Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Death In The Family

Greetings, Fellow Pall-Bearers.

I find myself in mourning over the tragic and sudden loss of a treasured friend.  Over the past seven years, we've been inseparable.  We've been through though good times and bad times, thick and thin.  We've collaborated on countless creative projects.  We've been as tight as Batman and Robin, Luke and R2-D2,  Hercules and Newt.

Okay, maybe strike that last one.     

But two weeks ago my buddy started acting really weird.  Sort of dull and shiftless, as if sedated by Rush Limbaugh-levels of Prozac.  I'd witnessed these symptoms before, but never to such a degree.  I immediately launched into a well-practiced routine of first-aid.  My emergency steps seemed to work and soon he was back up and acting like his old self again. 

But then, on Sunday March 12'th, my friend experienced a terrible relapse.  I dutifully ran through my resuscitory checklist but just as I was finishing up, something horrible happened.  My patient's face turned blue.  He began babbling some nonsense about an "unmountable boot volume".  And then, without further ado, my good friend of seven years expired right before my very eyes.

Yes, that's right, folks: my beloved laptop is dead.   

Y'know it's kind of amazing how much useless crap accumulates on your computer over the years: email replies from a year-and-a-half-ago, bulls#!t programs that you only used once, MSN Messenger.  Regardless of how diligent you are in clearing out the cobwebs, it still adds up.  Eventually it becomes the digital equivalent of the half-dozen bottles of suntan lotion that you refuse to throw out just because, technically, there's still a subatomic amount of suntan lotion in each bottle.

Constantly you keep thinking to yourself: 'Hmmmmm, maybe I shouldn't delete that.  After all, I never know when I'm gonna get a hankering for some Elf Bowling.'  Indeed, here's a terrible sense of anxiety and permanence about emptying that Recycle Bin.  It's just so      

I've kept computers since the heady days of the Commodore 64 and I've never, ever experienced this sort of catastrophic failure.  To dispense with any cutesy introductions, my laptop began to crawl just over two weeks ago.  I deleted all of my superfluous email, trashed a bunch of dust-covered programs, cleaned up the disc and then defragged it.  By the time I was finished I had about 23% free memory and things seemed to be clicking along just fine.  I knew I still had a lot of work to do, but at least it was a start.

But then, on the day which will now and forever be know as Black Sunday, my bestest buddy completely froze up.  This had happened before and sometimes the only remedy was to unplug it, pop the battery out, re-assemble everything and then boot back up.  This time, instead being rewarded with  that cheerily familiar Windows start-up chime I got this:

Suddenly it felt as if my entire lower body cavity had become a blender and someone had just put my innards on frappe.  I spent the next hour frantically trying to rectify the problem before giving up and going to bed.

The next day, I found plenty of encouraging guidance via the interwebs.  I tried restarting the thing with my Windows XP start-up disc.  No dice.  I ventured into the BIOS-sphere to specify start-up priority for the CD drive.  Nuttin'.   I tried to duck into the recovery console to do a check disc but I couldn't even bring up the option.

Last Wednesday I was hoping to get together with my board gaming peeps since they're all more compu-savvy then I am.  My attitude towards computers is the same as it is towards cars: I turn the key, the friggin' thing starts up and then it takes me where I wanna go.  There could be a host of bionic hamsters running on treadmills beneath that hood for all I know.

Unfortunately our meeting fell through.  Unwilling to wait another week, I promptly began shopping for a fairly reputable repair outfit.  As soon as I began to ask around only one name came up time and time again: Robotnik in Halifax's totally not historic Bayer's Lake district.

I dropped my dead baby off to them on the morning of St. Paddy's Day and then promptly spent the rest of the afternoon treating the entire downtown core of the city like it was the site of one big massive Irish wake.  After about around my fourth pint of Guinness I started to feel a twinge of drunken optimism.  After all, the guys at Robotnik seemed so nonplussed and casual about my predicament.

As such, I honestly expected two possible scenarios:

(1)  "Hi, Mr. Pretty!  We got your laptop up and running.  I suspect the hard drive's on its last legs, though, so you may want to back everything up immediately and start looking at a new computer."

(2)  "Hi, Mr. Pretty!  Your hard drive is toast but we were able to recover some / most / all of your data.  Feel free to swing by and pick up your flash drive and the corpse whenever it's convenient."

But never in a million nightmares did I ever expect to participate in the following bone-chilling conversation that occurred via phone early on the morning of Monday March 19'th (forever and henceforth known as Black Monday, BTW).

*ring, ring*

ME: (voice trembling in anticipation) He...hello?

ROBOTNIK DUDE: Yes, I was looking to speak to David Pretty.

ME: Yes, speaking.

ROBOTNIK DUDE:  Hi, David, it's __________ calling from Robotnik.  I had a chance to look at your laptop this morning and I'm running into some pretty serious issues.

ME:  (opening desk drawer to retrieve loaded revolver)  Um, okay.

ROBOTNIK DUDE:  Yeah, it looks like we're dealing with some bad RAM slots or a bad memory controller.  At face value I'd say that the entire motherboard needs to be replaced.  We're looking at about six-hundred dollars for parts plus our labor rate, which is twenty-five dollars an hour.  Honestly, you'd be better off just buying a new computer.

ME:  (spinning cylinder of gun)  Right, right.

ROBOTNIK DUDE: I also hooked your laptop up to our data recovery program, but your hard drive just keeps clicking and grinding.  So far it's only recovered about one percent of your files.  Now, although this might be beyond our capabilities here, there's a company in Ontario that can do hard core data retrieval jobs, but they usually charge about a thousand bucks.

ME: (resting barrel of gun to temple)  Uh...huh

ROBOTNIK DUDE:  So, yeah, I'll leave things hooked up here for a bit longer, honestly, it isn't looking too good.  Feel free to drop by any time to pick it up.  Since it's probably gonna be a lost cause, we're only going to charge you the twenty-five dollar assessment fee.

ME: (slowly squeezing trigger)  Yeah, I'd like to give you guys the rest of the day with it if that's okay.  I'll pick it up first thing tomorrow.  

 ROBOTNIK DUDE: No problem.  We'll see you then.

The hang-up click that followed was in perfect synch to the pistol's first hammer fall.  It's a darned good sight that I can't afford bullets right now.

I went out for a walk to clear my head, hoping that a miraculous eleventh hour phone message would be waiting for me by the time I got back.  Alas, this was not to be.

The next morning, while reclaiming the body at Robotnik, I quizzed the cashier about this mysterious Ontario-based company that the other dude had mentioned on the phone a day earlier.  Specifically I wanted to know what additional resources they had which Robotnik didn't posses and I also wanted to get ahold of them to see if I could get a quote done up.

The cashier (who ironically seemed to be wresting with his own crippling computer issues at the time) wasn't quite sure what I was asking about so he disappeared in the back for a bit.

"Yeah, these guys in Ontario physically extract the hard drive in a completely dust-free environment," he informed me upon re-emergence.  "If you're serious about getting a quote, we can do that up for you.  It used to be a lot more expensive, like five thousand bucks but now it's only about six-hundred to a thousand."

He walked over to the shelf and retrieved my dormant laptop, which was resting a clear plastic casket not unlike what airport security uses to house all of your belongings after they've stripped you nekkid and sodomized you with their +1 Wand of Terrorism Detection.

Then, with a mixture of curiosity and horror, I watched as the guy tried to bundle up the power cord and put it on top of the computer.  He kept winding it up so tightly that it unspooled and nearly fell of the counter every time he put it down.  After a third unsuccessfully attempt I felt as if someone was tea bagging the corpse of a loved one right before my eyes so I snatched it away from him.  Eventually he managed to strangle a receipt out of his equally inert computer and I was more then relieved to be on my way.

As I carried my computer out to the car like the mummified husk of Shmi Skywalker, I was overcome by an overwhelming feeling of defeat.  Of course I'd backed things up in the past, but, like most people, I hadn't been doing it every day and I certainly wasn't doing it for every thing.  Even now, when I think about what I've lost I start to get a little weepy.  You really don't know the extent of the damage until you go to find something and realize: "Oh, yeah, that particular tidbit of information is now permanently encased within that metal and plastic brick."

And that's the curse of being a "writer", a title which I scarcely have the right to call myself.  When the average person's hard drive fails, often the most painful thing they lose is an illegally obtained season of Glee or Metallica's entire catalog.  But when a writer's computer suddenly dies, it virtually assures that something precious and unique (if not good) is gone forever and it's never coming back, at least not in  precisely the same way.

So, what do I think I've lost?   Well, how 'bout a slew of recent entries for a diary/board game journal that I've maintained since 2008?  How 'bout the first thirty pages of a screenplay?  How 'bout the first f#@%ing chapter of my second novel?

This event has certainly contributed to the growing feeling of despair that's been creeping over me of late.  It's days like this when I almost miss my old hamster-at-a-feed-bar job.  At least there I got a big chunk of kibble every two weeks and my creative works could never be lost, mainly because there was no pesky creativity to speak of.

EPIC:  Despite the mixed messages and occasional awkward moments, I still highly recommend Robotnik for computer issues in the Halifax area.   To continue the automotive analogy, there are tons of  uber-condescending places out there who will have no qualms about ripping off oblivious rubes such as myself.   These guys were nothing but helpful, sympathetic and informative.

"I GOTS ME THE EPIC BROKEN DOWN HARD DRIVE BLUES"  Man, this makes me feel a helluva lot better:          

FAIL:  If I ever see this kid on the street I'm gonna push him down and rip that crows wing of hair off'n his greazy little melon.

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