This Great Society - Writing


Illustration: Linnea Elynn McNally

Adam Grant Warren: Connection

Illustration: Linnea Elynn McNally


           “I don’t think this is working.”

           “What? I can’t hear you. The audio is shit. And the video is worse. I’ll call you back.”

           I click the X in the top left-hand corner of the video window and your face, a patchwork quilt of frozen pixels, disappears. I click another button and my computer starts to ring.

           Do you remember that phone we used to have? The old black rotary dial thing you found in my parents’ basement and dragged into our living room? The Bat Phone, you called it. No good for telephone banking, or even checking voicemail. With that phone, there had to be a real live person on the other end to pick up and say hello. But there was an actual bell inside, with a tiny hammer and everything. You loved that sound. And whenever it rang, you got to shout “To the Bat Phone!” Which, as far as you were concerned, was totally worth the lack of Caller ID.

           It took two months for the novelty to wear off that thing. But before we got frustrated and put the Bat Phone back in my dad’s basement, I recorded it and saved the ring as a .WAV sound file. I imported the .WAV to the audio profile for VideoChat and attached that ringtone to your contact. Now, whenever you call, my computer rings the way the Bat Phone did.

           Tonight, you let it ring ring ring ring ring ring ring before you answer. At first, I think it’s because you want to hear the bell. Then I realize that it only sounds that way for me. I sent you the file, batphone.wav, but you said you couldn’t figure out how to make it work.

           “Hey,” you say, your face finally moving in time with your voice. I ask you if the connection is better now and you tell me it’s awesome.

           Things are only “awesome” for you when something is wrong. They can be great, or cool, or wicked – things have even been rad a couple of times. But when they’re awesome, something has either just gone to shit or is about to go to shit. When I told you I’d make reservations at The Press and Bean for your birthday, but forgot and tried to convince you that we didn’t need them, things were awesome all the way to the restaurant. When you told your dad that you were putting your MBA on hold to go teach English in Japan, things were awesome for weeks afterward. And here we are. You in Japan and me with a double bed all to myself. Awesome.

           I click another button and your face expands to fill my whole monitor. I can still hear every word you’re saying – your boss is an asshole, pretending not to notice that he’s paying you less than he said he would; you went to see an ancient temple yesterday, which was weird because it was right in the middle of the city, next to a motopark. You ask me how my day was, but before I can tell you, your video feed starts to break down again. It’s not completely frozen, but it stops and starts, your lips sprinting to keep pace with the things you’ve already said.

           “The video is going to freeze again,” I say.


           “The feed is all wonky. You’re going to freeze in a couple of seconds.”

           “Fine,” you say. “I’ll call you back. I’m going to take a shower.”

           I remember two months ago. You left for Japan and I waited for that first call. I fell asleep by the computer and when it rang, I forget you were gone and called out. “Jess! Bat Phone!” On my computer screen: “Jess is calling. Accept/Decline.”

           I clicked “Accept” and filled my monitor with your tiny apartment on the other side of the planet. You carried your laptop around the one small room, put me down on the bed, on the desk and on the middle shelf of the bookcase while you opened every drawer and cupboard. We talked about what would go where. About the things you’d need to make the place a home. Then you brought me into the bathroom – put the laptop by the sink and tilted the camera towards you. You undressed, showered and described the feeling of the water on your body. All that night, and into the next morning, the video connection never even hiccupped.

           When you finally call back tonight, your hair is in a towel and the rest of you is hidden in a too-big Wonder Woman T-shirt. I watch your face moving one frame at a time, while you tell me how even though your boss is an asshole, you still love the city. So much. How your students have learned to respect you and how you’re going to visit “the country” tomorrow with one of the other teachers, so you won’t be online for a while.

           “Okay,” I say.

           You don’t say anything. And then: “Hello?”

           “Hello? Jess? I’m here. I said okay. I think it’s awesome that you’re going to the country. Take lots of pictures.”

           “Oh. Yeah. I didn’t hear you before. Something must have frozen.”

           “Do you want me to call you back?”

           “No. I think… I think I’m going to go to bed. The connection is shit tonight, anyway.”

           “Oh. Okay. Goodnight.”

           On the screen, your lips move. It looks like “We’ll talk soon,” but the call drops before the words can catch up to your mouth.

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