Faint Etchings

Tue, 10/30/2012 - 7:25am

We continue to work our way through October, this month alternately filled with glorious warming sunshine and soul sucking gray. It has been lengthened by an hour with the moving of “fall back” into November, the only calendar segment that needs more hours.

There are increasingly few things that unite us. The list of divisive topics, especially in this election year when we cannot believe people we know are saying out loud the things they are saying, out loud, is long.

Then there is Verizon, our remaining unifier.

Last Friday night the green light on my modem, the little black box that connects me to the world, flickered then went dark. It came back on a bit later when I  was distracted by a late phone call, at a time I expect it to be my niece in Michigan or one of the handful of people who know it is rarely too late to call me.

I thought of answering “do you know what time it is?!” but it’s a little hard to pull off indignation when I was very much up and awake.

“Are you watching the storm?”

I was horrified to have to admit that I was not. I was up, the lights were on, I was hearing thunder but it was distant, a slow boil far, far away, and I was in the midst of sorting files against the distraction of a rerun of a late night television show that I can view only the next day on line (amazing how little one misses not having eight hundred television stations). When it was closer I would disconnect the phone and electrical lines.

The storm was not closer than I realized, but we were somehow immersed in it, surrounded by it on all sides and it seemed a good time to disconnect all those lines before going upstairs and pulling back even the sheer curtains to watch the strange and magnificent show that was illuminating the landscape with that peculiar hard bright light that has none of the softening warmth of the sun. I thought of my mother always warning of being on the phone when lightning flashed – and the strikes in the neighborhood that did damage elsewhere seemed here to gain entry only through the phone and cable lines – but I was on a cell phone so I put aside that dictate.

It was a different kind of show, chains of lightning off in the distance were little more than faint etchings on the fleetingly golden sky. The light touched the white tops of the waves cresting before crashing on the Mansion Beach and flashed day on the ocean. Lightning is not so different from rainbows out over the wide Atlantic, it dominates the sky and is visible in a way it may not be where trees and buildings push into the view.

A day later a visitor who had once lived out on the Colorado prairie spoke of seeing storms far out across the land, of rain in the sky that never fell to earth, of the vistas as open as the sea. There, there was no falling off the face of the earth horizon, rather faraway mountains rising to touch the sky.

The next morning, briefly, the phone worked, then the little green lights again went dark and the phone was loaded with static before going dead with a deafening silence. Calling from another line I got the usual “go to Verizon.com,” which, of course, I could not because my phone line was down and with it my internet. It is not even that it does not work at the moment, it is the idea that it will be out for days that is upsetting.

I have learned — this has been going on for years – how to break through all the menus, and then to preface any conversation with a live person with “please look at my record” which always prompts the same reaction: “oh.”

It is a conspiracy, I finally told the nice man on the other end of the phone, one who had never heard of Block Island before he started working this job that required him to answer the calls from disgruntled customers. They tell us Verizon wirelesss and Verizon are separate entities, but I do not believe them and I feel my cell phone minutes evaporating.

They have a new company line, one I heard twice this past weekend. “No other provider is willing to provide service to Block Island...” followed by dire predictions of already degraded lines further disintegrating until they fall off the poles and lie on the ground, useless and lifeless. We have weather I am told and weather wreaks havoc on phone lines and I foolishly – because I know better, this on not my first conversation with The Phone Company – respond that we do not have these same trouble with electricity.

Perhaps  this is one of these unidentifiable costs buried in the power company financials, this payola to The Phone Company, the old making one utility look better in comparison ploy which, on a dark night in October when the phone is dead but the lights still come on when I flick the switch, does not seem that far-fetched.

Then I hear about the submarine transmission line and the difficulties inherent in it and I have a moment of objecting to the inanity of the concept before my brain kicks in and I find myself telling this guy north of Boston that we have microwave, we have had microwave since 1958, and where the mainland tower was then and is now and I begin to imagine there are some special crazy lady notes on my record.

The phone is working, fixed soon after the weekend, about the time I became accustomed to not having it. They have bigger, fancier trucks but I have to wonder if the workers have available to them any more resources than that one telephone man who came here to tend the new microwave in 1958.