It was the muffin that fried my head.
It wasn't Amazon's killing thousands of dollars worth of sales while misinforming shoppers that my book had been "cancelled." I handled that.
It wasn't my site going down for the first time in six years, accompanied by a 20-hour access blackout that cost me two days' work. I handled that.
It wasn't MCI. The hours I spent on hold. The additional hours I spent talking to apologetic service personnel who could never seem to fix my account (instead they made the problems worse).
The third MCI gentleman I spoke with, who may have finally solved the problem, stated that MCI had committed fraud against me by cancelling my account for no reason, creating two accounts in my name without telling me about either one, failing to assign either account a long distance plan, and woefully overbilling me.
"That's fraud," the gentleman said.
I don't care. I don't want to make a fuss. I just want to use the telephone. I handled it.
It wasn't the sudden flurry of reader queries that reminded me about Network Solutions' bungling A List Apart so badly that I can't access the account to correct it, and we can't send mail to our readers.
It wasn't all of this happening in the space of a few frustrating days. I handled it all. I was cool.
It was the English muffin that destroyed me.
Yesterday I'm re-editing Chapter 12 of my book, in response to a few comments from my development and technical editors. It would take an hour if I merely reacted to their comments, but I seize the opportunity to reread the chapter as if I hadn't written it myself—to find the flaws and rewrite accordingly.
It's going slowly because I was up all night dealing with Amazon's mistake after attending a dinner party that lasted 'til 3 a.m. It's 6 p.m. on a drizzly Saturday. I realize that I haven't eaten all day. A snack might help. An English muffin sounds good.
I have one. A toaster, too. The old-fashioned, top-loading kind—a gift from a friend.
I pop in the muffin, take deep breaths, center myself.
One muffin half pops up brown and delightful.
The other is stuck in the toaster.
Can't get it out with a fork.
Can't get it out with a knife.
Can't get it out by removing the bottom tray. Get lots of crumbs out that way. They tumble over the counter and cover the floor. But the muffin will not be moved.
Can't get it out by unplugging the toaster and shaking it upside-down over a towel. Do manage to produce more crumbs. They blanket the kitchen like forgotten sins.
Can't get it out by banging the toaster repeatedly against the kitchen sink, while my wide-eyed cats tremble behind the yellow couch.
Can't get it out by tossing it through my eighth-story window and flinging myself after it to the sidewalk below. I'm speaking theoretically, now; I don't actually try this last method.
Joan walks in.
"I'm going to shoot my car like Elvis," I say.
"You don't have a car," Joan says. "Let's watch the Sopranos."
A friend has given us the Sopranos box set (we don't subscribe to HBO and don't watch much TV). There was a problem with the earlier box set. The second tape wouldn't play. It seemed to have been mastered at the wrong speed, and my VCR's tracking mechanism couldn't catch up with it. I used to have a better VCR, but it died upon eating the first tape in a boxed set of Ric Burns' "New York" documentary series. I bought that series to support Ric Burns and PBS. My VCR ate the tape while committing seppuku. Now it's in a landfill somewhere. Or maybe, hopefully, in the home of some tinkerer who bought it from Goodwill and repaired it himself.
So now I have a bad VCR that couldn't play Episodes 4, 5, and 6 of the Sopranos box set. So now I have a replacement box set, thanks once again to a friend.
Given the way the day has been going, I'm afraid to open the new set. What if the second tape is mastered as badly as in the previous box set? What if once again, the second tape will not play? It's like reading a novel from which chapters 4, 5, and 6 have been removed.
"If this tape's mastered badly, and we can't watch it, I'm going to throw the toaster through the TV screen," I calmly announce.
But I don't.
We skip the tape we can't watch, and stay up all night watching the tapes that actually play. HBO may have problems producing playable videotapes, but the show itself is brilliant.
At 4 a.m. Joan and I are not even asking each other whether we should watch the next episode or go to sleep. We just keep running the tapes.
Amazon unsells books. Cisco makes defective routers. MCI overbills and cancels accounts at random. Network Solutions can't maintain accurate records, and can't even keep track of who owns the sites in its database. Sony VCRs eat videotapes and then die. HBO can't master videotapes properly. Editors send comments months after you think the book is finished. Doctors double-immunize infants. Doctors die and their offices lose your records. Mothers die slowly of terrible diseases. Toasters refuse to surrender Thomas's English Muffins.
But Tony Soprano has problems too.
We watch the Sopranos. And watch the Sopranos. And watch the Sopranos. After hours of murder, betrayal, and family problems, we crawl happily to bed.
Tomorrow comes. The chapter still waits for me. The toaster still lies on its side.
25 March 2001
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