Computers

I learned to type on a manual typewriter in a classroom with eight other kids. Our teacher was an elderly woman with a beehive hairdo and five-inch-thick stockings.

I remember the first time I ever put hands on a computer. My cousin Billy had one. It was the size of a Buick Roadmaster and it smelled funny. He would play this glorified game of slow-motion ping-pong as though it were a matter of national security.

His mother, my aunt Eulah, worried about using computers. She believed they were invented by the Devil. But then, Aunt Eulah worried about everything. She was the same woman who, whenever she heard ambulance sirens, called her entire family to make sure they weren’t dead.

During childhood we would receive random calls from Aunt Eulah wherein she would shout, “I heard an ambulance, I had to make sure you weren’t bleeding to death!”

We would always answer the same way: “Aunt Eulah, have you been drinking again?”

And she’d get so mad.

Anyway, when I was a kid, only rich people owned computers. Or doctors. Or people who worked for the government. We didn’t have them in school.

I learned to type on a manual typewriter in a classroom with eight other kids. Our teacher was an elderly woman with a beehive hairdo and five-inch-thick stockings. We practiced typing sentences like: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Or: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”

I timed myself while typing those words just now. It took thirteen seconds, not counting the quotation marks.

I’m not a fast typist, never was. But I still own my old typewriter, and I use it. I wrote most of my first novel on it. And I completed ten books with it.

It’s a workhorse. It has fallen down stairs, tumbled out of my car, dropped into a puddle, and on one occasion it was dropkicked by a man named Marvin Lloyd.

I adore typewriters. But I have a love-hate relationship with computers. Sure, they’re okay, but I would pay Marvin Lloyd to dropkick my computer if he were still around.

One time when I was in college, I wrote a five-page report for biology class on a computer. It took three weeks to get my research together. Science reports, you’ll recall, are no walk in the park. You have to compile mountains of boring research before you can crank out five pages.

Also—and this is important—you have to know which parentheses to use when citing sources. If you don’t use the right parentheses (like this), your biology teacher {the woman who enjoys watching home-video footage of cephalopods reproducing underwater} stares at you like you’re an idiot (Dietrich, Sean; 1911-TBA.).

So after I typed my biology report, my computer crashed. I lost everything. It was gut wrenching. I failed an entire college course because of a stupid computer. Or, if we’re getting technical, I might have failed the class because I only attended two lectures that entire semester. But you get the idea.

Another time, I wrote a report in Spanish 1 class. The Spanish teacher was an elderly woman from Argentina who wore too much makeup and—how do I put this?—did not believe in full-coverage blouses.

I spent weeks on an essay in Spanish. Essays are hard enough to type in English, but Spanish? Olvídalo (forget it).

I saved my computer-typed report on a little floppy disc. I kept this disc in my backpack in my hot truck. One day, my little disc was involved in a tragic Coca-Cola explosion when a Coke can ruptured. My backpack looked like it had been involved in a soft-drink homicide.

There was a brown sticky goo all over my disc. My report was gone. I got a D in Español. But you know what they say. “Que será será” (Bizet, Georges, 1838-1875. Carmen. New York :G. Schirmer, 1959.).

So computers have been unkind to me. They make life complicated. And never has this been more evident than within these last few days. My blog website crashed and I had to call tech-support.

The experts in Customer Service Land offered no help. Instead, they Transferred Me. This is what people do when they don’t like you. They transfer you to another line until eventually it’s time for your funeral. I am convinced that this is how Gandhi died.

I was transferred more often than a communicable disease in the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Representatives would answer my call and say “Hmmmmm” thoughtfully into the phone. “I can’t seem to figure this out, let me transfer you.”

A transfer here. A transfer there. Next thing you know, I’m lingering in Customer Service Purgatory. Nobody knew what to do with me, and it was all because of computers.

My blog was missing in action, and people started emailing me. This morning, I awoke to a slew of messages from people who wondered what happened.

“Sean,” wrote one man, “I’ve been reading your stories since 2013! Today there’s nothing in my inbox and I worried! Hope you’re okay!”

Another woman in Boston wrote: “EMERGENCY! Your column wasn’t in my email, you haven’t died have you? Please don’t tell me you’ve died!”

And there was one from Aunt Eulah:

“Your story wasn’t in my mailbox, sweetie, then I heard ambulance sirens on Highway 10, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t bleeding to death.”

I am glad to report that I’m alive. My blog is back up and functional. And I am happy. Mainly because I wrote this on a typewriter.

Also, I’d like to point out, my aunt Eulah has been drinking again.

13 comments

  1. Sean Dietrich - October 2, 2019 1:40 pm

    The comments were all screwy, but they have been fixed now. Not that you would want to comment. But if you ever did want to. Theoretically, you could.

    Reply
  2. Sally T. - October 2, 2019 1:49 pm

    I hate you’ve been having website issues. I missed your column yesterday! Hope everything is back up and at ’em!

    Reply
  3. Barbara Pope - October 2, 2019 2:05 pm

    We’re on the same page/computer here–my stress level is exasperated every time I turn the thing on. Sorry I don’t live closer to Aunt Eulah.

    Reply
  4. Cheryl W. - October 2, 2019 2:07 pm

    Approximately 200 years ago I had to take a typing and hieroglyphics (shorthand) class. They were supposed to be “electives”, but back then a parent had to sign off their ok on what we chose. Mine wouldn’t ok anything else unless I took these two classes. Both of my parents went as high as 8th grade, so business school after graduation was their lofty goal for me. Never mind I hated It all. The “career” counseling for girls after high school graduation at that time was get married, be a nurse, teacher, or secretary. I ended up being an administrative assistant (secretary) for almost 40 years. The boss was always a man whose interview questions consisted of making sure we could type 1000 words per minute, and being able to construct a business letter with proper spelling and punctuation from a dozen words of his dictation. Back then a job offering good benefits and a retirement plan was typical and usually lasted a lifetime. That is where I spent my working life because good benefits were most important to this single mom and it kept food on the table. I started out working with a manual typewriter, progressed to an electric typewriter, to a word processor, to a computer. Yes, I still have the portable Royal manual typewriter I used in high school.
    I am so thankful my kids and grandkids had the opportunity to pursue careers in areas they loved and enjoyed. Raising a glass to folks able to have to opportunity to pursue and earn a living doing what they love to do. I hope y’all realize how lucky you are.

    Reply
  5. Shelton A. - October 2, 2019 2:25 pm

    Computers are a love-hate relationship for me. They confuse me; their ways are far too mysterious for my simple mind. So you keep your typewriter…and God bless ’em.

    Reply
  6. Linda Moon - October 2, 2019 3:43 pm

    I’m glad your website is up and running, and tell Aunt Eulah that nobody died.. I just heard on regular FM Radio news that a hospital here in Alabama has been attacked by Ransomware. A hospital employee said, “There’s a special place in Hell for people like this, who would interrupt critical patient care.” There’s a special place for you to Relax and Rest today, maybe with the dogs. Go find it and forget about us fans, computers, and anything else that might stress you!

    Reply
  7. Edna B. - October 2, 2019 5:19 pm

    Oh yup, I know the frustration of losing all your hard work because of computer melt down. But we do get through it. I’m glad you’re back up and running again. You deserve a nice cold beer and sit down on the porch now. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  8. Mary Hicks - October 2, 2019 7:16 pm

    I once went for a job interview and had to type on an electric typewriter!! I didn’t even know how to make it return to next line! I only learned on manual underwood in school in 1965! Needless to say, I didn’t get the job!

    Reply
  9. Steve Vaughan - October 2, 2019 8:57 pm

    Get a MacBook Pro

    Reply
  10. Don Gardner - October 2, 2019 9:06 pm

    I started reading you column about six months ago and I have also read two of your books. I really felt like you just deserved a day off for a change, but I’m relieved to hear that no one is bleeding to death.

    By the way, my parents and I were all born in Andalusia and have a sister-in-law from Brewton,

    Reply
  11. Dolores - October 2, 2019 10:22 pm

    I feel so much better now that I know it was just the computer being the reason I couldn’t open your post. I read you every day and don’t feel complete until I do. Thanks, Sean. I understand about your dealings with computers!

    Reply
  12. that's jack - October 3, 2019 12:19 pm

    Is that Eulah May? or Just Eulah? We could be kin! BUT on this blog entry we all understand where you B comin’ frum!
    The best to you my friend, hope all is well down there!
    Nite
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  13. Estelle - October 8, 2019 7:59 am

    My husband hates his computer and his smartphone. He talks to them all the time. He thinks IT people live somewhere underground and continually change and “up grade” computer sites to drive people crazy. And laugh while they are doing it. Also a real phone has an on and off switch and you flip it open, find your contact list and dial.
    P.S. He worked for AT&T and/or the Bell systems for 33 years.

    Reply

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