I arrived first, a few minutes before the house is opened to the public. I walked around the fenced garden, watching volunteers dig holes for new azalea bushes. The house looked IMPOSSIBLY, UNBELIEVABLY, INCREDIBLY awesome. This is the photo I took with my iPhone:
Once the gates opened, but before the other folks arrived, I walked all around the house, looking for power outlets. I mean, I know there were not power outlets in seventeeth-century Japan, but this house was designed and built in 1954, and assembled in MoMA’s courtyard in NYC. Even though there are no nails in its construction, I thought there might be utility plugs hidden away somewhere for use by someone.
I did not want to ask if there were outlets, because I was afraid that the answer to "excuse me, is there an outlet around?" would be "HA HA HA, YOU IDIOT! SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY JAPANESE HOUSES DIDN’T HAVE POWER OUTLETS."
“But I thought maybe you wanted to vacuum?” I pictured myself asking, followed by them guffawing in my face: “HO HO HO YOU FOOL! SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY JAPANESE HOUSES HAD NO VACUUM CLEANERS!!!“
So I didn’t ask. We sat on the veranda, smelling the sun on the cedar, the sweet-hay smell of the Tatami mats, and enjoying the shade under the deep eaves:
I worked as long as I could on my mostly-charged battery. Finally, when the last ounce of battery juice was gone, we started packing up, and struck up a conversation with Prudence, the friendly executive director of the house. I got comfortable enough to ask:
"Say, there’s no, you know… power jacks or anything hidden around here, are th…"
I was so afraid that I was about to get ridiculed, I trailed off.
"Oh, power outlets? Sure! You were sitting on one!" she said.
"Ha ha ha", I agreed shamefacedly. It was a stupid question, and I felt silly for asking. I’m not surprised she answered sarcastic —
"No, seriously, you were sitting on one!" she said. She cheerfully pointed at a teeny tiny little metal dealie in the floor, which clearly (I thought) was a part of the door hardware:
We all stared at it.
Jon Bettscher slowly reached down and twisted the little tiny middle of the dealie — a metal disk the size of a quarter.
Two familiar little slots appeared.
BECAUSE OF MY FEAR OF GETTING LAUGHED AT, I had spent two hours carefully marshalling my laptop battery. Dimming the screen to the point where I could barely read my screen. Composing only short emails, and using only antialiased fonts, to conserve electrons.
ALL WHILE I WAS LITERALLY — literally, as in "my bottom was touching it" — LITERALLY SITTING ON TOP OF THE POWER OUTLET.
I bet there’s a life lesson in here somewhere.
Too bad I’m too afraid of looking like an idiot to ask what it is.