Last weekend I yelled at a foreign man for wasting my life. I might have been overreacting, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. Abe Lincoln said that nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. I suspect I didn’t even make it past the adversity test.
My wife bought a new laptop computer on Sunday to replace her seven year-old Dell laptop that weighs 13 pounds and gets as hot as fresh microwave popcorn. She can’t work without her laptop because she’s a court reporter, a job that I couldn’t do if I had a thousand years to prepare. So, she needed a new machine, and I agreed to help.
My sweetie and I are not as different as night and day. We’re as different as night and a total eclipse that can blind you, even if you’re an orphan, because it just doesn’t give a shit. I’m not saying which one of us is which, but she wasn’t the one yelling at the nice foreign man.
In spite of those differences, when hunting for a major purchase we cooperate like lions on the veldt. We made checklists. We researched. We visited electronics stores so she could handle different models while I glanced from the corner of my eye at cameras and giant TVs. We Googled customer reviews for the models she liked, and she selected her target.
Then we didn’t do anything. We waited a week to be sure the smell of blood hadn’t driven us crazy and made us choose the wrong prey. We were both fine with that. That’s how well we work together when on the hunt. It’s what happens after the kill that leads to yelling and snippy comments and walking out of the room with loud steps.
A week later we went to buy her laptop. Once in the store we got distracted. My wife wanted to transfer everything from her old laptop to her new one, including the software, in one simple step. If possible, she wanted to wave her hand like the fairy godmother turning mice into horses, and it would just happen. If it was more complicated and required her to wave both hands, well that would be okay too. We found software that promised amazingly easy transfers, and it had good reviews, so we grabbed it.
When the laptop salesman walked up, my wife pointed at the model she wanted and directed him to bring her one. He had none. He checked with his company’s other stores, and they had none. He could order one, but he had no idea when it would arrive. Apparently the demo model was just there to amuse people, like a little mechanical horse in front of a grocery store.
I didn’t feel too concerned. Other stores might carry it. My wife was nice to the salesman, but as we bought the magic software and walked to the car she muttered and fumed and said some alarming things. This is one of the differences between us.
The next store didn’t have her laptop either, which sucked. But it had the newer model, which also had great reviews, and it cost less. We bought it and carried it home, giggling all the way.
Here’s how the day disintegrated from there.
My wife unpacked her beautiful, lighter, cooler laptop. She read the magic software’s manual, which might have been written by someone who studied English in another country where people who speak English are punished. She called the manual and its writers and their relatives some bad names. Nearby, I assured her that manuals are overrated anyway.
She put the magic software’s disc in her laptop, and it did nothing but make the sound a grasshopper makes when trapped in a cardboard box. But it worked fine with other discs, so maybe the disc was bad. She growled and accused the magic software and her laptop of doing this on purpose. I nodded in sympathy as I got my car keys.
We returned the magic software, but the store refused to take it back because it worked fine in every other computer they tried. The problem must be my wife’s laptop. Both grumbling, we went back to the store where we’d bought the machine. They spent an hour showing us that the laptop played a bunch of other discs just fine. The laptop and the magic software disc were clearly the god damned Romeo and Juliet of information technology, just fated to never be together. The technician suggested we download the magic software from its website and install it that way. My wife nodded and hefted her laptop bag like John Henry hefting his hammer. In the parking lot I spit on the ground and swore never to shop at either store again.
Back home my wife downloaded the magic software, as relentless as if she had twenty acres to plow. I stomped around the room and bitched about having technology more complicated than a sharp stick. At 8:00 p.m. we started the transfer, which would take several hours. My wife sat on the couch to watch True Blood. I sat next to her with my own laptop and ignored True Blood.
An hour later my wife checked her laptop and saw that some transfer catastrophe had occurred. She sighed and examined the manual as if it were a cookbook that might say she’d just forgotten the eggs. I disconnected and reconnected the cable, and each time I jammed a cable back into a port I imagined I was jamming a knife through the lead programmer’s mouse hand.
We kicked off the transfer again, and 40 minutes later it crashed again. My wife set her jaw and narrowed her eyes. She looked like the NASA engineers must have looked when one of the early test rockets had blown up. I thought about having a drink, but instead I ripped out a rope of profanity, cursing Alan Turing and Nikola Tesla, and Bill Gates too while I was at it.
The magic software people offered 24 hour support, so my wife called and put them on speaker. When the rep answered, my wife concisely explained the problem, while I added occasional frustrated and near-hysterical details. It didn’t help that she had to ask him to repeat almost everything he said because he had only slightly better diction than my cat.
The rep was polite, and an hour later he’d accomplished four things: (1) he successfully replicated the scans I’d done before we installed the magic software; (2) he verified all of our power settings; (3) he screwed up our network settings; and (4) he started another transfer. Then he said both the old and the new machines had to be in “perfect condition” for the transfer to work, so that might be our problem. I did not yell at him at that point. My wife rolled her eyes but said nothing.
Then he said that if the problem was too hard for him to solve, we’d need to pay for higher level support. That’s when I yelled at him for wasting my life, or at least the last hour of it. I’m not proud of myself. But at least I didn’t reach 12,000 miles through the phone and tear something off his body that he or his wife might want later. My wife looked at me the way she looks at the cats when they puke on the bed, and then she thanked the nice man before ending the call.
The transfer did not go well, choking after 13 minutes. I almost offered to just load everything myself, but I saw that my wife was determined to make this work. Every other person who had ever touched a computer would have to die before she’d give up. While I sat on the couch watching Duel at Ganryu Island, she tried the transfer twice more, and each failed. At midnight she called a temporary cease fire, since the next morning she had be in court to write everything said by some inept lawyers.
As of this writing the transfer’s still incomplete. My wife is considering whether to pay the magic software people to help us, but I’m arguing it would be faster to hire a chimp to load everything.
When this all started and the problems were small, my wife fretted like a girl with a lost toy. But now, when hope is almost lost, she discusses her next steps like a chess master thinking 20 moves ahead. When this all started I addressed our small problems as calmly as an elephant addressing a ripe watermelon. Now when I think about this mess I behave like a tiger with his nuts caught in a gate. This is one of the ways in which my wife and I are different. It’s not even the most significant. You should see us in the car together.