The router seemed to beg from the shelves: Buy me. Freedom awaits in the heaven of wireless computing.

It was too tempting to resist. The world of broadband expanded throughout my house. Visions of watching "Desperate Housewives" while editing software reviews and browsing the Web flashed in my head.

Later, my mind flashed back to my farm days, loading calves into the truck on to their way to becoming low-fat cutlets. If I had had a mirror, I would have seen that same dull, but-terrified look in my eye. Yes, it's user installable, the salesman said. Too late, I realized he meant that in the same sense that a car engine is user installable if you have enough time, the right tools, and know-how.

But with the blindness of the self-confidently clever--I proceed. After all, it should just take a few telephone calls, if there is a problem.

There are always problems. The hard-fought liberation of DSL was barely realized when, after attempting to install the Linksys router, it became apparent that on my Westel 6100 DSL modem with the five lights, the one labeled "Internet" was as dead as a possum on a busy truck route.

A quick call to Verizon tech support set in motion a chain of events. Press the reset button on the modem, wait five seconds, pull the power supply, disconnect the router. Plug the modem back into the computer. Bring up the Internet. Type in the IP number, 555.555.5.5 (not real, like the phone numbers in TV shows), enter "admin" and "password" in the proper dialog box. Change the connection to PPPoE.

PPPoE? A quick review of the literature from Linksys and Verizon confirms my view that the letters PPPoE aren't there, nor are any of the other eye-chart materials that can be accessed via the button labeled "Protocols."

Okay, reset to PPPoE, change the password, edit the profile. Bring the Internet up. Reset the modem (Tech support's estimates on the time needed ranged from 20 seconds to one minute), unplug the power. Reconnect the modem to the router and the router to the computer. And the Internet is down.

As it says on the shampoo bottle, "rinse, lather, repeat." And repeat, and repeat, until the IP address is etched into my mind like a vehicle identification number on a car.

After Verizon tired of this game-- a couple of 45-minute calls--"I am going to transfer you to Linksys. Here's the number in case you get disconnected."

A few minutes later, after following the trail of electronic breadcrumbs through the Linksys phone system, I am in contact with someone who is probably one of the good citizens of Bangalore.

"My name is Rasheesh, how can I help you?"

"I am trying to install a router to set up a Wi-Fi system."

"Okay, let's open up Internet Explorer."

Some part of the grammarian in me remembers that let's is a contraction of let us, and I recall Mark Twain's dictum that the only people that refer to themselves as we are royalty and people with worms. I am not a person with worms, therefore, he must be telling me I will be treated like royalty. I decide against relaying this gem of insight, considering that Mark Twain may be outside of Rasheesh's cultural experience. I resist saying, "so you are going to crawl through the phone so 'we' can do this?"

Instead, I dutifully click the IE icon, expecting it to function as automatically as a rat that gets a drop of water for pushing a bar in a psych lab experiment. It doesn't work. (It didn't work with my rat either in Psych 101 many years ago. I curse B.F. Skinner. I curse B.F. Goodrich for extra measure.)

"You need to have Internet Explorer open," he explains patiently.

The words of doom appear once more.

"Server not found."

I glance down at the Westel 6100 modem with the five lights, I notice that the Internet light is off. That information is relayed to Rasheesh who says, "I can't help you if the Internet is not up. You'll have to call Verizon."

The long pent-up torrent bursts forward, like one of those simulated tragedies on "Storm Stories" on the Weather Channel. I believe I significantly extended Rasheesh's knowledge of the English language. He bore it like a ref on the verge of a calling a technical foul. He tells me, "You can go to our Web site and download software called NetSet. That will walk you through the installation." He gives me a phone number for advanced technical support. I wonder if he is beginning or intermediate.

Back to Verizon. After the usual recitation of options, and the obligatory statement that "We are experiencing unusually heavy traffic," I get another cheery denizen of corporate tech support. By this time, I am chanting the IP number and the steps in unison with the rep. I type in 555.555.5.5 before he starts speaking.

We get the Internet up--forget the router, I tell the rep. I am going to download the magic code from the Linksys Web site. "I'll be back," I promise. I visit the Linksys site. I note the "Set up your secure wireless network in seconds" message on its opening page. I take some Dramamine.

And with the Internet light back on, the Westel 6100 modem with the five lights is working. I dutifully visit Linksys.com and download NetSet, which I run, instead of befouling my computer with the set-up CD one more time. I reach a screen that says, "Checking you computer configuration." After running through a few tests, it reports back, "Cannot connect to the router."

I call the advanced Linksys tech support. After the obligatory message, "We are experiencing unusually heavy traffic, please wait for the next Ice Age," I get Ron.

Ron, of course, tells me to unplug the router from the modem, plug the modem into the Ethernet port on the computer, reset the modem, pull the power cord, wait one second, replace the power cord.

Priding myself on my tech support good citizenship, I respond done.

Silence.

"Done?"

This must have been what Simon and Garfunkel had in mind.

"Done, done. Ron?"

"Are you done?"

"Yes."

"Good, then reset the router."
"I haven't plugged the router in. You didn't tell me to."

"I told you would need to have the route plugged in...."

I remind him that bad customer service is a capital offense in several southern states. But at this point, I realize that Ron is not absorbed with solving my problem, but is likely thinking of a hot date at the end of the day and what he can say to get lucky and that my suggestions of how he should demonstrate the flexibility of various body parts will not distract him from that mission.

Since I called him--he's not a telemarketer and is therefore protected by the Geneva Convention--I decide to end our relationship. I imagine I hear a brief "huh?" as I hang up the phone.

Later that night, I call advanced support again, supposing that at that late time, Linksys must have advanced.

There's a theory in one of the Dead Sea scrolls that Job's faith is tested by having his crops destroyed, his livestock killed, and having to listen to hold music for several hours. Most people think he was covered with boils. He requested boils over being stuck on hold any longer.

This time, I think I got a boy named Sue. Or something. Actually, it's Sam.

"How can I help you?" asks Sam.

"I'm a terribly needy person. No one will talk to me in person. The only human contact that I get is by calling tech support lines and engaging in cheap, meaningless conversation."

"You like it?" Sam responds in puzzlement.

"Some us want to be used. Some of us want to be abused."

"You sound confused."
"Confused? Sam, I am," I mused.

This is getting me nowhere

"Can you hold for a second?" I ask.

I begin simulating the sounds of voices rising in concern and conflict.

"Scott, got down from that ledge. Put that router down. We can work this out."

"You can't make me. I was promised freedom. I was promised an Internet highway. Instead, I got a bumpy cul-de-sac."

I simulate a female voice.

"Bob, please come down. Think of the children."

"We only have one child."

"It sounded better dramatically. Think of your mother."

"What does she care? She has cable. It used to be that she relied on me. I was her rock. I installed her software; updated her drivers. Then she read AARP's Tech Guide for Savvy Seniors. I came home one day--I found her writing a SQL query. I have no purpose."

"Honey please. We can go back to, to, dial up. Acoustic couplers. Sneakernet. Anything, but don't harm the router."

"Bob. Bob, can I help you." I am jarred back to reality. Or what passes for it.

Sam doesn't have any better luck bringing up the router. But he does suggest I make a phone call--to Verizon--and say that I need to have the modem put into "Bridge mode."

"Which bridge?" I ask. Sam has no witty comeback, nor a sense of humor.

Back to Verizon and typing in 555.555.5.5 and a helpful guy name Bill and we try all the rigmarole again.

"I downloaded NetSet," I explain. "Linksys recommended it."

"I have never seen that work," he counters. Very comforting.

He stops in analysis: "Let's see. When we plug the modem with the five lights into the computer, it works. When we plug the modem into the router, it doesn't work. I'd say, take that piece of junk back to the place you bought it and ask for your money back."

I thank him, play a few games of Internet checkers to restore my sanity.

At church that Sunday, I relate my story to my friend Ken who always knows what to do about technology.

"Linksys uses a bad chip. It's a piece of junk," he says. "I recommend blah-blah and blah-blah."

That's when I realize that no matter how frustrating tech support is, one thing most of us hate is knowledgeable people. I tell him I will look for Ken's seal of approval on the products I buy. I exchange the router. I install the new one, run the system. It asks me for a password.

Password? What password? I try password. Then, buried at the bottom of a section of frequently asked questions is "Your password is admin." I put it in.

The system runs through its sequence.

"Cannot find router."

Ah, forget it, I think I'll get a pet.

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