Outages force a trip to past

Residents resort to games, candles

By Mark Arsenault
Globe Staff / September 1, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - When Tropical Storm Irene stole his electricity, George Maloof found himself with a new mouth to feed: The gas generator he borrowed from a friend guzzles $60 in fuel each day.

It sits there beside the deck behind his house, roaring like a motorcycle with the throttle stuck open and forcing Maloof back and forth several times a day to the gas station.

“At least now I can run my refrigerator and keep my insulin cold,’’ he said, sweat beading on his forehead on a warm afternoon. “But a shower wouldn’t be bad.’’

Widespread power outages across Massachusetts, which entered their fourth day yesterday, have cast whole neighborhoods back in time to the days of candles and board games, denying families their appliances and electronics and forcing them to lean on friends and their own ingenuity to stay fed, clean, and entertained.

National Grid reported that more than 70,000 Massachusetts customers still lacked power last evening, down from 500,000 Sunday, when Irene struck.

Having been cut off from television news reports on the storm, “I didn’t even realize the extent of the outage until I had to go looking for extension cords and gas cans,’’ which have been hot items in blacked-out areas, Maloof said.

Throughout his neighborhood yesterday, just north of the Neponset Reservoir, the afternoon stillness was broken by the snarl of chainsaws as work continued on clearing downed trees and branches. Utility workers also prepared to replace a pole that had been snapped by a falling tree.

Without electricity for days, residents of this neighborhood of wide lawns, swingsets, and basketball hoops reported struggling with the simplest of daily tasks. The outage has turned something as basic as a cup of morning joe into a hair-pulling odyssey, said Lisa Matthews, stopping to chat while out for a jog.

Her family has traveled as far as Walpole to find a coffee shop with power.

“And once you get there, the drive-through line is around the building, and the line of people inside is spilling out into the parking lot,’’ she said.

Her family has been showering at work or at a relative’s house in Norwood, and charging cellphones in their cars.

“We weren’t prepared, shame on us,’’ she said. Her twin 13-year-old daughters have enjoyed the challenge of the outage more than their parents. “They have head lamps; it’s fun for them,’’ she said. “We did play a couple of board games, which we have not done in a long time.’’

Michelle Marderosian is the mother of a 2-year-old, Cheyanne, who, like any self-respecting toddler, believes it’s her inalienable right to explore with gusto, light or no light. And that can impose hardships for mother and daughter alike.

“I wouldn’t be so upset if I didn’t have a 2-year-old,’’ Marderosian said last night.

A pair of neighborhood friends, Jack Carmone and Bobby Kierce, both 13, padded barefoot around the streets, spiraling a football back and forth and wondering how long they could last without electricity.

“It’s just really boring,’’ said Carmone, who gives his cellphone to his father to charge at work. “At my house, we play a lot of board games by candlelight.

“It’s crazy how chaotic the world becomes when you don’t have the Internet,’’ he said. “I don’t even know if the Red Sox won’’ Tuesday night. (Alas, he was told, they had lost to the Yankees.)

Kierce lamented his family’s powerless fate. “Everybody around us has power - not us.’’

They hoped to get their electricity back in time for tonight’s New England Patriots pre-season football game, played at nearby Gillette Stadium, and not just so they could watch it: He was concerned about whether the stoplights would be working as fans came and went to the game.

Jennifer Foley took her 5- and 7-year-old children out of town for a forced vacation while she waited for power to be restored.

Back at home in Foxborough yesterday, she said the experience of camping inside her own house quickly wears thin and that feeding her family was becoming monotonous.

“Peanut butter and jelly and a cooler full of milk, and we’ve been going out to dinner,’’ she said. “It is a major inconvenience.’’

Her power was restored last evening, she said later by telephone.

Sixty-nine-year-old Peter Connolly, spent the afternoon raking fallen branches on his yard.

He was reluctant to call it quits for the day, because that would mean another cold shower. “It’s like going into the ocean,’’ he said.

After several days without power, he has cleaned out his freezer and thrown away whatever can’t be barbecued and eaten this week.

And after 25 years living in the same house, he is struck by how quiet and dark his neighborhood becomes at night, bereft of electricity.

“There’s nothing really to do,’’ he said. “Your day ends when it gets dark. There might be a little blip in childbirths later on because of this blackout we’re having now.’’

Yoon Byun of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Mark Arsenault can be reached at