Start the Smoke Signals - Los Angeles, CA

The start key of my computer broke.

"This is a sign", a friend suggested.

Is it a sign that I should never start the thing again?

Is it a sign of improper handling on my side?

Is it a sign of bad design and shitty craftsmanship?

Anyway, I kept using the computer and each time I did, I wiggled the start key alive. I used tweezers, scissors, sometimes a letter opener, sometimes a nail. Until the light came on and the computer sighed its signature start-up-melody. When I was done working I kept the computer in sleep mode. Until out of habit I turned it off. Which happened more often than you might think, and forced me to wiggle it alive more often than I wanted to.

The computer I am writing about is the one I use for writing, editing, producing, sending my stories to the clients. It is my only one. IT IS IMPORTANT. And the start-key is an important key. The most important, I used to think. But that's

not true. Because, once you turn it on, you do not need it anymore. Which makes other keys much more important. Especially e, a, r, i, o, t, n, s, l and c, which are - according to the Oxford dictionary - the ten most common letters in the English language. Knowing this makes me feel much better, because I don't have to wiggle one of those alive.

Anyway, I did not want to push my luck and find out at a crucial moment that the magic of my wiggling skills stopped working. 

So I made an appointment at the store. I had to wait five days. For someone to look at it. Not to repair it.

The genius who looked at my computer was very young. Curly brown hair, surfer-tanned skin, kind brown eyes, company shirt and jeans. We sat at a communal table with two kids playing phone video games on the other side. A half chewed cough drop lay on its yellow wrapping paper between them.

There were real olive trees between the tables. I guess they put them there to create the atmosphere of an Italian town square where everybody stares at screens instead of talking, drinking wine and eating food that makes them happy.

I had not realized at home how many cookie crumbs and dust specks live between my keyboard's keys. I was embarassed, but the genius did not mention them at all. 

"I might be able to fix this right away", he said. "Just wait a second. I'll be back." 

"Stupid me", I thought when he disappeared to a place where geniuses keep their magic. "I should have come here earlier. It is so easy."

The light inside the store seemed to turn from neon to soft Tuscan sun.

The genius brought back two potential covers for my broken key. The first one fit. "That's why they call them geniuses", I thought. He pushed the button. Then he wiggled. Then the genius whispered something I did not understand. Then he said "I'm sorry, Ma'm. The spring is missing."

"Don't call me Ma'm. It makes me feel like I am close to turning in my grave", I wanted to say and asked "Which spring? I'm sure, you have one in the back, and if not, you can order one. Right?"

"Usually they don't come off."

"Well, this one did." I did not mention my weeks of wiggling with imperfect tools. "I'm sure you have one and can glue it on. Right?"

"I'm sorry, Ma'm. I can't." Then his face lit up. "Do you have problems with your battery?"

"I don't. Not with this computer. With my phone I do."

"Well, let me run some tests. Maybe your battery is bad."

"And what would be so good about that?"

"We have a special", the genius explained. They exchange batteries almost for free, I learned, and with that automatically give you a new keyboard at a discount price. I did not understand the mechanics of it all, but got the bottom line: if my battery was bad I would get a functioning start key for the bargain of about 200 bucks. If the battery was good, the damage was 350 dollars.

The genius attached some cables to my computer and worked with tender hands like, I imagined, a young ER doctor would perform heart surgery on a baby. I crossed my fingers for the baby's heart, my battery, to be bad.

Of course it wasn't.

"We have to order a keyboard for you." The genius did not look at me. I was thrown back from the Tuscan sun into the cold neon light of screen land. "It will take a little longer than a week. Once we have it, you leave it with us for four to five days. You get it back with everything as good as new."

The shock was real. "You gotta be kidding me! I'll find the spring."

"It's mega small, more like a dot. Transparent. And it can't be glued."

"I'll find a guy who does it. Or a store that charges less for the repair."

"Just let me know, Ma'm, and we will cancel your order at no cost."

"I'll just keep wiggling. I think, I got the hang of it."

"We really do not recommend that, Ma'm. But if that is what you want: right on! Just let me know."

I thanked the genius. Then I left.

At home I found a way to start the computer with a single needle-stab right in the middle of its little heart. 

Now the internet is gone inside my office. The earliest someone can come is in eight days. To look at it.

This a sign for me not to invest more in computers but in learning how to use smoke signals most effectively.


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