THE CITY OF WASHINGTON has bought itself a new computer system for something like $33 million that it cannot run. I know the feeling. I have a computer terminal on my desk that I can't run, not to mention a combination lock at home I can't open, and a machine at every airport in the country that will give me traveler's checks if only I will give it the right number. I have lost the number.
I took the number and hid it, just like the instructions said, and now I don't know where it is. It is probably with all the other instructions on what I can do with my various credit cards. I can borrow money on them or get traveler's checks or get hospitalization and do all kinds of things, only I can't remember what it is I can do and where the numbers are that do the things I cannot remember how to do.
My bank has more ways to save money than I can deal with. I cannot cope. I can have this kind of checking and that kind of savings and a combination of the two. There is a plan in which I write a check and comes out of my savings and then goes into my checking and then becomes a traveler's check and then a loan and then maybe a stock certificate in the bank itself that will entitle me, in 10 years, to a clock. You do all this with a little plastic card, which I have lost.
I do have the plastic card for the sidewalk machine. I will not use the machine because I once saw a machine swallow someone's card and order him inside the bank to talk to an officer. Everyone in the line behind the poor guy was mortified. I suggested he run for it, but he just bowed his head and walked meekly into the bank. I felt sorry for him and vowed never to have that happen to me. I cash my checks at the liquor store. I do not need a plastic card for that.
I feel sometimes that I am losing control of this world. I fear the word "options." I am not sure what things are for and what they do and I find myself surrounded by devices that can do all sorts of wonderful things if only I can remember how to work them. This is true of my handy-dandy calculator, which can get me the square root of the distance to the sun and back, divided -- just for the hell of it -- by 3.2. It can do it, but I cannot remember how to make it do it. I cannot even make it do percentages. I can't do them on paper and now, through the miracle of electronics, I can't do them on the calculator. I suppose this is progress.
This is all my fault, I know. Most of the time I do not want to learn about the devices and services I'm offered because I really think I should not be bothered. I think the bank ought to provide more tellers or stay open later. I do not want to be my own teller. I do not want to keep my own accounts. I do not want to sell my own traveler's checks. And when it comes to the fool machine upon which I now have to write, I do not want to be my own editor, any more than I like it when those machines in the Washington subway tell me I am trapped, that I cannot get out of the tunnel until I buy some more fare out of a machine that I cannot figure how to work. I would be willing to pay more just to deal with a person.
I do not look forward to the day of the home computer. I've read all the articles about them in an attempt to figure out what they do.As best I can determine, they do nothing. I know city employes who can do that. I've read that the computers can balance my checkbook. Nothing can balance my checkbook. The way to balance is to write down the amount of the check when it is written. I do not do that since that way I would be morally responsible for overdrafts. How the computer will know what I have written when I will not tell it, is beyond me.
I've read that the computer will tell me what bills to pay. I do not need that, either. People call me up and tell me what bills to pay. Sometimes they call early in the morning and sometimes late at night , but they are always nice and polite and I always tell them the check is in the mail.I'm pretty sure that they have a computer. Two computers on one bill is wretched excess. I've also read that a home computer can turn on the television set for me. Big deal. I can do that myself -- have for years. Most of the time, though, it's not worth it.
Oh Lord, help me. I can work for an organization that has a tape recorder that you can call on the phone and use it to dictate a column of something. I have been told that if I press one number on the phone I can get the machine to stop and if I press another number it will pause and if I press something else I can get it to repeat the last 10 words -- or, with another number, everything I have dictated. I can't remember any of the numbers, though.
What I need is something like dial-an-instruction. You would simply call a number, say you want to use a certain device, and be told how to do it. I like this idea almost as much as the one I had about starting a tippers anonymous service in which you call a number, explain your predicament, and be told how much to tip. I gave up the idea, though, when I realized the call would probably be answered by a machine and I would have to wait for the beep . . . wait for the beep . . . wait for the beep . . .