The other day, my father called to ask why his printer wouldn’t print out an entire email. (Apparently, it was only printing out what was on the screen.) As I listened to his question—and thought about the others he’s asked me over the year—I had to wonder: Why does he think I know how to fix his computer?
Not that I’m trying to be an ingrate or shirk my responsibilities as a good daughter. But I know as much about fixing his printer as I do about rewiring the microwave. Installing a sun roof in my Honda Element. Or giving a presentation on why the fake butter you buy in a spray bottle has no fat or calories, even though it lists butter as its main ingredient.
I’d rather he ask me how to turn a passive phrase into active. Or how many points you get in a day on Weight Watchers. Now those are things I can answer. But fixing the computer—or anything related to it (hello, Mr. Printer), forget about it.
Still, I think, that just by virtue of being younger and having to work on a computer, my parents think I actually get technology. But I don’t. At middle age, I have bigger things to worry about—like where did I put the key to the mailbox and how do I get rid of the lines around my eyes. So Mom, Dad, read this: (and potential employers, please skip.) Baby is clueless. That’s right. Baby don’t know how to fix yo’ printer. Some days, baby just happy to find the power button.
Anyway, when my father asks me why his printer isn’t printing, or why, when he clicks on a link, it doesn’t do anything, I’ll usually say something like, “Hmmm, interesting. I don’t know, Dad. Remind me the next time I’m over and I’ll take a look at it.” And then, I pray to Jesus, Jehovah, Moses, the Universe, and the great mother ship of Nordstroms, that he forgets.
But you know what? He never does.
Which all reminds me of a conversation I had with my dad and his friend Larry, then retired, several years ago on the beach in
It was my favorite time of day – about . The sand was cooling down, the sun was starting to set, the gulls were circling for food scraps, and everybody else had gone back to the apartment to prepare for the night’s festivities (usually, dinner out and then a short walk to Two Cents Plain for frozen yogurt, fat free, of course).
I was finally starting to relax after being there for a whole day, as evidenced by the spittle forming by the sides of my mouth. Dad, Larry, and I sat there squinting at each other in silence when Larry raised the subject first.
“You ever notice how kids today are so stressed,” he says, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “You know, they’re burnt out. Burnt out. We were never burnt out. Sheesh.” He shakes his head in disgust and picks at his teeth.
My dad nods.
I lay there, eyes now closed, trying not to listen. Maybe if I play dead, he’ll stop talking. Not that I’m trying to be rude or disrespectful, but I wasn’t looking for a debate on the work ethics of my generation. I was looking for a little breathe time.
“I mean, what in the hell are they so burnt out about?” Sadly, he continues. “We worked hard, got up early in the morning, got home late in the day, ate dinner, went to bed, got up and did it all over again? Why are they so exhausted?”
“Don’t know,” my dad says, laughing. He’s so good natured. Thank you daddy! Now please, please, please play dead with me. Won’t you? It hurts. Make him stop. I squeeze my eyes closed a little tighter and concentrate on the sounds of the ocean.
“Kids these days,” says
Okay, that’s it. I sit up. “Well actually
“Yeah,” he says, “what’s that?”
Oh, I tell him allright. “Technology!” I look at him and then dart my eyes back toward my mirror. Ye gads, my St. Tropez tan’s gone horribly bad. Expecting to see my skin radiating an even shade of brown (like the skinny girls in the commercials), it instead looks like a comforter you’d buy for your dorm room at Bed Bath and Beyond–all covered in pink polka dots radiating like a broken strobe light. The effect could’ve served as a homing signal for low-flying helicopters. Which, for some reason, only made me more irritated with Big Lar.
“You talking computers?” He’s still talking.
“Yep,” I say, wishing I could pull the top layer of my skin down and off like a pollybag, and start all over again. “Computers.”
“What’s the big deal?” says
I suspected his next question would be “I heard the earth was flat. No?”
“Uh, no, they do NOT make life easier,” I say and begin to recount the reasons why they can turn an average to better-than-average life into a scene out of a low-budget horror film. What if you’re on deadline for a story and your computer freezes? What if you’re in the middle of a presentation and the monitor stops working? What if you need to email a client but it’s down and you can’t reach your client on the telephone.
What if you’ve been on hold for tech support so long that you start to question the existence of human life forms? What if you finally hear somebody and then sneeze and accidentally get disconnected? What if the software program you just installed takes out your entire C drive? And you haven’t back up your files? What if you spill hot coffee on your keyboard and it starts to sizzle? What if that 5,000-word cover story you’ve been working on for 18 months miraculously disappears, along with all your research?
What if these problems go on and on until the boss starts to wonder whether you’re just incompetent, undercover, in the witness protection program, or just stupid? Is she really on the phone with tech support or talking to Jack Bauer at CTU? Unable to express yourself, after gritting your teeth for so long, you get fired, and before you know it, you’re living on a street vent, in a black skirt from last season, with no Starbucks’ allowance.
“Well,” says Larry, gathering his belongings. “I’m goin’ up. Owen, I’ll see ya.” With that, he folds up his beach chair and starts walking away. In the meantime, I raise a pasty-white fist and yell, “IT COULD HAPPEN. AND THAT’S WHY WE’RE ALL STRESSED OUT. GOT IT?”
My father pats me on the knee and rotates. That night, I had real yogurt.
And so, even today, technology continues to flog me like when bikers sneak up behind me and the two maniacal rescue dogs without warning (is “on your left” too hard to say people?) or when I can’t find two matching socks or somebody’s cell phone goes off in the movie theater.
Like the other day, when my client sent me a presentation to revise and after spending three hours on it, I saved it, closed it out, and never saw it again. Despite my raging hysterics and the several hours I’ll never get back spent searching every drive in my computer from A to Z.
After too much time wasted, I realized that the problem was with Microsoft Vista, a nasty program that came loaded on my computer. It told me I was using a trial version and to convert it—and be able to use the functions like save and edit and put food on the table—I’d need to put in a product key. Problem was the little bugger wasn’t where they said it was on the software’s packaging. Even Indiana Jones couldn’t have found it.
So, I got on their web site. It didn’t take me long to realize I had a better chance of being killed by terrorists than getting any help there. There was so much information, finding a product key or even help was like trying to find a furrier at a PETA convention.
And there were no phone numbers—a clear message that we customers were to be seen but never heard. So I finally decided to send an email (in lieu of paying $59.99 to chat live with a technician probably somewhere in
It said this: “Your product sucks. Apparently, it’d be easier to find Jesus in my toilet that the product keys I need to run your stupid software. I hate you. No, that’s an understatement. I really hate you. Please send product key. Customer needs it. Have a nice day. Best, Daniel Murray (Hey, I may be immature, but I’m not stupid.) P.S. You suck.”
Funny thing: I got a form letter back. You know, one of those generic, “we’re sorry’s” and “we can’t help you’s” really and ”for $85,000 and your second born, we’ll send you instructions for finding what you need…” and “if you have any more problems, please don’t hesitate to visit our web site, but please don’t call us, we’re at war…” You’re with me.
And so, that night, my husband came home to find me chopping down a valium as if it were garlic for a special recipe.
“What are you doing honey?” he asked looking both surprised and horrified.
“Oh nothing,” I say smiling. For some reason, the whole experience made me think of
On well. Until next time.