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Man vs. Machine: My Miracle Worker Drives a Harley 

Wednesday, Jan 9 2002
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Photo by Anne Fishbein

When the crash came, I tried Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Nothing. I tried Esc. Nothing. No files, no desktop. And rebooting only made things worse. My computer just sat there, taunting and omnipotent in its refusal to give me a break, which is how I often think of God.

I stepped out onto the second-floor walkway of the converted motel where I keep a small writer’s hooch and stared across the courtyard toward Hollywood Boulevard. When you’ve lost your C:\ drive and with it the only trickle of inspiration in a long dry spell, you spiral.

“Ouch, that sucks,” said my friend Randy when he called and heard what happened. “There’s only one thing to do.”

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“What’s that?”

“You gotta call Colin.”

“Who’s Colin?”

“He’s a genius. He can fix any computer.”

I took the number. The first message I left explained how I’d just lost the beginning to the novel I’d been carrying around in my head for three years. I was hoping to sound more needy than anyone else vying for Colin’s attention. I got no call back. I called again. Nothing. I called Randy the next day and told him the problem.

“Yeah, he doesn’t answer his phone a lot.”

“Why?”

“Because he doesn’t have to.”

I pleaded with Randy to use whatever influence he had to persuade Colin to call me, then tried Colin again myself. No answer. I was fucked. I tried to think of alternative careers for 37-year-olds with little or no experience at anything.

Then Colin called.

“You the guy that’s been leaving me messages?” he demanded.

I was frightened, but said, “Yes.”

“You friends with Randy?”

Usually when someone asks that, good things don’t follow. But what else could I say?

“Are you a rich guy or a poor guy?”

“I’m certainly not rich,” I said.

“Well, you can’t afford what I charge, but since you’re a friend of Randy’s, maybe I’ll stop by and see if I can fix that piece of shit.”

I don’t know what my preconceived notion of a computer troubleshooter was, but it wasn’t a tall, wiry guy dressed in black from head to toe, riding a shiny Harley-Davidson.

The crazy, cross-eyed old man who lives below my office and who is always shuffling around in pajamas came out to see what was up. He gave Colin, who was already smoking a cigarette, the cross-eyed glare.

Colin blew smoke in his face and said, “What’s up, man?”

The crazy old man turned to me and smiled like I was a chump and went back inside. Then Colin looked at me, stubbed his cigarette and said, “Let me see this piece of shit.”

He sat down and immediately started banging on the keyboard, diving into layers of computer I didn’t know existed. He was my Captain Nemo, and we were 20,000 leagues under the C:\ drive, swimming deeper into the operating system. All the while he was talking, cursing, swearing, cajoling, seducing.

At one point something that looked like hieroglyphics filled the screen, and he shouted, “What the fuck was that?” and slammed down hard on some keys and made it go away.

After a while he got up and said, “This thing’s full of shit.”

I felt ashamed.

“You’ve got two choices. Go and buy all new software and reload your operating system, or grab your hard drive and follow me.”

“Do you think we can fix it?” I asked sheepishly.

“If you buy new software and we load it here, it’s 50-50. You bring that bitch to my place, and your chances go up to 85 percent.”

By the time I got to his apartment in Santa Monica, Colin had set up command central on the kitchen table. I shambled into the doorway with my impotent hard drive under my arm.

“Wait!” he said, freezing me in my tracks. “The shoes, man. Take off the shoes.”

I took off my shoes. The apartment was no-frills but neat. I noticed two packs of Marlboros on the coffee table and a pack of generic cigarettes on the kitchen table. He asked me to hand him a pack of Marlboros. I asked why he had a pack of generics.

“I’ll smoke anything. I used to smoke crack like a madman until I had a near-death experience, so I don’t give a fuck what cigarettes I smoke,” he said. Then he told me how a couple of Crips once held him hostage for two days. He showed me the scars on his forearms where they sliced him with a butcher knife.

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