In the second grade, I learned to add a column of numbers. Then, I learned how to add across a string of numbers to reach the same conclusion. In both cases, 2+2=4. Now, decades later, O’Brien’s question to Winston in George Orwell’s 1984 and the anticipated response that 2+2=5 which means Winston is thoroughly broken resurfaced.
It all began Sunday when the red star topped the Internet Wi-Fi icon in my computer taskbar. No internet. I tried all the techie fix-its. Still no internet. On Monday, suffering heavy withdrawal symptoms, I drove to the local AT&T store to buy a new modem.
I was greeted promptly by a smiling woman seated at a round table similar to an oversized DVD disk next to a man with a tablet. She asked my first name and entered it in her iPad. Another smile. “Violet, there are only two waiting ahead of you,” she said.
I sat at the opposite end of a turquoise faux leather bench from a short man, age undetermined. His hands rested on a cart filled with a large cardboard box sealed with clear packing tape. His eyes darted back and forth to the door as if expecting the police to arrive and confiscate his boxed treasure. A tall, thin man with no socks browsed the iPhone displays. One plus one equals two waiting. But the numbers didn’t add up or across because there were four customers ahead of me.
The smiling team member (make that employee) kept working with the puzzled tablet customer. He looked more confused with each explanation. The other associate (again, make that employee) left her customer with a more perplexed look than Customer #1. That employee stood, tugged her stretch jeans upward, pulled her shirt down over the fleshly gap, and called the name of the man with the cart.
Eyes aglow, he smiled and lifted one hand like answering roll call in second grade. Slippy Pants approached him with a wary eye toward the box. He showed her what appeared to be a past due bill, whipped out a thick wad of cash that looked like he had emptied an ATM on his walk to the store—or perhaps retrieved it from the box before resealing it. She took the cash, entered a key code on a door to a back room, and reappeared minutes later with a receipt. She accompanied Customer #3 to the glass entrance and held the door wide. He maneuvered the cart outside. Then, Slippy Pants returned to Customer #2, the woman on the far bench, and worked with her phone a few more minutes. When nothing was accomplished, Slipp Pants repeated the tugging ritual before she called No Socks. Two plus two equals Customer #4.
No Socks slid onto a vivid orange contoured seat that reminded me of the John Deere tractor I rode on when I visited a childhood friend on a farm. Slippy Pants struggled as she climbed into a seat opposite him at the bistro table.
After another long wait, Smiley mouthed to me, “Thank you for your patience.” She continued to work with her perplexed customer while I waited. O’Brien was right. Two plus two equals five.
Finally, my turn. I drew the short straw—Slippy Pants.
Read my next post to see how my interrogator left me thoroughly broken.