COMPUTERS NOT ONLY ARE wonderful, they are addictive. Look at what they eliminate: No more sheets of typing paper, crumpled and tossed toward (but seldom into) the wastebasket. No more searching mid-sentence for that tiny bottle of Wite-Out, no struggling to hold a brilliant and insightful thought while feeling under the bed, the radiator, for the tiny plastic bottle that when found inevitably has a top that won't budge until I gnaw at the cap and it comes off, showering me and my manuscript with hardened white particles.
No more pencils, pens, unsightly typos now that I'm computer literate. My three typewriters, collected over the years, have been made obsolete, their function only to gather dust. I am trying to figure out how to turn them into conversation- piece end tables, like the ones made in New England from lobster traps.
So enamored am I of the computer at the office, I bought one of my very own, to use at home. That's when the trouble started.
Even before delivery of my Radio Shack 1000 SX, the men in my life began volunteering assistance. "I can set it up for you," said one. "I can train you in no time," offered another. "I work with computers," a new acquaintance pompously informed me. "And I have two or three at home for my own personal use. Let me know if you need any help."
In retrospect, these offers of assistance should have raised a warning flag. But initially I saw no connection between them and the man years ago who offered to change the oil in my car and created a $60 mess for my mechanic to clean up, or the male who blew all the fuses trying to connect outdoor Christmas lights, or the guy who "fixed" my washing machine so that it not only cleaned but shredded clothes. How was I to know that with the purchase of a personal computer I was opening myself to a whole new breed?
Okay, all right. So I should have known what to expect the day that computer arrived at the store and none of my volunteers were available to help me load and unload it. But, hey, that was cool; they are techies, not muscle men. Their skills are too specific and delicate for mere lifting. The nice man from Radio Shack put the computer in the trunk of the car, and together my daughter and I took it home, got it out of the trunk, carried it upstairs and unpacked it.
Then we set up the whole shebang -- printer, dual disc drive, monitor -- and turned it on. But the manual was indecipherable, unintelligible, the kind of writing that gives me a headache and a bad attitude just to look at, much less try to read and understand. I called for help.
A girlfriend's ex-husband volunteered assistance. We sat side by side at the terminal. "I want to know," I told him, "how to write, store and print stories. That's all."
"No problem," he assured me and proceeded to fool with the keyboard. He commanded my computer to do something; it didn't. He tried again, and again, no luck. Getting worried, I cleared my throat. He ignored me, still fiddling. I sighed. As if remembering I was there, he muttered, "I don't know about this computer. I think there's something wrong with it. Don't you have any other programs? Don't do it like the book says, let me show you how I'd do it," and then he continued to busily punch at the keyboard. It looked like messing up to me, but then what do I know? Twenty minutes later, I left the room to read a book. He was so busy doing whatever it was, he didn't notice I had left until an hour later, when he departed. The computer still wasn't working.
The next day, no wiser from the "help" of the previous evening, I contacted a techie at work. "Oh sure, I'll help you," he said, after telling me I'd bought the wrong kind of computer and that I could have gotten a better one someplace else but that, despite this, he'd figure it all out for me the next day.
"The next day" came three days later, but at least it came. Besides, this was the person who'd trained me at work, so I gave him some slack. In the meantime, I had figured out -- with the telephone assistance of a techie friend in New York -- how to log on, write and store information, but I still couldn't get the printer to print.
When Techie Number 2 showed up at my house, he pleasantly repeated all the condescending things he'd said over the phone about my computer. Then he laughed at my programs, standing hand on hip and fiddling with the keyboard like Lionel Richie at the piano. His cavalier attitude bothered me, but he was a techie, I wasn't. I was simply a writer with a computer, a printer I couldn't use and looming deadlines. He was there about an hour. The upshot of this session was that he left with my printer manual in hand, promising to study it and figure out why my terminal and computer weren't communicating with each other. That was the last I heard -- or saw -- of him.
A trip out of town occasioned no hiatus in the attempts to unravel the mysteries of the printer. While I was gone, yet another techie friend took the liberty of stopping by, ostensibly to fix my printer, or so my daughter said. When he left, he told her it was working. When I returned, it didn't.
Deadlines were approaching fast, and I found myself casting hostile glances toward my dusty typewriter, wondering if I would be forced to lug it out of retirement. I'd had a personal computer for two weeks and had yet to produce anything on it. I had taken to reading the 1000 SX manual in bed, hoping that lightning would strike at the end of a long day, or that if I put the manual under my pillow, the correct operation of my printer would come to me via a dream. It didn't.
Instead, my dreams were nightmares full of a variety of men in strange outfits reminiscent of the Village People, each one proclaiming great technical knowledge, none capable of simply getting my printer to print. I awoke still not knowing how to operate the printer, but suspecting I had stumbled onto a new form of macho, Computer Macho, in which it is a point of honor, a proof of virility and a necessity to a positive sense of self for men to say they know about computers (like cars) even when they don't. ON THE WAY OUT THE DOOR TO THE movies one night, Techie Number 4 declared he could fix my machine in the time it took me to tie my sneakers. Twenty minutes later, he admitted defeat, saying, "I think the printer's defective," and leaving it to me to sign off and neaten up the mess he'd made.
As a last resort, before traveling back in time and using the typewriter, I called another friend in New York, the man who first introduced me to computers, a man who actually makes his living training lay people like myself.
He talked me through the procedure to print something out, without results. Long distance, we checked the plugs, cables and switches and could not find the problem. After 45 minutes he said, "Don't worry. It's not you. It's got to be the cable. Go back to Radio Shack and get a new one, then call me and let me know if it works."
I did as he said, overwhelmed with apprehension that I had reached my last resort. I dreaded the thought of what I would do if this didn't work. Take a lesson from Richard Pryor and shoot my computer? Pack the whole apparatus up and take it back to the store? Accept my computer's glitches as some bizarre karmic debt incurred in some other life and do nothing?
It was with trepidation that I plugged in the new cable, logged on, turned on the printer and pushed the "print" button. With a whirr and a few clicks, it worked! Out of the printer spewed my words, as I wrote them, in my very own home! Not only was I computer literate, but I was home trained as well. I called my friend in New York to thank him. He shrugged off my gratitude. "It wasn't that hard was it?" he asked. "You just have to have patience," he laughed. And avoid men who are Computer Macho, at all costs. ::