Dark forces caused our internet to go away on Wednesday the 15th of August as I was having a bath. I went into the bedroom and stood looking at the modem supplied by AT&T for which my wife had paid $150. I'm not even sure what a modem is, but in any case the red light was flashing and I instinctively knew this to be bad mojo. AT&T are some sort of telecommunications company to whom we submitted $100 a month for internet access and a phone by which I might call England from time to time without any of the usual problems that come with international calls made on bad lines.
I went out to the garden and looked up to the trees at the side of the house. In Texas the water and gas pipes are underground, but everything else arrives by means of an overhead cable suspended from a series of telegraph poles. We therefore live our lives beneath a heavenly spider web of cables running to junction boxes up near the awnings of our home: electricity, telephone, and television - which we don't really use because now that I live here, Wheel of Fortune has lost much of the mystery it seemed to promise back in the days when I sat in cafés in Catford reading Exchange & Mart and dreaming of a better, more colourful world.
Texas is home to numerous species of quick growing trees which tend to dry out in the heat and drop branches like nobody's business, specifically the kind of branches which snap those cables over which they have grown, thus depriving you of electricity or whatever else was inside the wires. This set-up seems crazy to me, and I don't know why Texas doesn't just go the whole way and have its water piped in along a series of overhead hoses, but then I've only been here two years so it's probably a little early to start laying down the law, even given that I'm English.
I stood in the garden and squinted up at the cables running through the greenery. One of these appeared to be hanging suspiciously low, but then I don't pay much attention to the power lines - or whatever they are - so I had no idea whether it was normally at that elevation. However, we've had lines sundered by falling branches before, so I knew what a knackered internet should look like, and guessed that nothing of this sort had occurred; although maybe the cable had suffered from a bit of a sharp tug or summink. Nevertheless, it was obvious that we would need someone to come out and have a look.
The red light of terror was still flashing when my wife returned home. She called AT&T and was almost immediately through to Foreigner's I Want to Know What Love Is piped directly from a competitively priced call centre on the Indian subcontinent where companies don't have to pay their staff quite so much as they do here. Eventually, after an hour spent confirming herself to be who she claimed to be, and that we lived at the address at which we purported to live, my wife described the problem.
'You have informed me of your name and confirmed that you are who you say you are and you have then additionally confirmed that you are resident at the address you have given me and you have now described the problem which is the subject of your call. Is this correct?'
'Yes,' said my wife with the patience of a thousand saints, including even some of those invented by Mexicans and about which no-one has yet informed Rome.
The person in India performed a mystic test using special internet magic, then explained that our modem was bust and we would need to buy a replacement; so my wife paid another $150 over the phone, because the $1,200 a year that AT&T makes out of me calling my mum or posting pictures of cats on facebook just wouldn't cover it, and we were informed that the new modem would be with us by the following Wednesday.
Happily the bandits who ordinarily terrorise the badlands outside San Antonio had been knocked out by the August heat, so our modem arrived a mere five days later on the Tuesday. My wife, who tends to be quite good with such things, plugged it in and turned it on, but still we had no internet and still we were getting the red light of doom.
After another hour on the phone spent in preface to asking the crucial question about stuff not working, it was explained to us by someone employed in a call centre on the moon that our modem had not yet received its activation signal. This would occur at 8PM, Wednesday evening, because it's important not to rush these things.
Another day passed, the moment of destiny arrived, and nothing happened. Another hour on the telephone, most of which was spent establishing that this really was my wife talking, and confirming that she had an issue and that she wished to stay on the line in order to resolve this issue with a hominid operator rather than going to www.att.com/irony, and we were told it might be a problem with the connection, just as we'd suspected in the first place. The person tried and failed to sell my wife a third replacement modem, then said they would install a patch, a sort of electronic magic spell, chirpily adding that she just knew this would sort it out.
This scenario, I believe, may be likened to a complaint registered with the local council. 'There is a pothole in the road directly outside my house,' you tell them. 'It is six feet wide, and four deep, and there is a previously undiscovered prehistoric civilisation down there. I am thus unable to exit my drive.' You are then told to buy a new car and see if the problem is resolved, because God forbid that a call to technical support should ever result in the wasteful and deeply predictable extravagance of sending some bloke around to have a fucking look.
Having now understood - based upon that which my wife and I have experienced - that AT&T seems principally interested in taking as much of our money as possible whilst making every effort to get away with doing as little as they can to honour their part of the contract, we decided to take our custom elsewhere.
My wife phoned AT&T and was informed that there would be no refund for the cost of the new modem, despite being instructed to make the purchase without any concrete evidence of the first modem necessarily being at fault. It took her an hour to get through to the person who would register our taking our account elsewhere, an hour of confirming that she was who she said she was and did indeed live at the address at which she claimed to live and confirm that no, a ten percent discount on the next six months of internet was not sufficient inducement to remain loyal to a company which gives all the appearance of being unable to organise a piss-up in a brewery and yet nevertheless still expects to be paid handsomely for the invitations it's had printed, even though they've accidentally left off both the date and the address of the venue.
Still, you live and learn.