I met my first computer when I was five years old. My elementary school had a lab full of these clunky, humming things, a lab which we rarely attended because the teachers did not know what to do with them either. The only activity I remember is typing in some script that resulted in the screen covering itself in A as a response. Perhaps the school was subtly trying to seed the grades in my subconscious that it wanted me to produce.
By the time I was in third grade, the computer lab had been converted to a library. I don’t know what happened to the computers, absorbed into some closet or office of the school, but their loss did not trouble me. Computers had very little to do with my life, which was stocked with thousands of matters of far greater concern, ranging from jumping off tall objects in the hopes that I would catch wind and fly, fighting with my brother, digging up the dead family goldfish in order to attempt a resurrection, fighting with my brother, composing The Swear Word Song (sung only under my breath and behind the house to be safe), fighting with my brother, and believing the upstairs apartment had a portal to a magic land behind the door marked Water Heater. I spent a considerable amount of time checking it.
My next run-in with a computer was in fifth grade, when my family acquired one. My parents didn’t even know how to make the screen cover itself in A. It hummed in the bedroom I shared with my brother, and played some games that took forever to load from screen to screen. The games were fun, but not as much fun as my Whoopee cushion or continuing tries to achieve some sort of magical power. Dammit, I was going to open that portal somehow. It was just a matter of time.
My next computer lab was in eighth grade, with a teacher who understood computers but not teaching. Class consisted of a forty-minute period every Friday, in which we memorized computer vocabulary lists and took quizzes about them. These were not engaging activities, and by eighth grade I was more concerned with avoiding the school bully, writing poetry full of angst, memorizing astrological signs, and fighting with my brother. He was such a jackass.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I took computer lab again. I learned how to italicize. I learned how to bold. I learned forty ways to not make an Excel spreadsheet work. Most importantly, I learned how to stealth email my friends. It wasn’t hard. One simply chose a computer with its back to the teacher, and then one looked very intent as if struggling with an Excel spreadsheet. The teacher is watching for covert looks and listening for giggles. If you focus on that screen with a slight furrow in your brow, he will not suspect that you are emailing: OMG, this class is so BORING! Spreadsheets SUCK!! What the hell is Tyler wearing today??? On the occasion he states, “No one should be emailing during work time,” the proper response is to look up in surprise and then sternly at your classmates. It’s all about presentation, children.**
And so this is the computer knowledge I brought into adult life, how to make A, how to bold, how to italicize, how not to do a spreadsheet, and how to screw around with email. I taught myself the basics of the Internet and how to open Microsoft Word in order to write my books. I can cut and paste. Lady Friend taught me iTunes and iChat, and sometimes I click on iCal by mistake. I know if the computer freezes, I hold down the dot on the right side of the keyboard. I know if one of the Dreaded Boxes pops on screen asking about licenses or passwords, call Lady Friend. I know if the Backup symbol is in the 4 o’clock position, all is well. However, if it has an exclamation point, call Lady Friend. Something in my back room is a modem, but I’m not sure what. Another thing is a router. I don’t know which is which, and I don’t care. Lady Friend handles the tech while I make her dinner. We all have our strengths and interests, and computers is not a strength or interest of mine.
Last Friday, I pulled my computer on my lap to begin work, and the screen remained black. This was bad. I promptly called Lady Friend, who made an appointment at the Genius Bar for the afternoon. I hate going to the Genius Bar. I think geniuses should understand that the acoustics of your typical Apple store make it impossible to hear what anyone is saying. Worried that the computer might not have been backing up my books and the last five years of my life just went up in flames, I stared nervously at that black screen and tapped it hopefully every few minutes to see if it would revive. It did not. Troubled, I retreated to a machine I do understand, and vacuumed. Then I picked up a pad of paper and a pen. Feeling like a cave writer, I composed by hand until the appointment.
EMPLOYEE: So, what can I do for you?
ME: My computer broke. My life is over.
LADY FRIEND: I think the most likely scenario is the battery. I know it’s cycled quite a lot.
BACKGROUND NOISE: OMGIHADSUCHAHANGOVER! SHH,HONEYWE’REALMOSTDONEPLAYWITHDADDY’SKEYS!
EMPLOYEE: That’s probably it . . . no, still not working. It’s not the battery.
ME: I’ve worked on that series every day for almost six years, and now it’s gone.
LADY FRIEND: It’s not gone! That’s why I back up your work! Stop being neurotic!
BACKGROUND NOISE: HE’SSOCUTE!IHADLIKEFOURCUPSOFCOFFEE! NOHONEYNOHONEYPUTTHATDOWN! CANYOUBRINGOUTACOMPUTER?
EMPLOYEE: I’m going to connect this drive to the BOOP-BOOP-boop-boopy-boop and then we’ll see if the problem is the BOOP-boop-boopy-boopy-BOOP!
LADY FRIEND: You’re just hearing him say boop, aren’t you?
BACKGROUND NOISE: IT’SLIKEACUPRESSUREBUTNOT!SUCHACUTEDOG!
EMPLOYEE: It looks like the logic board has died.
When one is unencumbered by science, one is free to invent the cause of the problem. I knew it was Lady Friend’s fault that my computer expired. Not three days before its death, she installed something called an operating system that reversed the direction of my scrolling. It was making me crazy, the screen going the opposite direction of the way I told it to go. Obviously, it was also confounding the logic board of the computer, and the poor thing exploded. Lady Friend refuses to take responsibility.
So I am typing this on a brand new computer. Lady Friend talked with the employee about what I use it for specifically, to make sure I was not under- or over-served, and they batted about computer talk while I was more anxious to make sure my new computer had snazzy black keys that protrude from the board like Lady Friend’s laptop, instead of my dead one that has silver keys embedded in the board. That makes it hard to clean the crumbs. Lady Friend made sure it had black keys, and we soon discovered that I’d only lost two chapters of edits. That is a fixable problem.
But it still scrolls the wrong way.
* Once I slammed a line drive right into my brother’s stomach. He fell over with a very satisfying scream. Later he gave me a bloody nose, and I informed him that he wasn’t my real brother at all. We had just found him in a baby carrier on the Datsun one morning. And that proved his parents were stupid, thinking anyone with a Datsun had money. The acrimony continued.
** If one really wants to lull the teacher into a false sense of security, one occasionally raises a hand to request help with a completely imaginary problem. The teacher will see how hard you are trying to get through the assignment, and will suspect you less of mischief than the students who are whispering and never ask for any help. Image is everything. Make it work for you.