I’m typing this entry on a computer where the period key only works about half the time. The mouse pad sometimes stops responding for days. If I want to listen to music or watch a movie, I have to press down on the front left corner of the laptop or there’s no sound, and I can’t change the volume. Once a week, when I videoconference with my family, I plug in the camera, log in to Windows Messenger, start a conversation, and then call them on the cell phone; the microphone jack doesn’t work. Sometimes, the screen will go dark and I’ll have to restart to get the backlight back. Don’t even get me started about what’s (not) going on with the task tray, movie player, memory, or any of the software.
You may wonder why I put up with a computer with this many problems. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to replace it. It’s not only because I have a history with this machine (four years), or because I’m bad at fixing things (true, though), it’s because I like my things broken. Broken things have character. You can tell stories about broken things.
Take one of my first cars, which I affectionately called “The Red Car.” It was a 1984 Oldsmobile Brougham with enough bad luck for the entire team of the Chicago Cubs. Power lines collapsed and fell on it, scratching the roof. Other cars skidded on icy roads and crashed into it. Some jerk decided to walk over it one day, leaving footprint-sized dents. One hot summer, the rear view mirror fell off and the lining of the roof came unglued, causing the inside fabric to billow like a sail when the windows were open. The gas gauge pointed in random directions regardless of how much fuel you had. Not long after it was purchased, thieves broke into it and stole it, only to ditch it half a block away. It’s possible that they just didn’t like the car’s lack of acceleration; my guess is they thought they might get struck by lightning if they didn’t get out.
The Red Car died in a spectacularly amusing fashion. I had noticed the brakes were acting funny, so I took it to my local dealership. It was a routine maintenance, so when they hadn’t called me in two days, I got nervous. I still remember the first thing the head of the service department said when I called.
“Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is we found the problem with your brakes. The bad news is we totaled the car.”
It seems there was a problem with some kind of caliper in the braking system. After diagnosing the problem, the mechanic backed the car out of the bay and the brakes failed. Being a trained technician, he did the logical thing; he turned the car off.
(Okay, that doesn’t seem logical to me, either. Why didn’t he use the parking brake? Why didn’t he put the car in gear? But I digress.)
The car plowed into a giant, reinforced dumpster and put a dent in it the size of a serving platter. You remember how I mentioned the car had poor acceleration? It moved slow, really-eally slow. The only way you could get The Red Car moving that fast in that short a distance was to drive it off a cliff. I’m still not sure how he pulled it off.
The frame was bent, making the whole car resemble a letter “S” to passing birds. The front door wouldn’t open and the whole back end was pushed up into the trunk. When I went in to survey the damage, and talk about their insurance, the head of the department offered to fix it up for me by gluing a new bumper and tail lights on. I chose money instead.
I eventually spent it all on a yellow pick up truck for my soon-to-be-ex wife. The truck attracted a lot of attention as a “Baywatch Truck,” and I got some laughs out of that, but it never had enough character for me.
I guess it just worked too well.