Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Cave Dwelling.

At least I still have electricity, I thought. Yes, I still have that.

I’m one those rugged, trailblazing, 21st century types who has cut the cord: I haven’t owned a phone with a land-line attachment for at least four years. It’s simply a matter of practicality: with cellular phone technology continually improving, the difference in sound quality is becoming less and less noticeable. Besides, the standard-line service I got from Ameritech in Columbus, Ohio (the last place I had it), was so wretched that it would take a complete fool to persist in it: long distance fees (what year do we live in?) and a $65 penalty just to relocate from one residence to another? Please. Someone threw a switch in an office to relocate my number, which I usually wasn’t even allowed to keep, and I’m charged as if a specialist came to my home and performed delicate work? That is, in a vulgar if beautifully descriptive word, bullshit.

So I’ve been Cordless Guy, dealing with the occasional dropped call and poor connection, because the alternative is plainly inferior: more expensive, exponentially less versatile, and a general pain in the ass. Why, exactly, should a person deal with a terrestrial account less flexible and more demanding than a cell phone can provide?

But cell-phone-only people take risks that land-line people don’t face, like, say, being the moron that takes his phone into the pool with him, because his swim trunks (inexplicably) have pockets that he might have put his phone into when he isn’t paying attention, before quickly and painfully realizing that said moron is suddenly without a functioning phone. Not that we’re talking about anyone in particular, mind you.

So I let it go that I had no phone for a bit. That’s not really a big deal: writers are, by nature, solitary and introverted types that can deal without the buzz of human contact, e.g. phone calls, for a significantly longer time than most others. It’s not as if anyone ever wrote War and Peace in the middle of a Russian vodka soiree. Writers, weirdly, like isolation. Shunning, the equivalent of the death penalty for the Amish and the Mennonites, by which an immoral individual becomes invisible to his peers, holds no power over us. The whole world can go away, but I’m still here.

And yet, we live in a world of practicalities, so I headed down last Sunday to the Suncom store to trade in my destroyed phone for a new one. They were closed, because they’re closed on Sunday. You might ask why I didn’t call ahead to verify their hours: because I didn’t have a functioning phone.

I could have looked their hours up online, but an electrical storm the Thursday after I murdered my phone took out my home Internet access: I had no phone, and I had no Net.

Moreover, during this troubling period, I managed to overdraw my bank account, which is a topic of no small contention, and yet one for another day. So I had no web, no money, and no phone to protest any of the prior two conditions. Christ almighty, when a fella’ is being beaten down, one of the most sincere avenues of release he can hope for is protest, and I didn’t even have that. No phone. No Net. No money—no voice.

As I walked that mile to the store, in the blazing Summer heat, because I sold my car shortly before I moved here and the bicycle I replaced it with died three months later, I couldn’t help but lament just how broken everything in my life had become. Rivulets of sweat were pouring down my face so I could walk in 98 degrees with the heat index at 110 to pay a $129-plus-tax penalty for being stupid, as the legendary Gas Guy once said. And what was coming next? Phone calls to my bank, my phone company, and my ISP to pick fights with them for ripping me off. Can a person really look forward to this? Can anybody in the business world play fair anymore? Is grad school in a neo-hip little town on the Atlantic coast and a master’s degree worth living like a dog?

And so imagine, so long as your imagination contains some truly filthy words, my reaction to this store being closed when I arrived. The force of the f-bombs would have left Little Boy, or whatever that demented horse’s ass Paul Tibbets named the thing he dropped on Hiroshima, aglow with envy. As I made my way back home, the swirling heat and anger slam-dancing in my brain were calling for blood, but actually needing something soothing—deeply, deeply calming, like a housefire craving wood and souls but needing water. We were clearly going to have to haul out some of the big guns today. I picked up my slowly yellowing copy of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, v.1, sixth edition. George Herbert was going to talk me down from this ledge:

I struck the board and cried, “No more;
I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My life and lines are free, free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I still be in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it,
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink, and would not see.
Away! take heed;
I will abroad.
Call in thy death’s head there; tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.”
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Methoughts I heard one calling, Child !
And I replied, My Lord.

And I realized that my breathing had slowed a bit and that the reflections of a conflicted seventeenth century Anglican clergyman had restored some measure of perspective on the kind of day I was having: the world is bigger than me and my troubles. The last two lines of The Collar reminded me that there is a bigger picture, a larger world to which I owe service, and that in this panoramic view a bad day and a row with the utilities companies are, really, just that and nothing more.

And I think that’s why everybody has a George Herbert, or a Bible, or a Bhagavad Gita, or Tao te Ching, or long walks or night skies—those moments of perfection that remind us that we are an infinitesimally tiny part of a grand cosmic whole, a bit player in a universally majestic drama. It is in these better moments, and not in the heat and bustle of plans and self-importance, that we realize how silly we must be to curse at locked doors at the Suncom store as if the doors could hear it and care, or to revel in the importance of our transient opinions, or to glory in the presence of or lament the want of material things that we have or don’t. All these things are finite, locked in tiny slivers of a history rolling forward with the sweep and grandeur of a tide foaming onto the beaches of infinite reality. That’s something to be concerned with; breaking a sweat to replace my broken phone is, in the general hierarchy of concerns, a somewhat trivial matter.

But damn, if it isn’t still hot outside.


Blogger Nightcrawler said...

Great post... I feel your pain. Have you ever noticed how when one thing goes wrong, an entire series of events is unleashed that amplifies the effects tremendously?

My moments of perfection come through watching my nephews play outside or spending some time with my wife playing games. Sometimes they come in the form of a movie the family can enjoy together and sometimes they are found in the rare instances that my wife and I crack open a few beers and play some drinking games. Many times, these moments come simply by losing myself in a great book or witnessing the hardship of others.

That was a great post. Here's to many more where that came from!

Tue Jul 26, 09:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Dublin Saab said...

I'm sorry to say you last at "phone-in-pool". I'm off to snicker now.

Wed Jul 27, 02:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Dublin Saab said...

That is lost me... Laughing too hard to type properly. Not that I ever could do all that well when I'm not laughing anyway.

Wed Jul 27, 02:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Hamel said...

My entire family thinks I'm nuts for not having a cell phone. But I tell them that, up here in Northern New Hampshire - and the valley we're in, in particular - I'm yet to meet someone who says "I can call anyone any time and have a clear connection."

That said, when I can make a call any time from anywhere - some have specific places they like to park for the best signal! - I'll join the 21st (or is it 20th) century.

On another note, last year I had to help a student use the phone in the hallway at school. It was a rotary, and the poor middle school kid stood looking at the thing, handset in hand, as if it was an electrified Rubic's Cube.

Wed Jul 27, 07:18:00 PM EDT  

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