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Pandemics Make For Some Weird Interactions

This week I realized the pandemic can also make life weird.

When it comes to the virus’ impact, we tend to focus on more serious and somber news: loss of jobs and skyrocketing unemployment, halting of travel, the shuttering of sports and Disneyland, and, of course, people dying. 

So the awkward exchange I had this week when I went to get my laptop fixed was a bit of a lighthearted surprise. 

One of my laptops — the less crappy one — developed a problem about two months ago. The touchpad stopped working. 

I’ve recently accrued some experience in dealing with dumb, annoying problems the PCs in my life have become notorious for. 

A couple years ago I retired my workhorse Apple laptop. That laptop will always be remembered fondly. There’s a picture of it on my nightstand. It was a gift from a friend, who gave it to me after his company had given him a new one. It had been a terrific little pony. I wrote my first and only published book on it. I wrote my first journalistic reports on it. I also wrote a lot of terrible prose that will never see the light of day on it. That old, 20-pound Apple laptop lasted its second owner five years before it started getting too sluggish to endure.

Initially, I was going to buy another Apple. It made sense. Go with what’s proven. For years, especially during my years of turning wrenches, I bought only Japanese cars. I was too poor to buy American. Japanese cars have a reputation of working well into their advanced age, which is usually the phase of life all my vehicles are in. (I recently was reminded of why I had my Japanese-only rule when I bought a Ford truck that sprung a coolant leak five days after taking it home. The intake manifold had blown, not the cheapest of repairs. Since I’m still too poor to buy American, I had to repair it myself.)

Anyway, there was one problem with buying an Apple. I couldn’t justify paying $2,000 for a laptop to surf the internet, access our news site, send emails, and type up Word documents. So I bought a top-of-the-line Asus. I wanted something fast. So I did some research — I called my tech-savvy brother — and bought one that came highly recommended. 

My new machine was indeed fast. It was refreshing. And it weighed far less as well, so that was nice too. 

But I immediately begin having problems with it, small dumb things like malfunctioning touchpads and keyboards. I learned these finicky little machines needed operator involvement for things like driver updates, which I thought was dumb and time consuming. Because I had an Apple for so long. 

But my new PC didn’t care. It was whiny and selfish. It wanted its update and it wanted it now. 

I know some people may be reading this and thinking these little inconveniences are no big deal. But they are, especially when you’re tech illiterate and the keyboard stops working two minutes before deadline. 

But it got better. After a couple months of updates, a few other hiccups and occasional cursing (from me, not the computer), my Asus began to hit its stride. I remember telling my wife how impressed I was, how proud I was, how glad I was that we’ve reached an understanding in our relationship. My wife was happy for me. She has an Apple. She just turns it on and things work. All the time. 

Then one day, during our revived blissful relationship, my son spilled coffee on my Asus while telling a story over breakfast. It was a good story, I’ll give him that. And he was very good at telling it. And the coffee was getting cold, so I wasn’t too bummed about that, either.

But now I was without an office. I had no tool to do my job. And we were just starting to get along so well. 

As replacements, I ended up with two cheap laptops, both totaling half the price of the Asus. Since I’d only gotten a year out of my last machine, I would never again invest serious money in a laptop. 

One of the laptops I ended up with — the “better” of the two — is an Acer. I bought it during a Cyber Monday sale. For the most part, I’ve gotten what I’ve paid for and more, which is kind of like bragging that your pet snake has been a good pet because he hasn’t bitten you. 

It’s surprisingly fast, but I’m sure it helps that I don’t keep anything on it. If I have to save something, I put it on an external drive or shoot it up to the cloud. Lord knows what all is in the cloud. 

But then, just a couple months after I bought it, it happened. My Acer threw a fit. The touchpad stopped working. 

No big deal, I thought. I’ve seen this before. 

I tried implementing my recently accrued knowledge of finicky, whiny computers. But it didn’t work. All the internet blogs and advice couldn’t help me get the touchpad working. The places it told me I could go to update my driver didn’t exist, or the thing I was supposed to press wasn’t where it was supposed to be.

I went two months using an attached mouse. It was annoying. I would take my laptop home and forget my mouse, rendering it useless. I would try to do that thing where you enlarge your screen, but to no avail. I would be typing captivating, mesmerizing prose at blistering speeds with both of my typing fingers and get snagged in that motion of reaching out to my mouse to scroll down, ruining my mojo.

By the time the pandemic exploded, I had had it. It was time to get my machine repaired. So I called a local computer and office equipment repair place to finally get it seen by a professional.

And that’s when I learned no aspect of life was untouched by the pandemic. 

The Havre business, which I’d had a great experience with in the past, had locked the door to their office, but was still very much in operation, I learned. I had to meet the technicians at the back door. 

I packed up my bellyacher of a laptop and walked across the street. I went through the first entrance without a problem. But when I tried opening the second pair of doors, I met resistance in the form of a chain, or something like that. I had completely ignored the “go to the back door and call” part of the instructions. So I called while waiting in the entryway. I was told to go to the back door. 

Once at the back door, I met with two employees. They took down some information and my NASA-made machine. But the guy taking down my information wasn’t sure if he should take down my credit card number. So he told me to go back and sit in front of the entry doors with the chain. He may or may not also have said to call the store when I get there. 

OK, I thought. Guess I’ll do that. 

So I went there, back in the entryway. And I sat there.

After a minute or so, I must have realized I’d forgotten what I was supposed to do. So someone in the store, who could see me standing there, 20 feet away and visible through door and window glass, called me.  

They needed my credit card number. So I gave it to them. Then I awkwardly walked back to my office, where I got the idea for this rant.

We live in strange times. And it’s clear everyone is figuring out how to adjust. 

As for my laptop, I got it back within the hour. It turned out it did need a driver update. I was just too tech-illiterate to do it. My Acer now works like a brand-new Ford, or a 20-year-old Japanese car.

Paul Dragu is the editor of The Havre Herald. (406) 262-7778
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