Black box

BOOM. The crash of thunder jolts me out of a sound sleep. Oh shit, I mutter — there goes the DSL box.

There’s a qualitative difference between the thunder that accompanies cloud-to-cloud lightning and a cloud-to-earth strike. This was the latter: a heavy thudding crash with no echoes. And the kinds of storms that produce close strikes often sneak up quickly — just a few rumbles in the distance before a very close strike like this one. Of course, it isn’t quite as bad as it might be if the house weren’t tucked a little ways down into a hollow between two higher ridges. But we’re still less than a hundred feet below the ridgecrest, and the woods are filled with lightning-struck trees if you know how to recognize them.

I lie awake, listening to the rapidly receding rumbles: a small storm. But maybe another storm is on its way. I weigh the pros and cons of getting dressed and going up to my parents’ house in the driving rain to disconnect the magic black box that brings us — or used to bring us — high-speed internet. Closing the barn door after the horse got out, I think. It would only make me less likely to get a good night’s sleep. Hope doesn’t come easy to me.

But after half an hour or so, realizing that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep, I switch on my bedside lamp and get dressed. Only midnight! It felt as if I’d been sleeping for hours.

It’s a dark night, and for some reason I don’t feel like turning any other lights on. I like the dark. My feet feel their way up the driveway and across the slippery lawn where most of the snow has just melted off within the previous twenty-four hours. I pause at the front door to shed my shoes and set my umbrella down, then creep indoors like a cat burgler. My parents are away for the night, hence my need to look after the Plummer’s Hollow wireless network. I move through the dark farmhouse at almost normal speed, brushing the walls and doorjambs with the fingers of one hand. This is where I grew up — I could do this in my sleep. I think of the traditional blues verse:

I know my dog anywhere I hear him bark.
I can tell my rider if I feel her in the dark.

I do switch on the light in my dad’s study, squinting as I unplug everything, then gratefully return to the darkness. I guess I feel as if the darkness covers my guilt, somehow. I should have been following the weather forecasts!

Back in my own bed, I realize that sleep isn’t going to come anytime soon. I sit up and grab a book off the nightstand: Walking the Bible: A Journey By Land Through the Five Books of Moses, by Bruce Feilor. It’s a little simple-minded in parts, and the author periodically makes statements I strongly disagree with, but every time I think I’ve had enough, he comes out with another good insight, or tells another great story about an encounter with some modern-day religious fanatic, and I decide to keep reading. I read three chapters and start a fourth before I think I might be drowsy enough to give sleep another try. But I still lie awake for another couple of hours with a knot in my stomach.

By morning, I’m resigned to getting by without the internet for however long it will take us to replace the black box and go through the series of complicated steps necessary to reconstitute our little network: maybe a few days, maybe a week or two. I’ll catch up on my book reading. I’m sure both my blog readers will be able to find other things to entertain them for a while.

Glumly, I go back up to the other house to plug everything in again, on the off chance that the lighning strike didn’t disable our connection. I double-click on the Firefox icon and wait. Nope, nothing. Well, at least we should still be able to connect through the computer’s built-in modem, via dial-up — unless that too has been blown. But after ten minutes of searching through my dad’s computer, I give up, unable to find the right program.

It could be worse, I tell myself: a power blackout, for example, renders me incapable of writing altogether. It’s been so many years since I’ve composed on paper, I have trouble forming letters with a pen, and the lack of an ability to instantly erase or rearrange lines totally throws me. But before I give up for good, I click on the internet connection one more time, and suddenly there’s Google News.

It takes a few moments to sink in. September 11 Mastermind had Plans to Bomb Australia, I read. Hamas and Fatah Present New Government. Major Powers Close to Iran Sanctions Deal. I sit back in the chair with a heavy sigh. This knot in my stomach isn’t going away anytime soon.

12 Replies to “Black box”

  1. You do all this on a modem – where do you find the time ( and patience ) ?

    Glad nothing was fried. Was hoping for a thunderstorm here to precede the cold front and coming snow, but all we had was some gusty wind and now the gente rain.

  2. Zhoen – “Blessing” would be one word, yes.

    Laura – No, we have high speed. The “black box” in question isn’t strictly a modem, though I continue to call it that. It’s a DSL box from Verizon for access to a nearby fiber network node. I think I’ll change the wording of the second sentence to make that clearer.

  3. This post temporarily disappeared due to a WordPress bug that erroneously designates occasional posts as “private” during a routine re-publishing for an edit. Sorry for the confusion.

  4. I was just thinking the other day that if I were dying I would want someone to read me the news. That way I would feel less like staying than if they opened the curtains and just let me look outside. It’s a plug-in drug, those infernal blinking lights, connection addicts.

  5. May – Thanks! (Your reactions are as valuable as anyone else’s – don’t know why you’d think otherwise.)

    robin andrea – I think you’re even more cynical than I am, if that’s possible. I’m pretty sure I would not want the so-called news to be the last thing I heard before dying, but to each each her own.

    Did you hear the ad for Internet addiction therapy on today’s Prairie Home Companion? Cold turkey is the only way to go, they said. Sounds about right.

  6. I missed that PHC bit on Internet addiction. I so look forward to traveling, if only for the enforced unplugging. It’s also good to have a job to go to since I mostly feel compelled to stay off the web except to check email occasionally (okay, obsessively, but it takes up little time compared to most other online activities, eg blogging).

  7. Funny you should mention traveling. I’ve just been contemplating a lengthy summer road-trip with my brothers, and already feel a twinge of blog separation anxiety.

    That spot was near the beginning of the broadcast — sometime in the first twenty minutes, I’d say — if you want to try and listen to it online.

  8. It’s just that I don’t have a degree in writing.

    As regards traveling, you may find an internet cafè anywhere in the world. If only I could take a long break and see some more of the world. When I am 64…

  9. It’s just that I don’t have a degree in writing.

    Me neither.

    Yeah, I’m sure we’d check in on email and such on occasion, but I imagine that internet cafes are spread rather thinly where we’re planning on going (northern Canada and Alaska).

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