Cold War

Only a lunatic would spend this, the first spring-like day in a relatively cold California winter, musing upon his failings in the garden. But, what the hell, I am on a neurotic roll, and why stop a bad thing? Actually, my complaint, or my situation, is even worse. But I digress. And in fact, I am so confused that I may not digress enough. So, back to the garden.

That’s where it all started, isn’t it? And, no, we’re not talking Eden. No, I was recalling a period at the end of what can be laughingly called my first marriage…or tragically called the same…when I spent long periods at work in my backyard vegetable plot. Although it seems hard to believe at this juncture, I was rather good with a pitchfork. Somehow, I actually used to cultivate a surprising expanse of ground. Hours upon lonely hours at work in the cultivation of tomatoes, corn, lettuce and so on. How I did this, God only knows. At that point in my life no wheelchair was in the picture. I don’t recognize the picture, that is the simple truth. Anyway, it’s gone, gone with the crop-drying wind. And it’s one of those things one has to let go of. Doubtless this happens in any human life, but I maintain that the disabled experience foreshortens the whole effect.

Where was I? Oh yes, this matter of letting go. Which explains the buildup of paper on my desk. At times, I see the best solution in a military flamethrower. Just hose the stuff down with burning fuel, brush away a few ashes, and get a fresh start. Unfortunately, this doesn’t deal with the real problem, which is a very particular kind of despair. There is too much crap to deal with. That is the simple truth, and I don’t know how to reduce it, this crap.

I had the idea, and I swear it was a good one, to consolidate computers. After all, I use a Windows PC on my desk. And when I travel, which is not infrequently, I use an Apple laptop. Why the latter? Well, sort of a whim. I mean Apple computers are awfully well-designed, aren’t they? They’re sort of nifty, one might say. So why not? Yes, I am wedded to a demonic software company that makes speech recognition products, and they used to exclusively target the PC market. But no more. They have had a recent go, initially not very successful, at the Apple world. And the third attempt seems to be passable, according to online reviews. So go for it, I was thinking. And thinking being rather in short supply throughout my disorganized life, well it seemed okay. The real plan being that I would get used to the Apple laptop and eventually jettison the PC.

Then I inherited a building. A blessing in every sense, and also a complication. I needed to keep records, never my strong suit. And I did have some rough familiarity with Quicken, the redoubtable software for managing home finance. Which, it turned out, doesn’t run on Apple laptops. How this can be true baffles me. But that’s part of the problem, my too easy bafflement. In any case, having begun to make an investment, in time and money and, yes, hope, in the Apple laptop…well, it became apparent that as long as I had taxes to pay…there would be hell to pay if I got rid of the PC.

So, why not keep two systems going? Where’s the harm? It’s hard to explain where the harm is. But it’s a bit like simultaneously living in Connecticut and Montana. Each may have something to be said for it, but the things you say in Montana just don’t have the same impact in Connecticut. And vice versa.

Speech recognition on the Apple laptop actually seems to be sharper, crisper, more reliable. Not only that, all this is accomplished using the little computer’s built-in microphone. Contrast this with the radio-quality gooseneck mike that I
dictate into for the PC. Which is fine, except for the fact that correcting the frequent mistakes and misunderstandings involved with voice recognition is maddening on the Apple. Thing is, once you’ve made a voice-recognition error on either system, you have to correct it. Swiftly. Otherwise the misunderstanding gets ingrained in the software, forever to be repeated, until the end of time, or the end of Mesa, Arizona, whichever comes first.

The same computer consultant who helped me install Quicken pointed out that, well, things on my PC were just a bit old. What did he mean? Well, Windows XP. What about it? Well, the operating system and the software that goes with it was, you know, a bit dated. People were going for Windows 7, he told me. I told him that I didn’t care what people were going for, XP was reliable and, well, not that old. Unless one does the math on the Microsoft Office software dating from 2003. Some would say that between that point and 2013 an entire decade has passed. Which in the computer world is several eons. So I caved. Windows 7, it would be.

Which meant new versions of Microsoft Everything Else. All of which required a learning curve. Throwing me back into the PC, like it or not. Even while I was trying to learn the Apple. Like it or not. And, of course, one doesn’t ‘migrate’ to Windows 7. It’s more like an expeditionary force goes out and returns with stragglers and badly wounded. Several important pieces of software absented themselves and had to be reinstalled. And because I was becoming churlish and short tempered, I decided to do this myself. Naturally, fate being what it is, the PC’s speech recognition software proved the most balky. The vendor suggested I upgrade. For a mere $300. That is to say, throw more money into the already bug-ridden product, last updated less than a year ago. In the end I relented. Then I couldn’t install the sucker. Naturally, the $300 software package included no mention of support. So what’s a guy to do? Go on the Internet and parse through user forums to find the answer oneself. Which I did. Feeling very macho in the process. Not to mention old. Not to mention dismayed at the papers building up on my desk, including website copy for my sister, something I had promised to edit.

Which explains why one of the many chores accruing around me got such short shrift this very morning. I am buying a new wheelchair van. Someone wants me to choose a color. And this is my essential truth: I don’t care. Magenta. Chartreuse. Violet. Flamingo. I just don’t care. In fact, I want this Dodge van to appear in my driveway as though coalescing out of the mist. It won’t have color. It will be translucent. And, above all, it will work.

Also…. There is a myth, quite prevalent in this world, of the ‘common cold.’ The notion is transparently ludicrous. There is nothing common about my cold. And it has nothing in common with any other cold. This particular cold comes straight from hell. You know those Chinese hackers who are always trying to get into your bank account and shut down the local electric grid? Well, they export more than computer viruses. Cold viruses, for example. You heard it here first. My cold is a plot, don’t doubt it for a minute.

Which explains why on Friday evening I faced mounting misgivings regarding Shabbat services. It seemed so much better to stay home. On the other hand, colds being what they are, horizons shrink so quickly that the entire world was beginning to feel like me. So, what the hell. And Jane joined me, so who could
resist? That, plus a certain call to action. I’d gotten an email from the congregation secretary. Jerry’s father had died, he planned to say kaddish, wanted a minyan, etc. Time to turn up. Be part of a community.

Jerry greeted me at the door. I told him I was very sorry for his loss. He shrugged. The congregational secretary had gotten things slightly confused. It was his mother’s yahrzeit, not his father’s. She had been dead 23 years and, Jerry felt obliged to add, he never particularly cared for her. Welcome to services.

In fact, there’s always something to be said in the service of services. For damned if I didn’t get into an interesting chat with Alan. He asked what I was up to, I did the same, which led to a question about athletics. Alan was a marksman, had competed in shooting competitions since adolescence. This immediately after I mentioned that in the wake of Newtown, I’d gotten involved in the gun violence issue…once again. Alan, it developed, was a member of the NRA. To which we both made light reference, suggesting mild displeasure at the organization. And then let the subject go.

Which alone made the evening worthwhile. Yes, in a nation that has as many people as guns, even a liberal Jewish congregation can contain a marksman…and an NRA member, yet. Who seemed reluctant to discuss the matter in any depth. Which also says a lot. For this is one of the central triumphs of the National Rifle Association, promulgating this notion that someone is out to snatch your guns away, disapprove of target practice, and so on. It would be good to have another talk with Alan. As I say, it’s good to get out.

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