Friday, January 4, 2013

How My School's Laptop Launched Itself Off the Roof of My Car

   The first time I was issued a laptop by an employer, I was an English teacher at a charter school in Marlborough, Massachusetts.  It was a STEM school (Science, Technology, Electricity and Magic).  But as someone who was not terribly fluent with the technology part, I feared my new appliance.
    I was raised to have a healthy respect for technology.  When I got my learner’s permit, my parents told me, “It’s not that you should feel PANICKED about aiming two-and-a-half-metric-tons of lethal steel toward roadways containing children. You just need to respect your power.”
   Oh, I respected my laptop and its powers. In fact, I never broke eye contact with it from the moment I depressed its ON button until it powered down.  And I remained in this heightened state of vigilance throughout all eight hours of my workday.
    It was in this altered state that I trained on an expensive grading program our school had purchased. With my sweaty fingertips poised over the keyboard’s vicinity (the trembling caused my hands to wander, mostly toward my car keys) I somehow caused the program to under-shoot my students’ grade-point-averages.
    The software started reprogramming, regurgitating, re-calibrating and re-calculating until, appearing next to 74 student-names, were digits so exponentially negative, SO infinitely “to the left” of a number-line, they created a black hole – a spinning vortex -- from which light and hopefully, my laptop, could never escape.
    Admin had to hire I.T. staff to come reconfigure my hard-drive.
    It is no wonder that, from this day forward, I cultivated a healthy animosity toward my laptop. 
    Once my school showed me the bill for my laptop’s repair, my animosity turned to a hatred so unspeakable, my conscious mind had no capacity to acknowledge it.
    What else could explain my out-of-body experience when I – without my actual awareness –placed my black-matte-finish laptop onto my vehicle’s black-matte-finish convertible top – and drove off?
   The beeping a mile up the road at a red light was disconcerting.  I wondered if there were some medical emergency or biohazard I had inadvertently stopped my car on.
   Oh, there was.
   The kindly gentleman behind all that beeping finally ran up to my driver-side window and shouted, “You left your LAPTOP on the roof of your CAR,” and several biohazards took place right there in my driver’s seat.
   This guy had followed me from the moment I exited the school’s parking lot until I went around a tight turn, where my laptop – like a tragic hero on his deathbed – quietly ‘slipped away.’
   When I returned to school the next day, I was so jealous of my other colleagues. 
   Not the ones whose laptops rested safely in their actual laps.  
   The other colleagues. The ones who were lucky enough to have their laptops stolen.
    Our charter school in its start-up year was forced to trim costs, so they did not purchase much insurance for things like… teachers or their laptops.
   Anyone who lost their laptop simply never got another one.  It was much the way many of us were raised as children. You lost the ice cream off the top of your cone and that was that.  No feel-good-replacement scoops for us.  It was the Firm Hand approach.
   Our school’s hand was so firm, it made teachers who lost their laptops – through larceny at gunpoint or in my case, an Act of God – have to log onto giant, coal-fired communal desktops down in the teachers’ lounge.  The kind that, even IF you had a forklift to lower one onto the top of your car, you’d never drive off with it up there, due to the telltale crushed car underneath.
   Just when I was getting comfortable with the idea of logging in and out of my own computerized colossus (I fantasized about sitting by a steam-punk tower taller than the one that leans in Pisa today) my principal sashayed into my classroom, bearing my black-matte laptop.
   “Oh shit,” mouthed my lips.
   “Sorry, Carolyn, what was that?”
   “That’s IT,” I gushed. “Where did you FIND it?”
   “Someone from the industrial complex next-door saw it on the side of the road.  They brought it right over today.”
   “How on EARTH did they know it belonged to someone at our school?”
   “The bumper sticker you defiled it with, Carolyn.  The one with your sons' band's name.  Bang Camaro.  Everyone knows you’re its mother.”
   This would not be the first time that little 24-man band would act as a bellwether foretelling my downfall.  Meanwhile, down that laptop did fall, evidenced by the wiggly hinge on one side.
   “Robert, does it even WORK?”
   “Oh, we had I.T. check it out.  It’s working great.  We were even hoping you’d send an email to the DELL Corporation, about how rugged their product is!  We’re thinking they might offer us a discounted insurance plan.  Just for you.”
   “Aw, you guys think of EVERYTHING.”
   “Just be careful with that hinge.  See how it’s wobbly and bent?  You want to be extra careful not to bang or – God forbid – DROP it, because if that hinge snaps in two, the razor-sharp edges will sever the wires right behind it, and that disconnects it permanently from the motherboard.”
    “Meaning what?”
    “Meaning you’ll have a matte-finish black paperweight.”
    “No kidding... ”
    “By the way, we have a fire drill in three minutes.  And, congratulations!  I’m sure you missed your technology.”  He handed over my laptop and, like that.  He was gone.
    So many thoughts raced through my mind, I could hardly track of any of them. 
   But I was a professionally-licensed educator and with a fire drill on tap, there was no time for racing thoughts.  Robert had said seconds earlier that in three minutes--WHOOOP WHOOOP!  WEEEE-ew WEEEE-ew!  OOO….WAAAAA-rat-a-tat-tat;  OOO…WAAAAA-rat-a-tat-tat;   Ahhhh-OOOOOOOOOOOOO-Ga!
   Two minutes and forty seconds early.
   I was NOT prepared.
   I was still cradling Lucinda, My Recovered Laptop when – oh no. 
   It all happened so fast.
   Make that slow.  Like a car crash when everything moves in slow-motion.
   My arms lurched from the screech of that Fire Alarm, amplified through surround-sound speakers located six inches from where I stood – and there in mid-air, spinning like a Ninja, was Lucinda – off to Infinity and Beyond – twisting and spiraling ever onward, torquing like a broken dancer then –

   She crash-landed. 
   Right on that broken hinge.
   It took such a direct hit, Lucinda seemed to spring back upright from that triangular point-of-impact, as though the hinge were a pogo stick.
   She spun ‘round four more times before landing, once again, on that broken hinge.  Finally, she collapsed, exhausted, into a pile of her own hinge-dust. 

   That hinge snapped directly in two, just as Robert predicted.
   After the fire drill was over, I visited I.T., pointing to Lucinda’s now two-piece hinge.
    “It just sort of … DID this.”

   I helpfully pointed out that, probably, the hinge was ‘ready to go.’ 
   And, poof.  Like that!
   Lucinda got duct-taped so those razor-sharp edges came NO WHERE NEAR the motherboard wire. 
   That is because she was duct-taped directly to the Top of my Teacher Desk up in Room 301 where she remained, immobilized, for fifteen more months, until I looped up with my students and moved to a different building.
   The moral of the story is… be careful what you wish for. 
   None of this would have happened if I had not broken a sacred teacher-commandment and coveted my neighbors’ communal – and permanently mounted to the teachers’ lounge – computers.  The kind bolted down by their own heft to metallic desk units.
   My school’s thoughtful I.T. department fashioned for me my very own.
   Oh, by the way, I did write to DELL.  It turned out that, no matter how many emotional epistles I sent to them, lauding their use of alien technology with a patented hybrid of rubberized-titanium and kryptonite, they never offered my school an insurance discount. 
   I had to get that at an entirely different STEM school a few years later, after the first one could no longer afford the expansion-pack of I.T. staff for my appliance misadventures. 
   My next school was pretty solutions-oriented.  Their "insurance plan" was a student intern named Stefanie. She completed her I.T. Practicum on me and my various issues until she graduated, with honors. 
   Ahhh, that school put the M back in Science, Technology, Electricity and Magic.  I mean LOOK at me, using magic to blog!

   Thank You, Charter STEM Schools Everywhere! Emoticon Hearts to You ALL! <3 <3 <3  <3  <3  <3  <3  <3  <3  <3