Books are my first love, and I just read Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin and the book put me in an oddly reminiscent mood. One of the things that I’ve reminisced about was how my one true love introduced me to my other true love.
Let us travel back to the 1980s. I moved in with my first lover in 1986 and she had some sort of strange off brand computer, purchased by mail order I think, that she never used and I only tinkered around with a little bit. It had no internal memory and programs were run from cassette tapes. I got as far as creating a short Mad Libs type program using Basic, and that was pretty much it.
Fast forward a couple years to when I was living on my own again and my purchase of a TRS-80 at a yard sale, which had two 5″ floppy disk drives. I think I had some hazy idea of writing the Great American Novel using it as a word processor, but I never really did anything with it either.
My job at the time heavily relied on a computer for tracking warehouse inventory. It was a HP3000 mainframe system with only terminals, consisting of a black and green monitor and a keyboard, on our desks. By the time I lost my job in 1992 there were all of two desktop computers in the entire company.
So while I had been around computers, I didn’t really know computers.
About that time I was reading the Lauren Laurano mystery series by Sandra Scoppettone. Lauren is a lesbian PI and in the first novel, published in 1991, part of her investigation requires learning about the mysterious world of BBSes.
Remember those? You dialed in on your computer using a modem and a terminal software program to access message boards, live chat, and files. Each BBS was self-contained, usually run on a lone computer in some guy’s house. The World Wide Web was only in its initial development phase and only extreme computer geeks had even heard of it.
Reading that first book, Everything You Have is Mine, I became utterly fascinated with the concept of BBSes, just as Lauren did in the story. It was something I wanted to discover and explore for myself, but of course I had no computer and no personal access to one.
In the spring of 1992 I had to start that most miserable of occupations, Job Hunting. I was already aware that technology in the workplace was rapidly changing. When I had started at my previous job in January 1987 the company had only recently installed a fax machine, to replace their teletype, and only a few customers had one. By the time I left in 1992 everyone had fax machines and that was the predominant method for placing orders.
Also during that time automated phone systems with voice mail went from no one we dealt with having them to everyone having them. Remember those early days of automated phone systems and how furious they could make you? I often wanted to stand on my desk while screaming into my phone at the top of my lungs, “Just let me talk to a real person!!”
Kinda like the new generation of automated phone systems that require you to speak a phrase saying what you want to do, instead of offering you a menu and numbers to select to get to the right department. I can’t be the only one who turns apoplectic because the damn system can’t understand what I want. If they don’t list your options how the hell are you supposed to know which magic words will work?! Every time I start to have fits when faced with one of these recalcitrant atrocities I cling to the idea that, like voice mail, they will eventually improve to a useable level.
Ah, please excuse the tangential rant. Where were we? Oh yeah, changing workplace tech in 1992. I decided that with desktop computers coming into vogue in offices that I needed to learn how to operate the darn things in order to help me land a job. So I signed up for a beginning computer class at the community college where I was introduced to DOS versions of spreadsheets, word proccessors, and databases.
The ease of using a word processor to create documents enthralled me. At the time I was manually typing up my cover letters on my typewriter to send out with my resume. This was a major, time consuming daily project because I was a terrible typist. But with a computer I could create a few template cover letters for various types of positions and just insert the needed specifics and print it out!
I lost access to the college computer lab once the class ended. My job hunt, and the need for our own computer as an essential tool in the process, was the excuse I required to sell my then partner on the idea of coughing up the big bucks to make the investment. And true, that was a legitimate and compelling reason. But lurking in the back of my brain was the reason that was not very legitimate, but just as compelling. I wanted a modem. Lauren Laurano and BBSes were still haunting my daydreams.
In late 1992 my then partner and I became the proud owners of a 386 Windows 3.1 computer. It had a 20 MB hard drive, 4 MB of memory, and a 2400 baud modem. Once it was all set up, programs loaded, and well on its way serving as my job hunting assistant, I was finally able to get to the important part. Looking for a suitable BBS.
I don’t recall how many were available in the greater Seattle area at that time, but it was probably nearing a hundred, if not more. How to choose? That’s where my first love, books, comes into the picture again. I had been reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, about the colorful gang living at 28 Barbary Lane. There on the list of local BBSes was one called 28 Barbary Lane. It was fate. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In the many years since then, books, computers, and I have developed a loving, functioning, polyamorous relationship. My then partner is long out of our lives, but we’re still going strong. It hasn’t been totally smooth sailing, of course. All relationships have their rough spots.
Like that horrible fight we had while installing a new modem that involved obscenities, the inappropriate use of force, and a viciously hurled screwdriver. And for the past couple of years the books on my shelves have been seething with jealousy over a new addition to our little family, a hybrid of books and computer, the Kindle. But we’re working it out.
I will always be terribly thankful to my first true love, books, for introducing me to my second true love, a computer with a modem. Though I still haven’t written the Great American Novel.