September 4th, 2004

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Oh Fair Penelope...

My laptop woes continue. Just when I thought I had the old girl fixed, she sputters, coughs, and dies a little more. Here is story:

About two months ago my fair Penelope (that's her name) started to mysteriously go black at random moments while I attempted to work on one of my seven or eight current novels. At first, I thought Penelope was merely tired. But then, her battery wouldn't charge. Left plugged in for sixteen days, her battery capacity was at 3 percent, still. So, I did the sensible thing and tried to get her fixed.

First, I went to the tech counter at Best Buy. The skinny Latino kid behind the counter had a pencil mustache and a spate of acne across his chin. I explained what was happening, took Penelope out of her traveling case, and waited for some guidance. Skinny Tech's words of wisdom, having plugged in my little girl, and stared at her for all of six or seven seconds, were, "Yeah, I think you better just buy a new one." That was it. No tests, no diagnostics, not even a peek at her battery. Disgusted with the kid, I swooped Penelope back into her case and left.

Next I went to Comp USA. Four guys in matching red polo shirts stood at the door, smoking cigarettes, and generally looking foul. I quote the biggest of them, who wore wrinkled khakis and even from a distance gave off an odor of aftershave, "If the bitch is lucky I'll shove her down a flight of stairs." I tried to be brave and go in and check the prices for repair at the service counter, but I couldn't stay in that store.

My next stop was the great white hope, Microcenter. Oh, I remembered, I've heard nothing but good things about them. And I sort of used to work with someone who used to work there too, and he was nice, so I'll go there. Oh what a fool I was. I checked in my dear, dear Penelope, and waited the requisite three days. Nothing. So I call. They had "mistyped" my phone number and couldn't reach me. And worse, they "found nothing
wrong." Grrrrr.... but I tried my best be polite and explained again Penelope's illness. Three more days. Still nothing wrong. So I go visit.

At this point in the story, I run into my old boss, Susan. Susan's chief feature is a wide, pale face topped with out of control curly hair. She's a heavy woman with a tendency to
wear clothes that don't compliment her - pants that taper at the ankles and shirts that don't reach far enough toward her middle. There is a mustard stain on nearly every piece of her
ill-fitting wardrobe. Oh, and she's crazy as a loon. Standing in line at Microcenter, after they've had my computer a week and I'm cranky enough already - who do I run into but the crazy woman who made my working life a miserable experience for two years. Whose decision to quit our mutual workplace resulted in the "restructuring" that resulted in my
unemployment. Susan had come into Microcenter saying that her PC's power button didn't work. Microcenter's tech told her "Well, it turned on just fine here." And she was
upset. Susan doesn't handle situations like that well. She's indignant when she feels insulted, and I think everyone in that line at the service counter could tell that Susan was,
well, unbalanced, so she was extra crispy crazy that day. And when the tech working on my dear Penelope saw me talking to the crazy lady, he assumed I must be crazy too.

After Susan left in a huff, I had to assure the tech that I wasn't like Susan. I was just upset because they'd had my computer for a week and couldn't find the problem. I stood there with him while he played around with Penelope, again, trying in vain to explain the problem.

"Look," I said, "She just turns off, suddenly. No warning. I need to know if it's the power cord or the battery, or something."

The tech, a thin black man with an interesting lion's mane of dreadlocks, says, "There's nothing wrong with the battery. See, it's at 3 percent. That means it's charging."

I bit down hard on the inside of my cheek and said, "It's been at 3% for nearly a month. The battery won't charge. That's part of the problem."

"That shouldn't matter," he said. "Look, I'll show you." He then proceeded to take out Penelope's battery. AT which point, she went black. "Oh, that shouldn't happen," he confessed.

NO SHIT, SHERLOCK. But I didn't say that. Trying to be polite and give off no hint of Susan craziness, I said, "That's why you've had it for a week."

The tech asks for at least two days to investigate further. When I left he was inserting testing disks, and I felt a little better. Finally, something.

A few days later I got a mumbled call I didn't understand from the tech. His voice was a low rumble, and very hard to hear. So I went for another visit.

The clerk, the same girl who'd taken my Penelope the day I dropped her off (the one who had mistype my number creating the initial delay), explained I needed a new hard drive.

"I want some more information," I said. "I want to know if this is going to fix the problem. No has told me if anything is wrong with the battery or the power cord, which I asked when I dropped her off."

Dumbfounded, "Jessica" said "Oh, I guess we can have a tech call you."

To say I was exasperated at this point would be like equating the Titanic with a capsized rowboat. Still, I tried, tried, tried to be nice. I thanked her and left, AGAIN.

A day later, a call. The tech seemed to think the battery was fine, (no mention of the power cord) and I was really, really going to need that new hard drive. So I agreed. My Penelope, being about five years old, had a 4 GB hard drive. The only one they could put in, would be at least 20. So, I agreed, figuring Penelope could use a little upgrade. Three days later, my Penelope emerged from Microcenter, newly minted and ready to resume her duties.

Oh, but that's not the end of the story. I didn't get much chance to use her after I got her back because I was on my way to London. I kept her plugged in while I was away, figuring she'd be charged up and ready to go when I got back, ready to take the story of my international adventure. Not so.

I had a small problem with the electricity in my room. During the heat wave, it kept going out. Never for very long - thirty seconds or so at most, but just enough to screw up my clocks and mess with Penelope a little.

So I plugged in Penelope in the living room. Sure enough, her battery charged and I was able to use her. AT LAST! I typed for a few days, adding yet another would-be novel to the work I'm doing, and generally feeling like all that hassle (not to mention the 225 dollars) was worth it. Oh, no, no, no.

On of the things I discovered was that the power cord to my laptop seemed to stop working while I was in the middle of a project. And guess what happened when the power cord got wiggled a bit (not taken out, just wiggled, mind) SHE WENT BLACK! SHUT OFF! NO WARNING! Well, I thought, I don't know, maybe knowing the problem I could work around it. Just keep the laptop still and use it on the coffee table instead of my lap. BUT NO! (sorry for all the figurative shouting, but it's necessary). Power cord not wiggled and laptop on tabletop, it just stopped working. It went black without warning. So basically, I put 225 dollars into my laptop, and it was in no better shape that it was a MONTH AGO!

So I went back today. Behind the counter was not the dim Jessica but a kind of cute nerdy looking man in a red power tie. I began, "First off, let me say I'm sorry if I'm rude, but I'M REALLY ANNOYED...." I then proceeded to tell him Penelope's saga in clipped and frantic sentences. I used a lot of "And then you had it for ANOTHER WEEK..." and "I NEED THIS TO WORK..." and a handful of times during my litany I gnashed my back teeth and actually growled. Nerdy boy took it well. Actually he gave me the blank stare I used to give Susan quiet a lot during our work days. Let's call it the "I'm going to remain calm while you work yourself into a fit" stare. And so Penelope was checked back into Microcenter for another round of tests. And I succeeded in doing a perfect imitation of Susan. Just fit me for the mustard stained clothes now.

Good Lord, I swear if they tell me nothing is wrong with Penelope this time, I'm really going to go Susan on them and start screaming like a banshee. You know, I worry enough that I'm becoming my mother, I don't really need to worry about becoming my loony ex-boss.
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