Wednesday, March 05, 2008

In the Event of an Emergency

I recently told this story to someone who said, “That’s one of the funniest telecommuting stories I’ve ever heard. That ought to be in a book.” Well, how about a blog instead of a book?

Mandarine has informed me that I’m not allowed to refer to myself as a Luddite anymore, and he’s right. After all, I telecommute, which a true Luddite would never do, and I’ve created more than one blog, and I’ve even been known to copy HTML code when needed (although don’t ask me to remember anything I copy). However, although I may not (in true Luddite form) be destroying mechanized looms, I’m still on some level afraid of them, always sure they’re just going to quit on me and that I’m going to be left stranded in the middle of a task, unable to produce the material someone somewhere is demanding I produce. This fear, like most, is usually buried way down in the bottom of my brain as I go about my day, but it doesn’t take much to get it to come popping up to the surface. Thus, one morning sometime last year, I turned on my computer to find I couldn’t get into the company network. Of course, this happened to be on a day when I had some important report or manuscript deadline or something, and I was completely dependent on network access.

Panic set in. The one good thing about computer panic at our company is that the extension for our IT helpdesk is extremely easy to remember. All of our extensions begin with “1,” and the helpdesk extension is 1911. How can anyone forget that? (I mean, the inability to get into the network is an emergency right up there with car accidents and intruders in the house, isn’t it?) It’s a very lucky thing for me that the extension is so easily remembered, because when I can’t get into the network, I don’t have access to the document that provides everyone’s phone extension, and, being the impractical person that I am, I’ve never bothered to print out that document, always thinking I can just get an extension from our receptionist if I’m not online. Well, at 7:30 a.m., our IT people are around (do those guys ever sleep?), but our receptionist isn’t. You’re out of luck if you don’t know the helpdesk extension.

Anyway, here I am in panic mode, so I pick up the phone to call the helpdesk (whose extension I can remember even in panic mode), and my call doesn’t go through. Instead, I get a rather strange dial tone (typical!). Now worried that the whole system up at office headquarters is down (sometimes everything goes out up there: computers, phones, and all), I re-dial and manage to get through to the helpdesk. As is often the case, our extremely helpful techie indicates that everything is fine up there, and he has no idea what might be the matter with my connection. Am I sure my ISP is working? Yes, I’m sure. Did I try rebooting? (Yes, even I know to do that much before releasing the reins to panic.) He suggests I try rebooting again, which I do, and due to some mystery well beyond human reason and logic, it works this time, thus making me look like a complete liar for telling him I’d already tried rebooting. So I thank him profusely as I always do and get to work.

This happened to be the morning after Bob had been up half the night, for reasons I can no longer remember (probably he was reading a Harlan Coben mystery or something). He had decided he was going to sleep in and had asked me to try to be quiet and not to bother him. No problem. My office in those days was nowhere near the bedroom, and I didn’t plan to have any visiting marching bands before 10:00 a.m. or anything. I settled in for a nice quiet morning of undisturbed work while Bob slept.

When I’m working, I don’t tend to be someone who looks out the window all that often. Thus, when the doorbell rang shortly after 8:00 a.m., I was yanked out of cyberspace and looked up and out the window to see two cop cars sitting in the driveway. Huh? Why would there be two cops coming to our house? Luckily, I was dressed in something other than a tank top and boxer shorts (which isn’t always the case in the summertime), and I raced down the stairs to answer the door. Meanwhile, Bob was yanked out of dreamspace and jumped out of bed to look out the window himself to see two cop cars sitting in the driveway.

I opened the door, and the cop standing there said,

“We got a 911 call from this house.”

I looked at her, blankly I’m sure, and said, “You did?”


“Nobody called 911 from this house.” Then it hit me. Yes, I had called 911. I’d been in such a panic over the computer that when I’d picked up the phone to call the helpdesk, I’d dialed the extension without first dialing the office number. That was why my first call hadn’t gone through. Doing my best Idiot imitation, I’m explaining to the cop that, oh yes, wait a minute, I did (silly me!) happen to dial 911 this morning. (I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to dial 911 unless it’s a real emergency, isn’t it? Or is that just some urban legend perpetuated at teenagers' slumber parties? Somebody at 2:30 a.m. knowingly and sincerely tells everyone, “You know, my friend so-and-so once dialed 911 when there was no emergency, and he was sent off to reform school, and we haven’t heard from him since.”) Luckily, the cop seems to be much more upset about the fact that none of the houses on our street has clearly-marked house numbers at the end of their drives, telling me how they had a terrible time finding our house and how dangerous that is if anyone ever has a fire or something (what? The firemen wouldn’t be able to see the smoke billowing up from one of the seven houses that were on the dead-end road? But I'm not going to argue with a cop), than she is about my false 911 call.

Idiot is mumbling, “Yes, yes, you’re right,” when Bob suddenly emerges at the top of the stairs, hastily-thrown-on shirt half-unbuttoned (the jeans, thankfully at least, were fully buttoned), hair uncombed, wanting to know what’s going on. Idiot begins praying to herself that he doesn’t look too much like Mr. Wildman who might have someone hidden in the closet, someone who was trying to dial 911 earlier this morning. You know how on TV and in movies, when someone like that suddenly appears on the scene, the cop gets suspicious and really begins to investigate? Well, luckily, we weren’t on TV or in the movies. The Idiot repeated again how she’d dialed an extension without first dialing the office number, the cop repeated the need for house numbers on the street, and then she left, which was a very good thing in this case, but left me a little nervous for those who might actually be held captive in Mr. Wildman's closet in my former town of residence.

Let’s see: mysterious outage that can’t be explained. Peaceful morning ruined by the arrival of cops. Husband, probably not for the first time, lamenting the fact he married the Idiot. Is it any wonder I fear mechanized looms? But don't worry. There's no way on earth the Idiot could figure out how to destroy the damn things.


ZoesMom said...

You are certainly NOT an idiot nor are you a Luddite. The problem was simply the phone which is one of those things that it is just so easy to use incorrectly -- especially when people try to do clever things with it like making the helpdesk line contain 911. The likelihood of a mis-dial in that situation is as high as the likelihood that the work network was actually down or inexplicably slowed in the 10 minutes you were trying to connect before your call to the helpdesk. Never-the-less, it is quite a good story!

Anonymous said...

I think a helpdesk line is asking for trouble with a number like 911! This was hilarious, Emily. But there's no need to feel bad. I remember listening on the radio to an item about annoying 999 callers; someone once rang up because they couldn't get the answer to a crossword puzzle clue and thought someone might be able to help them. Now THERE'S an idiot!

Anonymous said...

Oh Emily, this made me laugh. As the tech person where I work, I am well aware of the phenomena of the user trying to fix the problem and then me showing up to their office and suddenly everything works fine. If it's any comfort, I believe them most of the time (the ones I don't believe are the ones who always have problems). You are not a Luddite. In fact, I am sure you have a computer geek inside of you just waiting to be born :)

Anonymous said...

One of my friends used to work as a 911 dispatcher and she had insane stories to share. Once, a woman called and asked for some help to move her couch. My friend said "Ma'am, this line is for emergencies" and this woman said "It IS an emergency, I'm sick of looking at this f'ing couch!"
Anyway, I don't think you are an idiot at all! And I doubt very much your husband has ever lamented marrying you.
Loved this story!

Emily Barton said...

I had lovely comments for all of you, but blogger went and lost them on me (%$&!), and I don't have time to recreated them, so I'll just say for now: I'm glad to see others out there don't think I'm a complete idiot.

Rebecca H. said...

Wow, sometimes technology really does go horribly wrong, and it always happens all at once -- including the blogger comments. What a story! That's just too funny that the cops showed up ...