Lucy was watching the commercials side-on, as she was wont to do. She liked to watch them this way, usually while chopping onions or potatoes for family dinner, to see what they were really selling. Commercials, if looked at straight-on, sold things like the latest cars, phones, and colognes (usually all with an attractive and exotic model someplace rugged that those things weren’t really needed). But, if one looked at them indirectly, they revealed what they were actually selling: a dirty word that started with society and ended with values.
She was in the process of finely dicing her onions for the cheese sauce when the commercial break started. She glanced at the TV to see a middle-aged woman much like herself. Most commercials, or at least the ones that didn’t use models, employed people who looked a lot like her. It had to do with work: middle-aged women did most of what she thought of as the C-work (cooking, cleaning, chaperoning, and clothing the family) (if C-work happened to make her think of the C-word, well, she suspected she wouldn’t be the first to make that connection). Because middle-aged women did most of the C-work, they did most of the shopping necessary for that work, which was of course work itself. Lucy was gratified to be recognized as the one with buying power, but she was also gratified to see commercials by inchmeal starting to include men doing the C-work.
This middle-aged woman was wheeling her green bin out to the curb of her suburban street. Lucy was placing her bet on this turning into a car commercial. Maybe an electric one, just to change things up a bit. She focused on her onions again, and when she glanced back up at the screen the suburb had grown dark, an apparent freak storm. The raindrops were big and fat, and croaked sadly when they hit the ground. They were toads, Lucy realized with a shock. A rain of toads! Or perhaps a deluge, as all along the suburban street lights were going out. The woman watched the storm knock out her power resignedly. Was this supposed to be a common occurrence?
A toad landed on the woman’s green bin, and she looked at it, and said, “I just don’t understand why my solar panels can’t power my house during a power outage.” The toad croaked.
Lucy realized she had stopped chopping her onions, and set down her knife. Dinner could wait a moment.
The screen froze on the image of the woman facing the toad, and a man’s voice said, “We’ve all been there.” Lucy wondered if she was about to have solar power mansplained to her, but then thought that whoever had made this commercial probably had access to information she didn’t. Maybe a direct line to God, or at least good drugs, because who had been through a rain of toads?
The woman and toad disappeared, replaced with a diagram of a house with solar panels. The narrator said, “If you're an environmentally conscious earthling, chances are you live in a house much like this one.”
Lucy did. She’d had solar panels put on several years ago, with the help of a nice little government rebate, and only thought of them to brag about them to friends, family, and strangers. It was gratifying, except during power outages when her neighbour Gary took the chance to brag about his generator.
The diagram focused on the solar panels, showing rays of sunlight being absorbed. “Energy from the sun is absorbed by solar panels, and then transformed into alternating current, which is usable by your appliances. Any power not used by your appliances is sent into your electric grid.” The diagram showed electricity flowing to a refrigerator and the power lines at the appropriate places in the narrator’s explanation.
Alright, basic but clear, thought Lucy. Now where do the toads come in, and why am I being called an Earthling.
“When the electric grid goes out, so does your power, even that created by your solar panels.” The sun on the diagram was covered by clouds, and toads began to fall from the sky. All the electricity stopped. “Since your solar panels are linked directly to the power grid, they cannot work when the grid is off. This is meant to protect any power technicians - and toads - who might be near power lines.” The diagram was replaced by a young Asian power technician holding a toad. The technician nodded in solemn gratitude.
“We at Earth Power have a solution to this.” The screen switched back to the diagram, which zoomed in on a new part; to Lucy, it just looked like a black box on the side of the house. “Introducing: the Earth Power Pack! This is a battery designed to save energy generated by your solar panels. This energy can be used when solar panels cannot supply power, such as during the night.” The diagram showed the moon, and power moving from the battery to the fridge.
“The Earth Power Pack can also be used to power your home during a power outage, because it acts as a wall between the energy generated by your solar panels and the power grid. This means that you can use your solar panels without excess energy being sent into the power grid.”
The diagram flipped to the power technician, who said, “Thanks, Earth Power!” It flipped to the woman, who was now inside her powered house watching her children playing in the toad rain. “Thanks, Earth Power!” she said. Lucy couldn’t be sure, but she thought one of the children had antennae.
The screen flipped to the Earth Power logo. Then the commercial was over, and a model was wandering an abandoned and rocky beach. Lucy watched for a moment, then turned back to her onions.
That had been… strange. What exactly had that commercial been selling? The Earth Power Pack, yes, and environmental consciousness. It was the toads Lucy couldn’t figure out. Were they part of selling environmental consciousness? Or some sort of biblical angle? And what about that ‘Earthling’ language? And the child with antennae? Was it all simply meant to be funny, to make the commercial viral? Whatever the case, Lucy added purchasing an Earth Power Pack to her to-do list. Gary wouldn't be the only one bragging the next time the neighbourhood had an outage.