Mr. Cope’s Cave: Technical Difficlties


Since 1997, I have written my Boise Weekly column, and now these blog things, on a Macintosh Classic II. It was given to me like a hand-me-down boot when my even-older Macintosh Plus finally pooped out. Stylistically, you could barely tell those two machines apart. Except for the name on the front, they were virtually identical. At least, on the outside. On the inside, they were probably worlds apart. This much RAM as opposed to that much RAM, this operating system as opposed to that operating system—blah blah blah. I never paid much attention to what was under the hood. All I’ve ever wanted out of a computer is the same thing I want out of a car—to get me from here to there. And I don’t need to know how a carburetor works for that to happen, do I?

During the first winter I owned my hand-me-down Mac—allow me to call him “Bob” because, in a way, I was bobbing for Apples when I came up with him; get it?—I killed the internal battery. You see, whenever I wasn’t writing I unplugged Bob and wheeled him on his computer gurney away from my customary writing station—which was a corner on the couch that also served as my customary teevee watching station, my customary reading station, my customary dining station and often my customary napping station.

I have always written with my feet up on something and the keyboard on my lap. I used to marvel at how some people are able to sit at a desk or a table, their feet on the floor, their hands out before them like court stenographers and actually get something written. How they do it, I can’t imagine. Surely, they’re not all freaks and I’m the only writer in the world with a sane writing posture? Some day, I would like to get some famous writers—Stephen King, for instance, and Joyce Carol Oates, maybe—plop them down on a soft couch, put an ottoman under their feet, a keyboard in their laps like they’re stroking a cat and see if they can come up with a damn thing.

But anyway, back to how I killed Bob’s battery. Those things had a battery that took over when they were unplugged. Just enough juice to keep the time and date up to speed, I guess. Actually, I don’t know what the hell the battery did. All I know is, the first winter I owned him, I wheeled Bob out into the front porch where I always wheeled him when I was done writing for the day, and said “See ya’ mañana.” It was cold out on that front porch—glassed in with no heat—but it had to be real, real cold outside to freeze up on the porch.

Well, as you might guess, one night it got real, real cold outside, and when I wheeled Bob back in for another day of writing, the screen light didn’t come on when I plugged him in and switched him on. It took me hours to figure out how to find the control panels on that darkened screen and reset the lighting control from totally dim to workably bright.

I also had to reset the time and date and all the keyboard controls and how fast the mouse moved the cursor and how fast the thing blinked and this and that, and I had to go through the same routine every morning and evening when I turned it on to write, and I had to do it from 1997 to last week. It was sort of a nuisance, for sure, but I got used to it.

Oh, I’ve had other computers along the way. An iMac, a Dell something-or-other and whatever this damn thing I’m writing this here on. Like you, I‘ve had color and Internet for years—Bob and his predecessor were black-and-white only, and neither were ever hooked up to no stinking world wide web—but until now, I’ve never done my writing on those fancier-schmancier machines. This one, the damn thing I’m writing this here on, sits over in the corner where I have to keep my feet on the floor and the keyboard on a desk, and when I try to sit here writing for any length of time, I feel like a court stenographer with a bad back. Normally, I use it only for email junk and looking things up and watching kittens play piano... shit like that.

But never writing. I’ve always done my writing on Bob, and until this last week, Bob always got me from here to there.

So last week, for no reason I understand, the letters “U” and “Y” stopped working on Bob’s keyboard. The numerals “6” and “7” directly above those letters also stopped working. It was a little lop-sided square of not-workingness. I have no idea why. Possibly a vole decided to build a nest under those keys. Or maybe a space vehicle from another world hovered over my house while I slept that night, making the clocks go crazy like in movies and all the electronics in the place go kerflooey, then when it flew off back to Andromeda or Romulus, everything came back on except my “U” and my “Y.”

Anyway, for whatever reason, I went to writing the next morning and discovered they had stopped functioning. It could have been worse. It could have been my “E” and “R” keys, from just down the row. That would be the most used vowel and the most used consonant in the English language. which means the first sentence of this paragraph would look like “Anyway, fo whatv ason, I wnt to witing th nxt moning and discovd thy had stopped functioning.”

But it was bad enough. Every time I typed “you” it came out “o.” “Figuratively” was now “figrativel.” “Youth” was “oth” and “Romulus” was “Romls.” Bob’s poor little spell-checker was having nervous fits.

For two days, I refused to believe it was a permanent condition. I continued to whack away, hoping that at any moment, things would return to normal. About a third of the grotesque words showing up on the screen could be fixed through Bob’s spell-check, which, unlike Bob’s keyboard, still had its “Y’ and “U.” The rest, I had to carry over to this thing I’m writing on now and doctor back to readability.

It was awful, I tell you. Two hours of normal writing turned into four. And every time I looked on screen and saw another “bt” or “onl,” another “actll” or “gradall,” I felt myself slipping further and further from rationality, and closer and closer to having to move my operations over to this thing I’m writing on now.

I didn’t give up easily. I started calling all the local joints that might still deal in... shall we say... computers of a certain age. “Good morning, sir,” I would begin. “Is it possible you have lying around your establishment a keyboard for a quarter-century old Macintosh Classic II?”

As it seems my Macintosh is older than the people I was dealing with, many of them asked if I meant that model which came in all the bright colors. When I explained that “Oh dear no. The computer I’m talking about is as colorless on the outside as it is on the inside. In computer years, it would be like the great-grandfather of those Skittle-colored computers you speak of.”

Need I say, I was unsuccessful finding the component I needed to put my life back in order, and I never want to hear the words, “Why don’t you just get yourself a new computer?” again.

Eventually, I turned to that place so many others have turned to when searching for things that can’t be found. E-Bay. It’s not here yet, that thing I couldn’t find, but I’ve been assured it’s on its way. I do hope it’s the right thing. My life will be so much easier if it’s the right thing. Back to the couch, go I... if it’s the right thing. No more of this horrid, desk-humping, unnatural, court stenographer deviancy... if it’s the right thing.

Thank! You! E-Bay! (If it’s the right thing.)

And if it’s not?... Jesus—or as Bob would say. “Jess”—I don’t want to think about that possibility.