6I From Opera to Fine Art Calendars
January 12, 2008
When I met my father’s sister Aunt Henriette again (after many years of not seeing her or communicating with her) at our two family reunions arranged by Aunt Naomi and Uncle-in-law Donald with money provided by my poor doomed cousin Joana who had gone to Taiwan to learn Chinese and had become a millionaire as co-owner (with her Taiwanese husband Kenny) of the baby furniture/stroller company Graco, I discovered that Henriette had
- gone back to New York City with her baby son Carl and reconciled with her husband Morton whom nobody else in my family could stand (though at the one time I met Morton in person I had gotten along with him well enough though I could see that longer time in his presence would have wearied me rapidly)
- given up her dream of being an opera singer for the Metropolitan Opera
- received a computer paid for by Uncle Donald and started to teach herself how to use it
- her son Carl had grown up into an unhappy and alienated nerdy-geeky young adult (much like my youngest brother J)
- come to the conclusion (after learning that I teach computer classes for a living) that I understand everything there is to understand about computers and can solve any computer problem there is (over the phone, like your own personal technical support line, except much better than ones in India)
Henriette began to use her computer to explore the Internet. As with most people who teach themselves to use a computer and the Internet, she learned just enough to be dangerous.
Soon I began to receive telephone calls from Henriette. Although Henriette and Morton did not have much money, they had enough money to get a cable connection that allowed her to surf the Internet and to make unlimited phone calls. As Henriette had worked as a waitress and Morton had not worked much (if at all), I wasn’t sure what they lived on. My guess (with some supporting evidence) is that after Joana died tragically of breast cancer, her parents, Donald and Naomi, inherited some money, and they in turn provided some financial support to Henriette and Morton.
Henriette began to download reproductions of fine paintings from web sites and using a program called Microsoft Publisher began to assemble calendars. Publisher is a perfect program for the person who knows just enough about computers to be dangerous as it multiplies their ability to get themselves into confusion and trouble by a thousand-fold. It is like taking a child with a chemistry set and saying, Here is a little kit to help you learn to do fun things with plastic explosives.
I began to get phone calls from Henriette. “Random, this is your Aunt Henriette. I am having a little trouble with my computer… I am trying to create this calendar, but …”
Sometimes, she had a question or problem to which I knew the answer. This encouraged her belief that I knew all answers to all computer problems and could solve them with a few words over the phone.
Sometimes, I did not know the answer. Sometimes I knew answers, but could not communicate them over the phone to her. For example, she created Publisher files that were hundreds of Megabytes in size and then tried to email them to friends all over the world.
This inspired conversations about attachments and uploads to ftp sites and whispered comments by my wife to stop banging my head against the wall as she didn’t want the wall damaged any more.
On another occasion she told me, “I turned on my computer but it didn’t come one.” She then waited expectantly for my answer telling her which switch to push to make the computer come on.
On this occasion, the wall was so damaged my wife and I had a new house built in the woods and fled to it, but we attached a phone to the new wall. How dumb can I get?