Thursday, July 7, 2011


I learned a new word this week: to "wallfish" is to bury or conceal wires behind a wall by means of creating a hole in it, and then hooking or fishing the wires up through it.  It's a mechanism for hiding what's messy, or for trapping what's live and dangerous in a safe place.  I have Andrew to thank for my new word.  He came to my house this week to install cable television in a room where wires and plugs had been lying around scattered like kelp with teeth.  The first technician who'd come to the house hadn't wanted the job, but Andrew was up for it.

"Sounds like in-house," Andrew said about the other guy.  "They're always looking for excuses not to do things."

"He said my cable wasn't grounded," I told him, "and it couldn't be done.  Are you not in-house?" I gathered that meant he wasn't someone who worked directly for the cable company.

"No, ma'am.  I'm a contractor.  But the ground's no big deal.  I'll do it, and they can come by and ground it later."

"If it's safe for you?"

"It's no problem.  Long as there's no lightning."

"Have you ever been shocked?"

"Not by our wires, ma'am.  But by other people's, sure.  Like the phone company.  Somebody calls in while you're handling a line, and man, it can make your arm go numb." He grinned.  Mischievous.

Andrew was maybe nineteen, cleanshaven as a bootcamper, hair like a Beatle's.  His accent was thick and smooth, butter melting in his mouth.

"Andrew," I said while he got his monster of a drill bit out, "are you from around here?"

"No ma'am.  I'm from Ruffin, North Carolina.  Tiny place.  Only one stoplight.  It's got lots of space.  It's nice."

"You like it better there than here?"

"I do.  But it's good work here, even if they don't pay us as much as in-house."

"But I hope they pay you well," I said as he got ready to crawl under my house in the narrow and the dark and the heat, so he could fish the line up.

"Did till a few months ago.  Then they cut my pay about thirty percent."

"But why would they do that?"

"I'm not supposed to talk about the company.  But they're trying to get rid of us independents, is my guess."

He disappeared, and a few minutes later a line appeared miraculously through the sheetrock.

He told me, when we were on the same floor again, that sometimes customers expected him to work in rain and lightning.  He wasn't supposed to work in storms, but the week before a man had wanted him to run an aerial between two twenty-foot poles with a driving front blowing in.

"So what did you do?"

"I told him his line wasn't grounded," he laughed.  "Sometimes, you know, you gotta find an excuse."

I asked him if he'd gotten much training for all the unexpected things he had to do.  He said he'd gotten a full eight weeks, but now the company was pushing trainees out into the field after only three.  "It's crazy.  Half the time I still don't know how to do what I need to do.  I go real slow to make sure I'm doing it right.  I don't know how these new guys are managing."

"You don't seem slow to me."

He was already checking my cable connection on his laptop.  I jumped back.  His machine had crowed--a rooster's lusty cockle-doodle-doo!

He grinned again.  "It's just telling me there's a work order update.  It used to be a woman's voice.  But I changed her to a rooster."

"Why'd you do that?"

"It sort of wakes people up.  One time I was doing a job at a church, and there was this prayer meeting going on in the next room, and they all had to come out and see if it was inside, it sounded so real.  Plus, it's a great conversation starter with customers who don't want to talk to me."

"Sometimes they don't want to talk to you?"  What on earth did they do? I wondered. Just disappear while a boy jabbed live wire through a baseboard or danced up a telephone pole?

But Andrew seemed perfectly capable.  He didn't even need me to talk to him, I realized.  He just wanted me to.

"Some don't want to talk to begin with.  But it gets them going."

He covered the hole with a plate and gave me extra wire.

"Do I owe you anything?"

"Nope.  It's already paid."

It was getting late.  "I hope this was your last job of the day."

"It was."

"I hope you won't have to work on the holiday."  The Fourth was coming up.

"I do.  Saturday too."

"Well Jesus, I hope you get time and a half."

"We don't."

He grinned and reminded me what number to call if I had any problems.  And I couldn't for the life of me understand, I couldn't see, I couldn't guess, what lay behind that easy smile.  The rooster gave out a last call, then was shut up in the laptop.