Why I Bought a ComputerbyGypsy in MI©
There I was; it was 1997 and I had been divorced for six years and living back in my podunk hometown. A four-year long affair with a married man (who also happened to be my childhood sweetheart) had come to an end, not with a whimper nor a bang, but more like the hiss of a balloon with a slow leak. I was living in a nice little house, right next to my sister and brother-in-law's nice little house, with my 12 year old daughter, the cat, and the queen of the household, our dog.
After being laid off from a great job that I loved, I struggled for two months to find another. In desperation, I accepted a position as the office manager for an ambulance service. It was something I knew virtually nothing about and it was a huge, I mean HUGE paycut, but it beat the hell out of taking a job doing the cell count at the local prison. I eventually came to love the job and especially the people I worked with, but we were struggling financially in a big way.
One day, as my daughter and I were picking out our weekly groceries, something I enjoy just slightly more than a root canal, we passed down the magazine aisle, by all the romance novels with their busty heroines and Fabio cloned heroes on the lurid covers. I remarked, "I wonder how much money someone gets paid for writing that stuff?"
My daughter replied, "You should give it a try, Mom. You could probably knock one out in a coupla hours."
Hmmmmm... I thought that over for awhile. Sure, I had always thought I might like to write a little something here and there. I had almost fully fleshed out plotlines for at least 3 novels in my head at any given time, one of which I STILL think would make a fabulous Lifetime TV original movie starring Melissa Gilbert and Jack Wagner. Problem was, I didn't have a computer. And no matter how grand I thought a particular idea was, in the time it would have taken me to write it out longhand, I would have come to hate the characters and would have killed them all off by the third chapter.
Did I know how to write a real manuscript and submit it to a publisher, an agent, or even my high school English teacher for that matter? Geeeze, no. Not a clue. BUT... I figured I could find out. There are books about this stuff in the library, right? And the library is free, right? And if I'm ever lucky enough to be published, I'll GIVE a signed copy of my book to the library as payback. Damn right.
Back in the real world though, I'm still broke and Santa Claus is not about to leave me a PC under the tree. I've been naughty (remember the affair?), and you can't make up for four years of naughty with six months of nice. Since my parents did not and still do not believe in computers, there was no need in trying to convince them that one would make a really good birthday or Christmas present. My parents believe in practical gifts, so much so that I got a vacuum cleaner for my birthday two years in a row. Everybody in the room stole glances at each other when I opened the second one, but nobody said a word. Maybe the rest of my family just thought I was really, really dirty and had worn the first one out already.
Arrggghhhh... so how do I get a computer, write the great American novel, or at least a sleazy bestseller, and secure my family's future financially? Either God thought I was deserving or Satan tempted me or a local finance company was just desperate for suckers to screw with an astronomical interest rate, but a check showed up in my mailbox. It was a "loan check;" just cash it and your loan is pre-approved. Easy monthly payments, say it again, EASY MONTHLY PAYMENTS. Kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? I looked at the check for about five minutes; I swear I think I was licking my lips. Come to mama, baby. That weekend we went to Office Depot and came home with my first home computer. Spent two grand for that overpriced HP Pavilion, but it was BEAUTIFUL. I was sure I could type my ass off on it and couldn't wait to get started. Of course.... I had to try out all the bells and whistles first. In retrospect, I should have skipped that part. I ended up having to format the hard drive and dig out the restore disk twice in the first month.
It didn't matter... I was finally ready to work on becoming a published writer and nothing or nobody was going to get in my way.
But it soon became apparent why I REALLY bought a computer:
To get on the internet and talk trash.
At least, that must have been the real reason because that's what I did for the first two years after I bought the damned thing. I had been titillated for months with stories about chat rooms and instant messaging and cybersex by the woman who answered the ambulance service phones during the off hours. I imagined this thrilling, exciting other-world that I'd never had access to, beckoning to me like a tarted-up siren. It's how I imagine people who live in Salt Lake City feel, knowing that Vegas is sooooo close. Can you imagine how tempting it must be to folks who aren't even allowed to drink coffee? We all think we shouldn't give in, but sooner or later and if you try hard enough, you can justify almost anything to yourself.
The whole chat room thing and the idea of meeting people online seemed to me to combine two of my favorite things - catalog shopping and flirting. I had played with the idea once before, when a friend had jokingly given me a subscription to "Alaska Men" magazine. Remember that one? Supposedly, desperate lonely men in the wilds of our 49th state were just waiting for the right woman to send them a letter or even better, make a call to their pricey automated phone line. I quickly found I couldn't compete with twenty-five year old bimbos like Cyndi who won a husband by writing him a cutesy note entirely in babytalk. (True story!)
Why not just go out and meet people? The biggest obstacle in my life to doing exactly that was that I have a vision problem that means I am no longer able to drive at night. Most folks would tell you I shouldn't drive in the daylight either! In fact, at my last eye doc visit, the tech gave me what is called a visual field test. You sit in front of a half-dome apparatus, stare through a lense looking at a pinprick of light, and click the handheld signaling button when you see a light flashing elsewhere in the dome. Can you say, "I'll take blind as a bat for $200, Alex?" As I basically see only out of my right eye and with very little peripheral vision, there was not a lot of clicking going on. As we finished the test, the tech casually remarked, "So, do you drive a lot?" I could picture her passing out a description of me and my vehicle to all her friends with a warning to avoid me on the road at all costs as a public safety announcement.
To throw another bucket of cold water on my social life, all my friends were married with little kids. If I went out with them, it was probably to the mall or to Mickey D's for a happy meal, although most of the kids were not all that happy at being dragged along with us. When you live in a small rural town like I did, the only places you meet anybody are in the bars or in church. Sometimes, you'd see the same people at both! In fact, I met a guy at church shortly after becoming separated and he seemed nice enough, but I found out quickly that he was looking for a roommate, as soon as possible, as he was even broker than I was. I didn't hold that against him, but I just didn't have the energy at the time to deal with it. I understand he got married to a lovely girl a few years later, had several kids, and they no longer go to church. Funny, I never thought of our Southern Baptist church as a meatmarket, but I guess he got what he came for, even if it wasn't eternal salvation.
I told myself that I'd never get "crazy" online, that I'd never tell anyone my real name, where I lived, or God forbid, give them my phone number! If there is one thing I should have learned by the time I was 40, it was to never say never. Guess I saved that lesson for age 41.
My first attempts at "chatting" were pathetic. I had no idea what to do, how to do it, or what the hell everybody in there was talking about. It seemed to me that there was some foreign language going on, and I had only the experience of the wild woman answering our phones at night to rely on. She told me about ICQ, the instant messaging program, and I still have it on my computer to this day. It is probably the ONLY thing I still access since my "newbie" days, mostly because websites that were my favorites no longer exist. You could find ANYTHING online back in the late 90's, and most of it was free. Especially the stuff you didn't want to see at all! I know that it takes all kinds to make the world go 'round, but does anybody REALLY need to see a woman who can handle a model train INTERNALLY? How drunk do you have to be to lie there, spread-eagled, while a friend or lover sets up the track? I hope her intent wasn't to come across favorably in a sexual way, because what guy could compete with that? I guess you'd have to find out what gauge the train was to know for sure.
The easiest part of my going online was picking a nickname. Starting in my early teenage years, my maternal grandmother would refer to me as a gypsy. I always loved being on the go, and was never, ever homesick. My father's family were travelers too, for a long time living the nomadic lifestyle of the migrant farmworker. I must get that gene from their side, along with my dislike of watermelon and iced tea. My grandmother passed away in 1996, and therefore missed out on my "digital coming of age." I'm sure she would have said the same thing my mother did, "Child, you have lost your mind."
Fortunately or unfortunately, that never stopped me, although there have been times I agreed with them.