Saturday, November 18, 2017
I've checked to make sure, and have confirmed that the CenturyLink technical support and customer service departments are open until 5:00 pm EST, and it's still only noon in Minneapolis. Still, it's not until the third attempt at running the gauntlet of the automated response system that I get through to a live tech support representative, who announces herself as Emily.
"How can I help you?"
I've had plenty of time to rehearse this and know that my chances for success are best if I succinctly and accurately describe the precise problem.
I say: "CenturyLInk is our provider for both phone service and internet/television. But every time the phone rings or anytime we hang up the phone, both the television and internet go dark for 5 to 10 seconds before coming back on"
She says nothing for a moment. Then "yes?"
"Is there something we can do about it?" I say.
"I will put you on hold to find out," Emily says, "Remain on the line, please."
My I-phone timer tells me that 24 minutes now pass before Emily returns to the phone. "My technician wants to know if you have an RF filter installed."
"I have no idea," I say. "The internet service was installed about 4 months ago. Maybe the service guy installed one, but I don't know."
"There really needs to be an RF filter," Emily says, with a note of accusation in her voice. "Also, your phone and internet are listed as two separate accounts, on two separate DSL lines. They really should be just one."
"I thought so too, back when they installed things," I say. "But Century told me they couldn't merge them and had to install them as separate DSL lines."
"That's wrong," says Emily, again with the note of accusation as though I have steered this situation. "You need to call tech support, tell them to connect you to customer loyalty, and then tell customer loyalty that you need these two accounts merged."
"You ARE technical support," I say. "I just called tech support, and I'm already talking to you. Can't you just patch me through to customer loyalty?"
"I can't connect you," Emily says. "You have to call technical support back, and tell the next person you talk to that they need to connect you to the customer loyalty department."
I consider this for a moment. "But Emily," I say again. I've already called tech support, and that's why I'm talking to you. Why would calling the same number again help?"
"Not NOW," Emily says impatiently. "When the office reopens on Monday."
Monday, October 16, 2017
I had only been in the whirlpool for a few minutes after my afternoon swim when a new fellow, Douglas appeared. I know many of the other old men who visited the YMCA in the afternoon, but Douglas, about 60 years of age and exceedingly fit, was new to me.
I was alone at the time, so when Douglas soon began a rather peculiar behavior, only I witnessed it.
After a few minutes of routine soaking, Douglas announced that he was going to submerge himself entirely, but reassured me that he would come up again. This was a bit puzzling to me, since I’d never seen a grown man do this in the whirlpool before. But I shrugged in nonchalance—each to his own. I figured perhaps Douglas wanted the benefit of the whirlpool jets directly on a sore neck, or something similarly benign.
But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that he was planning to submerge for rather lengthy periods of time. On the second plunge, I watched the second hand on the wall clock approach close to 2 minutes before the guy came up for air. I was, in fact, almost ready to go down after him when Douglas finally did come back up.
A few minutes followed during which Douglas recovered from his adventure. On the third dive, Douglas had only barely submerged himself when Frank came out of the locker room door and climbed into the pool. He would be the third guest in the water, though he did not yet know it.
The turbulent surface of the pool, along with a fair amount of foam, pretty much hid whatever was under the surface, and so Frank had no idea there was a third inhabitant lurking below. I suppose I could have warned Frank that the pool, in fact, held three souls, but I confess to feeling a little impish at this point. I was rather looking forward to the sudden emergence of Douglas from the depths, just as Frank had settled in for a relaxing soak.
What I did not expect, though, was that Frank would sit directly on top of aquatic Douglas. But so he did. A most entertaining melee ensued as Frank shot up and out of the pool, having sat directly down on a large mass of soft, living organic tissue lurking in the depths.
It could not have been more fun for me if it had been the creature from the black lagoon, rather than merely Douglas, who now sheepishly climbed out of the pool with an apology to Frank. Frank, for his part, was literally speechless for several moments as we watched Douglas exit to the locker room.
Once things settled down, I also apologized to Frank, acknowledging that while I had been looking forward to the seeing his startled expression when Douglas rose up out of the water, I by no means expected that Frank was going to sit directly on top of him.
Fortunately, Frank had a sense of humor himself. “You would tell me, wouldn’t you?” he said, “If there are other people down there?”
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Four old white geezers, ages ranging from about 62 to about 75, were sitting in the hot tub at the YMCA, soaking up warmth after their swims has drained the heat from their slowly declining circulatory systems. Knowing what I know of the clientele, we were middle and upper class folks, several retired, the others on extended lunch breaks or in semi-retirement with afternoons free. One was working a sore knee in front of one of the whirlpool jets.
Two young men in their late 20s or early 30s sauntered up to the whirlpool with a casual rolling gait; both were extremely muscular with a hardness to their bodies that was in decided contrast to the comfortable pudginess of the old white guys already in the whirlpool.
A slight but obvious nervous tension appeared in several of the old white guys. The newcomers were men of color, and appeared to be of mixed ethnic background—I took them to be Hispanic and African American. This is not where the nervousness in the white guys arose, but rather in the fact that the newcomers were liberally tattooed with images that might lead one to believe that they might have some present or past affiliation with gang life. One young man had blue teardrops tattooed below one eye, as well as several intricate and aggressive tattoos on his arms and legs.
The other young man had a huge tattoo of a crucifix on his chest and belly. The scrollwork on the cross was intricate and complicated, reflecting a good deal of time and skill by the tattoo artist. The cross-arm of the crucifix ran fully across the young man's nipples and the vertical post of the crucifix started just below his chin then ran south to disappear beneath the waistline of his swim trunks toward his pubic area. On each side of the crucifix, just below the cross member, was a large word that together read "Suffer, Jesus," the words separated by the vertical post of the crucifix.
I found myself puzzling the presence of that comma, and reflected on the difference that it would make for that comma to be missing. "Suffer Jesus" might be interpreted liturgically as "Allow Jesus into your life," while "Suffer, Jesus" wanted to be read grammatically as an imperative, a rebellious order telling Jesus that he should suffer.
Either way, it was a slightly shocking tattoo in this environment, and I think the palpable nervousness of the old white guys was mostly because of this single tattoo and wondering what it implied about this pair of powerful young men of color.
I was expecting the scene to play out in uncomfortable silence for several minutes as, one-by-one, the old white guys slipped out of the hot tub and scurried into the nearby shower room. Instead, though, one of the old guys said "Hey, where did you get the bottled water? Is it sold here?" I hadn't noticed that the young man wearing the crucifix tattoo had entered the hot-tub holding two ice-cold bottles of water. "
"No, man," said crucifix man. "I buy them at Munch and Pump for $.45 each."
"They sell bottled water upstairs," the other young man said, "But it's highway robbery at $2.50 a bottle, and they are really small bottles."
"I know," said another of the old white guys, unheard until now. "How in the world do they justify that much money for simple water?"
Several minutes of relieved sports-related pleasantry now passed between everybody in the hot tub, then the young tattooed men stood to exit the whirlpool. "Here man," said crucifix man to the old guy who had first asked about the water, handing him one of the bottles. "I've got two, and you look hot."
The old guy accepted the bottle of water, and started to make noises about paying the young man back.
"No sweat," said crucifix man. "It's just four bits." As the two young men headed for the locker room, the other one turned back with a pleased and slightly surprised smile on his face "Have a good day, dog."
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
The seasons change with lightning swiftness in Minnesota, and during this morning's walk to the bus stop, I can clearly see we have now entered the transition, the saddle season between summer and autumn. Yesterday saw what might well prove to be the last summer thunderstorm, a long heavy rain storm driven by southern winds carrying lots of moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the skies are a piercing blue and the wind is a cool gusty breeze from the northeast. Yesterday's upper 80-degree temperatures have been replaced by buoyant air in the mid-50s. By mid-afternoon, we may well be back in the upper 80s, but we have now reached that season where mornings and evenings will clearly belong to autumn while summer is still fully present in the mid-day hours.
It's the kind of morning where the beverage I purchase from Starbucks to drink on the bus ride might be either iced latte or hot chocolate, and either would be perfectly appropriate. Today, anyway, I choose the iced latte.
Some of my fellow passengers on the bus this morning are wearing long-sleeved flannel shirts or light sweaters in acknowledgment of the autumn soon to be upon us, while others hold tight by wearing short-sleeved polo shirts in anticipation of the warmth that will mark the mid-day hours. Both forms of dress are fine today.
These days of transition always fill me with a kind of extreme, pleasurable melancholy. I am critically aware that there are a limited number of these summer-autumn transition seasons left for me to fully enjoy. I am approaching 62 years of age, and in 20 more years, I will be an old man of 82. My father passed away at 82 after two difficult years confined to a care facility, and for the men of my family, he did well to live that long; most expire in their 70s. So a realistic degree of optimism tells me that 20 more good years is a reasonable projection for me. If I'm really lucky, it might be as many as 30 more seasons, but however you look at it, it must be acknowledged that the clock is ticking. It is self deception to pretend otherwise.
Oddly, this is not a depressing thought at all, but one that makes this particular morning all the more glorious and wonderful. The temporary nature of life fills me with a kind of painful love for the world and all the things and people in it—a fondness that simply wouldn't be possible if we didn't recognize that life is a limited gift that will end some day. It is death—or more precisely the recognition of death—that makes life so wonderful. It can be argued, even, that a life must end for it to have any meaning at all.
On a store at 36th Street and Lyndale Avenue, a large mural with the single word "LOVE" has been painted across the brickwork in an old-fashioned serif-font typeface. The word is brightly colored in warm southwestern hues across the side wall of a pet-food store. A man sits on a promotional bus-stop bench with his back to the giant word, oblivious to it.
I wonder at the intended grammar of the word in this setting. Today, I choose to read LOVE not as a noun but as an imperative verb. I think the artist intended it as the prescription for how we should behave in the world when faced with a clear sense of life's mortal quality. Love.
How is it, I wonder, that in all the days of bus trips along this route, this is the first day that I've recognized this mural?