On foggy days, I turn left outside of the park to take the long way around the ten-mile loop on which I live. I turn right on Highway 12. As I slip into the depths of the grey, I spare a glance over my shoulder at my yesterday self, stopped at Jackson Slough Road hoping for a break in traffic. I spare a slight smile.
When I moved to Andrus Island, one of my neighbors said we lived at mile 5. He might have been right, but the roadway seems to circle around a lot more of the island. Across the acres, looking south over Tim Anderson’s pig farm, I see the same stilt houses past which I had just driven. It doesn’t matter, though; the ease of entering the morning flow without that harrowing two-lane dash more than compensates for the extra five minutes. In winter, when I’m apt to see a flock of geese or cranes lifting from the cold earth into the foggy sky, it’s almost a better deal.
This morning brought me to the place where I earn my income a bit earlier than usual. I put myself to work with an intensity I’m not always able to muster. Perhaps seeing the bridge through rising mist invigorated me. But the burst of energy waned by ten, as often happens. I glanced down at my phone around then, dismayed to see a black X over the icon which ought to have shown me a strong signal.
Intermittent forays into the customer service consumed the next two hours. Misinformation compounded by disinterest ratcheted my mood from pleasant, to anxious, to irritated, to a simmering level of possibly unjustified anger. I kept reminding myself of the comparative insignificance of cell phone service. Between bouts, I prepared a conservatorship petition for the mother of a twenty-two year old crushed in a rock quarry fall and a sheaf of papers for the adult children of a recent decedent striving to claim her small bank account. As I broke into hour three of my efforts to get my phone service restored, an “advanced technical agent” with the improbable name of Ender admitted that my last hope lay with a factory re-set. I hit “backup to Google” and hoped for the best.
Ender arranged for a replacement, not even the slightest bit embarrassed that my barely three-month old fancy dead phone would be replaced by a refurbished model. I stared at the device in my hand, now apparently a thousand-dollar paper weight. I gritted my teeth, thinking about my lot in life, worried about the loss of hours on my time sheet, calculating whether I had the stamina to stay late.
Around five o’clock, the family member of that twenty-two-year-old who lies in a medically induced coma stopped by to talk about our next steps. We chatted for a few minutes, being neighbors and friendlier than I usually get in a business setting. She happened to glance down at my phone, and mentioned that she had had no cell phone service for most of the day due to an outage. Sure enough, we used the same carrier. I could not believe that four customer service people, three levels deep, had not seen fit to properly investigate a system-wide ailment.
As I locked the office and moved towards my car, a tone chimed on my phone. I glanced down at the unfamiliar screen. The factory re-set stripped away the photograph of the tree that once rose from the meadow behind my tiny house, until it died some time during the early days of the pandemic and had to be removed. Now a generic wallpaper lurked behind the small assemblage of icons. I searched for the source of the sound, and realized that I had gotten a series of text messages, all from the various agents who had sent queries during our long, fruitless conversations. My phone had revived. No doubt, the entire network had come back online, bringing me with it.
My day draws to a close. I ate a sort of dinner, goat cheese on toast with sliced apples followed by two cordial cherries covered in dark chocolate. I’ve started the process of reloading my various identities onto this phone. I have not yet decided what to do about the one that has been mailed to me. I think very likely I will return it.
While I ate, I watched an entire video of a man building a cabin in a woods in the upper Midwest, as he called it. I listened to his voice-over narration, and smiled at the pauses in filming. He would look at the camera and described the satisfaction of a deftly cut angle, the heft of tin sheeting, or a makeshift bail-out system for getting water off a tarp on the roof without the whole thing collapsing onto the unfinished porch. He took no shortcuts. He measured, leveled, and measured again, before lifting his handsaw. By the time he lit the newly installed little wood stove and hung the door, my jaw had relaxed and my blood pressure had eased.
I studied the cabin that this complete stranger had built, with its straight walls and sturdy floors. I looked around my tiny house, wondering if I could install a wood-burning stove. I’d pull a chair close, just as this man had done; and I’d raise my hands to the fire at the end of a foggy day. I’d pull a flannel shirt around my shoulders, and settle for the night, while the cold wind whistled round my windows, and the rain fell across the island where I live.
It’s the fourteenth day of the one-hundred and eighth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.