Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

15 March 2008


I don’t suffer waiting graciously. In the past I’ve found scattered reservoirs of patience and doggedness I didn’t know I had, and these sustained me through the infinite frustrations that came with soldiering, with Big Bidness, and with being a famous unknown writer or an unknown famous writer, depending on the current whim of the Left Wing and the Right Wing intelligentsia. But as a rule I’m a ticking bomb when it comes to waiting in doctors’ offices, or at drawbridges and railroad crossings, or around the house to see if the plumber really meant it when he said he’d come by “sum tahm Toozdy.”

This time it was my computer. It had begun to grow lethargic, aloof, openly hostile. I would click “Log On” and I could go to the kitchen, make a toasted cheese sandwich and brew a fresh pot of coffee before the screen flickered and showed me it was awake. Then, four minutes later, when I finally got on line, it wouldn’t let me stay there, kicking me all the way back to my desk top with a nasty-nice voice that warned me, “You have committed a fatal error, you dumb sumbish. Do it again, and I’ll byte off your pixels.”

After a time, dawn dawned on me. The computer, an old companion since Bill Gates was a nerd in a garage, had at last tired of our affair and was looking for a way to break things off. The shock was more than somewhat. I went into a kind of mourning, and friends gathered to console. The sympathetic consensus: “It’s time for you to move on anyway, pal. What you two had was going nowhere, mainly because the motherboard’s probably dying.”

Like every computer user, I like to pretend I understand such esoterica, so I asked, cool and suave, “Just who elected that board, anyhow? And why are they all mothers? Is an epidemic implicit in their dying all at the same time?”

My friends didn’t answer, referring me instead to a company that constructs and retails computers. They assured me that I’d be in good hands, since the company’s forte is catering to sophisticates like me. Duly flattered, I picked up the phone.

A fine new computer was brought to my office and installed by a technician who made no real effort to hide his disdain for the likes of me — a dude so computer ignorant I had to hire the likes of him to do my dirty work. I mean, he was the guy who put the “con” and “super” into “condescending superiority,” and when he deigned to answer my questions his manner suggested that I was a very lucky guy to be getting all this for a lousy thousand bucks. Example:

Me: “I want everything that’s on the old computer transferred to the new one. My address book is especially important, You’ll make that happen?

Him: “That’s what I’m here to do.” (The tacit “You idiot” hung in the air.)

Me (apologetically, an hour later): “How’s it going?”

Him: “Something on the old bummer is blocking me. You put a lot of crap on this old bummer, you know.”

Me (growing testy): “It’s what I’m here to do.”

He obviously heard the edge in my voice, because his jaw set and he never looked at me directly again. And that took some doing, because he had to come back a second day when I discovered that I not only could not find the address book but all my writings — drafts of two complete novels, the first 80 pages of another, stored research material, and all my e-mail correspondence — had turned up missing.

“You didn’t tell me you wanted that crap transferred,” he said, glaring at the day outside the window.

“I said I wanted everything on the old put on the new.” (Pause) “Including the crap.”

“You gotta be specific, you know.”

“Okay. I want everything on the old computer put on the new computer. Everything. Every little thing. Including the crap. Is that specific enough?”

After another couple of hours he sighed, stood up, ran his hands through his thinning hair, and, reaching into the gut of the old computer, tore out something that looked like a pregnant VCR tape. He handed it to me, glaring at the day again. “Here. You won’t be needing this anymore.”

“What is it?”

“Your old motherboard.”

“So what do I do with it?”

He shrugged. “Bash it with a hammer. Hang it over the mantle. Wrap it in foil and put it in your freezer, for all I care. What’s on it is on the other one now. So you won’t need it for nothing.”

In a pig’s caboose, pal, I thought. I’m putting this thing in my bank vault. I might have to call you back again sum tahm Toozdy.

Not too long after that, I found myself, like my old computer, out of sorts. There was a time a century or so ago I could call a doctor, tell him that my crankshaft didn’t seem up to par and he’d appear at my door with an armload of stethoscopes and pill bottles, showing appropriate concern and bustling with professional efficiency. This particular morning, though, I dragged myself across town to join the legions of white-haired old coots dotted around the office of one of my doctors like so many Q-tips. I signed in as usual, noting my arrival time (9:45) and my appointment time (10:00), and found a seat among the fragrant old ladies and the grumpy old men.

When the wall clock read 10:45, I and another guy, who looked like Boris Karloff having a bad hair day, were the only ones left in the room. Suspecting something amiss, I approached the receptionist, a bosomy twenty-ish type who must have been new to the office, since I’d not seen her in previous visits.

“Excuse me, Miss, but I’ve been waiting 45 minutes and —”

“What’s your name?” She patted her red hair and looked bored.

I told her, and her heavily outlined eyes consulted the sign-in sheet. “You’ve already seen the doctor. Your name’s been crossed out.”

“No. That’s not right. I’ve been waiting 45 minutes —”

She broke in. “Your name’s crossed out. That means you’ve seen the doctor.”

“Not so.”

She wasn’t giving an inch. “That’s the way we keep track of things. You’re name’s crossed out, it means you’ve seen the doctor. It’s policy.”

I could feel the purple forming in my cheeks. “Well, if that’s the case, why do you think I’m standing here on my freaking bad leg, which is about to kill me, asking you these freaking silly questions? You think I hang around doctors’ offices because I get off on crossing my name from lists?”

“No need to get huffy.”

“Huffy? Who’s being huffy? I’m not huffy. I’m madder’n hell.”

At that point the inner door opened and the doctor’s chief nurse came strolling out. She gave me a surprised, bright smile. “Well, you are here. The doctor thought you’d stood him up.”

“No. I sank without a trace in the mysteries of your list-keeping policies.”

Her smile showed puzzlement. “I haven’t the slightest idea of what you’re talking about, but come on in anyhow. He’ll be glad to see you.”

Before the door closed behind us, I sent a triumphant glare at the receptionist. She didn’t see it, because she was patting her red hair and looking bored.

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.