very rough draft
(Or: What Happens When a Forty-Something Technophobic Dinosaur Plunges Feet First into the Netherworld!)
Val Szabo did not take the decision to buy a computer lightly. She and her worse half, Steve, had discussed it endlessly for several months. Why did they need one? They heard on the news everyday about all the weirdness that was going on out there: predators, stalkers, schemes to bilk naive idiots out of their money! They only needed a calculator to balance the checkbook. They didn't need to e-mail anyone nor would they would ever send their credit card number out into cyberspace to buy anything, so why bother?
They had an old clunker that had been great for writing, which was all Val wanted it for anyway, but then the kid locked it up somehow after putting a disk of games in it. Or maybe it just died like the old fossils sometimes did. After all, it was way beyond ancient with Windows 3.1 and that pop-up DOS stuff. People looked at them scornfully when it was discovered that they were so far behind the times. How on earth could they possibly exist?
Val and Steve knew absolutely nothing about computers-- how to set one up, how to program, how to do anything except turn it on, thanks to their old neighbor. He had been the one they bought it from, and he had been the one to program it for those people who cannot even fathom the "dummy" books. That was Val and Steve. The dumbest of the dummies.
Both of them worked construction and had never seen the need for anything more. They liked to do home projects, golf, fish, garden; they were hammer and nails kinda guys, the kind who fixed things and who built stuff. The kind who liked to sit on the deck of an evening and drink a few beers, talking and looking at the stars. Nah, construction workers didn't need computers; they just needed to get up in the morning and go to work so the Infernal Revenue Service could keep taxing them to an early death!
Then Val had the "misfortune" of getting laid off for the first time in several years and was facing a winter with no writing utensils except the caveman variety. That's when the topic of buying One of Those came up again. They decided to go for it, since it was the future after all. How much longer could they live in the dark ages anyway? They would have to, at some point, do something besides just have memories of playing Pong.
So came the eventful day that Steve left the decision to his wife about what and where to buy. She was petrified of course, since she also had problems programming the VCR! She still had record albums, for crying out loud! She would actually add and subtract on paper sometimes too, if the calculator was too far away or lost in one of their infamous "piles" of junk! Could someone who only knew the first version of Word Perfect survive in this brave, new world?
A dinosaur walks the earth, she thought acidly, as she dialed the 800 number she'd seen on a commercial. When some kid who sounded like a baby answered the phone, she almost hung up. Determination kept her on the line, however, the same determination that had gotten her through twenty plus years of construction work. She would do this thing! Even though every fiber of her being was screaming to run the other way, she would finish this phone call, and if the computer geek on the phone thought she was a dumb ass, then so be it! She had been called much worse and lived to tell of it.
The kid actually turned out to be quite the gentle computer geek, patiently explaining gigabytes, memory, and Pentium IIIs. If he thought she was a dumb ass (and she could imagine him sitting there on the other end rolling his eyes heavenward and wondering how she could even have figured out how to dial an 800 number), he kept his opinions to himself.
In the end, Val and Steve somehow ended up with a pretty nice machine, printer, password and e-mail address. Val felt like a spy when the nerd asked her to come up with some question that not a whole lot of people knew the answer to, in case someone from the ISP ever had to call and ask personal questions about their computer. The ISP would ask whoever answered the phone this question, and if that person didn't know the answer, well, then all hell would break loose. She felt like being a stinker just for the hell of it and having the question be her bra size, but she barely managed to contain herself.
The computer arrived the week before Christmas, so Val used the excuse of having too much to do then to do anything but leave it sitting on the living room floor for several days. She had cleaned out the spare room, though, throwing away a bunch of junk that desperately needed to be pitched, including the old computer. It had stared at her angrily from the garbage can, and she felt guilty for throwing it away.
"People get rid of these every day," she said to herself, turning and marching into the house. At least she had found a place that would take donated monitors and keyboards!
And there were those new boxes also staring at her as she went in. Shit! What was she so afraid of, anyway? The thing wouldn't bite! Fear of change, she thought, and somewhere along the line, without the slightest recollection of it happening, I have turned into one of those infamous "old dogs." Resolutely, she carried the boxes up to the spare room, carefully uncrating and reading instructions as she went.
Ah, she thought, simple directions! She liked the ones that started out saying, "Congratulations. . . ." That was always a danger sign, warning of blurry copies of copies, like when they'd bought the kids a swing set years ago. The ones where they got almost done and found they'd used the wrong hardware way back at step two and had to back track..
Oh, yes, and look at this! There were hordes of people at the ISP just frothing at the mouth, happy that she was a new customer and waiting to be of assistance! She wondered absently how long she'd have to sit on hold when she did need to know something.
"No!" she exclaimed to no one in particular. She would do this if it was the last thing she did. She would not go quietly! She would drag herself screaming and crying into the 21st century. All she had to do was plug the damn thing in!
The house did not catch fire nor fireworks explode when she plugged in to the Mother Ship. The sky was still blue, winter sun still shining meekly. She picked up the new owner's manual that stated plainly "Start Here!" and started there. Turn machine on, wait for first screen. (It will take a minute or so to go through all the prompts, so just sit there and shut up, and leave your cotton pickin' fingers off the keyboard!)
Hmmm, the first screen will look like the one in the book!
Liar, liar, pants on fire!
What happens when the first screen does NOT look like the one in the instruction manual? Great! Whoa! And what's this shit? Something else just popped in here, something about virus protection being several months old. Help me, o computer gods, for I am stupid and utterly lost!
Val watched in amazement as the machine barfed a registration form up on the screen and asked her if she'd like to register now or later. She clicked on the now part, and other things started happening pretty fast.
What is the make, model and serial number of this computer? Damn! This info was buried in the pile of rubble she had created when first setting things up. Where and why did you buy this computer? Through an 800 number on television and because I am an idiot, she thought morosely as she riffled through all the paperwork she had so haphazardly thrown on the floor. She figured the computer gods would probably not like her housekeeping skills or the filing system they had in place here: Throw it all in a pile and look through it only when it threatens to knock walls out of plumb! Perhaps she should get a file folder out for all of this mumbo jumbo?
To register now, you dumb ass, please click on "connect." Then we may proceed with updating your virus protection. Ah. . .Val reluctantly clicked, and the machine started doing what it said it would do. About halfway through, however, things came to a screeching halt.
Connection disrupted. Please try again. Over the next few days, the aforementioned computer dummy would find out that most of these start up procedures would have to be tried at least twice and sometimes more before they actually took. Sheesh, and she hadn't even begun to start on the printer. It had its own set of "Congratulations!" instructions!
Next it was on to e-mail. Of course, and not surprisingly, the screen in the book didn't match the one actually on the monitor again. Val clicked around a bit and got hopelessly lost. Now it was time to call all those people at the help line who were allegedly frothing at the mouth to be of assistance.
Twas a good thing she was an early riser. After all the "press one for this" and "press two hundred for that," she was informed that the wait for the next tech service rep would be about thirty minutes.
Thirty minutes!? What was she going to have to do, get a speaker phone in here, too? What if she had to go to the bathroom or shave or something in the meantime? Murphy's Law stated simply that if she should suddenly have the urge to pee or shave, that would be the time when the tech service rep would magically appear on the phone, and she'd end up dropping the receiver in the pisser.
At last someone named Hassad Something or Other got on the line and managed to get Val back to the screen she wanted. A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she envisioned yet another eighteen-year-old pocket protected genius trying to guide the old folks to the Internet Nursing Home for the Decrepit and Technologically Challenged.
"Okay," Hassad Something or Other said enthusiastically, living up to the reputation mentioned in her new owner's manual. "Now you must try to send a message to yourself! Then if this does not work, you read me the message that comes back."
"Sir, uh, I am going to have to hang up from you in order to go on line," Val said timidly.
"Oh, you do not have two lines?" Hassad Something or Other asked incredulously. Val could almost see him blinking his eyes in utter disbelief.
Hey, the bear probably does take a dump in the woods, but we don't have two phone lines, she thought acidly. "Well, I do have a cell phone," she replied instead, biting back any additional comments. "Is it possible for you to call me back on it?"
"Oh, yes, yes!" the help line guru gushed. She gave him her cell number, wondering if Steve would strangle her when he got home. They had gotten cell phones strictly for on the road emergencies.
Well, technically, this could be defined as one of those, she thought as she waited for Hassad Something or Other to call her back. He did almost immediately, and then, try as they might, they could not get an e-mail message to leave Val's computer and go where it was supposed to.
The technician then directed Val into the guts of her programming to look at some things there. She felt like she should have left a trail of bread crumbs to find her way back out. But wait! Look here, Hassad Something or Other! I see here that the "send" address and the "receive" address are one and the same. Common sense dictates to me that they need to be different, otherwise they will do battle somewhere in the phone lines and cancel each other out! Hence, no message sent or received, right?
Try as she might, she could not get Hassad Something or Other to see what she was talking about. It made perfect sense to her, though, for pete's sake! She finally thanked him and hung up, wanting to call back immediately, hoping to get someone who would understand that SHE understood but didn't know how to fix the problem! How hard could that possibly be?
The third frothing tech rep finally understood. By now, Val couldn't even remember his name, so she just called him"sir" until she finally saw her message to herself appear in the In Box. She had been correct, the addresses had to be different. She felt so happy with herself that she decided to see what surfing on the internet would bring.
Omigod! What was that? The sound had come from the computer, and now on the screen was another window with a question or something in it:
"WaNtStOgAb: hey, wanna talk? a/s/l?"
Holy crap! Val looked behind herself suspiciously. No one was there. She looked back at the screen. Whatever it was was still there, her own cursor throbbing in anticipation right below it. How come this shit wasn't in the book? What was it?
Typing tentatively, she asked in her own special way, "Huh?"
A smiley face appeared right away. Then: "I am a robot! a/s/l?"
Ah, I get it, she thought, typing, "I am new. What is a/s/l?"
WaNtStOgAb: age sex location
WaNtStOgAb: and what is that, pray tell?
petlady: :-) ID RATHER NOT
WaNtStOgAb: that is not funny
petlady: i thought it was. where is your sense of humor?
WaNtStOgAb: i am a robot, have no humor
petlady: yes, that is obvious. i do not intend to be rude. no a/s/l. doesn't matter.
WaNtStOgAb: u make me mad.
Having already discovered that the "X" in here meant the same thing as "X" anywhere else in the real world, Val clicked on it while simultaneously trying to catch her breath. Jeez, she was way out of her league here! The ball was over the fence and gone! She would definitely have to click around in here and find out exactly what the hell that was! But first, the internet!
There were two ways to get there from the thingie called the Desktop, and it really didn't matter which. Val clicked on the first one, and away she went. She visited the San Diego Zoo, NASA, listened to sounds of the rain forest, and looked up Samoyed dogs.
Hmmm, links! Let's see where this goes! Suddenly there were a thousand more places to look at: Dog breeders, dog shows from the Jurassic period forward, animal shelters, articles on abuse prevention, pet memorials. Thinking of her recently deceased pet Snooks, she clicked on memorials.
This brought up another million sites to choose from. Pages and pages. Val perused a few and then clicked again. Ah, there were a bunch of other suckers in this thing just like herself, people who cooked soup bones for Fido and made a special scratching post for Tasha. She smiled to herself when she saw there were even other nimrods who gave their pets human characteristics!
Val stayed way too long and had to get up to retrieve a box of tissues. Should she put this site in the "Favorites" file so she could torture herself daily? Sure, why not!
Perhaps it was time to leave here, anyway, she thought, sobbing into the snot rag. What a powerful tool this was! It had made her cry right off the bat! No wonder it was the subject of so much abuse! Humanity would never be able to handle this befuddling contraption!
Exiting swiftly, she glanced at the clock and decided she had time to tackle the printer. Get out the CD, retrieve the directions from the heap on the floor. Ah, yes, start here! She loved it when these people assumed she didn't know squat! She also got a kick out of the high tech directions that said if the CD doomaflaggy refused to eject from the CD port, that one was to then straighten out a paper clip and stick it in the little hole right underneath!
Okay! A tool! Sort of like a chimp attempting to get termites out of a rotting log with a stick! Now this she understood!