Tuesday afternoon we had an intense, dramatic, kickass thunderstorm. It pummeled my plants and knocked out electricity all over town--and, it seems, my phone service.
When I noticed the problem, I called the phone company from my cell phone, who said that the diagnostic tests they ran revealed that the line was fine, so it was probably a problem with my house, and I should unplug all my phones from the phone jack and the electricity, leave them unplugged for five minutes, and then plug them back in and see if they start working, which seemed like bullshit to me but I did it anyway.
That didn't help, so then they told me to test a plain old phone that I knew worked at the "gray box" outside. Turns out I don't have a gray box outside; I have a gray box inside my basement, and it took me forever to find it. But find it I did, and I plugged a regular old phone into the test jack, and heard nothing, which meant it was the phone company's problem, and they'd have to fix it.
I informed someone of this, and he said, "Well! We're very sorry. That's very odd. Everything should be working fine. But we'll send someone out to fix the problem--on Saturday."
Now, because I have a cell phone, I could live without a land line--people do it all the time--but my internet service is through my phone, so I was not connected to the world. I couldn't check my email. I couldn't blog. I couldn't google anything, damnit! I couldn't look at the weather forecast. It SUCKED.
It sucked all the more because I had originally planned to spend the week at home, completing a couple of big projects. I work from home a lot, and I need to check my email and google stuff--at home--for my work. But eventually I went to the public library, which has free wireless, so I could at least see if I'd received any important email and update my Netflix queue.
And then Saturday rolled around, and some guy named Tim showed up to restore my phone service. Because my gray box is inside, he had to come into the house, and when he first showed up, he was friendly and polite, and wanted to chat a little. That was fine. Several houses in the neighborhood were for sale; we talked about the real estate market, blah blah blah, after I showed him the box in the basement. I went upstairs to wash dishes and he went to work on diagnosing the problem, etc. He spent about five minutes downstairs--and then he came upstairs and asked me what I do for a living.
I told him I'm a writer and an English professor; he told me he never did well in English, he majored in engineering; he liked nonfiction. I said I liked nonfiction too, that it was the main thing I studied, and that I also liked history. He said he liked military history; I said I did too, etc etc. Then I had to hear all about his years in the army, as well as all sorts of details about his daughter the supply sergeant. He spent 20 minutes in my house, telling me about this crap. My patience started to wear thin. I started to hope he'd just get out of my house and fix my phone and go the hell away.
Finally he went outside to fix stuff; then he had to come back in and put my gray box back together. And when he came in, he was on the phone with his wife--why he couldn't stay outside until he was done talking to her is beyond me--and then he had to tell me about the conversation. And then he said, "You know how I was talking about how I like history? I wanted to show you a book that's the most important history book I've ever read. I wish I had discovered it years ago. It has helped me understand things I never got before."
And he opened this zippered bag and pulls out some book on Jesus.
So I handed him A History of God by Karen Armstrong, but he wasn't interested in that, because in addition to a cross, on the cover was the star of David and the moon of Islam.
And he stood there and told me how great this book was, on and on, and about all the other books on religion he has read, and the church he goes to, and I just wasn't going to go there. Finally he ran out of things to tell me about, so he went downstairs and repaired whatever he needed to repair.
And then he came back up and spent another 20 minutes telling me about his educational history and about his son's plans for college and about how people he finds that people tend to remember, for years, perhaps because he has "good people skills."
I kept thinking, "At what point do I tell this guy he has to leave? He's boring me out of my mind and I've got shit to do." But he clearly thought this was a very interesting conversation, and he was a good-natured guy so I didn't want to insult or embarrass him. But I did feel my hospitality had been abused. I'd engaged in some polite conversation with the guy when he first showed up just to be nice, just to be friendly, but that didn't mean I wanted to discuss my career with him, or hear about how much he admired Jesus.
Finally the technique of nodding and smiling when he said something but not adding anything to the conversation worked, in that it convinced him to move to the front door, where it still took another five minutes to actually get him out the door--he had to remind me again who wrote the book on Jesus, and tell me about his attitudes towards various social issues, and wish me luck for the future, etc.
I was very glad to have my phone service restored, but I want to say that the repair was not free; I paid very dearly for Tim's repair work. I have thought about calling Verizon to complain about Tim but I know it would astonish him and hurt him--he really thought it was nice conversation. I just hope I never see him again myself.