Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Do You Do When the Cable Goes Out?

     The storm that came up the East Coast knocked out our cable service. Usually, here in semi-upstate New York, we lose our electricity and we're thrown back into the 19th century, scrambling to find the candles and dashing outside to gather wood for the fireplace. But the electric company doesn't fool around. It gets the lights back on quickly. A night without electricity is kind of fun -- two nights without electricity is a real pain.

     Amazingly, this storm with 40 mph winds and eight inches of white stuff, didn't affect the electric grid. Instead, it shut down the cable. We had heat and electricity. But no TV. No phone. No computer. We were not thrown back into the 1800s; but we did spend two days living in the 1940s.
Oh no! A blank screen!

     I didn't realize how much time I spend on the Internet -- until I lost the Internet. I check my two email accounts several times a day. I write notes to people via email -- for work, for family, for friends. I read the news on the Internet; I buy things on websites; check the weather, look up train schedules, figure out if there's anything on TV or at the multiplex. I also waste time on the Internet -- the videos on yahoo!, the lists on aol; the meandering searches on google. And now I'm blogging as well.

     With no computer, I found myself with time on my hands. I picked up a book I'd gotten for Christmas, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I'd seen the reviews in the New York Times and Newsweek. They loved the book, but made it sound more like homework than an interesting read. I could see that the book is pretty thick. I figured it would be boring and hard to follow. Also, I'd tried to read Franzen's previous book, Corrections, and didn't get very far. So I had no intention of reading this one. But with no Internet and no TV, I hefted the book onto my lap and started reading -- and what do you know, I fell right into the story and spent three-plus hours with the Berglund family and enjoyed every minute of it.

     But the kids are home for Christmas, and they're not so easily entertained. When I'm without a computer, it's an inconvenience. For them, it's a life-altering disaster. At first they sat at the dinner table looking shell-shocked, as if they couldn't believe what was happening. They had no idea what to do without their electronic gadgets. They played listlessly with the dog; they shoveled a little snow; then they splayed out on the couch staring into space.

      I pointed out that they still had their cellphones; they could call their friends. But they don't call their friends. They use their cellphones to text, to email, to go on facebook and twitter. And all of that requires wi fi, which we temporarily didn't have.

     They spent quite a bit of time fiddling with the TV, hoping that if they pushed enough buttons the picture would magically appear. My son wanted to watch football. B wanted to see "Say Yes to the Dress." B's son was outraged that he was going to miss "American Pickers."

     But the cable system would not cooperate. No outside line. Nothing.

     The next day we solved the problem by getting out of the house and going to the mall, then the sports club. That evening someone suggested we could still use the TV to watch a movie. I thought that was a great idea. But the kids only care about movies they can download instantly from Netflix. "Movies on DVDs?" they scoffed. "They're old! They're from the '90s!"

My new interest
     We watched The Perfect Storm with George Clooney, and to be fair to the kids, the movie did show its age. But at least it was something to do. Then we walked the dog and B went upstairs, and so I decided to go upstairs as well to read some more Freedom. As I turned out the kitchen lights and glanced into the TV room, I saw my son staring intently at the screen, lights flickering off his face. He remembered he could still play a video game and was busy killing people on "Assassin's Creed."

     I woke up this morning and came downstairs. B was sitting at the kitchen table eating her breakfast. "So are the computers back on?" I asked.

     She looked up absently. "Oh, I don't know," she said. "I didn't check." B is not so addicted to electronics as the rest of us. "Pick up the phone," she suggested. "If you get a dial tone, you'll know."

     I reached for the phone, picked it up and heard the comforting buzz of a dial tone. Whew! We were back in the 21st century. The kids will be happy. I guess I'll finish Freedom another time. 


rosaria said...

It will take you a while to finish Freedom. I had to let it go after a while. Glad you dropped by to visit me and leave a calling card. Thanks.
We get horrendous winds and rain here in the Northwest, and are used to life without utilities. We keep firewood to light up a fire and pretend we're in the last century for a couple of days.

Anonymous said...

I read one of Franzen's books years ago. Can't remember the title and too lazy to walk upstairs to my study to check it out.

I would be interested in your final thoughts on his current effort. Is is worth the price for example.

Also, is he the guy who told Oprah thanks, but no thanks for the invite to be mentioned as one of her "book club" selections?

Sightingsat60 said...

rosaria, thx for the implicit warning abt. Freedom, but just as I was getting tired of Patty's story Franzen brought Joey on, rejuvenating my interest. So I'm halfway thru and still going strong!

June said...

Re: Freedom
I followed your link and read the reviews at Amazon.
I think you must be a much greater intellect than I. Even the favorable comments make the thing sound deadly.