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Agony and the Apple

Why I want to write with a quill pen

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Two weeks ago, my 2-year-old laptop died. I'm not talking partial disablement. I'm talking death and loss of every bit of data on it. After endless bouts with viruses and worms and spyware, despite the installation of every safeguard available, the expensive machine's hard drive, DVD drive and phone modem all stopped working, apparently on account of old age ... at 2!

If you've had one of those "oh shit" moments when your computer -- the one you've been lazy about backing up -- dies, you will understand why I immediately recalled a particular moment from my adolescence.

When I was a teenager, my mother got it into her mind that she should learn how to sew. She got a portable sewing machine and set it up in a spare bedroom. I could soon tell if Mama was sewing the moment I walked through the door after school. That's how loud her cursing was. Imagine the cast of The Exorcist in rehearsal.

Eventually, there came a climactic moment. I was in the den, watching television while Mama noisily attempted to subdue the demonic machine. Suddenly, I heard her stomping out of the exorcism chamber. She strode to the basement door with the shiny black and gold demon in her hands and threw it down the stairs. She came in the den, lit a cigarette and picked up a book. She never sewed again.

That's what I felt like doing when my Toshiba laptop died. I wanted to throw it out the window, screaming. That night, in fact, I had a dream in which I destroyed every piece of computer equipment in my house and happily sat down to write on the portable manual typewriter I used as a teenager.

Instead, of course, I took the laptop to be repaired, but the cost was high enough that I decided it was time to make an overdue transition to an Apple PowerBook. My reasons are the usual. Macs are much less vulnerable to viruses and spyware, since most of those are developed to attack machines with Windows operating systems. It would be impossible to overstate how miserable these electronic germs have made my life.

Further, the life expectancy of Macs is reportedly higher than that of Windows-operated machines. And of course, there's the matter of style. Although my Toshiba laptop, with its 17-inch screen, was a gorgeous machine that provoked constant commentary wherever I used it, the PowerBook's titanium facade is haute couture. All of that, plus a bit of a snob factor among users, comes with a price -- a high price, compared to that of other brands.

Another incentive for making the change was the reputation Apple has for better customer service. Customer service people in India literally crashed my HP desktop twice. In one case, when I asked the name of the woman who wiped out my hard drive, she replied, "My name, it is ... it is Britney Spears." Then she hung up and apparently destroyed any record of my service call.

Alas, buying a Mac online, despite the site's No. 1 rating with shoppers, turned out to be no more pleasant than listening to script-readers in New Delhi. Despite a promise that my order would be shipped within 24 hours, it was not even processed within five days. I talked to at least seven customer service people during that time, including two who hung up on me.At one point, my call was routed to a young battle-ax named Leanne, whose job apparently is to intimidate uppity customers by mocking them and making them feel stupid. She gave me impatient, nonsensical explanations for why my order had not "dropped" into the processing system. She even resorted to theology. My order was in limbo, like a dead child, so that it could neither be shipped nor canceled. When I pointedly explained to her why she wasn't making sense, she hung up on me.

Finally, after five or six days, I talked to someone who officiously explained that my order had not "dropped" into the processing system because the salesperson had not recorded my payment information. "This order will never be shipped. You will have to start over," she explained. I thanked her profusely for finally solving the mystery.

I then went to another site, www.smalldog.com, where I bought a better model PowerBook without difficulty. I immediately received shipping information.

I bet you can guess the outcome. The next day, I received an e-mail from Apple announcing that my original order had shipped and my credit card had been charged. Yes, that's right. I bought two PowerBooks. When I called Apple to explain the situation, the clerk treated me courteously and gave me instructions for returning the computer. She even offered to let me talk to someone who could explain how all of it happened. I told her I'd rather be set on fire than hear the explanation.

I've had another dream since. In this one, I wore a beret and sat in front of a Paris cafe, writing with a quill pen. I stopped to eat an apple, frowned and threw it across the street. We'll see.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.

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