Saturday, September 25, 2010

A (Mostly) True Story

I hold up my laptop charger to the World’s Greatest Admin Assistant (hereafter to be referred to as WoGAA) in the Humanities department of the college where I teach.

“This charger is no good,” I tell her. She looks over the top of her glasses at me, fingers never ceasing their motion over her keyboard.

“Isn’t that the one I got you last month?”


Fingers are still flying even while she gives me a long look. “What’s it doing?”

“It won’t charge the battery. I can’t work at home without a charger.”

This is truthful—I teach two online classes, so it’s essential that I’m able to access the Internet. But it’s also essential that I relax with a few rounds of Bejewelled TwistTM , Facebook updates, and Twitter. The battery on my computer holds up maybe forty-five minutes; less if I play more than a couple of rounds.

Left hand continuing its feverish pace on the keyboard, WoGAA holds out her right hand.

“Give it to me. I’ll call IT.” With that, I hand off the defective charger and rush off to class.

It might be important to note that this is my third charger in two school years. The first met its demise in a terrible accident. I still can’t talk about it. The second suffered a broken wire, and this third one has been sporadic since I got it. Some evenings I almost go mad trying to --work-- while the screen pulsates between brightness and battery-save mode.

Two hours later I'm walking back to my office when WoGAA stops me. “Denise, Jodi from IT came by to look at your computer. You need to call her.”

“Do I want to call her?” 

“She said she needs to take your computer and give you a loaner.”

I feel a moment of terror—if IT takes my computer, I'll have no files to work with, because in addition to eating chargers for lunch I have a penchant for not backing up to the network. I dash to my office, wondering how much space is left on my jump drive, hoping I can at least download my pictures for my Digital Photography class.

But I’m too late. Jodi has come and gone. Setting on my desk is another laptop computer. It’s identical to mine, but I know it’s not mine because this one is clean. Very, very clean. No milk stains on the keyboard, no fingerprint smudges on the screen. No crumbs blocking the "M" key.

Before I can panic, Vannah, hanging out in my office waiting for her class to start, tells me that Jodi has taken the hard drive from my computer and nipped it into this shiny one.

“Why did she switch them out?” My fingers trace the lovely, clean keyboard face. I don't really care about the answer. “I just need a new charger.”

“She said it wasn’t the charger. The port is broken, and to fix it she has to replace the motherboard, so she just gave you another computer.”

I’m satisfied. My files are safe. For a moment I think about backing them up to the server right then and there; then I think about something else.

That evening I carry my shiny laptop home, pull it from its bag, and turn it on. Everything is fine for a short while—an exceptionally short while. And then it freezes. After unsuccessfully control-alt-deleting it for a few minutes I am forced to shut it down. I wait the requisite minute, and start it again. This time it freezes before it even finishes booting up. And for the next hour we go round and round. It’s Friday night and I have no computer.

Monday morning I stand before WoGAA again. “Now what?” she asks.

“It won’t work.”

“The charger?”

“No, now it’s the computer.”

And again, WoGAA promises to take care of it for me while I go to class. When I return, the computer is on, hooked to the network, the screen looking blue and promising. The anti-virus software is trying to update, so I leave it be. Later, when Jodi calls me to check on it, I tell her things seem to be fine except the update is taking a very long time.

“Hmm,” she says.

I’ve learned that when a doctor or a computer tech says “Hmm,” I’m not going to like what’s coming.

“Can I access it remotely and try to figure out what’s going on?”

“Certainly,” I tell her. I really do say "Certainly." I’ll just review papers—the printed-out kind. But then I find it's infinitely more interesting to watch the computer screen while Jodi manipulates it from another building, the cursor moving like the planchette of an Ouija Board as she opens, closes, moves, and does the voodoo she do so well. She works for at least an hour, then calls me again.

“I haven’t gotten the update to load right,” she tells me. “I’m working on it.”

“That’s fine. I’m going home. I can just leave it here for the evening if you want.”

I have now been without a computer for four days. I am having Bejewelled withdrawals, compounded by my growing frustration with typing on the little keys of my smartphone as well as trying to read posts on its diminutive screen. I go to bed early.

Tuesday morning as I am pulling into the parking lot, my cell phone rings.

“Hi Denise. It’s Jodi. Just wanted to let you know what’s going on with the computer. Apparently, it has a virus. So, I’m going to bring you a loaner computer and try to fix this one. Is there anything on the hard drive you absolutely need right now?”

I’m nowhere near Jodi, but I can feel my face burning. “Actually, everything.”



“You save to the network drive, right?”

“Well, about that—“

“When’s the last time you backed up to the network?”

“Um. Awhile.” The pause that follows is so long I check to see if the call has dropped. I can imagine Jodi in her office, miming strangling me with her bare hands and then air stabbing me for good measure.

“Hmm. I can try to save the files, but no promises.”

“Okay,” I answer meekly. Jodi says she'll call me when she has news.

After class I return to my office and another computer. It is again the same make and model as the last two, but this one sports a large sticker that proclaims it as the PROPERTY OF SAN JUAN COLLEGE. I’m afraid to touch it, so instead I sit quietly with my hands in my lap, waiting for Jodi's call.

“Hi Denise. Ok. Your computer can’t be fixed—“

“Which one?”

“Neither. So you have a loaner, but we’re going to just switch it over to you. I’ll be remotely accessing it to get everything set up for you. Oh, and I was able to save your files. I’ll download them to that computer.”

“Jodi, you are blessed among women.”

“I know.”

And for the first time in five days, I have a working computer to take home. And I do. It’s a glorious evening, except I’ve forgotten the charger in my office. I work the computer until it dies.

The next day I have a long break between classes, so I take the laptop and charger with me to work on essays. I find a large table, empty my computer bag and assemble everything I need—laptop, pen, glasses, smartphone. Ok, the smartphone isn't a necessity, but I've grown quite attached to it. I plug the charger into the floor, then into the computer. Press the power button.

Nothing happens.

I think it’s a good time to mention that over the course of a week, I have not yet met Jodi face-to-face. But I am about to. I march my quite-unhappy-self to the IT building, up two flights, wind through a computer graveyard, and find Jodi's cubicle.

I offer the black computer bag and announce, “Hi Jodi. I’m Denise. This computer won’t start.”

I used to think the phrase “Her face darkened” was a clichĂ©, but that is exactly what Jodi’s face does. I step back a couple of feet.

“What’s it doing?”

“It worked fine last night, but the battery’s dead. When I plugged in the charger, it wouldn’t come on.”

Jodi removes the computer from the bag and sets it on her desk next to the other two. She pops the battery off one of the defunct computers and exchanges it. The computer starts.

“That’s a good sign,” she says. She pulls the charger from my bag, crawls under her desk to find the power strip, and plugs it in. When she plugs it into the computer, the screen begins pulsating—bright screen, battery-save.

“Well,” she says. “This charger is no good.”

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