Sunday seemed like pizza day. And in Juneau, pizzas are sometimes delivered.

I got out the Juneau phone book and looked up the local pizza parlor. There was no ad listed in the yellow pages. Nor in the white pages.

Realizing that this is, after all, Juneau, Alaska, and business disappear as quickly as they appear, I figured that pizza place was gone.

My landlord, who was also interested in pizza, said, "Which phone book did you use?"

"Which? 'The.' I looked in 'the' phone book."

"There's your mistake," she said. She went to the desk under the telephone, opened a drawer, and pulled out four phone books of different origin, each proclaiming to be the ultimate directory for "Juneau and Vicinity".

She said, "The number is probably in a different phone book."

"Which one?"

She shrugged.

"Is there a phone book to tell you which phone book has your number?"

"Don't be silly." She went back to the useful thing she was doing, while I pursued the number in one of the other books.

But I could not find the number. I suggested the owners had closed up and moved to somewhere civilized. Antarctica, perhaps.

My landlord said, "That's ridiculous. It's still there. I just passed it on the way home from work, Friday. It was open and serving pizza."

Then she pointed out I was looking at the "Vicinity" part of the phone book.

"Those are the listings for Wrangell."

"Wrangell? Where the hell is Wrangell?"

"It's a 150-mile ferry trip south of here."

"A 150-mile boat trip is '& vicinity'? What's wrong with you people? That's a different country."

The pizza place was not listed in that phone book. I tried another, and was sure not to be looking up phone numbers for people and businesses located on moving ice floes. There it was.

"'The Pizza Store'. Good evening. How can I help?" said the cheerful male voice that ended the ringing.

"Hi. I'd like to order a pizza to be delivered to my house," I said.

"Sure. What would you like?"

"Large pepperoni."

"Large pepperoni. Any drinks?"

"Nope. Just the pizza."

"We have a special going. A large pizza, a liter of Coke, and a gallon of buttered popcorn for only $19.99."

"It'll just be the pizza today," I said, wondering if he'd appreciated how he'd mixed the metric and English systems in one sentence without commentary.

"By itself, the pizza is $18.99. For a dollar more, you get popcorn and coke."

Pepperoni pizza is on my cardiologist's list of things that will kill me dead before I have the chance to join the AARP. Manufacturing depleted uranium bathtub toys is safer for me, apparently.

Pizza with popcorn is on his weapons-of-iceowl-destruction list.

"Nah. Thanks. Really. Just the pizza," I said.

"Amazing," said the pizza guy. "You're the first one who didn't take the deal. Ok. What's your name?"

"First one today?"

"No. Like. Ever."

"Wow."

"Name?"

"Joe."

"Pizza will be ready in 15 minutes, Joe."

"Don't you want my address?"

"Address?"

"Um, for the delivery?"

"Delivery? We can't do that."

"But your ad in the phone book says, 'Free Delivery'"

"Which phone book?"

"Juneau and Vicinity."

"Damn. Those are all wrong."

"So you don't do delivery?"

"Nope. But let me give you another number to call."

When I dialed the other number he gave me, I got a machine.

Machine: "Welcome to The Pizza Store. Your phone call is very important to us so don't hang up. Please press '1' for directions to 'The Pizza Store'. To hear the menu, press '2'. For home delivery, press '3'. For take out, press '4'."

Good now we're getting somewhere. I pressed '3'.

"The Pizza Store. How can I help?"

"I'd like to get a pizza delivered."

"No problem," he said. And he took my order, name and address. He did not try to sell me anything else.

Because I am the type of person who after successfully defusing a fuel-air bomb, becomes immediately disappointed he deprived himself of a nice 'boom', I asked him, "Hey, aren't you the same guy I talked to a minute ago?"

"Yeah. Wait. Um. No."

This sort of thing should probably have stopped surprising me months ago, but it makes me worried that sooner or later they'll turn off all the gravity here, and then I'll be floating in the sky with angry halibut and idling sport-utility vehicles.









The Tour de France was going to be run and so I needed the Outdoor Life Network so I could watch the coverage. That required getting cable TV.

There was a cable already run to the house, but my landlord had cancelled the service. When I convinced her to turn it back on in the name of international cycling, the cable TV people offered her phone service as part of the package. She took it.

The day they switched over the phones from the old Alaskan phone company to the cable company, the phones stopped working - in the sense that a phone is a conduit of information. They still emitted sound. But it wasn't human.

It probably would have been better for the line to go completely dead. Then we could complain he had no phones at all. Instead, a call could be interrupted by random warbling, static, and a sound similar to that of a pod of orcas slaughtering baby seals.

It was, after a fashion, phone service. The cable company claimed we had it, and that we should stop complaining.

But we complained and complained. My landlord is a professional science writer. She has to interview people over the phone. When a conversation with an atmospheric chemist was interrupted by the sound of a Sears lawnmower running over a case of Michelob empties, she had taken all she could bear. She responded by stamping her feet and pulling the phone cord out of the wall.

"The phone company isn't actually connected to that wire," I said. But she could only respond with molten hatred. Her phones had been working before I insisted on watching a bunch of short skinny guys pedal up steep hills.

I called the cable company. They sent a guy out named Raoul. Sensing the arrival of a repair man, the phones worked for exactly one hour. When he left, our callers were treated to a tour bus load of senior citizens being electrocuted by neon sign transformers.

My landlord threatened to set my bed on fire.

I called the cable company. Raoul came back. He came while everyone in the house was at work. He left a note on the front door handle. It was on one of those hanging things, like the "do not disturb" signs you find in hotels.

The note said, "Your phone is making a lot of noise. Raoul."

"Confirmation!" I said, waving the note when my landlord got home from work. "See. They acknowledge the problem."

She picked up the phone. Held it to her ear. Winced. From where I was sitting I could hear a tornado destroying a mobile home park. People were dying.

"Make them fix it."

"Raoul says..."

"Fuck Raoul. Fix the fucking phone."

I called the cable company's 24-hour service line on my cell phone.

The call center guy said, "Wow. Raoul was there."

"And he left a note," I added, trying to support his helpful mode.

"He says your phone is unusable."

"Yes. Totally."

"Maybe you need a new phone."

"I don't think so. It was working right up until you guys switched over from the Alaska phone company."

"What kind of phone is it?"

"Uniden."

"Those things have a tendency to just, go. It can be really coincidental."

I'm in the electronics business. I had to admit, sometimes that happens.

The next day I came home from work. The new phone I had bought was missing. My landlord was in the kitchen running the blender. It sounded like she was shredding mahogany saplings with a weed whacker. She turned it off. Her eyes were glassy and red.

"I figured it out," she said. "This is the sound the phone was making. Exactly. Tried a lot of things. The closest I could get was when I rolled a garbage can full of mirrors down the driveway. I almost settled for it. But this is it, exactly."

A thin filament of blue-white smoke rose from the overworked machine.

I nodded toward her handiwork. "It had caller-ID. Built in voice mail. There was a fax attachment. I thought it would be good," I said.

"No," she replied. "It didn't suit me." And she turned the blender back on.

I made the call on my cell. "My house Bedlam because of you. Bellvue. I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night with my toes wired to the 220-line. I can't watch the Tour de France, because every time I turn on the television it reminds her you broke her phone and she can't do her job. You have to do something."

"Has Raoul been back?" said the guy on the cable company help line.

"No sign of him."

"Lemme get Raoul out there."

"Please get someone out here."

When I came home from work there was another hanging note on the door.

"Your phone is broken. Nothing has been done to help this phone. Raoul."

When she came home, my landlord found me sitting on the sofa staring at the blank television screen. I'd planned it that way. The idea was that if it was suddenly impossible for me to enjoy the Tour, somehow her pain would be more endurable.

But she put her hand on the television, realized it was warm, and saw through me in a heartbeat.

"What's that?" she said, pointing. I'd still had the door tag in my hand.

"Raoul. Phone's still broken."

She stormed upstairs, closed the door to her bedroom, turned on NPR on the clock radio, and screamed obscenities at "All Things Considered".

"Wow. Raoul says nothing's been done to fix your phone," said the cable guy.

"Has anything been done to fix this phone? After all of this, have you guys done one thing?"

"Well. Honestly. No."

In the lower 48, he'd at least have had the decency to lie. But this is Alaska, and we're all heavily armed.

"They're not our phone lines," he said, amplifying his position. "They belong to the Alaska phone company. We can't touch them. We put in a service request when you first called, but, gee, I gotta tell you, they're not really responsive to us when we take their customers away."

"Ok," I said. "What do you suggest?"

"Huh?"

"Make a suggestion," I said, now quite angry because upstairs my landlord had gone into my room, tossed my breakables into the laundry basket, and I could hear her trying to get the hallway window open. Thankfully, the window had been painted shut decades ago.

Then she went to the basement and passed me on her way upstairs with a hammer and chisel.

"I could send Raoul out again," said the guy on the phone.

"The next time Raoul comes out here, there'll be nobody alive."

"I can let you talk to my supervisor."

The sound of a chisel breaking through a window casement dislodged an idea. I said, "I don't want to talk to your supervisor. I want you to pass him this message before my cell phone battery runs dead. You tell him we have poor cell service out here. Tell him all we have is the phone that we've been paying you for the past month and can't use. Tell him that I am a heart patient. I'm on lots of heart medication and liable to drop dead at any moment. If we call 911 and can't get through, I can't promise you my heirs won't sue your company. And you know the way rulings go up here. Hell, if I fall out a window or am hit in the head with a wood chisel, I'm going to need medical services. It the ambulance doesn't come because the sound of an earthmover rolling over a bag of puppies is too heart-rending for them to stand, I'll have to sue. Tell him that. Tell him that I'm holding an ungrounded skil saw in one hand and my foot is in two inches of standing bathtub water and I can't call the plumber for help because my phone is broken. Do you get the phone books? You know that lawyer that advertises on every one? As soon as I recharge my cell phone battery, I'm calling him. Bye."

Two hours later, there was a knock on my door.

"I'm here to check the phone," Raoul said. I let him in and he picked up the receiver of the latest phone I'd bought.

"Works," he said, holding it out to me. The receiver hummed with the sound of a pure two-note dial tone. I gave it back to him, and he handed me the pink copy of a multi-part form he'd written on.

Raoul drove away, smiling, without my thanking him.

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