Slow Dialing

Thu, 03/11/2021 - 5:15pm

A year ago the Town Council was still meeting in the Town Hall. Someone had left glasses months previous, they had been sitting on the little table just inside the Council Chamber, waiting to be claimed for some time.

I had been sick for the better part of February last year, really, horribly sick only for the very end of January and very start of February. Whatever it was then settled into an odd sinus congestion that never kept me from sleeping but left me groggy until early afternoon and left me with something I had never experienced, clogged ear tubes. It wasn’t even that I couldn’t hear, it was very particular things that were suddenly silenced, such as the seat belt signal then the blinkers clicking in my car.

Then, the fear around me was the flu, not the pandemic we seemed to still think would wear itself out on the West Coast. I went to the doctor, less to have confirmed that I would just have to wait for the tubes behind my eardrums to drain of their own accord, more so I could assure people I did not have the flu, hoping it would stop them from telling me I did.

I re-joined the living in late February. A year ago, as what would be one of our last in-person Council meetings, I tried on those glasses, without a second thought of who had last handled them, my mind only on the possibility that similar frames would suit my yet to be ordered new lenses, and I took a few photos to carry to the eye doctor. A few days later, virtually — a word that has since taken on a singular meaning — without notice leadership at Harbor Church decided we had to halt in-person services; a week later the Council was voting on an emergency ordinance, trying to stem the flow of travel including workers on the cusp of gearing up for the summer. The level of cooperation from the vast majority of people living here was extraordinary.

Of course, we saw the But Nothing Bad Can Happen on Block Island Syndrome that is evidenced every summer, the carefree attitude that makes us want to hand gold stars to the parents who tell their children to “STOP” and take their hands before crossing a busy street, go into over-drive. As much as our first case of Covid-19 shut things down, leaving us having to call or email in grocery orders, as the numbers stayed low, it was almost a relief to be able to respond to “But you don’t have it out here” with “Not much, and we want to keep it that way.”

A year later, I might hesitate to pick up those glasses although not the way I would have several months ago. We seem to be at least thinking of the future with less of the uncertainty that was the worst of last spring.

We made it through a best-of-times, worst-of-times summer, the same weather that allowed open doors and windows, the unusual east wind that blew off thousands of miles of open ocean, the sunny days that were both our salvation and a great draw for those of that exacerbated Nothing Bad Can Happen outlook.

Time has proven, again, to be an elusive commodity, this past year a lifetime and a flash.

Late yesterday I fell into the time-eater that is social media, reading laments of people who had spent the day re-dialing, trying to reach the boat company to secure a car reservation. As always, I wonder if that constant re-dialing, hundreds if not thousands of time, is throwing a wrench into the phone system, gobbling up air space as well as time.

It is always startling the changes I have seen, from my earliest memories of telephone calls placed only through an operator, to direct dial — only the last four digits on Block Island for a very long time — to direct dial to the mainland and across the country, which might as well be the same thing.

I kept the old rotary until it gasped and shuddered, even as I added a second line for my “real” phone. Still, there is a hard-wired landline I refuse to answer, and keep only as one more holdover from the days electricity was not as reliable as it is today. In the way of people who embrace technology slowly, I managed to completely by-pass a portable, electricity-reliant, phone and went straight to a cell.

Still, I occasionally think “why can I remember my childhood friend’s phone number but not what I had for lunch yesterday?” is a dated question, based on dialing a number, slowly, having to waiting for the wheel to return home before starting not a redial, but the next digit, instead hitting a contact’s name.

Time to breathe, to think, and even an immediate redial after hearing a busy signal demanded a pause to let the phone line clear.

I never did get to the mainland for those new glasses.