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Blubbo vs the Kaypro

Did I volunteer to bring him to the computer age?

I’d see Steve most often when the Reader was in its original home, a splintery firetrap at the corner of State and Market Streets. After the Reader moved out, the Marine Corps used the raggedy shell for a mock assault, storming the halls and lobbing smoke grenades in the old editorial and production offices. Steve would stride down the echoey hall and swing into the editorial workroom; but if he found a woman there, he would suddenly cast down his eyes; smile that little tight-lipped, dimpled Buddha smile; and say a near-inaudible “hi.” Painful shyness could stop him in his tracks, as I recall.

We’d joke about things, play word games with each other. He’d sometimes sneak in a comment that began, “Well, you white people…” or make a vague reference to his gangster friends in Shelltown when he was in school, how he was the only one still walking free. Nonsense, of course. Then he’d start to work with sighs and groans, as if setting down on paper the ideas in his head was the worst torture.

A typewriter was an annoying necessity, but Steve considered a computer the work of the devil. For quite a while after all editorial copy had to be prepared on disk, someone had to be recruited to input Steve’s copy every week. The troops finally rebelled, and Steve was told he would at least have to hang around the outskirts of the digital revolution. It was a small enough skirmish; the computer in question was a Kaypro, even easier to use than most word processors of the day. It looked like an oscilloscope with a keyboard and two slots for floppy disks, not much bigger than a 12-pack of beer.

The afternoon of Steve vs. the Kaypro…did I volunteer to teach him? I don’t remember. He took his place in front of the machine. I can picture his face: open, wide-eyed — perhaps not eager to begin, but at least willing. The way people look when they’re getting a fresh start at something, and this time they’re determined to beat it.

I explained the basics. “You turn it on here. This disk contains the computer’s programs. They make the computer work. It goes here. This disk is for your story. It goes down here. The keyboard is just like your typewriter, except for some of these keys over here. We’ll learn them as you need them. You type, and the story goes onto the screen and onto the disk at the same time. Here, you try it.” He handled the disks as if they were crawling with salmonella. As if the machine would burst into flames when he put them into the drive slots. So far he hadn’t said a word, but I took that as a good sign. I left him alone.

The next half hour consisted of long periods of silence, interrupted at first with hopeful sounds — a disk popping into a drive, one click of the keyboard. Then more silence. Another key click. Silence. A slow click, click. Click, click, click. I thought, “Hey, Steve, we did it!” But then began the muttering, sighing. “I made a mistake. How do I correct it, again?” Another long, long silence. Soft cursing, sighing. “What is this key, again?” “How do I get a copy of this?” “It just disappeared off the screen! Damn! Can I get it back?” After 30 minutes, with perhaps two or three sentences on the screen, his voice was a whine, his face thunderclouds of frustration. Click, click.… “Why do I have to do this?” Long, long silence. Papers shuffling. Muttering, cursing. His chair scraped the floor. He was gone.

When you read Steve’s work in the paper — a treatise on Sun Ra and his Arkestra and why we all should be listening to him, or a long fan letter to crooner Tom Jones and his wonderful pipes — you don’t hear the cursing and moaning. I came to believe that even though his opinions reached a wide audience through the paper, he hated the mechanical necessities. That he would rather call his readers together at a bar and have a loud, pie-throwing discussion about Sun Ra or Tom Jones. And if you disagreed with him, well, tough. There should be more of Steve’s writing around, but I guess that just wasn’t meant to be.

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I’d see Steve most often when the Reader was in its original home, a splintery firetrap at the corner of State and Market Streets. After the Reader moved out, the Marine Corps used the raggedy shell for a mock assault, storming the halls and lobbing smoke grenades in the old editorial and production offices. Steve would stride down the echoey hall and swing into the editorial workroom; but if he found a woman there, he would suddenly cast down his eyes; smile that little tight-lipped, dimpled Buddha smile; and say a near-inaudible “hi.” Painful shyness could stop him in his tracks, as I recall.

We’d joke about things, play word games with each other. He’d sometimes sneak in a comment that began, “Well, you white people…” or make a vague reference to his gangster friends in Shelltown when he was in school, how he was the only one still walking free. Nonsense, of course. Then he’d start to work with sighs and groans, as if setting down on paper the ideas in his head was the worst torture.

A typewriter was an annoying necessity, but Steve considered a computer the work of the devil. For quite a while after all editorial copy had to be prepared on disk, someone had to be recruited to input Steve’s copy every week. The troops finally rebelled, and Steve was told he would at least have to hang around the outskirts of the digital revolution. It was a small enough skirmish; the computer in question was a Kaypro, even easier to use than most word processors of the day. It looked like an oscilloscope with a keyboard and two slots for floppy disks, not much bigger than a 12-pack of beer.

The afternoon of Steve vs. the Kaypro…did I volunteer to teach him? I don’t remember. He took his place in front of the machine. I can picture his face: open, wide-eyed — perhaps not eager to begin, but at least willing. The way people look when they’re getting a fresh start at something, and this time they’re determined to beat it.

I explained the basics. “You turn it on here. This disk contains the computer’s programs. They make the computer work. It goes here. This disk is for your story. It goes down here. The keyboard is just like your typewriter, except for some of these keys over here. We’ll learn them as you need them. You type, and the story goes onto the screen and onto the disk at the same time. Here, you try it.” He handled the disks as if they were crawling with salmonella. As if the machine would burst into flames when he put them into the drive slots. So far he hadn’t said a word, but I took that as a good sign. I left him alone.

The next half hour consisted of long periods of silence, interrupted at first with hopeful sounds — a disk popping into a drive, one click of the keyboard. Then more silence. Another key click. Silence. A slow click, click. Click, click, click. I thought, “Hey, Steve, we did it!” But then began the muttering, sighing. “I made a mistake. How do I correct it, again?” Another long, long silence. Soft cursing, sighing. “What is this key, again?” “How do I get a copy of this?” “It just disappeared off the screen! Damn! Can I get it back?” After 30 minutes, with perhaps two or three sentences on the screen, his voice was a whine, his face thunderclouds of frustration. Click, click.… “Why do I have to do this?” Long, long silence. Papers shuffling. Muttering, cursing. His chair scraped the floor. He was gone.

When you read Steve’s work in the paper — a treatise on Sun Ra and his Arkestra and why we all should be listening to him, or a long fan letter to crooner Tom Jones and his wonderful pipes — you don’t hear the cursing and moaning. I came to believe that even though his opinions reached a wide audience through the paper, he hated the mechanical necessities. That he would rather call his readers together at a bar and have a loud, pie-throwing discussion about Sun Ra or Tom Jones. And if you disagreed with him, well, tough. There should be more of Steve’s writing around, but I guess that just wasn’t meant to be.

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