Late at night, drunk, I call up my ex. I tell her that even though I can’t completely remember her face (or her name for that matter; she is listed in my phone as SOULMATE: 2010-2011) I am still crazy in love with her and, Baby, won’t you give me another chance?
I ramble on about how much better my life had been with her in it (remember that night when we drank all the wine and couldn’t remember anything the next morning?) and she is remarkably patient and kind on the other end of the line—Oh yes. This all must be very hard for you. I see that now.—until I tell her I think Ferret—that’s what I call my pet ferret—Ferret misses her too, and she says, Oh! It’s YOU: the one with the fucking FERRET!
I say of course it’s me (though I’d like to think there’s more to identify me than owning a ferret . . . that I wouldn’t be THE ONE WITH THE FERRET so much as THE ONE WITH MANY WONDERFUL QUALITIES AND THE FERRET) but, I ask, if you didn’t know it was me, who did you think you were talking to?
She says she thought I was a sales rep from Time Warner Cable; they call her every night around this time trying to get her to come back to them. She cancelled her service years ago (right around the time we broke up come to think of it) and they have become increasingly desperate to win her back. In fact, just last night, David From Retention spent two hours reading to her in equal measures from Keats’ poetry and from the Consumer Report review of their enhanced network reliability, both recited in a tone of convincing and endearing besotted innocence.
I want to scream, WHO IS THIS DAVID?! but she just told me exactly who he is. Instead, I ask: if you don’t want cable from them, why would you spend hours on the phone with them?
She says it’s nice to feel wanted, and, if she’s being honest, her life isn’t going all that much better than mine. She had thought canceling Time Warner would change everything—that getting cheaper, more reliable broadband with fewer accompanying bureaucratic hassles would push her, finally, over the top into the liberated part of adulthood, as opposed to the rest of it, which feels like nothing but paying bills and working and TV commercials in which smiling people seem either to enjoy paying bills and working, or are miraculously absolved from such plebeian burdens and freed to pursue drinking beer and using fragrant shampoos as if these behaviors were heroic callings—but canceling her service hadn’t changed anything. And, on top of that, Time Warner has a monopoly in her city, so the only two choices for internet are paying for Time Warner or stealing it from your neighbors, but all her neighbors have protected networks (with those little lock icons next to their network IDs that announce I KNOW YOU WANT TO STEAL MY INTERNET, DEGENERATE THAT YOU ARE, BUT I’M NOT GOING TO LET YOU). And then when you try to guess their password—which would be the height of hubris if it didn’t come from a place of utter, pathetic desperation—you get it wrong and the screen shakes like you’ve just been slapped. And, yes, there is one neighbor who doesn’t password protect his connection, but he has the grossest fucking network ID—ugh, she says, I don’t even want to tell you . . . ok, I will: the network is named SUCKMYDISK, which is like twenty years past its prime as a computer joke (who has disks anymore?) making its perpetrator seem even skeezier than he is to begin with. And whenever I log onto that network I feel violated, at least on behalf of my computer, both because that gross name appears in the upper right hand corner as if my computer condones it, but also because, in a literal sense, my computer is SUCKING its DISK, and my cheapness and frustration with Time Warner has led my computer to this place of vulnerable destitution, whoring herself (I’ve always thought of my computer as feminine, by the way, what is that about?) to meet my internet needs (which are often bourgeois and jejune). And I feel like he knows we’ll feel violated—“He” being the guy on 5, I’m sure it’s him, the one who ogles my underwear when I pass him in the laundry room, which is disgusting but also weird because underwear is, even at its most publicly displayed, a kind of disembodied signifier (it refers to a part of the body but is not, in any way, bodily itself) but in the case of underwear inside my laundry basket (which is folded and stacked) is completely robbed of even the rudimentary silhouette of boilerplate femininity! What the fuck is he ogling?—and he has left his internet unprotected as a kind of trap. So, I don’t log onto it. Instead I go to a coffee shop. But, I swear, every café near me either has terrible coffee—And, is there anything sadder? Do the owners actually think their coffee is good? Or do they know it’s bad and just don’t care? And which would be worse: to know the truth and be defined by your indifference to it, or to not know and be defined by that ignorance?—Or if they have good coffee they usually have really spotty internet (ebbing like tides pulled by a furious, capricious moon), internet that will last long enough for you to fill out a long online job application, but not long enough for you to SUBMIT it. So you will get to the bottom and hit SUBMIT, and the little circle will spin and spin and spin even though you know it is never going to load the THANK YOU FOR SUBMITTING screen, and that sad spinning feels so much like life . . .
In short: she was ready for it all to end; she was ready to give in and take Time Warner back, ready to believe David From Retention when he spoke to her in honeyed terms and conditions, and to imagine he would hold her hand and walk her through the thickets of fine print and hidden fees that loom in the shadows, waiting to snatch us all.
Baby, don’t! (I say to Ferret, who is tunneling into the crack between couch cushions, in search of who knows what manner of detritus.) And then to my ex, I say, But if you were going to take Time Warner back, would you take me back instead?
She pauses for a moment—and if I remembered her face I would picture it scrunching up on the other end of the line, deep in thought—then she asks, well what kind of bandwidth can you offer?
I scan my apartment, as if there is a server farm and T1 connection that I had forgotten was there . . . Nope! But I am undeterred; I still have so much to offer! I get down on my bended knee (albeit in order to wrestle something from Ferret: a Cheeto of such inscrutable vintage I feel a strange urge to carbon date it) and I say: Baby, I don’t have any broadband to offer you, only my heart! I am low on bandwidth, but I am full of love!
Why would they be mutually exclusive? she yells back (and in her newly manifested shrillness I wonder if I have made a mistake, and it’s actually SOULMATE 2012-2013 I am in love with). Why should we have to choose between love and broadband? You are so fucking cynical! No wonder I broke up with you!
She hangs up.
Then she calls right back. Sorry, she says, I accidentally hung up. What were we talking about? Oh right, why I broke up with you. The cynicism! Also that ferret! So creepy. And not just because you’re a grown man who lives alone with a ferret. I mean that particular ferret is creepy, even in relation to other ferrets.
And I want to be defensive, to stand up for Ferret who, after all, has been with me through life’s highs and the lows, but I look over and I see he is humping a warped leather dress shoe, and that his eyes are open as he does this. If his eyes were closed, I could more plausibly assert that he was imagining the object of his congress to be a ferret (of whichever gender aroused him), and I would have nothing but the greatest sympathy for him—he does not, it must be said, have many opportunities to commune with other ferrets, let alone to share with them moments of quiet intimacy, so he must be operating at a deficit of affection and susceptible to debilitating bouts of yearning, perhaps manifesting themselves in moments of resourceful (if desperate) uses of sundry footwear as makeshift surrogates—but, with his eyes open, I am forced to conclude that he is either aroused by the shoe itself (and it’s not even a particularly interesting shoe, nor well maintained in appearance or hygiene, if we are laying bare all our secrets) or he is indifferent to its looks, occupied instead only by the mechanical fulfillment of his basest physical needs, satisfied by the act of humping devoid of even a narrative framework of romance or emotional connection to accompany it. And while neither of these possibilities necessarily warrant stigma—the heart, as they say, wants what it wants—they do, in the moment, make it hard to refute my ex’s accusation (that Ferret is “creepy”) with any kind of vehemence.
I guess he is a bit odd in his way, I say. I want to add the (possibly poignant) qualifier, “as are we all,” but the line has gone dead again. And I know, this time, she has left me for good.
I get up to fix myself another drink and am alarmed to discover that the whiskey I have been drinking all night is actually Welch’s white grape juice, and so the drunkenness I feel is actually just a combination of headache, exhaustion, and heartbreak.
I come back to my recliner to find Ferret has stolen my spot. He is passed out, curled up in the warmth I left behind, the encounter with the shoe either having sated him or frustrated him to the point of despondent unconsciousness. Either way, he has no further need of me tonight.
Bitter and rejected, unsure of where to sit (the couch is a low tide beach of ferret toys), I dial the only number I feel confident will answer: Time Warner Cable.
How can I help you today? The robot’s voice is so soft I can feel its hand on my forehead, testing for fever. I say, I want to talk to a customer service representative.
She replies, Sorry. I didn’t understand that. What did you want? And now her sweetness has turned saccharin; even this fucking robot doesn’t understand me. I let loose all of my bile. I yell I WANT TO CANCEL MY SERVICE! And when she starts to say Sorry again I cut her off with more yelling: I WANT TO CANCEL MY INTERNET AND I WANT TO CANCEL MY PHONE SERVICE AND I WANT TO CANCEL MY TELEVISION! CANCEL IT ALL! SCORCH THE EARTH! LET NO WIRE REMAIN TO TETHER ME TO YOU GODLESS AND UNCOMPREHENDING DEVILS WHO SPEAK TO ME IN THE VOICE OF GUARDIANS AND LOVERS! AND GIVE ME BACK MY SECURITY DEPOSIT! (Ferret only ever nibbled on the casing; it still works fine!)
There is that brief little sound of a computer compiling on the other line: it sounds like chipmunks scurrying homeward up a tree (perhaps back to warm embrace of loved ones). Okay, she says. Let me help you out with that.
Please listen closely, because our retention strategies have changed.
If you want to yell at someone until the feeling passes: PRESS 1.
If you are actually angry about the economy or the weather or heartbreak, but are taking it out on the cable company: PRESS 2
If you want us to beg you to stay: PRESS 3
If you want to hear that you are loved: PRESS 4
If you would like me to repeat these options: PRESS #
Which I do.
Daniel Paul is a PhD candidate in the English/Creative Writing program at the University of Cincinnati.