July 9 1998, Thursday
said goodbye to Pranger & Pasco and went directly to the University of Michigan's Angell Hall computer lab, where again I applied myself to this insane obsession. While I worked, I'd periodically look up to watch the bra straps march by. Sigh.
At around 4pm, I made a rendezvous at the Fleetwood with Matt Rogers. The scene there was the usual: some raver/hippie/punk girls were at one outside table, talking for endless hours, while at the other side of the patio, some whithered paleohippies and their dogs lingered equally endlessly watching people pass and talking to anyone who was remotely friendly.
ithout any real good plans, we headed back to the "porch livin' situation" at Matt's mother's house in Ypsilanti. Matt made a few phone calls and eventually we decided to head over to Vanessa's house for an evening of installing Windows 95 onto the laptop I've been carrying around. Vanessa has the installation in floppy disk form. It comes to 30 disks or something outrageous like that, but the laptop doesn't have a CD-ROM.
On the way across Ypsilanti, we stopped in "Depot Town," a little chunk of gentrified urban renewal in the center of what is otherwise a dismal grey city of slums, ghettos, and fortress communities (or so Matt would melodramatically have me believe).
The main drag through Depot Town had been closed down for a big vintage auto show. Extremely shiny cars, mostly the blimpy 50s kind, had been parked on either side of the street for people to walk around and ogle. Most of them had their hoods up so we could look at their engines, which were all just as shiny and clean as the bodies. For some unknown reason, it's sort of a guilty pleasure for me to look at someone's engine, even when it is so clean and spectacular and obviously on display for viewing. It kind of reminds me of sneaking a glance up a woman's skirt.
I snapped some pictures of the mostly middle-aged middle-American middle-class white bread white people gathered to show and see these cars, cringing a little as I walked past sets of speakers blaring bland 50s music at incredible and seemingly inappropriate volume. Sometimes you have to experience these sorts of things, if only for that David Lynch surreal vibe.
t Vanessa's house, we decided for some reason that it would be best to do the Windows 95 installation in the basement (the part of the basement that doesn't contain mounds and mounds of vintage computer equipment). So we got out some chairs, set the laptop up on a stump and I started feeding it disks.
Vanessa ran upstairs and brought down a hearty handful of wormwood, the active plant material in absinthe. She was eager to try making absinthe, and it just so happened that I'd brought a small amount of vodka, which could probably be used as the necessary alcohol solvent. From my experience and research (dating to the days of Big Fun, when I last played with wormwood and absinthe), it seems absinthe is just a sort of glorified vodkatea, made with wormwood. So that's how we made tonight's absinthe. Vanessa crammed the wormwood (along with some other vaguely psycho-active plants) down into the vodka bottle, closed it up, and we all took turns shaking it until the vodka grew dark with "substance." (I've never yet seen the green absinthe that Degas and others were so fond of depicting.)
The Windows 95 installation was a complete nightmare. The installer program had to be one of the most singularly retarded and anti-ergonomic things I have ever encountered. I couldn't believe it wouldn't allow me to do anything unless I first deleted the Windows 3.11 "windows" directory, but that it didn't bother to tell me this until three wasted disks into the installation. And then, even with that problem out of the way, every time I made it three disks in, I was forced to stop because of not enough disk space. I tried various things and couldn't figure out what the problem was until Matt diagnosed it as being related to the presence of DOS 6.2 disk compression (dblspace.exe, argh!). So I was forced to uncompress the disk. That took a long time, since the software absolutely demanded to do a through disk scan before it would proceed. I hate software that won't allow me to configure the amount of risk I want to take.
Anyway, this experience provided for much geek humour as I whined and complained and suffered at the hands of this ordeal-by-software. Both Matt and Vanessa are much geekier than my usual social circle, so this installation, slow and horrible though it was, proved to be a perfect ambiance for our socializing, especially with the promise of the absinthe we were making.
Vanessa's cluttered, somewhat unsanitary house is not a good place to look for glasses for the drinking of absinthe. So during the disk uncompression, we decided to make a run to a vast Ypsilanti super-department-store called Meijers. When we got there, I was astounded. It made a Walmart look like a convenience store.
The experience in the Meijers was not especially pleasant. There's something I don't especially like about appearing in public with Vanessa. Her loudness and extreme geekiness just reaches out of the calm shell with which I like to surround myself and erects gnarly neon signs pointing directly to us. It's not that I don't appreciate a certain amount of attention-drawing flamboyance, it's just that Vanessa tends to come off as simply annoying when she does it, rather unlike, say, Krazy Thom, Wacky Jen, Leah or Sara Poiron. But it's not like I don't occasionally wish I could unburden myself of my nagging desire to project myself as subdued, abstract, understated and, you know, the c- word.
Matt and Vanessa decided that small candle holders were a good cheap alternative to real shot glasses. While they waited in line to make the purchase, I went off to look at the various kinds of decorated cakes that the Meijers bakery can prepare for a wide spectrum of occasions. The main reason I went to look at these cakes, by the way, was to regain some of my personal dignity and calm in my personal space. This sounds kind of harsh, but I'm sure we've all done this on occasion.
Back at Vanessa's house, we were amazed to find that the disk surface test demanded by the dblspace decompression had concluded without a dialogue box and that the decompression had continued automatically. This was perhaps the first real evidence we'd seen all night of genuine good software design. We drank our first absinthe toast to Bill Gates.
Microsoft software might be depressingly dreary, infuriatingly badly written, and hopeless unconfigureable, but it is the lay of the land. It's not all there is in the world of software, but sometimes it feels that way. We have to make do. And we find entertainment where we can. For example, we all admitted to days when we were so bored that we resorted to defragmenting our hard drives, even on occasions when they were only 1% fragmented. Then there's always Solitaire.
As the installation cranked along and I shuffled in the disk, we watched the progress bar creep slowly to the right. As it passed through various percentages of complete, we discussed what had happened in those years, both in the culture generally and in our lives. So, for example, when the progress had reached 86%, I told of what I'd done in 1986: going off to college, meeting Matt Rogers, that sort of thing. It became a wonderful opportunity for all of us to give the history of our lives. Since the progress was very slow, we had at least 30 seconds per year to give annual synopses. When we got to 98% and 99%, we predicted the future. Matt said he'd be moving to his dad's place in Oregon and "livin' in a trailer," and Vanessa predicted she'd be making it with her dream girl. We all predicted (with usual geek wishful thinking) that we'd be getting laid.
Then the progress bar hit 100% and stopped. "Y2K bug!" Matthew exclaimed. We briefly discussed what would happen to computers on the year $2000. In keeping with his usual wry hyperbole, Matt predicted that flying airplanes would simply explode at 0:00:00 on January 1st, 2000 AD.
While installing Windows 95 and watching progress bars creep slowly rightward might not make for a great social activity for most people, if your friends are extremely geeky, you might want to try it some time. Make sure, however, that you get enough booze.
The absinthe, you see, didn't really affect us very much. For a brief time, ten minutes or so, colours become more vivid and objects seemed to fall into a singular flat plane, but then it was over. We didn't have much absinthe to work with, of course, so that might have been part of the problem. In desperation we tried eating some of the wadded-up wormwood leftover after we wrung out all the vodka, but it tasted so horrible we feared we might puke.
I'd sort of wanted to see Mr. Human Being (the online journal guy who did the Robo-Gus page) and his band play tonight at a Ypsilanti bar, but between the absinthe and the unmitigated geekiness, we just sort of missed out. The installation had taken a good four hours and had exhausted us completely.
After we were all done with the laptop, we went for a little stroll in a park across the street, hanging out briefly in a concrete pipe in a playground. I was really sleepy, so I just sat there listening to Matt and Vanessa talking about such geek fantasy subjects as an operating system called "Microsoft for Brainstems" which can run an application called "Microsoft Sex."
Vanessa also told us about some of her horrible experiences at the hands of various neighbors. One set of especially neurotic neighbors have called the cops on her numerous times for infractions such as letting her grass grow too long, weeding her garden in a tank top, and even for the fragrance that accompanied a skunk who had walked through the neighborhood. On another occasion some years ago, a group of neighborhood kids egged her house, and Marcus (her housemate) decided it was best to not clean up the eggy goo. It's still there to this day.
one year ago
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