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Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.

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High voltage

  I just wish somebody would have said, “Blackie, here’s your sign” …

Bet you can see all of Orlando from here! exclaims Screen Two.

“Maybe not all of it,” I say with a laugh. “But this is the roof to Bank of America, and their 30-story building is among the city’s tallest.”

I am not contemplating a heist. I am, according to my impatient boss, switching out the tired transformer of a huge neon sign.

Or you soon will be, says Four, if your boss stays long enough to explain the process.

But Steve has errands elsewhere. “What’s to understand?” he barks. “Just pull the old unit and put in the new!” He, slightly older than I, is a good guy until he is running late.

“Wait!” I shout at his fleeing back. “I’ve never wired a sign like this. Ever.”

My boss stops and sighs in that heavy-handed manner one might use with an overtired child who fights climbing into bed. “Blackie,” he grunts, anybody can do this.” He hands me an unfamiliar tool and we climb adjoining eight-foot ladders.

As we peer in at the transformer can and its surrounding setup, Steve lectures in that same voice. “Make sure the voltage is off. Wire up the 330-volt leads to this side” – he points left – “and the 3000-volt leads to that.”

Did he just say three thousand volts? asks Six in excitement. Now we are talking!

Tasting electricityFlashing through my head are just a few of the many times in my life I have “tasted” electricity. Most of the mishaps involve 110 volts. Twice I’ve briefly absorbed 220.

Yes, you did, agrees Six, but this is 330 volts. Compared to the household 110 you “tasted” before, this is a seven-course meal.

“And if 330 volts make me hop and dance,” I wonder aloud, “what will three thousand do?”

“Relax, already,” shushes Steve, electricity expert. “Volts don’t kill you, amps do.”

Amps, volts, watts – ask Steve if human flesh and bones go poof! when that kind of juice flows through them, urges Screen Five, but my boss just disappears. I fear doing the same.

“Guys,” I query my screens, “do you remember which side has the higher voltage?”

Well, no, answers One. But it is clear this transformer can only be wired in one of two ways. If the first does not work, the second will.

“Hey, good point. I have a 50 percent chance of being right on the very first try.”

Surprising me, Three – who is not technical at all – repeats: Make sure the voltage is off.

I reach for what appears to be the “kill switch” –

Hope the thing being “killed” isn’t you, jokes Three, canceling the kindness of his timely reminder moments ago.

– but find my left hand unable to complete its task. The current being emitted somehow “paralyzes” my arm, freezing my fingers in claw-like uselessness. I climb down off the ladder, take deep breaths and radio Steve. Exasperated, he shouts, “The 330 line is on the left. Have that wired by the time I return.”

Back up the ladder again, I lean forward, thrust my hand through the pulsing field of electricity and snap off the switch.

[Editor’s sad spoiler note: Blackie is about learn that, despite the high energy swirling about, the transformer already is off. He actually switches it back on.]

disintegrateI apply the tool to the 330-volt side. Teeth vibrate. Eyes bounce. Ears wiggle. Toes writhe.

Let … go … of … that … wire, begs Three as I twitch. Seeing I cannot, he puns, Ohm … sweet … ohm.

Nobody in the restaurant one floor below recognizes my vocal emissions as being human. Muscle control so quickly exits that I cannot flip the transformer switch back to “off,” where it had been from the get-go.

Bellows Six, React first! Damage control later! Unable to turn my head and select a landing spot six feet below, I dive backward, the only way to escape the electrified ladder.

When I regain consciousness, my body is on fire beneath the sizzling Orlando sun. Suggests Five, Sure it is solar rays that cook you?

Sitting up is impossible. Motion sickness sweeps through me. Every taste is metallic. I roll to my right and mash my face against something equally metallic and very hot. Then all goes quiet.

When I awaken this time, I am able to sit up, nothing more. Nauseated, I gaze upon a dozen, four-foot-tall, wicked-looking spikes that surround me.

Where are we? asks Two. And what are these things?

Deduces Five, You back-flopped into the midst of the roof’s energy-diverting lightning rods. Perfect aim, too. A little left, a tad right, and you would be shish kabobbed.

Still-hustling Steve materializes in front of my dancing eyes. “You’re not done?” he asks in disbelief. “Why are you just sitting there?” He bends over the fallen ladder to pick up the scattered tools and wires.

Screen Six looks at Steve’s ample buns, surveys the pointed spikes and whispers, Oh, the possibilities.


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Postscript: I look out my farmhouse window and see a friend’s tot walking along the electric fence line that keeps the cows in. The child’s hand bops on and off the live wire in rhythm to his stride in the tall, wet grass.

“Stop!” I shout as I clear the doorway, and he freezes. Rushing to his side, I gasp, “This fence is ‘hot.'”

“Feels cold to me,” the five-year-old says.

“No, I mean you could get shocked just touching it.”

Rattlesnake-swift, he leans, grabs the wire, releases. “Nope.”

My jaw drops. “But I know for a fact” – and grab the wire.

Nice of you to bring a child such laughter, soothes Screen Two.

* * * * *

Surfing the seas on his cycle?