In the dystopian novel "Waiting for the Repairman," a woman is slowly driven mad by, you guessed it, waiting for the repairman.
"Which four-hour window would you prefer?" she is asked in the novel's opening scene. "Nine to 1? Or 1 to 5?"
The woman knew this was coming — it has happened so many times before — yet still she is aghast.
"Four-hour window?" she cries into the phone, hating herself for being anything but nice to the man in the windowless room in Bangalore. "Who has four hours to sit at home and wait? On a weekday? Rich people with servants, that's who! Not people who work for a living!"
Finally, exhausted by her pointless battle with fate, the novel's protagonist picks her four-hour window. Then she collapses into a chair, weeping over the fleeting nature of time and life, and the endless, futile cycle known as repair and maintenance.
End Chapter 1.
So far, the complete version of "Waiting for the Repairman" exists only in my head, though I could have written the whole novel and a sequel in the time I've spent waiting for repairmen throughout my life.
Waiting for the repairman (almost always a man, even now) is one of the plagues of modern existence, right up there with potholes and incessant news of Justin Bieber.
The refrigerator. The heater. The plumbing. Or, as happened to me last week, the Internet connection.
Something in the house is always breaking, and it's another plague of modern life that most of us don't have a clue how to fix what we own.
So we wait.
One day in the not-too-distant future, people will look back at this moment in history and marvel. How strange, they'll think, that those folks in the early 21st century could invent self-driving cars and 3D printers and yet not figure out a way for service businesses to promise a repairman at 9 a.m. sharp.
To the people of the future, our four-hour, or longer, wait for the repairman will seem as primitive as dial-up Internet.
Until then, we lament, in the words of the 19th-century essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, "How much of human life is lost in waiting!"
Of course, Emerson wasn't talking about the repairman. He lived in an era when waiting was a natural part of life and speed as we know it was a barely imaginable luxury.
In his day, a letter could take weeks to arrive. So could a visitor. No one in his horse-drawn era raged over waiting through two cycles of the traffic light to turn left.
No microwave. No Wi-Fi. No Instagram.
But that was a long time ago. We live in an on-demand world, and in an on-demand world, waiting is a waning skill.
While waiting for the Internet repairman on Friday, I used a 3G connection to Google the phrase "waiting for the repairman."
My search turned up a Zogby poll on the societal cost of waiting for the repairman (half the respondents said they'd taken vacation or sick days to do it) and also revealed the existence of businesses that will send someone to do the waiting for you.
There were, as well, lamentations from others about waiting for the repairman. One was by a woman who took the only sane approach; she found something productive to do while she waited. She ironed all her linens.
Inspired by her wisdom, I used my waiting time to imagine the ending of my novel "Waiting for the Repairman." It would go like this:
The woman is dozing fitfully when she wakes with a start. The four-hour window! It has come and gone. And still no repairman. She calls the man in Bangalore.
"I apologize," he says. "We will try again. Which four-hour window would you prefer?"
Days later, the neighbors call the police to report maniacal laughter coming from the woman's apartment at all hours.
When the officers arrive, they find her still waiting for the repairman but smiling as she irons her linens, over and over and over.