I rolled another S. At this point the odds weren’t anything special: (2/3)^3 = .2963, a solid batting average.

I’m one of those people (I assume we are a people) who does this. Given time to kill and a deck of playing cards, I’ll deal myself seven card hands to see if I land a full house. I notice when I’ve hit eight green lights in a row. I have a strange brain that likes to combine probability theory and history; instead of designing some algorithm that predicts the future and wins me wealth or fame, I just like to know the odds are of the things that have already happened. I guess one of the things I like about baseball, and offseason baseball in particular, is that they offer room for this. Rolling dice to see if I’m lucky doesn’t do anything, just like hitting streaks or no-hitters don’t really prognosticate future success. They’re just fun to witness, to revel in the sheer rarity.

Sylvie noticed that I was rolling this little S, determined that it was a bead and that she had been established as the Queen of all Beads, and took it. Still on my streak, I had no choice but to negotiate its release, first by promising to clean up her beads, then by trading a gummy bear straight up for it. (This price, in terms of the precedent it set, may have been too steep to pay.) I kept rolling the bead.

By cleanup time I got seventeen S rolls in a row, for a probability of 0.0010. I had beaten literally thousand-to-one odds, and “wasted” it on the most useless reflection of probability imaginable. This was my Scooter Gennett game, my sad little solar eclipse. Sylvie was not impressed, no matter how much wonder I instilled in my tone. She’s probably a fan of Bayesian probability; I’ll have to cure her of that, right after I get her to eat her peas in less than an hour.


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