Final Keystrokes

"Error: Incompatible File Format"

By Jim Wright

My fiancée and I were sure we'd addressed every concern in our relationship, and we were eager to begin our new life together. The only issue we never considered was our behavior behind the keyboard--I saw my computer as my trusty sidekick, while she viewed hers the same way a swimmer eyes the beach after watching Jaws. We knew this bud didn't think it was important.

One day she called me at work, screaming that her computer had eaten her dissertation. Vowing to come to her rescue--chivalry may be politically incorrect, but it's not dead--I gathered my trusty file saver toolkit, a few spare floppy disks and my data-recovery manual and drove to her apartment.

I'm naturally curious, and when I use someone's computer my first impulse is to see how it's organized. I can tell more about how people think by looking at their hard drives, than by rifling through their bedrooms. Lucky for me--my bedroom is a mess. My computer, though, was featured in the May 1990 issue of OCHA Monthly (the official journal of the Obsessive-Compulsive Hackers' Association). My bride-to-be is more organized than I am, and I hoped her computer would be as well. I eagerly grabbed her keyboard and typed DIR--computerese for, What's your sign?

This computer's sign read, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

To a purist like me, my beloved's hard drive resembled a medieval torture device. It was as organized as rush hour traffic in a heat wave and about as stable. I heard the theme from Jaws. This computer was truly frightening.

"Uh, honey, what was your file called?" I asked, my voice shaky. I had to find the file and leave quickly before I discovered more dreadful secrets about the woman I loved. If the computer is the window to the soul, I realized, I was engaged to Sybil.

"What do you mean?" she asked, puzzled by my question.

Oh, boy. "What did you call your dissertation?" I asked.

The average dissertation has more words in the title alone than in the entire first chapter of most books. Halfway into her title, I interrupted, my head throbbing. "No, I mean--" (patience, Jim!) "when you wanted to work on your paper, what did you type to bring it up on the screen?"

She gave me that you're-speaking-Korean-again-aren't-you look. I sighed in resignation, then spotted a page from her dissertation on the desk; I decided to find her paper the hard way. I asked her for a glass of water and a handful of aspirin and got to work.

Two hours later, elbow-deep in lost clusters and fragmented sectors, I found and salvaged her paper. It was in a deeply nested subdirectory, with a name not normally associated with a dissertation on Renaissance literature (ILOVEYOU.JIM). I had also found enough problems with her computer to arrest her for negligence. Some things I fixed as I went, but major surgery--and perhaps an exorcism--was required before her computer would be whole again. Trying to broach the subject gently, I offered to optimize her computer before I left.

"What's 'optimize'?" she asked, casting me an accusing look. She had expected me to find her paper much sooner, and by now she sounded as irritable as I felt. So much for her Knight in Shining Software.

Plain English, Jim. "It's something you do to put all the files in one place."

"They're already in one place," she said, pointing to the computer. "And they're fine where they are!" I said nothing; she smiled smugly. You can't argue with logic like that.

I kissed her goodnight and left quickly, avoiding the accusing glare of her computer screen for abandoning it like this. I finally got to sleep after my third packet of antacid and a few trips through my own computer's comfortingly pristine directory structure.

We broke up two weeks later. Last month she married a guy with a Macintosh. They were made for each other.

Jim Wright, a freelance author, editor, consultant and comedian, is still single.

From WordPerfect the Magazine, October 1993 issue, p. 90.
Copyright © 1993 WordPerfect Publishing Inc.
Last Updated: January 9, 1999

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