Stepping into the hotel, it was like being dropped into a truly alien world. Nothing shiny, no excess of glass and marble. A simple dark wooden reception desk, a clerk in black with a white vest. A bow upon approaching. Your room is simple, no internet, a single light on a small desk. A tatami mat in the corner. A hard wired phone. And you know, in the distance, the Daibutsu awaits you in the morning. Here there is no CNN International, nothing that isn’t Japanese. Your computer is essentially useless, a fax machine in the office for emergencies. And the nearest business center, sorry closed, is in the city. The Internet is coming soon, they promise . But on your morning run, as you catch your breath on the step outside the Todai-ji Daibutsu-den, a deer comes up to you and licks your face and you know this morning Daibutsu is smiling.
It will be easy, he says, you just
fish a wire down inside the wall,
find the hole you cut, put in
the box and wire it up,
no big deal at all, easy really.
She grimaced immediately,
then turned away from him to sigh,
for she knew that any time a man
decided something was easy,
no big deal, a day or more was gone.
He was convinced he could
do the job simply, save money
with his efforts and at first
it seemed to go well enough,
but that was only at first of course.
Three hours later, little progress
made, but much mess created
she smiled, stroked his back,
handed him his cell phone
and the electricians business card.
At some point in each call
to a customer service representative,
or worse still technical assistance
which is a painful oxymoron
in and of itself, I pause and wonder
how the conversation might go
if I could reach through
the ether of the phone
and grab the script.
Would the voice on the other end
suddenly become attached
to a person, ripped
from its computer home?
Would that person engage
in pleasantries for a bit
before telling me that I should
go to the website where
I will inevitably learn that
there is nothing they can
or will do for me? And why
is a call to my local doctor
garbled, but my computer
voice in India is crisp, clear
if never fully intelligible?
We sit in the waiting room,
for we have grown accustomed
to waiting for so many things,
not wanting to rush a life that
appears ever more finite in duration.
We stare at our phones, struggling
to see, to help bide the time, an irony
not lost for we are here because
our vision is problematic or worse.
Erasmus said the one-eyed man
is King in the land of the blind,
and many here hope for that
period of regency before they, too
become common citizens
of a land they hoped never to see.
We live in the cell phone age
and there are hidden advantages
that the young, exchanging
last year’s model for this,
will never fully understand
until they, too, are much older.
With the push of a button,
held in for five seconds,
the phone will go off at night,
and since no one any longer
has a landline, you are assured
that no one will drag you
from sleep to announce
they are able to extend
the warranty on a car you
sold two years ago,
or to say that a friend
or relative has died,
and denying death night hours
is the closest thing
you can do to feel that you
are in control of anything.
The phone is again ringing,
and the odds say it is someone
who wants to extend my warranty
on the car I no longer own,
or to lower my credit card interest
though I never carry a balance,
or to help me fix my computer if I
just hand over control to them.
I won’t answer this time, almost
never do unless I know the caller
and want to speak to them,
robocalls, despised as they are
do provide a convenient excuse
not to speak to the long lost friend
who only needs a short term loan,
or the charity always wanting more.
Many want the government to act,
to ban or limit these calls, and I
agree, but be prepared to answer
when I call about the money you promised.
It’s Sunday, so I know, before long
I will have the nagging thought
that I should call my mother.
I’ve had this thought for years,
once acted upon it with regularity,
listened patiently for her weekly
list of things I needed to help her with,
since I never visited to do the work
with her standing over my shoulder.
I stopped the calls four years ago
because the dead make few demands,
and she didn’t bother to answer
except in the darkest hour
of my dreams.
She says you should not put
all of your eggs in one basket.
I remind her that I’m not
terribly fond of eggs, and only
rarely have more than one, and
in any event, I keep them in
the refrigerator to avoid spoilage.
She says, so why is it we
have no TV, no phone, no Internet,
tell me that, wiseguy.
I steer away from eggs and baskets
and simply respond, because
we have yet again been stranded
on that barren, fruitless island
known to all, hated by them, as Comcast.
We both shrug our shoulders
in resignation to our fate.
You must be home now,
or somewhere you can answer
my call, and the busy signal
or disembodied voice, purporting
to be you can only mean that this
very moment if you are calling me
the busy signal or disembodied voice
purporting to be me is giving you
a momentary frustration rivaling my own.
This must be the state of the world
for otherwise you failure to answer
could mean but one thing, and I
can no more accept the preposterous idea
that you might actually be speaking
to someone else rather than awaiting
my call with bated breath, and
certainly not that you are sleeping,
your phone switched off, never mind
that where you are, it is well past midnight.