December 31, 2013
With the Internet connection gone AWOL, Tuesday took a different turn and if nothing else renewed my appreciation of how full and engrossing a day can be without the distraction of an Internet presence tapping the shoulder like a bothersome addiction. In the moments after an errant vacuum cleaner nudged and killed the modem resting in its neutral corner, my first thoughts were a near panic of what would happen if a phone call to tech support didn’t bring the plastic box and its winking blue lights back to life.
I should have guessed it. The tech support representative 10,000 miles away did her best to remain calm and collected despite a panicky insistence that she repair my broken Internet connection in the next five minutes. Didn’t take long to realize that with a helper whose English skills were a handicap, solutions were a long way down the road. We battled on and she finally determined the modem was dead from its confrontation with my Eureka and she would dispatch a new modem to be delivered in the next two to three days. As any addict would, I complained, wanting the new modem delivered and installed by a company technician that very day. (The tech support rep should be commended for not laughing at me.) The best anyone could do—with minimal English—was a next day delivery with the installation in my hands.
All this forcibly altered my usual early morning computer routine and instead of spilling coffee and dropping crumbs on my keyboard I carried toast and coffee out to the back porch, then stepped outside to hang the bird feeder in the camphor tree. I got the first thrill of the day when Farina came bounding through her newly-installed dog door all on her own, no encouragement needed. With the help of my kindly neighbor, the door went in easily but with zero interest from the one it was intended for. She wanted nothing to do with it, saw something suspicious about it, barking and snapping at the plastic flap, swayed by neither peanut butter or chicken jerky. That was yesterday and after sleeping on it, I suppose it all came together in her doggy brain, bringing her leaping out this morning without a pause. Made me forget all about the Internet and its decadent enticements.
With the heat and most of the mosquitos on hiatus, life out on this dirt road country patch is a close second to paradise. Despite the shotgun booms of duck season, the quiet is close to perpetual, a steadfast companion during the hours I spend fiddling in the yard, raking, trimming, and these days filling in holes dug by Farina. The garrulous rooster over through the trees is never a bother and somewhere out there the goats will on occasion bleat in a chorus that sounds eerily human. Once a day the white truck passes on its way to the bee hives down the road, but traffic is minimal. New to the soundtrack are the barks of a playful puppy cataloging the rich smells of an environment seething with wildlife. Puppies are curious about most things and it’s a relief that mine has quickly learned to avoid the here and there humped nests packed with silent but ferocious red ants.
It didn’t require an Internet blackout to coax me into some chapters of a new book on my desk. James McBrides’s National Book Award winner, The Good Lord Bird is a wonderful read that would dull any techno-driven thoughts revolving around email, tweeting or updating a Facebook page. McBride’s book tells the story of 12 year-old Henry Shackleford, a slave boy in the Kansas Territory of 1856 kidnapped out of slavery by the legendary abolitionist John Brown. The old man mistakenly thinks Henry is a girl. Trying his best to survive, the boy spends the next few years dressed in a skirt, fooling nearly everyone except the black women he tries to imitate, following John Brown right into the thick of Harper’s Ferry. The book is narrated in the voice and dialect of Henry (Henrietta) and hearing a sample of the audiobook I thought I had inadvertently stumbled onto an old Amos and Andy broadcast. The story brims with colorful language that I expect is very close to what was common coin in the Kansas Territory of that time. The passage below comes from the early pages and describes Henry’s first encounter with John Brown.
‘…an old, tottering Irishman teetered into Dutch Henry’s and sat in Pa’s barber chair. Weren’t nothing special ’bout him. There was a hundred prospecting prairie bums wandering around Kansas Territory in them days looking for a lift west or a job rustling cattle. This drummer weren’t nothing special. He was a stooped, skinny feller, fresh off the prairie, smelling like buffalo dung, with a nervous twitch in his jaw and a chin full of ragged whiskers. His face had so many lines and wrinkles running between his mouth and eyes that if you bundled ’em up, you could make ’em a canal. His thin lips was pulled back to a permanent frown. His coat, vest, pants and string tie looked like mice had chewed on every corner of ’em, and his boots was altogether done in. His toes stuck clear through the toe points. He was a sorry looking package altogether, even by prairie standards, but he was white, so when he set in Pa’s chair for a haircut and a shave, Pa put a bib on him and went to work. As usual, Pa worked at the top end and I done the bottom, shining his boots, which in this case was more toes than leather.’
Refreshing to drape a sheet over the computer, forget about it, pick up a book and find a chair with a view out to the trees.