The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Crazy Nina

(For those of you following the saga, my home computer is still not functioning. Still, I felt that I owed you all a new blog entry.)

I should have known that I was going to have a problem with Crazy Nina when she showed up on the first day of class in a tube top, stiletto heels, and clutching a six-pack of Red Bull. Since it was an 8:00am class, I kind of understood the Red Bull, but she looked horribly uncomfortable in her clothes. She was wearing makeup that looked like it had been applied the night before and slept in—the eyeliner half-moons under her eyes made her look like a morphine addict.

Crazy Nina’s past academic history is kind of sketchy. She purports to have only gone to high school “for two months,” after which she (apparently) dropped out until she decided she wanted to attend college. Somehow she got a GED and got accepted here at Very Serious University (who will accept anyone whose knuckles don’t drag on the ground when they walk).

At the beginning of every class, we have freewriting. Freewriting is pretty much what it sounds like—you write for ten minutes about anything you want to. Afterwards, if you want to, you can read your freewriting aloud and the class discusses it.

Crazy Nina writes every freewriting about George W. Bush and the things she’d like to do to him. These involve torture, execution, and public humiliation (always with lots of obscenities). I am astounded that Homeland Security or the Secret Service haven’t yet swarmed into the classroom to take Crazy Nina to a maximum security prison.

Crazy Nina also manages to work Bush into every essay she writes for class, no matter how far the stretch. In her essay on King Lear, Crazy Nina insisted that King Lear was really supposed to be Bush. I couldn’t seem to explain to her that Shakespeare, not being Doctor Who, couldn’t have any knowledge of Bush and his actions. Her paper on Bleak House was equally bizarre, in which she argued that the character of Mr. Krook (a lawyer) was really a simulacrum of Bush. She was especially fond of the scene in which Krook/Bush spontaneously combusts.

Three weeks ago, Crazy Nina approached me and told me that she was going to Georgia for a few days and would have to miss class. I made the mistake of asking her what she was planning to do in Georgia, and she explained to me that she was going to meet an “online friend” in person for the first time. This “friend” was allegedly named Dee Dee and was 39 years old. Crazy Nina is 17 and refers to Dee Dee as her “best friend.” They’ve known each other in cyberspace for only two months.

That should have set off a warning signal, but no.

A week passed and I got an e-mail from Crazy Nina, telling me that she was having such a good time in Georgia with Dee Dee that she decided to stay an extra few days. She then asked me if I could e-mail her the lecture that she had missed. Kind of miffed, I wrote back and said that if I were able to do that, nobody would have to come to class and I could just stay home in my bathrobe e-mailing the lecture to everyone.

Another week passed and there was no sign of Crazy Nina. Everyone began to become concerned.

The following evening, I got a phone call from Crazy Nina. I could hear the sound of traffic in the background.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I think I’m somewhere in Virginia.”

“What happened?”

She then told me a long confusing story about how she and Dee Dee had gotten into a terrible fight, causing Dee Dee to rip Crazy Nina’s windshield wipers off her car. She also threw her out of the house. The problem with all of this was that Dee Dee was supposed to give her money for gas for the way home and now that they’d had a fight, she wouldn’t.

“How much money do you have?” I asked, concerned.

“Five dollars,” said Crazy Nina.

“You’re never going to make it to New Jersey on five dollars,” I said.

“Oh, my car is very good on gas,” she said.

Of course, I knew that wouldn’t happen and she’d be stranded. She then told me that she was stopping at every truck stop on the highway in order to beg people for money for food and gas. I told her that this was highly dangerous, and she didn’t care.

“Can’t you call your parents?” I asked.

“That’s not really an option,” she said.

She explained that she lived with her father, but because she knew he would never allow her to drive all the way to Georgia to visit a complete stranger, she had lied to him and told him that she was visiting her aunt—his own sister. When Crazy Nina didn’t come home on the day she had told her father she was coming home, he got concerned and called his sister. The sister, of course, had no idea where Crazy Nina was and then they both got really scared.

Her father then began calling Crazy Nina’s cell phone. Crazy Nina saw that it was her father calling, didn’t want to deal with the inevitable questions, and let all the calls go to voice mail. Now horribly worried, her father called both the police and the F.B.I.

This really alarmed Crazy Nina, not because she was now a fugitive (more or less) but because she doesn’t have a driver’s license. I tried to convince her to call her father anyway, to at least ease the man’s mind, but she wouldn’t hear of it. At this point, a truck cut her off, she cursed loudly, and we got disconnected.

All I could think of was the F.B.I. finding Crazy Nina’s body on the side of the interstate, hacked into pieces. They would examine her cell phone and see that the last call she had made had been to me, and I would suddenly become deeply involved in federal crime.

Several more days went by with no sign of Crazy Nina. By this time she had missed four classes.

Three nights ago at around 12:30am, I was sound asleep and was vaguely aware of the telephone ringing. A few moments later, BeowulfDad staggered into my room, angrily telling me that a student was on the phone for me.

“Hello?” I asked, bleerily.

“Hi! It’s Nina!” I could hear wind blowing and cars in the distance.

“Um…it’s 12:30,” I babbled.

“Yeah, well, I need a favor.”

I couldn’t believe this. “What?”

“I’m in Maryland and I’m completely out of money. I can’t get the truckers to give me any. Can you send me some?”

I blinked in confusion. “What?”

“Can you send me some money?”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “Why don’t you just call your father?”

“He’d be mad,” she said.

I’m mad!” I said, and hung up.

Two days later, I had an important visitor to class. I was due to be evaluated (it happens every two years) and I had to be in top form. Things were going fine until about fifteen minutes into class when the door literally banged open and Crazy Nina came striding in, wielding her essay, which had been due the previous week when she was doing her Jack Kerouac impersonation.

She marched right up to me, oblivious, and said: “Here’s my f*****g essay.”

The class gasped. The observer began writing furiously.

“Nina, sit down,” I said, through clenched teeth.

We then started the exercise, which was something I like to call “Fantasy Mail.” Basically, you write a letter to someone or some thing that you really wish you could send, but can’t. People usually get very creative. Most guys write to their cars or their favorite athletes. Most girls write to their hair, clothes, or boyfriends.

Crazy Nina wrote to her mother, from whom she is estranged. It started off mildly, but as she read aloud it became more and more bizarre and filled with expletives. It got to the point where, literally, every other word was some cognate of the f-word. Along with other things that I didn’t need to know, I found out that Crazy Nina’s mother had put Crazy Nina into rehab when she was just fourteen. I have no idea why.

I wrapped up the class, pretty certain I was going to be fired.

Last night, the observer called me at home for my conference. I was stunned to find out that she had actually loved the class and felt I related well to my students. I apologized profusely for Crazy Nina, and she said not to worry about it and that she had had her share of insane students as well.

I have nine more weeks to deal with Crazy Nina. I have the feeling I’m going to wind up in rehab as well.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Talk Tech To Me

At Christmas of 2003, the BeowulfParents attempted to get me out of my severe depression by bribing me with high end electronics. They bought me a state-of-the-art computer system, which I loved and adored. At the time, I also switched my Internet Provider, and because I live out in the sticks, I was unable to get DSL.

This changed a few weeks ago when Verizon sent me a mailing saying they now had DSL available in my area. Thoroughly pumped, I called them up and ordered it.

And the nightmare began.

On Friday, as appointed, a tech from Verizon named Frank showed up at my house to install my DSL. Frank was a young, happy-go-lucky fat guy with a small moustache and a crew cut. He brought an impressive array of tools in with him and headed for my basement.

Once there, Frank messed with the phone jack, ran some wires and lines, did something with the phone box, went outside and crawled under the house, and generally wired the hell out of the basement. Because BeowulfMom doesn’t trust anyone, she made BeowulfDad follow him around, thinking that he would try to steal something.

Finally, it was time for Frank to install the Verizon software. I was mere seconds away from having the DSL of my dreams. I went down to my office with Frank to watch (and to make sure he didn’t stuff any of my things into his pants).

Frank installed the software, and the computer cheerfully told him it was time to reboot. So, we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The problem seemed to be that the computer was permanantly stuck on the opening screen for Windows ME. I didn’t even get to the icon screen. It just froze there, drives whirring and gears grinding. Frank began to look nervous.

We turned everything off and turned it back on again. Nothing.

We unplugged everything and tried that. Nothing.

Nervously, Frank got out his cell phone and called Verizon. He got on with someone named Gary and described what was happening. Gary didn’t seem to know anything, but he told Frank that it sounded like a “computer problem” and not a “Verizon problem.”

Relieved that he seemed to be off the hook, Frank hung up and told me to call the manufacturer, which was Compaq. I had no idea what Compaq's number was—up until six months ago, the computer had been on warranty, and whenever I needed repairs I just took it back to Radio Shack where I had bought it.

I got out the phone book and looked up Radio Shack’s number. When I got them, I asked for the tech support number for Compaq. They told me it was 1-800-GO-COMPAQ.

I dialed as Frank watched. There were several clicks and tones. Finally, a sultry pre-recorded female voice said: “Do you want to talk to me? If so, please enter your credit card number.”

Horrified, I slammed the phone down. I called Radio Shack back.

“Um, hello? That number you just gave me for Compaq tech support? Yeah, that. It’s phone sex.”

“What?” they asked, horrified.

“It’s phone sex,” I said again.

There were several moments of laughing (though not by me) and they finally dug around in their paperwork and told me that the correct number was 1-800-OK-COMPAQ. Fine.

I called the number and got an electronic menu (what a shock). It asked me to state the name of my product. “Compaq Presario 5000,” I said, confidently.

I was then cheerfully informed by the robot voice: “We’re sorry, but Compaq no longer offers technical support for that product.” CLICK.

I just stared at the phone. Frank backed wisely away.

I called Radio Shack for a third time and told them what had happened. The girl I spoke to, named Brenda, said that she had no idea how to help me, but there was, apparently, a guy who worked there named Matt who “fixed computers on the side.” Great. Matt was due to be in at 1:30. It was 1:15 at the time.

I hung up kind of helplessly. Frank said, “I know…why don’t you call Geek Squad?”

Well, why not? I got their number from Information and called them. After navigating their electronic menu (which was horrifying) I finally got hooked up with a nice British lady who asked me a ton of questions and typed furiously. I kept asking repeatedly, “how much is this going to cost me?” and she kept finding ways to avoid the question.

Finally she said, a little hesitantly, that to have a Geek Squad tech come to the house and diagnose the problem, it would cost me two hundred and fifty dollars. And that’s just to diagnose the problem. If I needed any actual work done (which I clearly would), it would be even more.

“I don’t have that kind of money,” I said, and hung up.

By this time it was 1:30, when the mysterious Matt was due to show up at Radio Shack. I called back and asked to speak with him. He was a very soft-spoken man with an accent I couldn’t quite place. I told him who I was and what had happened to my computer. He didn’t seem to understand why I was calling him. When I told him that Brenda had told me that he “fixes computers on the side,” he got very upset and told me that she had no right to give out that information.

Once I had calmed him down, I explained what had happened and that Geek Squad wanted two hundred and fifty dollars. Matt got uppity and said that he charges even more. Thoroughly disgusted, I hung up.

Frank, who had been watching all this, decided to call a friend of his named Tony who “knew all about these things.” I was patient while he dialed. He explained my problem to Tony and said: “Really? That’s all?” He then looked at me. “I don’t suppose you have the Recovery disk that came with this computer?”

Of course I did. I save everything. I dug it out of my desk and handed it to him. He loaded it and we looked at the screen. Tony (who was still on the phone) tried to talk us through it, but we couldn’t see a single option that wouldn’t erase everything on my hard drive and restore it to the factory presets.

“Look, Frank,” I said, nervously. “I’m an English professor and a writer. I have about fifty short stories and three novels on that thing. I can’t lose them. I have no hard copies.” Frank relayed all this to Tony, who then had a brainstorm.

According to Tony, since the problem had occurred directly after the installation of the Verizon software, it was entirely possible that the software had maxed out my memory and thus wouldn’t load Windows properly. I agreed that this was possible, since I have five years worth of crap on there, including several enormous programs. Frank asked Tony what I should do, and Tony recommended going to Best Buy and purchasing more memory.

I called Best Buy and spoke to a guy named Brian in the computers department. I told him my problem and what Tony had said. Brian agreed with Tony and said to bring my computer in and he’d hook me up.

Frank left. He was now two hours late for his second customer. I felt bad.

The following day, BeowulfDad and I unhooked the computer tower and loaded it into the car and headed off to Best Buy. I was very optimistic—soon I’d have my memory upgrade (which was only supposed to cost forty bucks) and my beloved DSL. I schlepped the computer to the computers department and asked for Brian. He wasn’t working, but another sales associate said he could help me.

He couldn’t find the model number on my computer. “Do me a favor,” he said. “Go over to the Geek Squad window and ask them for the model number.” (I was still kind of annoyed at Geek Squad, but since they seemed to have the answers, I thought I’d have to deal with them.)

I dumped the computer on the Geek Squad counter and asked the designated geek what the model number was. He just blinked at me. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.

I told him that I was in for a memory upgrade. The geek looked dubious and plugged the computer into a monitor. The hated Windows ME screen glowed ominously. The geek shook his head and said, “this isn’t a memory problem, it’s a mechanical problem. Who told you it was a memory problem?”

“Brian,” I said.

“Well, he’s an idiot. You need to reinstall Windows ME, which they don’t even make anymore, and erase your hard drive.”

I just blinked at him. “Um…that can’t happen,” I said. I was very close to freaking out.

“We can try to recover your data,” he said, not sounding as if he believed it.

“And how much is all this going to cost me?” I asked, gritting my teeth.

“About four hundred dollars. Provided you don’t need any parts.”

That was it. I freaked out. “I don’t have four hundred dollars,” I said, “can’t you just uninstall the Verizon software? Everything was fine before he installed it. I know that’s what the problem is!”

“It’ll be about four hundred dollars,” said the geek.

“Well,” I said, drolly, “isn’t that just fucking fantastic?” And I grabbed the computer and hauled ass out of there.

Back in the car, BeowulfDad kept muttering about how he always thought the whole DSL thing was a bad idea and how he just knew I was going to mess it up. We argued and bickered our way down the highway. I decided, just for kicks, to go to Radio Shack. Even if I was no longer under warranty, they might still agree to fix it, hopefully for less than four hundred dollars.

When I got there, a strange, ancient foreign man took all of my information and the rest of the sales associates had a good laugh at how old my computer was. The ancient salesman told me (in an almost indecipherable accent) that it would be fixed in “four to six weeks.”

I almost had a heart attack. “No,” I said, “absolutely not. I need it this week. I’m a professor and a writer. I have to have access to a computer.”

“Sorry, four to six weeks,” he muttered.

“And do you have any idea how much it would cost?” I asked, through clenched teeth.
“No,” he said. “They’ll call you with an estimate.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” I muttered.

“Oh, and you’ll have to go to the UPS store, buy a box and some Styrofoam, pack up the computer and pay for shipping,” said the man. “Both ways.”

This was too much for BeowulfDad. “Forget it,” he said, disgusted, and picked up the computer and marched out.

We went home. I was almost in tears. (In the meantime, I’m being billed by Verizon for the DSL service I’m not using yet.) I looked in the yellow pages for computer repair people, but as it was now the weekend, no one was open.

It wasn't until today, in the middle of lecture, that I realized that I know a few people in the Computer Science department. Hopefully, one of them will be able to diagnose and fix the problem--I'd much rather pay them than some guy I don't even know.

The upshot of all this is...God only knows when I'll be able to make another blog entry. I'll try to get them in during the times I'm here at Very Serious University, but I can't promise anything fantastic.

Pray for me.