Maintenance Window

Chris Bachelder


Late last night the guys down in IT patched the routers. No internet from 2:00 to 5:00 a.m., so today most of us here on the fourth floor are tired and blue.

These maintenance windows, they vex us. Most of us, it’s true, do not use the internet from 2:00 to 5:00 a.m. on a Sunday night. We all have to rise early for work. We’re good sleepers. But the very thought that the internet will not be available to us should we not be able to sleep makes us incapable of sleep. Lying there awake in the dark, in the middle of the night, without internet, the thing we yearn for most is the internet.

Call it the Paradox of the Maintenance Window, though Salmons says it’s not really a paradox. It’s a downer, though, he says. The windows are scheduled eight or ten times per year for firewall, server, software, router, and always Sunday nights late, actually Mondays early. They disrupt us. Salmons says it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, but that doesn’t sound right to most of us.

A few months ago we went down to IT. We had never been down there before. One whole room was just AV carts. Amassed, formational, the gray carts looked ominous, prepared to invade and occupy. Another room was like a ward for CPUs. In one room an entire wall hummed. “Is that the mainframe?” whispered Frye, and we all shushed him. The whole IT domain smelled like those projector screens our fathers used to set up to watch family slides. The screen scrolled down from the top and a little metal ring looped around a hook at the bottom. We tiptoed around until we found a desk with someone sitting behind it.

We explained—Berry did most of the talking—that we no longer wished to receive the email notifications about maintenance windows. We’d rather not know, we explained. We’d rather be in the dark about it. We want to sleep through the windows. We were all there except Colvin, who was upstairs alone. Colvin wanted to know. He worried what might happen to him if each night as he lay down in his hammock he began to worry if this was a maintenance window night. We weren’t convinced by Colvin at the time, but now we are convinced.

The point is moot, though, because the IT guy looked straight down at his desk and said he couldn’t take our addresses off the email list.

“Why not?” we asked.

“But surely you can,” Berry said.

“It’s a bylaw,” the IT guy said. From a drawer in his desk he pulled a thick three-ring binder, but we were already departing, walking backward away from the desk. We felt nervous and unwell. Waller started breathing funny. “Was that a help desk?” he gasped. Our ears popped as we took the elevator back up to four.

Last night at 2:41 a.m. Musky whispered my name. Musky is in the hammock above mine. I was awake, just listening to the toilets flush throughout the dormitory.

“You up, too?” I said.

“The router,” he said. He sounded sad.

“It will be good to have it patched,” I said, but my heart wasn’t in it. I could imagine a patch (jeans, inner tube), but the router was a grave mystery.

Musky said, “I’ve gotten to the point where it just bothers me that the system is down at all. I used to think it was about sleeping, but it’s not. Even if I slept during the window, I would still feel bad about the system having been down while I slept. It would still get to me.”

“When I lived alone,” I said, “I used to leave the television on when I left the room. I couldn’t see it or even hear it, but it made me feel better to know it was on.”

Nettles asked, “I mean it, guys, what is a router?” Nettles is below me, in Berry’s old hammock.

“You up, too?” I said, though I knew he had been.

Nettles said, “I could not identify a router if I saw one on the sidewalk.”

I thought Clark was asleep, but he answered from the opposite wall. “Our router is narrow,” he said.

Nettles said, “Everyone knows it’s narrow, Clark. That’s not what I asked.”

“No,” said Gillespie, from the bunk above Clark. “Our server is sleek. Our router could fit at the tip of your pencil.”

“That’s not right, either,” someone said.

We were quiet for a while. We felt ashamed to be so ignorant about something we depended on so thoroughly. Also, Gillespie’s mention of the server had us all thinking about those bad times when the server was down, with all of our incoming mails decomposing in the Earth’s core.

“If the router were working, we could learn what a router is,” Nettles said.

Clark said, “Please don’t even.”

“I think that’s a paradox,” said Musky sadly.

“It’s an enigma,” said Farraday-White. That was a surprise. Everyone thought he was visiting his mother.

Musky said, “Should we go down to the courtyard?” His hammock began swaying and creaking above me as he reached for the ladder.

“Yes,” we said.

Outside it was cool. It was the first cool night of the fall. Other rooms had already emptied and many of my colleagues stood beneath a tall lamp on the small common or sat on the dormitory steps, elbows on thighs.

“Burr,” we said, blowing on our hands. More of us kept emerging through the dorm doors, and by 3:30 the common was filled. Some had their laptops open on benches. They ran over every few minutes, returning with a shake of the head.

Eventually most of us were looking upward, in the direction of stars.

“I don’t know a single constellation,” Ellington said. “If there was an apocalypse and I was the only person left and I was in charge of recording all of human knowledge, I wouldn’t be able to record a single constellation.”

“That’s not the point,” Clark said.

“You guys don’t know how many times I’ve looked them up,” Ellington said. “And every time I forget them again.”

“They’re already remembered for you,” Clark said.

Stein said, “I can’t remember if this happened to me or if someone else told me about this, but I think it was me. When I was little, my grandmother would sit with me on the porch and we’d look at the stars and she’d have me make up my own constellations. It was a creative outlet.”

“That one there looks like a box,” Baird said. Baird was a showoff and many of us had trouble relating to him.

“It’s not a competition, Baird,” Stein said.

We all stared upward at the grandeur until our necks hurt and then we looked down again. Many of us checked our glowing watches. We milled and we sat, biding.

The grass on the common was lush and wet with dew. There was talk of Kick the Can and Capture the Flag and other youthful pastimes. Nobody could remember the rules and nobody had printed them out. Pezzuto ran up to his room to check the dented file cabinet in the lounge, then returned shortly. “Nope,” he said. “Just Cribbage, Red Rover, and one other one. Tag, maybe?”

“When I was a kid,” Deery announced, “we would stand beneath streetlights at night and throw pebbles into the air and watch the bats swoop in to eat them.”

“I just remember being incredibly worried, all the time, about my school pants,” Gillespie said.

Twayne sat down next to me on the dormitory steps, a little too closely, I thought. Twayne was OK, generally speaking, but I was a little worried that he would confide. He could be a confider, especially during maintenance windows. Last time (firewall), he told Clark and Stein that all through junior high his stepmother had packed him tuna fish sandwiches for lunch, and the tuna salad was so moist that by lunchtime the bread was wet and the sandwich was inedible. He threw away these sandwiches every day for years and never told his stepmother.

“How are you?” Twayne asked.

“I’m fine,” I said.

“You always say that,” he said.

“How are you, Twayne?” I asked.

“I’ll be better when this is over,” he said.

“Shouldn’t be too long now,” I said.

We sat together quietly for a time, hunched in the cold. Small, hard things kept hitting our heads and shoulders. Pebbles, we discovered.

Twayne leaned toward me even closer. His breath was minty. “I don’t know,” he said.

“What is it, Twayne?” I asked.

“Do you ever . . .” Twayne said.

“Do I ever what?” I asked. “Just say it.”

“Do you ever just wonder what Berry’s up to?” Twayne asked.

I scooted away from Twayne. “For heaven’s sake,” I said.

“I know,” Twayne said. “Now really, he’s been gone nearly eight weeks,” I said. I spoke perhaps with more vehemence than I intended, and several heads turned in our direction.

“I know, I know,” Twayne whispered.

“Enough is enough,” I said.

Bartkowski jogged to the bench to check his laptop. “Hey, hey,” he called. “Router’s patched, window’s shut. All systems go.”

It was 4:39. IT was ahead of schedule, as usual. Everyone began to move in a swift but orderly fashion into the dormitory. A few would log on in the lounge or hallways, but most returned to their hammocks for a couple hours of sleep before work.

“Seriously,” I said to Twayne, standing up and smoothing out my pants. “I’m serious. You have to stop.”

“I know,” Twayne said. “Forget I mentioned it.”

I do, in fact, occasionally wonder what Berry is up to. He was a good worker and an excellent individual. He was smart and confident and personable. He had reserves of something. We all felt good when Berry laughed at one of our jokes. He was witty and handsome. Everyone liked and admired him, and some even imitated him, the way he dressed or formatted, the way he walked (he had such a long stride). We all considered him a lifer, but one day in the cafeteria he told us he was leaving. He didn’t even know where he was going, which only made it worse. Three days later we got up at dawn and walked him through the fog to the stone gate. He had given away all of his shirts and ties, and all he had with him was a small canvas duffel bag. He looked us all in the eye and shook our hands. Then he got into a waiting taxi—he had a real sense of style—and away he went.

We’ve gotten no word since, not even a group email.

Every man is free to make his own choices. I wish Berry the best. If this is what he wants, good for him. I’m sure he’s finding it a bit less than he imagined, but on the other hand maybe he’s not. What else is there to say? People like Twayne who dwell on it don’t make it any better. We’ve all got to carry on.

Still, I felt bad for snapping at Twayne, so this morning, first thing, I apologized at the coffee station. He paused a moment, as if trying to recall the injury. He ran his fingers through his hair and I think I spotted Berry’s cufflinks. Then he patted my shoulder and told me not to think anything of it. “It’s these windows,” he said.