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Captain Technology

Published: August 15, 2014

Captain Technology

Illustration by Amber Arnold © SEPS 2014

The jar of tomato sauce tingled hollowly as it smashed on the floor to the right of my cash register. Working in retail is not for the faint of heart; tomato sauce soaked my pants up to the knees. After I retired, this part-time cashier’s job had sounded like fun. It wasn’t. Even worse, heavy rain came the second I left work. I was ready for a shower, lunch, and a nap.

First, though, I decided to get all business out of the way and check my emails. My laptop’s screen flickered longer than usual as it connected to the Internet. Nothing happened.

“That’s funny,” I mumbled, “it was working fine yesterday.” I tried again with the same result. Captain Technology — that’s the code name I’d given myself — doesn’t need to resort to whacking the computer when it acts up. No, he hits the restart button. I did and got the same message, no connection. My inclination was to postpone the emails until after a nap, but I couldn’t. The Internet is a technological narcotic.

“Think the problem through, Captain.” I told myself. “The cleaners came this morning. Bet one of them knocked a cable loose from the main computer.”

I plodded downstairs to the home office and looked behind the desk. What I saw made my heart stop cold. There was a mass of tangled wires and cables, the unraveling of which would have been fit for one of the modern-day seven labors of Hercules. Captain Nemo would have ordered out his divers to do battle with this giant octopus. Too bad I was the only one home. It’s a good thing that Captain Technology is never intimidated.

“You can do this, Captain.” I said bravely.

I knelt on the floor and unscrewed and tightened every coaxial cable, Ethernet cable, and power cord between the computer, modem, and router. Captain Technology has become fluent in “technolease.” Restarting the computer for good measure, I confidently waited. Nothing.

The screen displayed a message that may as well have been in Greek. I was stumped. But, Captain Technology, like a farmer, always has a plan. I called the cable company for support. I should have put on my truss before calling.

First, the mechanical voice was running the gauntlet of recorded messaging.

“Hello! Thank you for calling Dynamic Cable. Due to the unusually heavy call volume, you may want to try your call again later. The current anticipated wait time to speak to a customer service representative is five to 10 minutes.”

Undaunted, I called the robot lady’s bluff and stayed on the line. I dutifully punched all of the numbers at the required prompts. The recording hadn’t underestimated the wait time. Incredibly, a live voice spoke on the phone.

“Hello, this is Jeff, and thank you for calling Dynamic Cable. I’ll be assisting you today. May I have the number that you’re calling from?”

“But, I just gave your company all of my information.”

“I know, and thank you, but for security reasons I need to ask for it again.”

I couldn’t tell whether he was smiling. I took a calming breath before repeating the information. My arm had grown tired from holding my mobile phone too long, so I went to adjust position. Somehow, Captain Technology hit the disconnect button. I looked at the computer screen. It still displayed the same no-connection message. The cable-and-wire octopus still menacingly guarded its secret. I paced to the kitchen, back to the home office, and then back to the kitchen trying to think.

There was nothing for it but to call back the cable company.

Things hadn’t improved. The call volume was still unusually high and there was the same long wait with the same bad music.

“Hello, this is Katelyn, and thank you for calling Dynamic Cable. I’ll be assisting you today. First, though, I’ll need to obtain some information from you.”

I was too tired to argue, so capitulated.

Katelyn deftly took my information. “OK, let’s address the problem.”

Her attitude was “can do.” Now we were getting somewhere. I unplugged while she pinged; I unhooked while she pinged. Still no connection.

“I think I see the problem.” Katelyn said. “Your modem is at end of life.”

“What, I just bought it a couple of years ago. That’s incredible. Do you know that my family had a refrigerator that ran for 45 years? And it was still running when we gave it away. We only gave it up because we got tired of defrosting it.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Her tone implied she was irritated by being distracted from her script.

“I said we only gave up the fridge after 45 years because we got tired of defrosting it. The melting ice was too messy.”

“I’m sorry, I still don’t understand.” Her voice held a strained patience. “How did ice get into the fridge? Ice goes in the freezer.”

“Look, I’m just trying to figure out why the modem is at ‘end of life’ as you say. It’s only a couple of years old. You’re making it sound like a cancer patient.”

There was a pause and the sound of keys clicking. “No sir, our records indicate that we installed the modem six years ago.”

“What do you mean? I installed the modem, not Dynamic Cable.”

Another pause, filled in by an exasperated sigh. “Maybe you mean that it was the router that you installed.”

Maybe I wasn’t Captain Technology after all.

She unexpectedly perked up. “Before we go any further, I’ve just seen how we could save you $20 a month on your cable bill. The plan would still give you all of your present cable stations and high-speed Internet access.” She paused dramatically. “And you get a landline.”

I wanted to ask her if we could just address the Internet problem but took the bait. I’d been thinking about getting a landline. Having only a mobile phone didn’t feel right.

“Gee, I’ve kind of missed not having a landline.”

Her chuckle surprised me. “I hear that a lot from …” She caught herself.

“… from old people.” I finished for her.

“Oh no, sir, not at all. You sound very young.”

I let that go. “OK, I may be interested in the plan. What do I need to do to get a landline?”

She repeated the entire plan to me without taking a breath. It didn’t answer my question.

I tried again. “What does the phone plug into?”

“Into the modem, so that works out. You’ll need a new one anyway because there’s a special Ethernet for the phone line. It should take two to three days to ship out to you.”

“Two to three days without the Internet? That’s a long time.”

Katelyn didn’t answer, but Captain Technology had an idea.

“Katelyn, there’s a Dynamic Cable store not too far away. Can I take this old modem there, switch it out, and return it once the new modem for the phone gets delivered?”

“Why yes, I hadn’t thought of that. First, though, let’s complete the order for the new plan. Oh, by the way,” she slid in, “there’s a two year lock-in period.”

“Great, two years before the mast.”

“Excuse me, sir, two years what?”

“Never mind.”

The short run from the car to the cable store drenched me. My hair was plastered down like Alfalfa’s in Our Gang. Three ladies behind the counter looked me over as I came through the door. They were kind enough not to mention anything about the cowlick sticking up from the back of my head.

I placed the old modem on the counter. “How come things always bust on rainy days?”

“Can I help you?” one of the women asked as if she hadn’t heard what I said.

As I was describing the problem to her, the other two ladies were discussing stew recipes. My stomach growled. I’d forgotten about lunch. And that reminded me that my in-laws would soon be arriving for dinner.

I hurried home and whipped the modem together. One green light came on reassuringly. Trouble was that three other lights were blinking like a Christmas tree. If I’d been in a better mood, I would have thought they looked festive.

I got a hand towel from a kitchen drawer and dried off. The gleam from the fancy new coffee machine caught my eye. No, this wasn’t the time to take a break. My stomach growled again. Or the time to eat, it seemed. I’d need to suck it up and run the gauntlet at Dynamic Cable again.

Twenty minutes later, Denise from Dynamic was asking me to unplug the coaxial cable from the wall. My back was numb and sore from working behind the computer for so long. What I saw when I finally made it down to the floor was embarrassing. I’d forgotten to screw the coaxial cable back into the wall.

“Sure, I’ll do it right now.” I lied.

I screwed them together optimistic everything would work. After all, I had a new modem and everything was at last connected. The same message about there being no available Internet connection was staring at me. The cable-and-wire octopus seemed to smile sardonically. I longed for the tubes and diodes of my old TV.

“Ah, sorry, Denise, but nothing’s working.”

“That’s strange,” I heard tapping on her end of the line. I think she was growing tired of me.

I studied the cables again. One end of an Ethernet cable looked funny. One of the cleaners must have tugged it too hard when she was dusting. A new modem probably had never been needed. I felt bad. The thing may have been near “end of life,” but it wasn’t dead. I couldn’t worry about that now though. My wife was due home shortly and company was coming.

“Denise, one of these cables looks like it might be broken.”

Cutting the conversation short, I unhooked the cable, and ran back out into the rain. I raced to the big box store, found my way to the electronics section, and stopped. I was looking stupidly at a large rack of cables as water mixed with reconstituted tomato sauce puddled at my feet.

A young clerk walked over to me. “Can I help you, Captain?”

Captain? She at least could have called me by my full code name. I showed her the cable.

She plucked a replacement from the wall and went to ring up the order.

“Do you want to buy the warranty that goes with it?”

“Pardon me?”

“There’s a warranty that goes with the cable. If anything ever happens to it, we’ll replace it free.”

I was amazed. The store expected me to buy a warranty for a $15.00 cable? She had to be joking. I wanted to tell her so, but fell into the trap.

“How much is the warranty?”

“Two dollars.”

I politely declined.

Once home, I hurriedly plugged the new cable into the router and ran it into computer. The modem still only showed one green light with the other three flashing. They reminded me of distress signals. Captain Technology sat down at his desk in defeat. Surrender tasted bitter. I wasn’t even hungry anymore.

I picked up the modem to make a formal surrender. Wait a minute. Something about the router caught my eye. How come it wasn’t showing any lights? Embarrassed — even though I was alone — I checked the router’s power button. I hit the router’s power button. All was well. The Internet was restored.

Captain Technology had failed to see that one of the cleaners had inadvertently turned off the router.

The back door opened and I heard my wife’s cheerful, “Hello, honey, I’m home. How was your day?”



  • Ron Harrison

    Written by one of my best friends and neighbor. I am proud to say I know him and have shared many enjoyable hours together. He has realistically captured the travails of the average man dealing with technology.

  • Meredith lineman

    A refreshing,honest,and cleverly written short story that had me laughing out loud at times in solidarity with the Captain, and his ordeal with the underbelly of modern technology; tangled wires sitting in”take no prisoners” fashion under a simplistic home office desk. Brilliant!