Last week, my iMac’s hard drive died by way of self-immolation. I’ve had computers die before, saying goodbye with a blue screen of death. One laptop emitted puffs of smoke from underneath its keyboard. But, I’ve never had a computer die with such finality. My iMac left this world with a trumpet-like metal-on-metal screech so intense that I still wince when I think of it.
One picks up the pieces, or, in this case, reassembles the work product, namely, 20 years of writing. I’ve owned a dozen or more computers, and let us honor them now: Tandy 200, 1984 Macintosh, Compaq laptop, Sony laptop, two Toshiba laptops, and a long line of Dell Dimension/Inspiron desktops. Actually, most of them didn’t die but were removed from service and, like good doorstops, hang out in the basement waiting for the time I’ll need one to open an old WordStar file.
Time has come. I spent hours lugging old computers up to the Sportbox workspace, meticulously going through hard drives, retrieving my Body of Work. And ugly work it is, like going through your grandmother’s papers the day after her funeral. Here’s random selection:
Notes on a food story started, but never finished, in 1997: Girlfriend dinner. Make-up dinner. Break-up dinner, boss dinner, diet dinner, dinner with children, hangover dinner, victory dinner, dinner at Taco Bell, dinner in the hospital, dinner at sea...
From a 1990 article on spare changing: First ten minutes I begged 20, 30 civilians. Not one person acknowledged my words. I say, “Spare Change” or “Good morning” or “Alms for the poor,” and the universal response is to look directly ahead, walk faster, tighten sphincter muscles, and lock in a blank expression. I’m left behind with an uncomfortable feeling of being invisible.
From a 1995 article on cooking: I don’t think about cooking. Young men don’t think about cooking; they eat peanut butter sandwiches or have girlfriends cook for them.
From a 1994 piece about winter work in an Alaska oil field: Frank and Patrick retrieve their gear, throw the jackhammer and ice picks into the bed of the crew cab, hitch up the compressor. As this is happening, the wind picks up and the lean-to the men built begins to flap wildly, disappearing into the enveloping whiteness. Frank turns, ready to follow the lean-to. Patrick bellows into the wind, “Fuck the plastic, let it blow.”
The two men slide into a Chevy Crew Cab, turn the arctic heater on full, place their gloves on the dash, feel the ice melt from their beards, rub their eyes, and wait for the heat to come home.
From an unpublished desert story: I ask, “Whaddya think?” This is the fall of 1969 and I am young.
I’d make a left turn off the Blue Diamond Highway onto a dirt road. This is Southern Nevada, 20 miles SW of Las Vegas. It’s early September and 106 degrees in the shade.
Colleen Dixon, tall, five-ten, thin face, beak nose, with red hair that flows down to her butt, my partner, is riding shotgun. She looks pensive, trying to make out a row of low buildings a mile further on.
This, we learned later, is Arden, all of it, downtown and suburbs. We drive past the abandoned assay office, past the abandoned warehouse, stop in front of three abandoned shacks, each one with a living room, two bedrooms, and kitchen. Outhouse in the back.
Colleen says, “Nice.” We move into the middle shack.
Colleen and I spent the summers in a tent in Alaska and hurried south before the first snowfall. For a time we were students at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. We had Pell Grants, I had some GI Bill, and we both found make-work college jobs. If you could live cheap, you could live like that, winters in Nevada, summers in Alaska, fun on both sides and in-between. There was a big wide world in front of us and we had all the time we wanted. Colleen and I were college students because getting a job was too ugly to consider and we didn’t know what else to do.
From a 1992 article on hitchhiking: I’d slept with three women on that trip. I was still in the miracle phase of sex, which many readers will recognize as, “It’s a miracle that one can stroll this good earth, go anyplace on it, and find women already there.” One merely culls out a sexual candidate, chit and chat, ask for sex, and miracle of all miracles, occasionally find a woman lying next to you doing wonderful things to your flesh.”
What’s interesting to me is not the writing, but the feeling the writing gave me, you know, like going through your grandmother’s papers.