Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews  entry Sept 2015  Allegro ma non troppo #36  (original pub. date, Lion Magazine, April, 1993)

He's a real noware man, living in his noware land

Random access those memories! Batten down the gigabytes! Bits per pixel, you rotten motherboard! Multiple frame buffer, modem and coprocessor. Gimme a CPU with a side order of SCSI ports, and hold the mayo.

That is "computerese". Unlike Scotty, the engineer on the Starship Enterprise, I know what I'm talking about. (Isn't it clear that one does not simply "reverse the polarity on the dilithium crystals" for every little thing? Like maybe the oil filter just needs changing or something.) I have spent a few years now in the computer game, and I am deeply humbled by the knowledge that my ability to use these terms is what separates me from lower forms of life such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein.

Not only that, but I have gone "on-line", as we say. I have bought a "gizmo" (I know, I know —another technical term) to hook up to my computer that lets me call up stock market reports and news services, write electronic letters to friends anywhere in the world and make travel reservations from the comfort of my home. Yes, all this and much much more for just slightly less per hour than what the Incas paid to ransom back their Sun King from Pizarro.

Sure, I still have a few problems. A friend asked me to "knock out a few address labels" for him. After a long apprenticeship of writing articles and laying out pages for a magazine, I thought I was ready. Now, some days and many chainsaw-massacred trees' worth of paper later, I am delirious to report that the names are on the labels and the addresses that should go with these names are somewhere else. I have decided, reluctantly, to go out of the label making business.

The bigshots have problems, too. I wrote the Microsoft Corporation. I wanted to buy the newest version, the "upgrade," for one of their software programs that I own. A week or so later, I get an envelope from Microsoft. My address is handwritten! Inside is my own original letter with an answer to my query hand-scrawled semilegibly at an angle in one corner of the page. It dawns on me: no one in offices has a typewriter anymore! A dictionary from the not-too-distant future will tell us that a typewriter was "an ancient printing contraption with a keyboard which, when struck, caused impressions to be made onto paper. It was little better than Gutenberg's earlier method of moving bits of moveable type into the desired place by hand or the earlier Chinese method of making rubbings from engraved stone."

It's too much trouble, however, simply to pop an envelope or a single sheet of writing paper into a computer printer, so they just write by hand. Next, Microsoft's scrawled comment asks me to rip out (!) the first page of the manual that came with my program and send it to them! This is to prove that I really own the program and am entitled to the cheap upgrade, as opposed to being a scum lowlife 'pirate' trying to finagle something for nothing. Microsoft will make $3.75 billion this fiscal year and is referred to as "the IBM of the 90s"; it is a company on the cutting edge of such arcana as 'artificial intelligence' and 'object-oriented programming'; and they are asking me to shred my manual! Why don't they just look around for the official registration card I sent them when I bought the program? Maybe it's in a computer where they can't find it—right next to the address labels. But I want that upgrade, so I go ahead and rip—(all the while toying with the speculation that when Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft, was kidnapped some time ago, it was not by common money-grubbing thugs, but by computer users desperate for their upgrades!)

Ten days later, I get a handwritten (what else?) postcard with the note that I had forgotten to give them the expiration date of my credit card, so would I be a nice fellow and call this toll-free number with that information. In the United States, "toll-free" means that if you are in the United States you don't pay for the call. From abroad, however, you have to pay for the long-distance connection.

By the minute.
That's 60 seconds.

A second is defined as the duration of 9,192,631,700 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the Cesium-133 atom. Remember that long number. Now, imagine your phone bill looking like that big number.

Ring-ring. Click. "Hi. Thank you for calling Microsoft."
Uh-oh, I am talking to a recorded message. Friendly voice, but so was HAL in 2001. Please, don't put me on hold!
"If you are a fat-cat corporate giant wishing to talk to someone really important about fat-cat corporate giant stuff, press number one on your telephone." 

Hmmm. That's not me. Wait for it. Wait her out.
"If you are an individual inquiring about blah-blah-blah…" I start to panic. Who am I? Why am I calling? Is there a God? Who knows, but there is a telephone counter on my home phone. For local calls it clicks occasionally, like the leisurely  passing of high-heels strolling along the boardwalk of life. Now, it sounds like the soundtrack to "The Bojangles Story".

"…or maybe just a total techno-wimp wif a widdle pwoblem wif dat nasty old computer…" Bull's-eye! I punch the number. I get a real human being.

"Hi. This is Tracey."
"Hello, Tracey. This is Jeff. I'm calling from Italy…"
"Gee, how do you manage that?"

Hmmm. This poor woman has been holed up at Microsoft since even before the invention of the telephone. So as not to frighten her, I explain that I am a disembodied voice inside her head —(and, you rightly ask, are there any voices with bodies running around inside people's heads?)— and that she should keep looking straight ahead and not move her lips — we don't want people to think that she is having an epiphany or, even worse, channeling on company time. Gently but firmly I explain that I am only going to say this as many times as necessary. I want my upgrade.

I straightened out the problem. My upgrade arrived. With it was a nice handwritten request from Tracey. They need some address labels.

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