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Phone Box Hero
In which the husband decides to do it himself

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, February 10, 2008

Heroically, the husband successfully moved four phone lines from their previous location on the outside of our house to some slicker, cleaner, more modern place within. This place, I am told, is in the basement. A box. Something with plugs and switches. I have not been involved with this project. I have not understood why the husband didn't just summon the phone company to perform this service, why instead he chose to give over a Sunday to it. But I don't ask. Any spouse worth her mothball-covered taffeta gown knows better than to deprive her husband of his heroism.

"Terrific!" I am saying. "I didn't know you could do that!"

"Oh, it was a rat's nest of wire down there," he says, replaying some of the tougher challenges, one of which has not, actually, been solved: the DSL line. He's got the phones working, but the DSL is now kaput. This, technically, is a crisis. I have some online research I need to do in the morning and a deadline dependent on it. In my mind, I am rehearsing a backup emergency plan that includes laptop, Starbucks, cellphone. Hardly a tragedy, but why didn't he just call the phone company in the first place? You can't say things like this. When a husband has performed an act of heroism, when he got it all perfect except for one not-especially-minor detail, you can't complain, lest you deflate his sense of accomplishment and lose any chance of having a nice, calm, happy dinner. Marriages are built on foundations of this kind of stuff.

Hey, I would never even try to figure out how to unhook and rehook four phone lines. He really is good at this. He has had no training. For a novice, he's a whiz at wiring -- and plumbing, too. He's a shrink who spends his days untangling people's problems, so when he comes home, I suppose, it's a release for him to tinker with some tangibles.

"When they say that DSL comes 'in' through the phone line," he asks me, "do you think they mean it's somehow actually in the same wire? Or a separate wire accompanying it? I just didn't see any extra, separate wires at all --"

Hoo, boy. I seriously think he's out of his league here. The hardwiring of broadband connectivity is almost certainly a mystery beyond the average homeowner's grasp. "Heh, heh," he says. "If we had Internet access, I could look it up and figure it out."

"I'll call the phone company in the morning," I say. "I'll get someone out here."

"I'm sorry," he says.

"You did all you could do," I say. "Really, it's heroic what you did."

"You're just saying that," he says.

"I mean it," I say, because I sort of do, and we sit down to a fine dinner of roast chicken and rice and peas.

In the morning I call the phone company. "Are you reporting a 'Trouble' ?" the woman says. "Because what you are

describing does not sound like a Trouble." She explains that self-inflicted DSL problems do not qualify for urgent status. "If you did something to mess up your phone line, it doesn't count as a Trouble."

"Well, I didn't do anything," I say.

"If it's not a Trouble, it will take two or three days to get a technician out to you," she says. I suppress my horror to strategize. Three obvious tactical moves present themselves: (1) whine and beg and tell her about my deadline; (2) change my story and invent a lightning storm I forgot to mention; or (3) go woman-to-woman and completely fess up.

I choose 3. I tell her all about the husband's heroics. I tell her he's really very good with wiring but this task simply exceeded his grasp. "Oh, the husband," she says. "Sweetheart, this is a Trouble." We chat. It's sweet. Her husband's name is Frank, and, but for a stuck fork, he almost fixed her garbage disposal. She tells me she's going to transfer my call to the Trouble department, and she explains exactly how I should word my story so that I'll qualify for a technician's arrival before noon. It's beautiful, really. It's one of my finer customer-satisfaction accomplishments. I go down to the basement to brag to the husband.

He tells me I'm terrific. He tells me he didn't know such an act of heroism was possible. I tell him it was tricky; it was looking grim there for a while, but I pulled it off. He has the flashlight in his mouth; he's leaning back, glaring through bifocals deep into the box of wires. He finds a little something, a mysterious speck of plastic blocking the clamping action of something relating to line 2. With tweezers, he gently removes the blockage. The contact is thus completed. The DSL modem lights up like a Christmas tree, and, just like that, we are back in business.

"We-are-good!" I'm saying. We high-five each other. I call back the phone company and cancel the Trouble. Over and over again, and throughout the day, he recounts the story of the speck of plastic, the improbability, the lesson of perseverance, commitment and faith.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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