On November 30th of 1984, I let a Macintosh computer into my life. Do you remember your very first computer? If you’re anywhere close to my age, I bet you do.
I was a graduate student living mostly on what I made from teaching two sections of basic comp at Queens College and on loans. But I was also working at the Development Office at Queens where, at six dollars an hour, I wrote most of what turned into a hugely successful grant for the place.
I received a small bonus from the boss–out of his own pocket, I’m pretty sure–but I decided it was all I needed to bring me to what we would now call “the tipping point”: it was the tip money I used to buy a computer. (Please don’t write in to correct me, okay? I’m kidding around.)
Of course the computer cost way more than the bonus, but I’d been saving towards its purchase for months. The bonus was merely the boost I was looking for and I recorded the arrival of the computer in my red and black notebook as if I already knew this acquisition would be a life-changing event.
I was living in a studio apartment on Lafayette Street and one of my biggest worries was where this new object would go. There was barely room for the typewriter on the one big table in the center of the one big room.
“The computer arrived and it has already assumed a position of honor,” I wrote. “I moved the typewriter to the plastic television table but I feel guilty and as if the typewriter will now do something by way of recrimination. I have to buy a printer but will need to wait until the next check clears. I hear Brother printers are reliable (there are no Sister printers, apparently). The irony is that I have to do a paper for Mary Ann Caws on the position of women in the capitalist and patrician system of Wharton’s short stories and I’m here thinking that maybe if I buy the printer at Macy’s I can apply for one of their credit cards and get a certain percentage off, which is what I think they let you do with an initial purchase, and until I figure that out I can’t print the paper for Caws’ class even if I can figure out how to write it on the computer which I’m not sure I could manage anyway. I think the typewriter hates me. It has a mean look in its shift key. But I actually own my own computer. Can you believe it?”
You see, at this point in life, I didn’t have much stuff. I certainly didn’t have stuff with on/off switches. I had a black and white “portable” t.v., given to me by a relative who no longer saw the point of such a device and I had five lamps because the apartment, which was on an air-shaft, admitted less light than most bomb shelters. That was it. No blender, no toaster, no hair-dryer, no electric toothbrush.
Yes, the typewriter was electric, but barely. It had been bought used. That’s why it was so mad.
The brand-new personal computer was a wildly ambitious leap forward. It took months for me to feel at home typing on it and peering into its small, greenish screen. But I wrote my dissertation on it and, after buying the Brother printer (yep, from Macy’s on 34th Street, paying who-knows-what in interest and lugging it back on the RR train), became hooked on seeing how my revisions played themselves out in various “editions” of a chapter. (I continue, to the chagrin of many, to print out most documents in order to read through them.)
I half-wish I’d kept the thing. I wish I could now use it as a footrest or a tiny cursor-blinking plant holder. I’ve never had quite the same relationship with another computer. You remember your first.