A commercial expedition.

I needed a new laptop. The old one was cracked in two places, and held together with pieces of tape. Also, it ran hot, and long work sessions blistered my wrists. The CD player didn't work, and the “S” key was gone. None of that a big deal—I mean, it was still a universal Turing machine. But, during serious meetings, I would produce the laptop from my fancy padded backpack, crumbs falling from the keyboard, most of the letters worn off their keys, and oily, from my hammering fingers, and my clients would stare in fascinated disgust.

First I tried the downtown electronics shops, ducking in and out. I finally found one where the prices seemed solid—not obscene, but not suspicious. Laptops are low-margin, so anything that's really cheap has probably been in a flood, or was pre-owned by child pornographers.

In this store, a 22-year-old in good slacks and an Oxford showed me the machine I'd cut out from a newspaper advertisement. His display model was cracked in two spots. It was a Sony that they normally don't sell in America, model number PRZr484-91392. “Really not bad,” he said. “You don't want to load multiple files quickly, do you?”

“Actually, that's kind of important to me.”

“Then let me show you something—it's a little more expensive.” Bait, switch. I made him show me four models. I turned them on in turn, let them run through Windows installation and bootup, and set the time zone on each to Saudi Arabia. He began to add toys: he threw in in a free printer, and a case. He cut $100 off, and added a wireless card.

“You want wi-fi, right?”

“I live in a one-room apartment,” I said. “I don't even have a cordless phone.”

“Wireless lets you use the laptop in the bathroom,” he said.

“See, I hate that. I hate when people email me or call me from the bathroom. They always need to tell me they're in there.”

“Yeah, I hate that too,” he said, laughing. We're friends. “Nothing I like less. Unless it's a girl calling. Then it's okay. Right? That's okay.”

That cinched it. As a rule, I don't do business with people who like to talk to shitting women on the phone. I had an image of the guy furiously masturbating on the phone while, on the other end, a heavyset[1] woman made grunting noises. I didn't need that image. I said, “What I want to do is get your business card, and go for a walk on it.”

“These won't last forever,” he said. I took his card and walked straight to J&R;.

I had an hour left. I have rules about buying things—I bill myself for my time spent researching products, so that I avoid spending days online clicking and profiling prices, reading product reviews. That path always ends up with me spending $5,000 in order to find the right “balance” of features, ordering something custom-built from California that presses shirts, produces 3D feelies, and features an integrated bird cage.

The clock was ticking: I had 40 minutes left to buy a laptop before I went over my time budget (4 hours—$300). So I fondled a few keyboards, chatted with the salesmen, and decided on the Fujitsu with the shiny screen. 10 minutes down.

Then: up to a different floor for a scanner, and there, an interaction with a different salesman out of a bad Hong Kong comedy (“You look like smart man! Professional animator, yes?” “Actually, I farm.” “Excellent! This is the smart touch tablet for you.” “Can I spam with it?” “Perfect for spamming.”). 12 minutes lost, 18 left. A mild credit card disaster, 30 minutes. 12 minutes in the red.

Finally, pleasantly in hock, with that warm, detached feeling you get after spending way too much money, I went to the computer delivery counter (J&R has infinite varieties of counter, endless levels, multiple buildings or so, and a subterranean returns area). At the counter, a bored-looking employee with a scar on his head sat next to a conveyer belt, as a 70 year old woman screamed at him.

“You need to talk to the manager,” he finally said.

“You give me a salesman who doesn't speak English, I spend $400! There is no manager. Who are you?”

She turned around to gather support, but no one cared. I love watching people exercise their American right to shop. We become a nation of complete dickheads, looking for any excuse to show the poor non-union bastard behind the counter who's the boss. You know who's boss? Me!, because I bought something.

“I don't know what to do,” she said to me. “No one will listen.”

“I think you should sue,” I said. “Then they'll listen.”

“I'd like to sue,” she said, and turned back to feel her power and yell some more.


1. I don't know why she was heavyset, nor do I have anything against big people, being one myself. It's just, the way I saw it, she was a kind of big girl. [Back]




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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