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RIPOSTE

by RIP RENSE

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LTSEW. . .COMPUTERS!
(Sept. 22, 2004)
       So you want to get your computer fixed, eh? Pssst. C'mere---let me give you some good advice. cut your hands off so you won’t have to worry about typing anymore.
           Episode one:
           The first time it "crashed," as they say, I took my noble, redoubtable machine to no less a place than Computer Palace, on Wilshire Blvd., in Santa Monica. Yes, I would treat my miraculous 21st century marvel like a cyber-sultan, a microcircuit-maharajaha. I would take it to a repair palace, a veritable Taj Mahal of microchip medicine---not a mere "shop."

         Inside, I was granted an audience with a “Computer Palace” Wazir who introduced himself to me cordially as “Siroosh-but-you-can-call-me-Sam.” I resisted an impulse to introduce myself as "Ashok, but you can all me Rip," and got down to business. Well, almost. Siroosh first invited---no, urged me to have a nice piece of candy in a tray on the counter. I told him I was not there for a nice piece of candy.
        "But a little candy," he said, smiling broadly, "takes your mind off your problems for a moment, makes you feel better."
         Okay, so I took a nice piece of candy, so he'd shut up. That would make me feel better. I should have figured that this did not bode well. Here I had brought a computer in, and a technician was persuading me to eat candy against my will.
         As I bit down on some artificially flavored wad of peach gunk, Siroosh explained to me exactly what he was going to do to my machine, punctuating each point with this chirping refrain: “is that all right with you, sir?”
        It was only later that I realized that he didn't exactly mean what he exactly said. What he was exactly saying was something exactly like this:
          “I don’t have the faintest idea what is wrong with your computer, but I will do lots and lots of things that cost lots of money, and hope that fixes it. Is that all right with you, sir?”
          I had answered yes, of course, but what I should have exactly said was exactly this:
          “No, it’s not all right with me. What I want you to do is find out exactly what the problem is, then call me and tell me exactly what it will cost to fix it.”

           Of course, that's as foolish a notion as expecting to be exempted from jury duty because you are about to give birth. And you are a man.
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I heard Danny Kaye in my head, blathering about "the vessel with the pessel's in the chalice from the palace."
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         Two computerless days passed, during which I had a lot of
nice chats with Siroosh---on the phone, where he could not force me to eat candy---and he told me lots of nice stories. Why, he was a captivating storyteller! One of his fables was about how he could not reinstall Symantec Virus Protection with the new operating system, so he was installing a different virus protection instead. He told that one so darn fast that, gosh, I almost missed the ending! And when I told him that I preferred the original version of the story, about how he was going to install Symantec, he said, “Okay, I install Symantec.” (Guess that was the surprise twist!)
          Siroosh must have had as many tales as the Arabian Nights. One was about how he was going to do a "rush job," and another concerned his plan to work on my system for the rest of the day (both proved to be cute fiction.) Another was how he was going to remove all the applications and do a total reinstallation, to make sure the “system is totally clean.” I figured this was something like what Swiss Kriss did for Louis Armstrong, so I went along with the gag. Funny thing, though: Siroosh changed the ending again! “I didn’t do a reinstallation,” he said later. “I just clean everything up.”
          Siroosh’s most provacative yarn involved his announcement that the computer would not be ready until 5:30 p.m.. The amazing thing about this story was that in the very same narrative, which took place at about 2:30 p.m., he said this:

          “The computer is ready.”
         Huh? Had one of us spent too long on the hookah? Or was it a riddle? A mysterious and obscure joke intelligible only to computer technicians?  Perhaps something more cosmic, along the lines of Stephen Hawking? Yes, that was it! The computer was ready now, but also at 5:30! In the taffy-pull of time and space, it had always been ready, and always would be!

         Wow!
         Back in the wretched temporal world, I was left to utter this banal sentence:
          “Uh. . .I thought you said 5:30, Siroosh."
         Obviously realizing my inability to grasp even a PBS version of quantum physics, Siroosh had to answer in terms that I understood:

          “Yes, it’s ready now, but you cannot pick up until 5:30. . .uh. . .we have to run tests.”
           Ahhh. They had to run tests! That story would hold a rube like me. Tests. . .
           I can't fault Siroosh for entertainment value. He saved his best story for last: my computer was fixed. Repaired. Patched. Spiffed-up and ready to boot. Surf's up! And this, too, took a great, surprising turn! You see, when I brought the beast home, why, it displayed exactly the same start-up problem that had caused me to take it to the great Palace in the first place! Quite a shock! A real O. Henry zinger!

             After I created a string of loud free-verse profanity that left my neighbors steering clear of me for a while, I figured that if I just reloaded AOL, it might fix the start-up problem.
          And it did! I phoned the Palace and barked that Siroosh-but-you-can-call-me-Sam obviously had not “tested” the machine as promised, and whaddya know? A manager knocked sixty royal dollars off my bill! Yes, a refund! I can hear the little Ross Perot voice chirping in your brains now, dear readers:
          “Problem solved!”
           Yes, and Osama bin Laden has been captured and strung up by his beard, while buzzards peck at his liver. Oprah Winfrey has gone broke, and is volunteering in soup kitchens on Skid Row, where she lives. I have been named editor of a major metropolitan daily newspaper.

          Episode two:
          Five days later, my virus-free, “clean,” “fixed,” “repaired” spiffed-up computer. . .crashed. I mean it went down. Plummeted to earth like the damn Hindenburg. Oh, the humanity.
          I found myself admitted again into the glorious confines of Computer Palace, and I confess: it was  making me a little giddy. Every time I saw the big "Computer Palace" sign now, I heard Danny Kaye in my head, blathering "the vessel with the pessel's in the chalice from the palace."
After much plumbing and spelunking and poking at electronic entrails, the Computer Palacians discovered that. . .
          The computer had crashed.
          “It’s hard to say what caused the problem,” said a very polite manager who did not force me to eat candy, “but Windows is corrupted.”

         Yes. Windows, walls, ceiling, floor, possibly the ground underneath. Quite a coincidence that my computer had melted down just days after having been Sirooshed. You know, kind of like Bush's National Guard records disappearing when he became a politician---I mean, front man for the corporatocracy.
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It dawned on me that the alarms would alert the police, and the police could show up and very logically conclude that I was trying to rob the Computer Palace.
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           Yes, of course it would be "hard to say what caused the problem." It always is---with computers, cars, and divorce. So as before, my cyber-sickness was undiagnosable, but---you guessed it---the Manager had a sure-fire fix: reinstall all applications, so the system is “totally clean.”
           Hmmm. . .Hmmm. . .now where had I heard that before? A Metamusil commercial? No! Why, this was exactly one of the hallowed and beloved tales of my friend, Siroosh! He had planned to do this, but changed the ending on me, and never did! Gee, it was a good thing the system crashed again, so this time I could get the job done properly!
           Now, in order to derive the maximum enjoyment from the rest of this column, dear reader, please first comprehend the rather dry facts of exactly how the system crashed.

           First the screen froze, then my testicles retracted, and then, when I restarted, I was faced with a black screen containing choices of “safe mode,” “normal mode,” and, maybe “pie a la mode.” No matter which mode I picked, though, I was out-moded. "The system" (an amusing euphemism for the starving rat running around inside the computer box) would not “re-boot.”
         "Rebooting," coincidentally, was exactly what I wanted to do to Siroosh and all at “Computer Palace”---after I again picked up an allegedly repaired, fixed, spiffed-up computer and took it home.
            Why? Can you guess?
             When Computer and I attempted to resume our busy, co-dependent life together, I turned it on to find. . .

            The same problem!
            Now, I really don’t mind spending $500 when I have to. Especially when I have $500. Things like teeth-cleaning and supporting losing candidates are a sort of mid-life crisis passion of mine. But I am not keen on donating to computer repairmen who don’t repair computers. I figure there is no economic value in it, except for the repairmen.
            Luckily, I did not put my fist through an uncorrupted window, and the door was sufficiently strong to go undented. So at 9 a.m. sharp the following lyrical, late summer day, I prostrated myself once more before the gates of the Palace of Computers, awaiting the Grand Wazoo. And, well, you won't believe it, but the strangest thing happened! I know, I know---it's a stretch to imagine something strange happening in this saga, but, well, alarms went off as I walked in. At first I thought they were inside my skull. Perhaps I needed to be restarted in safe mode. But no, they were not in my head, they were. . .in the shop! And there was no one else inside.  
            What a zany, fun-filled Palace!
           Ah-ooooooo, ah-oooooooo, went the alarms, with a deeeeeeep deeeeeeep thrown in for color.

            Surely Larry, Moe and Shemp would soon appear in turbans, saying "Maha!" and "Ah-ha?"
           It slowly dawned on me that the alarms would alert
the police, and the police could show up and very logically conclude that I was trying to rob the Computer Palace, when in fact it had been the other way around all along!
            A manager appeared.
            “Did you just walk in?” he said.
             I refrained from making a crack about having flown in on a magic carpet---you know, racism and all---and said that yes, the door had been open.
            “It must have been open all night!” he gasped.
             Maha! Ah-ha?

             Yes, this was a freewheeling, wacky place, all right! Just the kind of establishment you want to take your computer for repairs! Hell, if they can’t fix it, they'll leave the door open so somebody can steal it! Have to admit there's a certain efficiency here.
            You won't believe this, but I calmly and politely explained the latest debacle with the computer, as the sirens screamed and chattered, and ah-oooed and deeped, while another employee arrived and phoned the alarm company to shut them off. I was getting used to them, though; I found them very appropriate ambience. Then the manager, a fellow of Middle East descent who gave his name as “Fred,” escorted me back to the repairman, a gentleman of similar ancestry who said his name was “Shaun.”
             (I think in the interest of international cooperation and cultural exchange, I will soon adopt the professional name, Vindaloo.)
                Well,  I told Shaun that when I turned the machine on, I got the very same black screen with the list of “mode” choices, just as I had before it had been “repaired.” But Shaun was not least interested in my sad story. He had a speech to make:
            “I work on this machine all day! I reinstall everything! It was perfect when I finish! I work in this all day! All day! It was perfect!” And so on. I noticed that Shaun stared only at the machine as he spoke, which made me wonder if he had been around them a bit too long.
             Shaun shrilled some more, and I repeated the problem. Then Shaun repeated the speech. Then I repeated the problem. Then Shaun repeated the speech. After a while, he puffed up his little chest---I mean, he really did---and added, “We have fine technicians here, and we do very, very good work!”

             Maha! Ah-ha?
              I asked Shaun if we could please stop discussing the quality of his work, and the store’s reputation---both of which were very clear to me---and just. . .fix. . .the. . .computer. He said nothing, but plugged it in. And up came---just as I had explained---the black screen with the mode choices.

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Shaun raised his voice, too, although it was more along the order of, say, Mickey Mouse on the receiving end of an enema.
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            Like the car that won’t make “that funny noise” when a mechanic is present, the computer worked perfectly as soon as he hit “normal mode.” Naturally, it had refused to behave so well for me at home.
This led to another of Shaun’s Jeremiac tantrums, in which he said he was blameless for all problems, perhaps including cancer and World War II.
           “Maybe you caught a virus," he added, "when you went to the Internet or downloaded something!”
           Sigh.

           I had already explained to Shaun that this was impossible, because I had not visited the Internet, and had downloaded nothing. How did I know this? Don't hold me to it, but I strongly suspect that you have to be able to turn a computer on in order to visit the Internet and "download something." I told Shaun this. I spoke the sentence in capital letters. They came out of my mouth and hung in the air, and I blew them into his face.
            And wouldn’t you know it? We played the repeat game again! Shaun repeated that I had downloaded a virus, and I repeated that this was impossible, as I had not been able to turn on the machine. Then we did it all over again! This went on for no more than the time it takes to oh, build a computer, before I played party-pooper and spoiled the game.
           “LISTEN: DO NOT   TELL ME THAT AGAIN, UNDERSTAND? STOP. I  COULD NOT TURN THE MACHINE ON, SO HOW COULD I HAVE GOTTEN A VIRUS? STOP TELLING ME I HAVE A VIRUS! THAT’S ENOUGH! NO MORE!”
            Shaun gave a casual shrug:
            “Okay, forget I say virus,” he said quietly.
            Moe poked Shemp in the eyes,   yanked the Porcupine's hair out, and poked the Nubian in the ass with an assagai. . .

           Like that mechanic who says he has to drive your car around “until it makes that funny noise,” Shaun next announced he would have to turn the computer on “many many times” to see if it malfunctioned, in order to “pinpoint the problem.” This despite the fact that when he had first turned the machine back on, the problem---the black “mode” screen error---had recurred right before his eyeballs!
            I lost focus. I was imagining Shaun in a pit of cobras, naked, with nary a mongoose in sight. Maybe some scorpions and army ants thrown in. Then little Shaun snapped me back into the moment, with this dazzling statement:
           “Maybe you cause problem when you turn it on,” he said.
           Ah, yes. I had caused the problem! It had been me all along! Rense, Enemy of the Computer! I should just go out and shoot myself, and let the damn computer live in peace! Yes, I was the culprit here. And the guy who turned the lights on in the laboratory where the A-bomb was invented was responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
           I considered picking up little Shaun and pushing his little round, balding head into the computer screen, but I figured I’d probably have to be a lot stronger to make the head actually break through the glass monitor, which would have been my desired goal. And if I did manage to get his head in there, I figured the computer would be that much harder to operate. What’s more, I guessed that the police would find this behavior anti-social. So I just settled on yelling.
          “DON’T YOU TELL ME I CAUSED THE GODDAMN PROBLEM! DON’T YOU TELL ME I CAUSED THE GODDAMN PROBLEM!”

         Hey, I was playing the “repeat” game all by myself! I loomed, and shook my finger. I enjoy looming.
         “HOW DID I CAUSE THE GODDAMN PROBLEM? BY PUSHING A BUTTON AND TURNING THE MACHINE ON? YOU’RE TRYING TO BLAME ME FOR YOUR PROBLEM! YOU GODDAMN LIAR! YOU CHEAT! YOU CHEATING GODDAMN LIAR!”
            Etc.
            Apparently not one to be outdone by a stupid computer-illiterate guy who uses his real name, Shaun raised his voice, too, although it was more along the order of, say, Mickey Mouse on the receiving end of an enema.
            Don’t you talk to me like that!
           “LISTEN, I’LL TALK TO YOU ANY WAY I WANT. DO NOT  TELL ME THAT I CAUSED THE GODDAMN PROBLEM HERE. YOU DID NOT DO THE WORK PROPERLY. YOU LIAR! YOU CHEAT!”
           Now, perhaps the funniest thing about all this is stuff is that the manager, who had merely enjoyed the entertainment from afar, finally approached and apologized to me. He allowed that everything I said was correct, and that they would fix the problem.
            Well, I’m afraid that’s impossible. To fix the problem, you see, one would have to take all the computers on the planet and recycle them into more useful devices.
             Like eggbeaters.
Preferably to be inserted into the various orifices of the zany, madcap employees of Computer Palace.

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2004 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.