Monday, May 12, 2008

Not So OK Computer

As promised, today we have a guest post. But first, an introduction.

Once upon a time, I started a blog. And soon afterwards I discovered that blogging is not like Field of Dreams. If you build it, they won't necessarily come. I kept telling myself that I wasn't doing it for readers or for comments, that it was just a writing exercise for myself and it didn't matter if anyone else was out there. And then I felt the rush of seeing my very first comment arrive in my Inbox... and the subsequent deflated disappointment of realizing that first comment was actually spam.

Eventually, I learned what we've all learned by now: that if you want anyone to know you're out there, you need to speak up. I stopped lurking and started commenting on a few of the blogs I read regularly, and eventually, wonder of wonders, some of those people started stopping by. They even left me comments! Comments that weren't spam! It was all very exciting.

One of the first bloggers to pay any attention to me--to leave me real comments and put my name in a coveted sidebar spot--was a guy in New York named Darren. I can't link to Darren, because he closed up shop on his "Look at Me" blog last summer, but those of you who read him know that he was routinely brilliant and hilarious. When I removed his dead link from my sidebar several months ago, I considered creating a "Blogs I Miss" category for his name instead.

Darren and I have stayed in touch via email, and recently I told him that if he ever missed having an outlet to tell the Internet what's on his mind, he could guest post for me any time. And what do you know? He took me up on it.

Darren, you have the floor. Stefanie Says readers, let's give him a warm welcome.


Not So OK Computer

There was a cartoon in a recent issue of The New Yorker featuring a man seated in front of a laptop announcing to a woman who appears to be his wife that he's working on a think piece about himself. I start this post off not because I'm attempting to appear more erudite and cosmopolitan than I actually am by mentioning up front that I read The New Yorker. Nor am I bringing it up at the beginning because it's one of the rare New Yorker cartoons with a punch line that can't be summed up as "Being married to you is slowly killing my soul." No, I'm quoting the New Yorker cartoon because I thought it nicely summarizes what it is to be a blogger: assuming that anyone else gives a damn about what you think of yourself.

I used to be a blogger, you see. I blogged. And over the course of a few years, I developed a small, devoted following (hi, Mom!). I made friends and felt that I belonged to a community. And I miss those things. But I also took my posts way too seriously and drove myself nearly crazy on the days when I couldn't think of a topic to write about or whatever I did come up with didn't meet my own exacting, classy standards – such as my masterwork, "Shit Happens," in which I gave an account of the time I crapped my pants in the New York City subway. And so in order to reclaim my sanity, I shut down my blog in July of last year.

I've stayed in touch with some of the people I once listed in my sidebar, and a few have asked me if I ever miss blogging. My answer has always been, "Eh." I mean, I do, and I don't. It's been liberating going all of this time without forcing myself to transform every mundane experience of my life into a witty and captivating essay. But when I see that some of us have graduated to profiles in The New York Times and guest segments on Nightline, it makes me feel... What's the phrase? Pissed off. Happy for these newly famous bloggers, of course, but also so jealous of the attention I desperately once sought for myself that I now know what anger tastes like.

So when Stefanie, one of those former sidebar people I've remained friends with, told me that I could guest post on her blog any time I felt the urge, my "Me too! Me too! Me too!" instincts kicked in. And thus, my first post in nearly a year.

For anyone who isn't familiar with my back story, I returned to New York last fall after an absence of about ten months. And because I returned to New York with little more than clothes and couldn’t readily resupply myself with the things that so many of you probably take for granted (furniture, dishes, shower curtains, etc.), I have been living in a furnished sublet. Living with someone else's things has its advantages, sure. I can, for instance, reheat leftovers in the tinfoil containers they come in without batting an eye at the resulting storm of sparks because, pft, it ain't my microwave. But I also have to live with whatever's in the apartment – or, for the purposes of this post, live with what isn't.

I have no TV. Except for the stray episodes of 30 Rock I've caught on the NBC website, I'm missing out on an entire medium. I could buy a TV, but that would require, for the sake of good reception, also investing in cable. That would add another seventy to one hundred dollars to my already staggering New York City expenses. And as I see it, if I have to choose between seven or ten visits to Chipotle a month or finding out if Bret Michaels went with Daisy or Amber on Rock of Love 2, I'm going to go with steak fajita burritos each and every time.

I also don't have a radio. This seems to shock some people, but how many people own a radio? Maybe you inherit one or an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend leaves one behind after moving out. But I've never heard of anyone in 2008 intentionally leaving his or her home, walking into a Best Buy, and parting with the money it would take to listen to "Jungle Jay and Captain Wacky's Morning Zoo Crew" when you can just as easily listen to the streaming audio on your computer.

That's not to say that the last six months haven't felt like some bizarre, self-imposed media deprivation experiment, but I've gotten by. I listen to podcasts, for instance, while making and eating dinner rather than leaving the local television news on in the background. And I open a lot more books at night than I do Netflix envelopes. It's been different but manageable.

That is until my computer died one night about a month ago. As in dead. As in funky electrical smell coming from the back of the PC. I will spare you the details of just what went wrong and what the Dell technician told me over the phone I needed to replace (such a description would entail multiple uses of the word "motherboard"). Suffice it to say that my life went from "quaint" to "oh-my-God-I-am-so-fucking-bored!" in the blink of an eye.

I could have gotten another computer, true, but you read the part where I can't afford an additional seventy to one hundred dollars a month for basic cable, right? Perhaps, I thought, I could take matters into my own hands by repairing the computer myself. I don't know anything about computers, but I have seen a few that had been opened up and none of them looked that complex. Computers aren't made of alien technology that fell from space and we've managed to jury-rig for our own purposes even though we have no real understanding of how it all works. It's just some parts and wires, and even though I'm not so handy with these big, meaty paws of mine, I figured it was worth taking a shot at trying to fix on my own.

"Okay, Dare-een," said the Dell technician on the other end of the phone. "I am very pleased I can tell you I can provide you with a replacement of motherboard, however, at this time, it is available no longer." I was put on a waiting list, and waited I did.

I was patient at first. I even saw it as a "fun" kind of challenge. Each night I would come home after work and microwave my tinfoil leftovers in near complete silence. I use the word "near" because early on I attempted to maintain an illusion of normalcy by doing my own one-man podcasts, but I could only get as far as, "Well. From WBEZ in Chicago, this is 'This American Life'" before admitting that I was fooling no one and collapsing into a dejected heap on my subletter's faded loveseat. I had books to keep me entertained, and I know that there was once a time when books were virtually the only form of personal entertainment, but people also once drilled holes in their heads to let out the evil spirits.

As much as I enjoyed the notoriety of being the only Amish person in Manhattan, after three weeks, I had had enough. If technology had gotten me into this mess, maybe technology could get me out. I wondered: If I could find the same Dell model on eBay, could I swap out the parts? It was worth a shot. And so, after placing a winning bid and waiting another ten days for the hard drive to be shipped, I had, I hoped, everything I would need.

The downside of my sublet is that it's illegal, meaning the guy whose name is on the lease is technically not allowed to rent it out to anyone else. I'm not supposed to receive mail at the apartment because doing so could tip off the building management that something fishy is going on. So I had to have the hard drive shipped to a friend's apartment, pick it up after work the day it arrived, put it into the back of a cab, and get it home that way. That was the easy part. The hard part was lugging the box through the lobby of my building only to find that the notoriously unreliable elevator was broken that night. Having no other choice, I carried the nearly forty pound machine up seven flights of stairs.

Once I got everything up to my apartment and suppressed the urge to vomit, I tore into the battered cardboard box the hard drive had come in. At first, I wasn't entirely sure what all I was looking at. I thought of every movie I've ever seen in which someone diffusing a bomb has to make a decision between cutting the blue or the red wire. That big, flat, green piece with all the silver lines zigzagging everywhere – how important was it exactly? After a few minutes of staring at the electronic guts, I dug in.

An hour and a half later, I had the good parts from the replacement PC safely inside my old machine and was ready for a test run. The snap of a few sparks, a quick whiff of ozone, and I saw the Windows logo come to life on my monitor for the first time in what felt like my whole life.

I'd like to be able to end this by writing something along the lines of, "And, you know, the strange thing is that even though I now had what I had spent a month longing for, I discovered I had gotten used to the low-tech lifestyle that had been thrust on me and barely even use my computer anymore." The truth is, I squeal with delight and nearly dry hump the thing every time it boots up. I lost all of last weekend catching up on email, downloading pirated software from LimeWire, hourly changing my Facebook status, and looking at blurry paparazzi photos of Mischa Barton's cellulite on Defamer.

Okay. It felt good sharing a not-particularly interesting episode of my life with random strangers again. Not so good that I'm going to run out and re-launch my TypePad account, but good just the same. Thanks for letting me borrow your blog, Stefanie. Maybe I'll drop by again some time.


Anonymous said...

Yay! It's so exciting to see you back on the internet, Darren. You've still got the magic bloggy touch.


steve said...

The man needs a laptop! Hmm... I might be able to hook something up....

-R- said...

I'm not sure why, but I did not expect the guest post to be from Darren. Darren, congrats on surviving the Amish lifestyle, and I suggest watching as many 30 Rocks as possible.

Whiskeymarie said...

If you don't want to break you computer again, Darren, I suggest ceasing the dry-humping.

Not that I have ever done that or anything...

L Sass said...

Ha! The whole illegal-sublet-rerouting-mail thing is so New York. NYC real estate, why do you suck so much?

badger reader said...

If I had a blog, I would list Darren under "blogs I miss" too. I don't know that I ever commented on his, but I was definitely a lurker. The pressure to come up with material regularly is what keeps me from starting my own. Of course now that I once again read about Darren's love of Chipotle, that is all I want for lunch...

nancypearlwannabe said...

I don't think I know how to live without a computer anymore. Congratulations, Darren. You made it a month before you realized life without Gawker is not a life worth living.

lizgwiz said...

Darren! It's Darren!

Nice to see you around again. :)

Lara said...

Yay, Darren! So lovely to see a post from you!

Do you really put leftovers in metal/tinfoil containers in the microwave? For some reason, I always thought the whole thing would explode or something. But really? It just sparks a little bit?

Also, I don't know how you survived without Rock of Love 2. I love that shit. Incidentally, Daisy is apparently "dances" at a strip club in Denver - a fact I know from some of my sister's friends out there. She returned to work a little too quickly to have been Bret's rock of love, they say.

Stefanie said...

It seems wrong to comment back to other people's comments (never mind that I do it all the time on other people's blogs...), so I'll just Lara's "Yay, Darren!" I've missed you in the blog world, my friend. Thanks for filling in here for a day.

Also, I know now who I'm going to call if ever my computer dies an untimely death.

Noelle said...

Welcome back to blogging! Rest assured that the small moments that comprise your life will henceforth be known to others. Or at least this particular one with the computer and all.

Courtney said...

Hi Darren! I don't think I ever commented on your old blog, but I definitely lurked there. I'm glad to see you semi-rejoining blog land.

don't call me MA'AM said...

Darren: I miss your witty repartee. Lots and lots. I even bought one of your friggin coffee cups way back when... and now every time I drink out of it, I let out a *sigh* wishing you were still around. Glad to see you guest blogging.

Stefanie: thanks for making this happen. :-)