August 1, 2015

My So-Called Internet Connection

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Comcast changed its name to Xfinity (why?) a long time ago, but I still think of them as Comcast. Or more often, “Fucking Comcast.” For purposes of this narrative the company shall remain Comcast. Expletives may or may not be deleted.

Several months ago Comcast began pushing a new and faster modem that would enhance our Internet experience a hundred fold (not exactly their words.) And entirely free! I showed Gwen, who knows something about just about everything my third notification for this miracle modem and asked her what she thought.

“Is there anything wrong with the modem you use now?” she asked.

“No, it works just fine.”

“Well, then.”

“Maybe I’ll just have one sent to me—since they’re free—but I don’t have to use it.”

“Well don’t try to fix what’s not broken,” she said, although significantly she did not wash her hands. She still has to live across the street from me.

The modem arrived. I put it in a closet and there it sat for weeks.  Then my computer started behaving erratically. In an effort to act like I understood computers, I made several of what have since become known as “unauthorized visits to the control panel.”  Predictably, things got worse.

Gwen gave me the better part of two afternoons trying to figure out what was going on, even though her expertise is with Macs. (And by the way, I get tired of Mac owners who say, “I don’t ever have problems with my Mac.” But I get even more tired of hearing, “Oh I let my husband handle all that.” Gwen, for the record, doesn’t say either.) She took my PC back and forth from my house to her house trying to ascertain if my problem was with the computer or with the network. Results inconclusive. But Gwen said “Oh for Pete’s sake” several times which is tantamount to anyone else saying, “FUCK it!” and kicking the dog so I thanked her for all her help, support and time and released her.

My former neighbor, David who used to work at Microsoft came over and fiddled for an afternoon with the computer. He left it installing the 135 updates it had somehow overlooked although events were to show that I had scrubbed away those updates by running a registry cleaner too often and at the wrong times for the wrong reasons. This is something I am able to do without even going into the control panel.

Meantime, my friend Mike, computer geekus and husband of Susan, the wittiest woman I know and my copy editor, said he would be happy to install the new modem for me. At the weekend after my lovely four days on Whidbey amongst deer, birdsong and people who live off the grid in a yurt, Susan and Mike came over. As it happened, it was that first awful weekend when it was in the high nineties and garden tomatoes turned red overnight. Susan brought a bag of mint leaves and we made mojitos and sat in front of the fan while Mike installed the modem.

Comcast says “all you have to do is plug it in,” but I don’t know of a single case where it was that easy. On this hot afternoon it took several hours and five phone calls. At some point during each phone call Mike made a speech to the cretin on the other end: “I am using a cell phone since the phone service is dis-connected and when you put me on hold, I am forced to pay for extra minutes.”

“Is he upset?” I asked Susan.

“No,” she said. “He does that all the time. He loves it.”

It was a hot, miserable day but there’s a glow of mojitos (I had four) around my memory of it. Gwen came over before we ran out of rum and I thought how nice it was to be among friends and to have Susan take over the making of the mojitos. I drank and smiled at my friends.

After the new and improved modem was installed, I could no longer stream movies. I could only send emails when I caught the server in a good mood. I lost my connection over and over. “Connection has timed out” and “Server not found–” I saw those screens a lot.

I called Comcast. I am always sorry when I do this. So, I think, are the customer service people who have to talk to me. This call began as usual by my asking the person on the other end of the call to please speak more slowly. That was the end of civility on my end. She led me around my computer trying this and that and as her accent thickened and her wpm increased, my frustration rose until every other thing she said to me was “Ma’am, please stop crying. I am trying to help you.”

Finally she passed me on to someone in Nebraska who spoke slowly. He hacked into my computer and ran circles around me while I fanned myself, blew my nose and calmed down. Finally he said that there was something wrong with the modem. He gave me a reference number and told me to swap out the current piece of crap at the Comcast store.  I said I wanted my bill to reflect that I’d been a week without the internet service I was paying for. He said he’d make a note.

There were email consults amongst Gwen, David, Mike and now Joan, my friend with the theological chops who is also a computer geekess. I took the computer to Joan’s house so she could see what might be going on apart from the modem situation. She had bronchitis and her asthma had kicked up and she was having trouble breathing but she took in my computer. So she’s also a saint. She noodled around while I sat quietly. (Gwen has taught me to do this.)

Finally she looked up. “Have you done something with the security?”

“A little,” I said. “The customer service with the piercing voice made me do it and I was crying so hard we didn’t finish.”

Joan kept my computer for three days. I had visiting rights so I could look at my email. Meantime I ordered the new modem and scheduled someone to come out and install it. Comcast service people were —not surprisingly—backed up nearly two weeks.

“You’re going to adjust my bill for the three weeks I won’t have had internet service, aren’t you?”

It took them five minutes to decide they would “make a note of it.”

Finally I went Zen. I get impatient with people who can’t let their cell phone take a message but I am just as obsessive with email and it was humbling to find this out. As soon as I came to grips with the knowledge that I am not so important that I have to answer emails within a minute of their arriving I became a calmer (and better) person. I learned that among my friends and acquaintances are people who look at their email once a day. That’s it.  I didn’t think it could be done.

On the other hand I am from a generation that not only didn’t grow up with answering machines, our phones were on a party line with neighbors. Not only did we not have to respond to every ring, not every call was even for us. It is possible to live at one’s own convenience, not to say one’s ability to cope. I started walking every day. I dug out the Brahms Intermezzo I have been working on for 100 years and started every day with it. I read for longer periods of time. I was in the garden more, I puttered around the house more, I sang more. I wasn’t as tired at the end of the day.

I was teaching my watercolor class the day the new modem was to be installed. We were painting under the lilacs when two trucks arrived.

“Wow, they’ve sent two of them,” I commented.

“For their own protection,” said Kay, my student and smart-ass friend.

They stayed an hour, installed a new modem, spliced something and messed around with The Signal. When they left I was no better off than when they came. I still couldn’t stream, still couldn’t do email. Joan decided the problem had always been the signal. She made an appointment with Comcast for three days hence and told me she would be there for it. Joan was by now not just breathing more easily, she was breathing on and polishing her sainthood.

My Comcast bill arrived. It was a bill for a full month’s service plus the service call to install the second modem. I called billing and explained as calmly as I could that I expected the bill to reflect the fact that I hadn’t had internet service from June 27 to July 14.

“That’s no problem, ma’am,” said a reasonable voice.

Her reasonableness sounded like complacency and it set me off.

“Yes, it is a problem,” I said. “This is the third time I have called about my bill. Either I’m not being listened to or I’m being ignored.”

She spent ten minutes researching my account. She told me that she had put through a credit and it would show up on my next bill.

Here’s where we are as of this writing. I have not gotten that adjusted bill yet. I string a 25 foot ethernet cord across my living room when I want to stream a movie. Joan and Gwen–independently of each other (as far as I know)– both commented that I did not have a personality compatible with computers. The next call I make to an IP is going to be to Century Link. And that yurt is looking really good right now.

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