I opened the passenger door and kept one hand on the door jamb to control my fall into the bucket seat of my brother’s convertible. The interior, cluttered with the detritus of multiple projects, resembled the inside of a writing laboratory. In fact my younger brother does refer to his car as the Alchemy Car. It leaks the Air (Tires), Fire (Gasoline), Water (Coolant), and Earth (oil). I tried not to step on anything important, but my vision was obscured by the notebook computer on my lap.

The car had plenty of papers, folders, books, plastic clips, DVDs, magazines, but no actual trash, no sticky spills, no unpleasant smells.  Some undecipherable organization, known only to my brother, distinguished figure from ground, foreground from background. Clearly the most important object was the IPod which sat in a prominent space above the unused parking brake, attached by a wire to the stereo. My brother caressed it with his thumb as he backed the car out of the driveway, dividing his attention between the LED display and the rear and side view mirrors. I barely had time to locate both ends of my seat belt before we were on the road. His seatbelt remained neatly stowed and secured in its holster over his left shoulder.

Instant social and ethical dilemma. To nag, or not to nag. Because there is no direct or indirect way to tell an inveterate seat-belt ignorer that he needs to wear his seat belt. And I really did not want to hitch hike the rest of the way to our parents house. My brother reached his fortieth birthday on the coattails of triple bypass surgery, and if open-heart surgery did not alter his risk-taking behavior, no pathetic nagging on my part would make an impression. On the other hand, were we to be in an accident and he were hurt, my technical innocence would not have assuaged my conscience. I could not honestly have said, I did everything I could do.

The stereo kicked in just then. I knew I would not recognize the music, that it would be something breathtakingly eclectic, and I was right. Tom Waits performing a repetitive tone poem/song by Daniel Johnston about King Kong. The lyrics were a Freudian book jacket summary of the old black and white movie. The music undulating and rhythmic. I admit I was intrigued, and I used it as an excuse to drop the unlifted subject of traffic safety.

It was a twenty minute ride to our parent’s house where my wife and children, and my other brothers and their wives and children would be noshing on low-carb snacks and soda in preparation for dinner. My brother shifted into high gear on the perimeter highway, and I brought my laptop out of the bag to collect some sample GPS data. I tapped the keyboard along with King Kong, though it was tricky to get the touch pad mouse to behave in the Alchemy Car. It seemed to take every pothole and bump as a personal insult. I had to hold my hand quite steady as we rattled along, the sub woofer growling the suffering of a misunderstood monster.

The computer responded slowly. I cannot imagine why a machine that sends binary electric messages at nearly the speed of light can be so slow, but, wait, that’s a lie. I am a computer programmer, and so I know exactly it can be slow, and it is not the machine’s fault. While I waited, I chatted with my brother, mostly about his writing and theatre projects/plans. We spoke with the peculiar, restrained intimacy of brothers who see each other once a year with only ancient history and mutual admiration and affection in common. His theatre plans, and some of his life choices, are not ardently supported by every member of the family (there, was that politic enough?), so perhaps I pushed the limit of my own business, or at least what he might comfortably answer. But I can still share secrets with my brothers, no matter how lacking in embarrassing or revealing or scandalous tidbits.

“Oh, no,” I said, interrupting his story in the middle.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing! I’m fine! Just fine!,” I said, emphasizing the word fine for affect. “Except my computer is frozen is all.” I clicked mouse buttons, the Escape key, Control-Alt-Delete, and eventually the Power button. We took a sharp curve. Without looking my hand instinctively reached for the handle above the window and scraped the steel alloy struts of the convertible roof. I swore, mildly – I am a parent of preschoolers – and the computer started up again, displaying the Windows logo in white pixels against a black background and lighting the interior of the car in a flickering, metallic glare. Then the computer swore back at me, beeped, and a single sentence appeared.

“Oh damn!”

“You OK?”


I cold booted but the same thing happened.


“What’s the problem?”

“Do you have any idea what ‘Primary hard drive 0 not found.’ means?”

“Is that bad?”

“I can’t even get to the boot option screen.”

To his credit, my younger brother, who happens to be my the chief technology officer of the company owned by my oldest brother, did not immediately offer me technical advice or ask if I had a backup. It is entirely possible he had no advice to give or experience to share, but this has never stopped anyone in my family in the past.

This was December 24th. My wife and I had loaded the minivan with clothes, toiletries, nut-free organic food, games, books, gifts, and children for its maiden cross country voyage. Two thousand miles down the East Coast in three days for my father’s 80th birthday party. In order to justify the driving, I planned to work remotely from Atlanta for a week with my laptop computer. Unfortunately, I had not made a backup for two weeks. And there were deadlines looming.

I woke my boss up on Christmas morning to tell him. My family did not think this was a brilliant career move, and to be honest, I had not expected him to be sleeping at the hour I called, even accounting for the three hour time zone difference, but he took it in stride. We’ve known each other a long time and leaned on each other more than once. Like every member of my family had already done in the previous 24 hours, he went through a trouble shooting list of options, though unlike my family, he knew what this error meant and what could and could not be done about it. And in fact, nothing could be done. The drive was dead and had only two possible future vocation in desk art or toxic waste. And even though my boss sent me a brand new laptop computer overnight with all my work software preloaded, it would be weeks before I was able to retrieve any of my personal files from various backups.


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