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Technological comforst tough on the wallet, easy on the eyes

October 22, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

As mentioned last week, earlier this month I had to take time out from developing my nuclear program to purchase a new computer. The unfortunate parameters were this: It had to be a Windows machine (Ugh) and we had about a three-hour "window" in which to purchase it, bring it home and get it up and running (Ugh II) because my wife had a grad paper that had to be posted in a Microsoft Word document by midnight.

Being late on a Saturday, we were forced to shop out of the area at a Big Retail Store, which, frankly, frightens me and here's why:

4:17 p.m.: We were introduced to some kid who may have been 15, but without the maturity and wisdom you normally associate with that age. The first words out of his mouth were "I don't work on commission," to which I machine-gunned back "Right, and I'm John Stuart Mill."

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4:31: We blurted out our requirements and he ambled over to some nondescript black box and said "Well, this machine has 255,235 megazooks of ..." and in unison Andrea and I said, "We'll take it." And that's when this salesboy commenced to drive a wedge in our marriage, because as it turned out that was the last thing we agreed on.

4:40: Sucking reflectively on his lollipop, the kid congratulates us on selecting a good monitor, computer and printer for a great price and then innocently asks, "Now, do you want to buy these cables that connect them all together?" I sensed the oncoming of Retail Rage.

4:46: Andrea says "Just to be sure, this comes with Microsoft Word, right?" and the Cub Scout says, "Oh no, none of the floor models do." He explained, and I swear this is true, that we would have to buy the software for $400 - or they could install it themselves for $50, but we would have to leave the machine for seven to 10 days. I exploded. "It's just a stupid disk, isn't it? All they have to do is click "install," don't they? Do you want me to push the stupid button! Do you? Why I'll ..." and Andrea shot me a look that says many things, the most predominant of which is, "Stop making a scene."

4:50: The kid asks if we want a 3-year, $250 service contract that will "even protect against lightning strikes" and we collectively say "Nyoes."

"Look, Opie," I said. "If this bucket of chips is likely to break before the next presidential election, I don't want it." But Andrea shot me that glance of hers that means many things, the most predominant of which is, "You will bend to my will." I shut up and the toddler sensed his advantage.

4:58: He proceeds to sell us every last add-on and gimmick, but lost his high ground when, again no lie, he tried to sell us a $50 program that would remove some other advertising-related programs that the Big Retailer pre-installed and that "tend to make the machine crash."

I began to suffer what I think Tom Clancy once referred to as "a cold-water meltdown event."

5:02: The dam breaks when this "Home Alone" wannabe tries to sell us a $200 battery pack that, he says with a straight face, "protects you against lightning strikes."

5:20: I explode with the pure fission force of seven suns. "CAESAR on a BICYCLE, do you think we live on a mountaintop in the upstairs of a metal shed! Just HOW MANY LIGHTNING STRIKES DO YOU THINK WE'RE LIKELY TO TAKE?!"

Fortunately, Andrea expertly intervened. To the toddler she said simply, "You better stop talking now." Then she turned to me and said, "Why don't you go look at flat-screen TVs?"

"Really," I said eagerly. "Do you mean it?" And I ran off down the aisle saying "ohboyohboyohboy ..."

Postscript, Oct. 19, 8:35 p.m.: Andrea got her machine and posted her Faulkner paper, honest, 12 minutes before the midnight deadline. I am aware that some people may point out that my anger at spending a lot of money was only assuaged by spending even more money. But I - sitting here at home putting the finishing touches on this column while watching girls beach volleyball on the ESPN-Male Pig channel on a big Sony with DVD and home theater system - am perfectly comfortable with the irony.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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