Crash Test Dummy
“I promise,” I said, gripping the screen of my laptop with both hands, “that if you please boot up I will back up my files every single week without fail.” The computer screen remained, willfully, blank.
The only thing I know about computers is how to plug them in. I’m not a Luddite exactly. It’s just that I have excellent penmanship and I like seeing words formed by my own hand. From vast experimentation I know the very best pen—EnerGel 0.7. I have never googled myself. I use the computer solely as a typewriter and I type reluctantly. I’m much closer to stone tablets than to megabytes.
I bought my new laptop for $2,300—the equivalent of 2,346 EnerGel refills and for me a serious outlay of cash.
Now it was broken and I was in a distant city far from home (not that home has anything to offer, computer-help-wise, but I could have at least crawled, whimpering, into my own bed). I rushed to the computer store ten blocks from my hotel.
“Sorry,” the computer repair guy said, hunched over a stool and watching the screen of my laptop stay belligerently blank. “I can put a work order in on this, but we won’t be able to get to it for a couple of days.”
“Days!” I yelped. “I’m not from here! My flight leaves tomorrow at four o'clock! I absolutely cannot be—” I sputtered, groping for a technical term, “—computer-free!” I clapped my hands against the sides of my head and tears welled up in my eyes.
Even though he sat with half a dozen guys just like him surrounded by metal shelving jammed with computers tagged like the toes of the deceased, it seemed to me that he should see me as a very special case, what with my computer being down and all.
He leaned into me and whispered, “Look, I can’t do this here today, but I can look at it at home tonight. Come in tomorrow around noon. It’ll probably be about thirty five dollars. But you’ll have to pay me cash.”
“I’ll pay you anything.”
“You did what?” my friend shouted on the phone. “You left your new computer with some guy whose name you don’t even know?” He laughed hard. “You can kiss that baby goodbye.”
I left it with the nameless computer guy because it never occurred to me not to. My computer crashed. I had painstakingly and trustingly entered my entire life into that thing. Leaving it with him seemed logical.
“This isn’t Podunkville, you know,” my friend chided, a snobby reference to where I grew up in Montana. “You’ll never see that computer again. I don’t suppose you got a receipt.”
Deep down the prospect of never seeing my computer again felt like a relief. My computer and I were in a constant power struggle. It routinely respelled for me, capitalized my sentences, and inserted dates. It indented willy nilly despite my invective. It was all business. I favored margin notes and big X marks through pages and lots of cross outs. The delete key made short work of all of that, capturing nothing of the effort behind the words. At bottom, though, I just didn’t trust it. It took all my words and without any explanation or forewarning—like now—refused to give them back to me. Maybe forever.
But any relief I might have felt was eclipsed by the ignominy of feeling rural.
Why wouldn’t I trust this guy? How weird would it have been to say “Yeah, I know, it’s kind of you to waste your whole evening helping me, but could I just have a little receipt in case you’re really a crook?”
My mind picked up where my friend’s left off. What if the computer guy left his job that afternoon with my laptop and had no intention of returning? What if right this minute he was in a low-end Oakland bar drinking shots with his geeky friends howling over the country rube who left her computer with him and who said she’d “pay anything” to get it fixed? What if he’s selling it right now—cheap—to one of his down-and-out roommates?
I hated my computer, but what if I never got it back?
Losing all my words wasn’t my only problem. An equally thorny problem was figuring out how to fess up to my friends. This is probably exactly how Bernie Madoff felt, I thought. Very embarrassing.
The next day on the way to the computer store, I punished myself by muttering my all-purpose aphorism: you are a complete dork. Resigned to the outcome, I was mired in the shame of being a hick.
My computer guy greeted me at the store. “Sorry,” he said. “I worked on it for three hours last night, but couldn’t fix it. There’s no charge.” That tingly feeling you get when you just miss hitting a deer on the highway bloomed at my cowlick and scampered straight down to my watery knees. “I’m afraid you need a new mother board.”
“Thank you!” I blurted out. “Thank you so much!” I grabbed my wallet out of my backpack and started shoving money at him.
“You don’t understand, I couldn’t fix it. I’d feel bad charging you.”
“Oh, no, really, I understand completely. That damn mother board! I should have known it was her all along! I just can’t thank you enough,” I babbled, picking up the bills that had fallen to the floor and jamming them into his hand. “Please, take it. I can’t tell you how grateful I am—for all your time.”
“No worries,” he said, handing me my laptop. “It was no problem, trust me.”
About Susan Edsall
Writing is how I make my way through the thicket of what we’ve made of this planet we’re on. It takes me a long time and lots of words. Social media mystifies me. How do so many people have so much to say, so quickly, and with such resolute certainty? Read more about Susan >