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Laptop Murder

[whitespace] Laptop
Chris Gardner

When living too well becomes hazardous

By Tai Moses

ONCE, DURING A BOUT of writer's block, I imagined how I would feel if something were to happen to my laptop computer. "I think I might actually feel a sense of relief," I said to my friend Tim. "All those half-finished stories and essays waving their stumpy arms like Thalidomide babies--all of it would be wiped out and I could get a fresh start."

I warmed to the subject. "It would be like getting a new identity! Sure, I might have a few regrets, but it would be OK."

Tim listened for a moment and looked at me pityingly. "You would be devastated," he said flatly.

Not surprisingly, when my laptop computer had its life snuffed out by a spilled glass of wine, the words "fresh start" were not the ones that leaped to mind. As the red liquid seeped into the laptop's crevices, it emitted a polite electronic death rattle. I cried out, "[Expletive]! I've killed it! I've destroyed my computer."

"It'll be fine," Tim said soothingly. He had sprung into action and was holding the laptop upside-down over the sink, letting wine trickle out. "Your hard disk is OK. The keyboard is sealed. It's probably a circuit."

The next day, after brooding over some trenchant excerpts from the users manual ("Do not pour liquids into the computer"), I took it to a PC repair shop.

"My laptop had liquid spilled into it while it was on," I told the repairman.

"What kind of liquid?" he asked.

For some reason it was hard to admit this. "Wine," I said. "But not very much. I mean, this was no drunken spree. It was a freak accident. ..."

He interrupted me. "Red or white?"

"What difference does it make?"

"If you want me to help you, I need to know everything," he said.

"Red."

"Mm-hmm. And was that a California wine?"

This line of questioning was making me defensive. "Look, it was a very good wine," I said. "A 1990 cabernet."

He looked at me skeptically. It would cost $500 to take the laptop completely apart, clean off the components and reassemble it, all with no guarantee of success. A new motherboard could cost an additional $700.

Tim offered to try his hand at reviving it. One Saturday we cleared off my desk and he began to dismantle the laptop with a Lilliputian screwdriver.

Several hours later, the detached screen was resting on the kitchen counter with wires protruding from it ghoulishly, like a decapitated head.

We cleaned off each part carefully with rubbing alcohol and Tim put it back together again. We turned it on hopefully. Nothing. Not a flicker, not a glimmer of life. I now owned a sleek black $1,500 doorstop that, buried within its mute electronic soul, contained several years' worth of written work.

Next stop: Fry's. As my veins coursed with the adrenaline of impulse shopping, I bought another laptop--or at least someone who looked a lot like me and was clutching my credit card did.

At home I took the new computer out of its box and turned it on. It booted up, bleeped and quacked, and once it got up to speed, it began to whir loudly. It hummed. It buzzed. It had a fan the size of a guinea pig. A week later, I returned it.

Clearly, some research was in order. I disguised myself, went to the news stand and bought a copy of Portable Computing, a special issue that rated the top 10 affordable notebook computers according to a torture test of durability. These models had been pummeled, dropped, burned, frozen, doused with liquid and seared with acid. All had survived, more or less, and none had even contacted Amnesty International.

Armed with my new insights, we went back to the electronics store. This time I was an informed consumer. I leaned my head close to the laptops and listened to their fans. I hefted them to feel their weight, setting off several anti-theft alarms. I typed the ditty about the quick brown fox over and over and bantered with the salesguy about active and passive LCD displays. To my horror, after only five weeks of intensive study I could debate the merits of nickel-metal-hydride versus lithium-ion batteries.

I finally did buy a new portable computer, and Tim thoughtfully had the data recovered from the old laptop's hard disk and transferred onto a CD-ROM for me.

So everything should be back to normal--yet something's missing. Where my old laptop was a bon vivant, my accomplice in time-honored writerly rituals like the fusion of wine and words, the new computer seems dour and disapproving. A teetotaler, an abstainer.

The deceased laptop sits in the back of the closet. Sometimes I can detect its faint fermented odor wafting through the house and I remember--ah, the good life: it was a very good wine.

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From the March 4-10, 1999 issue of Metro.

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