Helplessly watching this sweating man thrust all of his body weight into my bedroom wall, grunting over the whine of the drill, I realised I was seeing and participating in the perfect metaphor for my attempts to connect my Xbox 360 to the internet in my new home.
"Man," he said, "you're a real tough 'un." I couldn't tell if he was addressing me, the drill, or whatever it was he was trying to bore through.
Let's back up. About three weeks ago I moved into a house I'm buying in my hometown. It was built in 1958. Its original walls are cinderblock. Sometime in the 1960s, its owners added a master bedroom, a deck, and a downstairs den. One of the bedrooms in the original layout is the office where I am now writing this. All of my video game consoles are in the downstairs den. An Internet signal needs to reach both. Those cinderblock walls prevent that.
After my cable internet was connected two weeks ago I went downstairs, punched on the Xbox 360, and was not at all surprised to see it could not find my wireless router. At my old dwelling, I had the console right next to the router, purchased in March, back in my old apartment, and the 360 frequently dropped the connection. I would sometimes get warnings in games about the goddamn NAT setting being "strict" and needing to be changed to "open," and I'd dutifully google what the hell that meant and still have no way to change whatever it was talking about. Eventually I just gave up in a huff of resentment and hardwired my 360 with Ethernet. I'm here to play video games, not fuck around with advanced networking. If I wanted to do that, I'd play on a PC.
The PlayStation 3 rarely had the same problem. I don't care if it's equipment, Internet provider or what. In my experience, the 360 has been a temperamental Princess-and-the-Pea piece of equipment when it comes to networking. So while the signal downstairs wasn't great, I could still use my laptop and my iPhone and even connect to PlayStation Network. The 360, naturally, couldn't even find the router on a scan.
I had two options: Essentially open a second Internet service account with the local cable monopoly, and pay $US120 a month, or try to find some way to position my router so that it could reach every device that needed a signal in the house. The only location was directly overhead of the consoles in the downstairs — in the master bedroom. There was no coaxial outlet in that bedroom. So I called an electrician.
The visit would be $US85 and then $US60 an hour after the first half-hour of work. Sounded reasonable. I only needed the guy to drill into the drywall and then thread a cable down into a small utility area underneath the stairwell to the downstairs. From there I could hook it to the feeder line coming in from the street. It seemed simple, as the wall already had an electrical socket that I assumed was provisioned from the downstairs.
Well, it wasn't that simple. About an hour in, the electrician had cut a hole in the wall and what looked like a long piece of fishing pole was dangling out of it, and he was using a hook and an angled mirror to position an elongated drill bit.
"Man, I'm onna tell you what, I ain't had a challenge like this in a while," he said. Or at least I think that's what he said. If you took Boomhauer from King of the Hill and made him a teacher in a Charlie Brown special, that's what he sounded like. He was a friendly and earnest enough guy, I just had to ask him to repeat himself constantly.
It got real tense when he finally re-seated the bit in the hole he had bored and yet it wouldn't drill through. It did go sideways through the drywall in my stairwell, however. He stammered profuse apologies, which I immediately accepted. I knew this was an unusual case. "I think we're hittin' metal," he said. "You got any steel beams between here and there?"
I said I had no idea, and dreaded the thought of it being true. "Well, I guess we'll find out," he said. He went out to his van and brought back another elongated bit. He fitted it into the hole, squeezed the trigger and started leaning. For what seemed like a solid minute, the drill didn't move. It had as much tension as a submarine thriller. I kept watching, waiting to see his hands descend, indicating that he'd plowed a channel through which life-giving Internet could be borne. Nothing.
Then, finally, his eyes widened. "Yep!" Slowly, he leaned on the drill, pushing it through. The whine changed to a lower frequency, and he grinned. He'd pushed through. He triumphantly removed the drill and held the bit up to my nostril, nearly burning it. "Smell 'at! That's wood!" He had to go through some kind of plate or bracket, but he did.
It took another hour to finish up the wiring, but he did. He went back to his van to retrieve a price list and figure up the final bill as I agonised over what this would cost. Xbox Live is $US60. How many multiples of that would I be spending? He handed me the total.
It was $US260.44. And as he did, I swear, he smoked a cigarette.
Hey folks, Something Negative is a rant. Love it or hate it, we all need to blow off steam.