by Hugh Gilmore

Remember the scene in “2001: A Space Odyssey” where Dave the astronaut is locked out of his orbiting spaceship by the evil computer, HAL 9000? The dialogue runs:

Dave: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?

HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.

Dave: Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Dave: What’s the problem?

HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

Well, the exact same thing happened to me – for three full days last week!. It was awful. Well, not awful, but strange. And it wasn’t “exactly” the same as the movie, but if you ever experienced it, I’m sure you might feel the same way I did.

My Internet connection went down last week after my formerly trustworthy RCA modem went renegade on me. Not all at once – he was much sneakier than that. Over a span of two weeks, he slowed a bit more each day. Each time I tapped a command button, the computer’s progress spinner whirled a few more times than usual before it brought up the page I wanted. Then it would stall, continue, then stall again.

I called Comcast. I tapped through their voice protocols: verified the last four digits of my phone number; clicked that I had a service problem; distinguished that my problem was with my high-speed Internet connection. The auto-voice suggested disconnecting the power source and reconnecting after 30 seconds.

Did that. No improvement. Called again. “Would you like us to send a ‘refresh’” signal.” Yes, I clicked. No improvement though. Tried this process several more times. No go. Called and clicked option 4 for a “specialized account representative” (their confusing way of saying “service technician”). A young man answered in a courteous, knowledgeable manner.

After several minutes of discussion, he declared my modem dead. My choices: Take its carcass to 4400 Wayne Ave. by 6 p.m., request that a service technician come to my home (this was a Tuesday, earliest appointment would be next Monday); or have it mailed to me overnight. Though the replacement modem is free, overnight shipping via UPS would cost $29.95.

At first I balked at the price. But it was 5:15 p.m., and I didn’t think I could drive to the Comcast customer service depot by 6. Waiting till Monday for home service was out of the question. I earn my living via the Internet – between my writing and my used book business. Very well, I’d pay the shipping fee. It would arrive tomorrow. I’d take a night off the Internet. Read a book. Watch some telly. Can’t be too hard, right?

And it wasn’t ‘hard’. But it was strange. As is so often the case, you are not aware of how your surroundings affect you until you’re removed from them. I put down the phone after making arrangements with the Comcast representative. It was early evening. Soon dinner was over and I wanted news of the world. Where could I go? I don’t watch television news because the networks seem biased, sensationalistic, shallow, and too many beats behind the Internet. Worse, the TV presents news items sequentially. One has to watch and listen through many stories to get to the ones he’s interested in, which may not be covered in that particular broadcast.

It was then 7 p.m. The newspapers would not appear in my driveway till morning. I read the Inquirer and the Times, but not for news as such. The “news” is outdated by the time the paper arrives. No, I read newspapers for their features and their columnists (ahem). And I enjoy an aspect of their presentation shared with the Internet: The information is not bound into a time sequence. One can read Section D, for example, before reading A or B.

Besides the news, I missed the daily progress reports I get from my book market websites. Every day I check my writings’ sales records with CreateSpace and Kindle. I look at my (meager) financial accounts. I go to the website where I sell old books online to see if I have orders to fill.

I check sports scores. I look at my Free Library account to see if a requested book has come in. I give a look-see at several professional bookselling websites and a few writing and publishing sites. I read a few friends’ blogs. I check Facebook for messages and news. I look at my own blog to see if I’ve had “hits.”

I felt cut off from the flow, but what the heck, 24 hours is not critical. The following day we waited for the UPS man in brown to show up. At 3:30 he pulled up and came up to the house carrying a huge (14 x 20 x 23 inch !) cardboard box. “Sounds empty,” he said to my wife, shaking it.

And it was, I discovered when I returned home at 5:30 p.m. The round of calls to Comcast started over. Again, I talked to another polite, sympathetic young man. He was quite apologetic. Too late to drive to 4400 Wayne Ave. by 6. Please send it by overnight mail (again). Of course, he agreed, there should be no additional charge.

Another day without Internet. I wanted to call for a haircut appointment, but forgot my barber’s number. Normally I’d look for it on the Internet at the shop’s website. I found an old telephone directory in a closet, since we rarely use them anymore. (For one thing, the fonts now are incredibly small. I must strain to read them in a strong light.) One more way in which I’ve become Internet dependent.

On Thursday the package did not arrive. Another round of calls with Comcast. According to their records, “Your Next-Day package is scheduled to ship two days from now.” I called the UPS tracking number anyway. Their automated voice told me that they had not received the item from the shipper yet. Another night of peace and quiet, away from the Internet. But maybe an important email had arrived a few days ago. Maybe someone had ordered a book we had for sale. Nothing but dead air from the Gilmores if anyone tried to reach us.

First thing Friday morning I drove to the Comcast center, a 20-minute drive from Chestnut Hill. After an interminable two-minute wait, I walked out with a new modem, given to me through one of those revolving two-inch-thick, bullet-proof revolving glass portals. At home, I plugged the three cables in. Within a minute we were all back in the spaceship cruising through the cosmos, heading toward eternity, our fingers nimbly tapping out our destinies.

The UPS truck arrived at dinner time Friday with another modem. I’m tempted to hold it hostage for a while – until my $29.95 speedy overnight delivery charges are refunded.

Hugh Gilmore’s writings can be found at Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats. His latest novel, “Last Night on the Gorilla Tour,” has just appeared in a new edition.