"I have so many troubles today," the troubleshooter tells me. "It's on account of that storm last night."
He's a tall man with a gigantic mop of black hair, which at first I think is a wig. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But now I can tell it isn't a wig. I feel rude inspecting the top of his head like this, but, well, we're huddled so closely together, it's difficult to avoid getting personal.
He's sitting at my computer, showing me some codes on the software related to my downed DSL line, and I'm hunched over watching. I like that he's including me. He's clicking and clacking with authority and I don't want to interrupt, but I do feel a kind of ethical responsibility to tell him what I'm thinking. "About that storm last night," I say, moving around the desk so I can make sure he absorbs the full impact of this information. "It's a red herring." He looks at me. "I lost service before the storm hit."
"Before the storm hit here," he says. "It could have hit elsewhere along the line."
Oh. "Well, see, that's brilliant!" I say. I babble something about the magic of this way of thinking, two people in dialogue reaching a higher understanding. "The Socratic method!"
I think he may have just winced, but I am not sure, and so I pretend he didn't. "I just love troubleshooting," I tell him. I go on to extol the pleasures of tinkering with electronics, especially in times of stress. "It sure calms me down," I tell him. Problem-solving. Deductive reasoning. Binary stuff. Math! "You know, it's the only time I like math . . . "
He's smiling. He is awfully polite. He's probably thinking that he's never going to get on to his other troubles today if I don't shut up. "Sorry," I say, finally. "It's just that . . . I really think you have a fun job."
"Thanks," he says.
I wonder if he gets a lot of people like me, workers with home offices who don't get to interact with the usual array of human beings that people who work in real offices get to be with. A human comes into our homes, we cling.
"If you run a diagnostic on the PPP layer connection," I say, "you'll notice it fails."
"Yeah, I just got that," he says.
"And a failure on the OAM segment loopback?" I have no idea what I'm actually talking about, but I did run these tests last night during my tinkering time.
"You're supposed to get a failure on the OAM segment loopback," he says.
"Well, that's a stupid test."
"You know, I'm just going to need a minute here to myself," he says.
"Right-o." He's a troubleshooter and I'm turning into one of the troubles he wants to shoot. I decide to take out my window screens and remove the dead bugs collected beyond.
It's only later, after much clicking and clacking, and while waiting for my computer to reboot, that he opens up. "You know, I used to be in billing," he says, leaning back. "I got 16 years in billing." He tells me about the company merger, the job cuts. "My buddy had 15 years, and he got the ax." He shakes his head. "They gave me his job." His buddy spent his last weeks training him to be a troubleshooter. "He's the whole reason I'm any good at this." He says this with what sounds like genuine regret. "He should have this job, not me."
I don't know what to say. I don't know how to help, or if I should. I feel like a troubleshooter without a shooter.
"Now they got us selling DSL," he says. "I'm supposed to call existing phone customers and make a pitch." He laughs. "You know what I do? I call them and say, 'If you don't want this, I'll understand, don't worry about it, no problem . . .' "
"So you're not a salesman," I say. "That's okay."
The computer is back on, and he runs another diagnostic on the PPP layer connection. "The green light!" I say. "It's on!" But within an instant it's off again, the sign of failure.
"Hey, do you think it came on because I was behind the desk with the window screens?" I ask. "Maybe I jiggled a wire or something? Maybe this is a hardware problem!"
He thinks. "Maybe it's the dead bugs you took out of the windows," he says. "Get it?"
"You know, you debugged."
"Ha!" I say. "That's brilliant!" Oh, we are having a wonderful time. In a way, I hope my troubles don't get fixed at all, or at least not until dinner, and he can invite the family over, and we'll have lasagna. They say high-speed Internet access can bring communities together, but I don't think this is what they mean.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.