Zen and the art of telephone reconnection

Michael
Michael Johansen
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Few things give a man more opportunity to reflect on life and the world around him than the act of making an appointment to have his phone reconnected.

Normally, the telephone company just has to flip a switch somewhere to restore a dial tone to your line, and if that's the case the whole process can be completed within two or three hours.

Few things give a man more opportunity to reflect on life and the world around him than the act of making an appointment to have his phone reconnected.

Normally, the telephone company just has to flip a switch somewhere to restore a dial tone to your line, and if that's the case the whole process can be completed within two or three hours.

However, on the other hand, if the switch does nothing and despite everything the phone company does in some remote location, the line remains silent, the customer is unavoidably plunged into a days-long state of limbo.

"The soonest they can get there is Monday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.," the operator says on Thursday, and then she immediately contradicts herself: "But they're in your area on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so maybe they can be there tomorrow."

On the surface, it sounds like she's offering hope, but after you hang up your neighbour's phone (despite appearances, not everyone sports a cell these days) you reflect on what she said and you remember she used the phrase "the soonest." You slowly realize she's promised you absolutely nothing. Instead, in effect, what she's said is that the telephone repairman might come one day, or he might come on the next one, or he might come any time after that.

Regardless, you must wait for him 10 hours a day (except on Tuesdays and Thursdays) because if you're away and he can't do his work you risk never having your telephone hooked up again. (She also, without any hint of irony, asks you for a telephone number so the repairman can call you a half-hour before he arrives.)

The first day does not pass quickly, but the slow passage of time allows you to put the situation back into proper perspective. Deprived of the ability to work using the telephone or the Internet (if you practise the type of profession that depends on telephones and computers), you're left with primitive entertainments and sources of information, like radios and televisions, supplemented with slightly more productive periods of staring out the window.

Fortunately, in North West River, staring out the window means you get to look at the stunningly beautiful vista provided by Lake Melville and the Mealy Mountains. In the early Labrador spring, the former is still covered by thick sea ice and the latter is still topped by metres of snow. It seems timeless - a scene that will forever return in winter - but the radio reveals another, dimmer future. It broadcasts the account of a local man who barely escaped with his life after his snowmachine broke through ice that should have been solid.

The man was left gasping in frigid, deadly water. He had been crossing ice on a Lake Melville bay that he and many others routinely trusted to hold them up, ice that betrayed this trust, ice that proved to be unseasonably weak.

Now, because of this incident, no one can depend on experience to say where the ice is safe and where it is dangerous. It's yet another sign of climate change to add to the many other signs that the federal government continues to deny. You wonder how many more lives will be threatened before it's too late for the politicians in Ottawa to take note and start dealing with this approaching catastrophe.

The telephone repairman finally arrives midway through the second day, but by then the phone service hardly seems important anymore. With the world as we know it in the balance, with lives at stake in a rapidly changing climate, what does it matter that there's no dial tone, or if the Internet is out of reach?

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Geographic location: Lake Melville, Labrador, North West River Mealy Mountains Ottawa

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