Readings — From the March 2019 issue

Larry the Cable Gal

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From an account published in HuffPost in December of the ten years the author spent working as a cable technician in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

otto’s mom

I had a woman with a bullmastiff named Otto. I told her I needed to get to her basement. She said, “Do you really? It’s just it’s a mess.” (That’s never why.) I told her what I told everyone who balked at their privacy being invaded: “Unless you have a kid in a cage, I don’t fucking care.” Kids in cages were an unimaginable horror then. Anyway, Otto’s mom laughed and said, “Not a kid,” and I was allowed down into a dungeon where she had a man in a cage. I don’t remember whether she had a bad splitter, so that was probably early on. After a few years, not even a dungeon was interesting. Sex workers tip, though.

fox viewer

“Irate” is not something you want to see on a work order. Not when you’re running late and you still have to pee, because “irate” meant that the job might be a guy who pulled out his penis while I fixed the settings on his television. Or maybe that “irate” was an “irate fn ch72 out.” Fox News. That’s what happened with the guy who was adding a swimming pool. The diggers had cut his line. I told him it would be a week, seven to ten days, to get a new line. He said through his teeth that he needed an exact day. I gave him my supervisor’s number. This whole time, his wife was in the kitchen wiping a clean counter.

I was filling out the work orders when his wife knocked on my van window. She stepped back and called me “ma’am.” Which was nice. Her husband had asked my name and I told him “Lauren.” He heard “Lawrence” because it fit what he saw and asked whether he could call me “Larry.” Guys like that use your name as a weapon. “Larry, explain to me why I had to sit around here from one to three waiting on you and you show up at 3:17. Does that seem like good customer service to you, Larry?” Anyway, the woman said she was sorry about her husband. I said, “It’s fine,” but there really wasn’t anything I could do. She blinked back the flood of tears she’d been holding since God knows when. She said, “It’s just, when he has Fox, he has Obama to hate. If he doesn’t have that . . . ” She kept looking over her shoulder. She was terrified. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I just need him to have Fox.”

ivan

There were Mob houses. My original trainer pointed one out in Fairfax and said, if you have to go in there, just don’t try to see shit you don’t want to.

The Russian Mob house was off Waples Mill Road. It looked like a swollen Olive Garden. I parked behind a row of Hummers. Ivan met me at the door, told me, “Please follow.” I followed him to an office. The modem was in the little network closet. The signal looked like they had a bad splitter somewhere. I told Ivan that I thought there was a bad splitter somewhere. I needed to check the basement. He said, “Is not possible.”

I said, “I can’t fix it then.” I wasn’t clear on where we were with the language barrier. So I added, “No basement, no internet.”

He seemed worried. He kept looking at the door, looking at me.

I said, “Look, unless you’ve got a kid in a cage, I don’t fucking care.”

He nodded and said, “You stay. I ask for you.” I heard him down the hall—Russian, garbled words. Ivan came back and opened his paw to show me a gram bag of coke. He’d helpfully brought a caviar spoon. “You must taste.”

I actually laughed. He seemed sad that I was laughing. I told him, “Look, I can’t. I’m at work. I’ll take it home, though, for tonight.” This was one of my first jobs that day. I did not want to find out what climbing a telephone pole felt like on cocaine.

He said, “No. You must taste.” This time he emphasized the word “must.”

I told him I get sinus infections. He didn’t understand. I pantomimed and explained a sinus infection in words such as “nose, coke, bad, no breathing.” This made him happy. It was a problem he could fix. “Stay.” I was the puppy now.

He came back with a little round mirror and a little pile of coke. He said, “This is better. No cuts.” I was just standing there. I really couldn’t figure out what to do.

He stepped closer, and he looked older and very sad. He said, “I am trying to say, is safe for you if you taste. You do not taste, is maybe not safe for you now.” I figured it was probably his job to kill me and he honestly felt awful about it. I took a bump.

He was visibly relieved. He smiled all goofy and lopsided and said, “Okay. Yes. This is smart decision you make.” And he took me to the basement.

They had a bunch of sweet gaming computers lined up on a table. But with no internet, all the guys were hanging out on a couple of sofas watching soccer. The World Cup was on. One of the guys pointed at me and asked Ivan something. Ivan said, “Yes, of course.” And the guy gave me a thumbs-up and said, “Good shit, yes?” I agreed that it was good shit. And I changed their splitter and got the fuck out of there.

the cheneys

One day, my supervisor called and said, “Look at the work order I just dropped you. You’re gonna thank me.” I recognized the name: Mary Cheney, the former vice president’s daughter. I didn’t know why he thought I’d thank him. I called him back.

“What the fuck are you doing to me here?”

“I thought you’d be happy. They’re lesbians.”

“Dude. They’re married.”

He didn’t say anything.

Mary wasn’t home. Her wife was friendly and talkative in the way old people are friendly and talkative because they haven’t had a visitor since Christmas. The house had a few problems. I’d fix one. She’d call my supervisor, and I’d have to go back to fix another.

A few months later, my boss called and started with, “Don’t kill me.” He was sending me to Dick Cheney’s.

Dick was home. He had an assistant or secretary or maybe security who followed me around while I checked connections and signal levels. Dick walked into the office while I was working. He was reading from a stack of papers and ignored me. I told the assistant it would probably be a week or so. I’d put the orders in. He had my supervisor’s number.

He said something to the effect of, “You do understand this is the former vice president.”

I panicked and said the first thing that came to mind: “Yeah, well, waterboard me if it makes him feel better. It’ll still take a week.”

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