I woke up in a strange place

By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
See also: a novel about a monkey.

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January 15, 2003

So: my computer is gone, its lights are dark. I bought it late in the summer of 1997. It was my third computer. The first, a 1992 birthday present for me and my brother, was a Packard Bell 386DX-15 desktop. (Given that P4 is the present usual processor speed, by comparison, P1 came in place of what would have been the 586, so that contextualizes the lumbering 386, the deathless 286, and the mad bastard 8086 for you.) It's good for young people to own Packard Bells before they are doing anything of consequence with their computers, because they are forced to learn how to repair shitty equipment and come up with new crafty work-around solutions every day if they want to get their copy of Joe Montana Football up and running. (Isn't that the All-American boyhood?) Also, when said kids take their computers apart to install new equipment, nothing that they do to the Packard Bell, up to and including setting it on fire, will cause it to run noticeably worse than it did before. Managing the machine's tiny 100 megabyte hard drive turned me into a permanent miser when it comes to hard drive space, like a Depression-era child in the money-flush 50's. My last computer had 1.5 gigabytes (15 times the size of the first), and try as I may, I never managed to fill more than half of it.

My second computer was a Dell Pentium-90. I bought it before leaving for college. My shyster mother gave it to me as a gift and then, when she encountered money woes a couple months later, announced that I had agreed to pay for half of it. Well, whatever. It was a fine machine. Marvels such as the web were revealed to me on it. Two years later, I retaliated against my mother's treachery by selling her the P-90 for an inflated price in order to buy my laptop, a P-150. I had decided that it was time for me to be serious about writing, and somehow the idea got in my head that I would be a much better writer if I could write under tables and in clothes hampers and on roofs, so it became imperative to buy a mobile computer. It was terrifically exciting. I did, in fact, write on the roof from time to time.

The Packard Bell actually lasted five and a half years, although it barely worked for the last three. All it was capable of doing was printing basic text (badly) and cheating (wretchedly) against my brother in Joe Montana Football (or so he accused). The P-90 slid into its spot and was sold by my shyster brother to one of his friends a year later for an inflated price right before it crapped out, probably three and a half years after its purchase.

My laptop, then, lasted for five and a half years, although it was in continuous usage for that entire time, so it seemed much longer. It was adorned with fortune cookies and a 'Cheeky Monkey' rave flyer from England. The monkey was wearing a tie, and the implication was that you were to vote for him by dancing, or something like that. Until the launch of a vicious conspiracy by Windows 98 and internet 'interactive' advertising to denigrate my sleek machine as no longer fit for the demands of the modern world, it flew. It was a beautiful writers' computer. The keyboard was sweet and responsive, able to take the subtlest of hints, yet never resentful at panic or insistence. The screen handled the color blue in absolutely marvelous fashion. Those two things, I think, were what I loved most about the computer...

And there was also its history. As it applies to objects, historicity is curious, but also sort of dubious. It would be interesting to see the gun that was used to shoot Abraham Lincoln, but how, other than through the implicit testimony of a lengthy chain of eyewitnesses and expectation, do we know that it was the gun? Can the history of an object be a part of it? Where, in the object, can you find it? We bring history to these inanimate things that don't know enough to carry it with them. The value, at some level, comes down to being able to say, "This is the one and only." It's sentimentality, and you can't linger in that stuff.

So, perhaps my old laptop, which blinked off for the last time on Saturday, is just another gun. But I wrote on that thing. God damn, did I write with it. Every 't' and 'r' and 'm' in my plays came from that keyboard. And if the computer as a form has not yet achieved artificial intelligence like Alan Turing suggested it might, I think it does sit in a state where, even if it's not an aunt or an uncle, it's also not a toothbrush or a plank of wood. Whatever may or may not be inherent to that machine, I will miss it. Something goes on between the fingers and the keys, ineluctable, and any writer worth a damn is surprised and grateful when it does, whenever it does. Writers in the last century rarely had to abandon their typewriters. I did not wish to turn away.

My new laptop, purchased with invisible funds, will not arrive for another couple of weeks. In the meantime, I have only my work computer, which is like when they give baby monkeys a wire nipple mommy. This thing sucks. It would be nice if, after all I've given to them, the starving children of the world would take up a collection for me, in my trying hour.

But I have learned what I can and cannot expect from those guys.

I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.

Often discussed:

Antarctica, Beelzetron, Books, Chicago, College, Communism, Food, Internet, Japan, Manute Bol, Monkeys and Apes, North Korea, Oregon Trail, Outer Space, Panda Porn, Politics, RabbiTech, Shakespeare, Sports, Texas.


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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.