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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Last night everything broke

Well, not exactly last night.  But they’ve been breaking at a record-breaking pace lately.

Cars: The Subaru you know about.  The Bonneville you don’t.  For the past three years, Nick has been driving our old ‘95 Bonneville, a car we bought 11 years ago because it was the ideal Midwestern car: huge horsepower for the long highway trips, and (despite its size) 35 mpg to boot.  But last autumn there came a killing frost, and the Bonneville we called “Wildfire” busted down its stall; in a blizzard it was lost.  Or misplaced, or something.  Just this weekend we sold it to a mechanic for chump change.  So while Nick was home from college for the Christmas holiday midwinter break, in other words, for the first two weeks in January we went from being a three-car house to a one-car house.  And, of course, in that one car we had to go shopping for cars while dropping off cars for repairs.

Computers: My old Gateway laptop, first powered up way back in August of two thousand and oh-four.  This would be the laptop on which I wrote What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?—and on which I lost two chapters of that book one night, got them back again, and then rewrote them from scratch anyway.  In the latter half of 2005, as I finished that book and Rhetorical Occasions, the little bugger found itself increasingly unable to locate its own operating system, which meant that most attempts to turn it on would be met with a dismaying (and altogether ineffective) whirring-and-clicking.  Why didn’t I just leave it on 24/7, you ask?  Well, most of the time, I did, but occasionally I would wake up in the morning to find that Jamie, an earlier riser than I, had been playing Harry Potter on it.  And Jamie, good kid that he is, always turns off computers and TVs when he’s done with them.

But by December, even that didn’t matter, because the laptop had developed the habit of turning itself off whenever it felt like it.  Finally, its Y key disappeared.  And that was the final indignit. 

I now have a sleek, frictionless Dell, and my troubles are a thing of the past.  [Oho!  It turns out I spoke too soon.  Check the update, below.] But transferring all my files, including twenty years of teaching records, letters of rec, reader’s reports, stray essays, and those two just-completed books, took the better part of a week.  And importing all my old bookmarks and passwords . . . well, that’ll be going on for a while yet.

Meanwhile, Janet’s computer decided to do a funny thing the other day: it refused to open programs, and the screen did a kind of slow fade, on and off.  She took it to our department’s tech guy.  That visit apparently scared the computer straight, because (of course) he found nothing wrong with it, and it’s behaved ever since.

The Furnace: Sometimes it responds, sometimes it overreacts, sometimes it’s sullen and withdrawn, and sometimes it can’t be found at all.  Please don’t let it know that I’m talking about it this way.  I just don’t know how it’ll react.

Telecommunications devices: This one, I admit, is self-inflicted.  For four years we’ve been DirecTV customers, because (a) one of us wants HBO together with the NHL Centre Ice package, (b) one of us couldn’t care less about network television, and (c) one of us doesn’t trust the local cable company, which is owned by the famous Rigas family and which was notable, when we first moved here, for its inexplicable (but frequent!) service interruptions.  Finally, however, another of us (namely, Janet) convinced one of us (that would be me) that the satellite-TV industry term “local channels” is, in fact, an ideologically-loaded keyword for “global telecommunications networks” (and thus not “local” at all) and that we really should be able to watch The Simpsons, 24, Gray’s Anatomy or the Super Bowl if we want to.  (I have never seen 24 or Gray’s Anatomy, but we are watching the first season of Desperate Housewives on DVD, and you know, it’s really quite good.) Anyway, Janet insisted we switch to Dish, and I agreed that after doing things my way for four years it was time for a change, so:

-- we decoupled ourselves from one geosynchronous satellite uplink and hooked ourselves up to another;

-- one of us (yes, me) stayed home all day last week to meet the installation guy and find out how everything works; and consequently, as the night follows the day,

-- one of us (yes, the same guy) has to be called upstairs and downstairs, from appliance to appliance, every time someone wants to turn on a television or change a channel, because only one of us knows how the new system works.

My Bedroom Dresser: This one makes no sense, and I have to conclude that it’s striking in sympathy with the cars and computers and the furnace and the telecommunications devices.  But every time I open the damn thing, a drawer jumps its track and crashes with the drawer below.  Not a severe structural or transportation problem, I know.  Just aggravating.

My Frail and Aging Body: Why haven’t I updated you all on my 2005-06 Nittany Hockey League season?  Because I got to the rink so seldom last fall that many of my teammates were convinced they should start putting up “MISSING” flyers with my picture on them, that’s why.  Not that it really mattered whether I showed up: playing in only six games of the 20 scheduled for my A team, I had logged a career-low zero goals and two assists for the year.  (This after three 20-goal seasons in four years.) Now, I’ve had scoring slumps with two points over six games before, but never had I produced so little offense in so few games over the first half of the year (previous low:  5 g, 2 a in fall 2003).  Then, to add injury to insult, I partially tore my right calf in a B game in early December and was out for the month.  The calf knitted itself back together after three or four weeks and I rejoined my A team on January 14, appearing out of nowhere to score my first hat trick in two years and to pick up two assists as well.  But then in last Saturday’s game I had not one but two mid-ice collisions during one shift against our despised (but respected!) rivals, the Geohabs, followed by a crafty takedown by their best player in front of our own net.  When I got back to the bench I realized I couldn’t raise my left arm above my shoulder or extend it straight out in front of me.  I finished the game (I had decent range of motion so long as my arm stayed below shoulder height, and was only in moderate pain), but spent the rest of the day nursing the thing.  I didn’t play Sunday’s game, and am questionable for next week.  It’s getting measurably better each day, but it’s just stunning how many mundane physical tasks have become things I need to think about.  Getting in and out of cars is difficult (steering is worse), and putting on shirts is dicey (turtlenecks and t-shirts especially).  Typing is unaffected, however, as is page-turning and course-preparing.  But I can’t sleep on my left side.  I’m reminded of an injury I sustained five years ago, when I blocked a particularly brisk slapshot from the point and broke two fingertips on my left hand.  They healed quickly—I played in the playoffs three weeks later, wearing long metal finger-guards under my gloves (Jamie called them my “robot fingers”), and got the assists on (a) the winning goal in the prelim game, scored with :03 left to break a 5-5 tie, and (b) the double-OT winning goal in the championship game.  But for the next two months I couldn’t button my right shirt sleeve.

Oh, and did I mention that I have a nasty cold with the whole headache and sneezing and hacking cough drill?  I fall asleep every few hours, cough myself awake, fall asleep again.  Janet got it last night too.  Last night at dinner with Jamie we talked about viruses, which happen to be among the things he’s studying in his seventh-grade science class.

More about Jamie when I have adequate powers of concentration.  Until then, wish us luck.

UPDATE, 2 pm:  Yes, there’s more.  Before composing this extended kvetch, I wrote to the English department to explain why I couldn’t make it to lunch with one of our job candidates.  On the one hand, I said, it is bad form for a search committee chair not to greet the candidate at a meal, and yet, on the other hand, it is even badder form to hack and sneeze all over the candidate’s food.  I cc’d all my fellow lunchers, as well.

So I just got a call from the department, letting me know that the candidate was curious as to why I wasn’t at lunch.  “Quoi?” I said, as I struggled to consciousness from my sickbed, “I sent you an email at 9. . . .” No, that email never arrived, and I’ve just discovered why:  my new computer has a bizarre anti-virus system that shuts down email if I get or send a number of similar emails in a row.  Isn’t that special?  So all my various cancellation messages for the day are actually in limbo, even though—get this—Eudora itself tells me that they’ve been sent.  Does anyone else have this infernal “McAfee Security Center” thing built into their dang computer?  Or is it part of this new David Horowitz Liberal Academic Virobot Annoyance program I’ve been hearing so much about?

Posted by Michael on 01/24 at 10:06 AM
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