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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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"they wouldn't know what to do"
february 22, 2003

Things have been breaking again.

This time, the breakage started with my work printer, one of those old HP machines big as a baby elephant.

The printer is probably from the mid-nineties, but never gave me any trouble. Then suddenly, in the middle of my work day, it let out one of those I'm Shutting Myself Down sighs.

I checked the modest gray status screen near its top.

Paper Jam.

I pulled out the offending sheet, black print skidded to the right across it, slapped the door back up, hit print again.

Paper Jam.

A corner of the top right of the sheet had ripped off, staying in the mechanism. Squatting in front of the HP, I reached way up inside, questing blindly with my fingertips for the offending triangle of paper, touched it, grasped it, yanked it out.

Hit print.

Paper Jam.

So there I am, on my knees in front of this big thing, all its side doors and back doors flapped open, its heavy front lifted like a dinosaur's jaw, squinting within at the boring gray angles and planes, and there is absolutely no paper jammed inside, but I still get the same error message.

Working from home is grand, and I wouldn't want to be back in an office, but when you do work at home, you generally don't have the technical support you'd get at a facility. If I need a printer fixed, I can't call the guy down the hall. I can only call myself. I have some technical knowledge of printers-- I know how to load paper into the tray, for example, much like I know how to get gasoline into a car-- but I don't know how to convince a printer it really isn't jammed.

So the printer is still "jammed" at this point.

The next morning, I plugged the hair blower in, heard a pop behind the wall socket.

Flipped the blower's switch on.

Paper Jam.

"Is the socket on your side working?"

Mary plugged her curling iron in, looked at the unlit glass bead on its handle. "No."

Shit. We had a busy week, so there wasn't time to call an electrician. We used other sockets.

That evening, I went out to the spare refrigerator we have in the garage, pulled out a six pack of Spaten Optimator, uncapped two bottles in the kitchen, handed one to Mary.

We lowered the bottles from our lips with the same look. The beer wasn't cold.

The blow-out apparently also frazzled the sockets in the garage, on the same circuit.

We took everything out of the refrigerator out there, jammed it into the side-by-side in the kitchen, relieved it would fit, then, walking past the large freezer chest in the garage for the fifth time, looked at each other, raised the white lid of the freezer.

Also out.

So we took everything out of the chest, fortunately at this point, post-holiday, not much. A few pounds of shrimp, about twenty bags with one or two hamburger buns or a third of a loaf of bread inside, collecting crystals. Threw out all the buns and bread, stuffed the shrimp in the side-by-side.

Then, a week ago, we were lying in bed, watching the morning news, people burning to death in a nightclub, screaming, pounding their fists against the side exits, which the owner had chained, when we heard a loud pop outside. Everything inside the house shut down. Lights, television, ceiling fan, air conditioning. That weird, humid, you're-cut-off stillness. Drawing the curtains aside, we saw, beyond our privacy fence in back, a utility truck rumbling slowly along the country road behind our house. So they're working on something, we figured, the lights will come back up in a while.

Which they did.

But that evening, when Mary tried restarting her computer, all she got was an error message. Invalid System Disk. Replace The Disk, And Then Press Any Key.

I checked her A drive. It was empty.


I called Dell Support.

I spent the next three hours crawling around on the white carpet in Mary's room, hard phone to my hot right ear, pulling out data and power lines in the opened CPU, reconnecting them in different combinations according to what the Dell technician was telling me over the phone, trying to figure out what the problem was. After three hours, all the hardware seemed okay, though. The technician, a hardware technician, said I'd have to talk to one of Dell's software technicians to reload Windows 98, to see if that would work. Which meant Mary would lose any files she hadn't backed-up before the crash, but there didn't seem to be any way around it.

"Could a Dell technician come out to our home? It's more likely to be a hardware problem, because of the power failure."

"Oh no, sir. They don't come out to the home. They wouldn't know what to do."

"I myself have a newer computer from Dell, and it includes in-home service. Don't they know what to do in that case?"

"Oh, that's different, sir. Different story."

I could reproduce this exchange for the next three pages, but the point is, Dell would not consider sending a technician to our home, even if we were willing to pay extra for it.

So I set up an appointment to have the Dell software technician call us at ten o'clock the following morning. About ten minutes after I got off the phone, a supervisor from Dell called to confirm the appointment tomorrow morning at ten o'clock. I had been discouraged with my dealings with Dell, but the follow-up call suggested maybe they really were trying to fix this for us.

Ten o'clock the next morning, I'm sitting in Mary's work room, staring at the error message, phone beside my cup of coffee.

How many of you think the phone rang? Let's have a show of hands.

Aha! You've obviously had some dealings with Dell support yourself.

About a quarter after eleven, I called Dell back. Where was my phone call?

I got a woman this time. "We're sorry you didn't receive your call. Why don't we just reschedule your call, sir?"

"Well, if we reschedule it, will they actually call this time?"

"Of course! I'm putting through an order right now to have a Dell software technician call you immediately."

"So, like, they're going to call as soon as I hang up the phone?"

"They'll call you immediately."

It's like looking under a bandage. "So does immediately mean within the next five minutes?"

"They'll call you in about an hour sir. An hour or so. Thereabouts."

Despite myself, I start worrying about the safety of people working for Dell. What if there were a fire in one of their buildings, and everyone was told over the P.A. system to abandon the building immediately? Would they all die because they didn't leave their desks until an hour later? Or thereabouts?

But anyway, I said Sure, fine. I mean, what are you supposed to say?

So it gets to be about twelve-thirty, and still no call. I decide an hour and fifteen minutes is more than enough allowance for the 'thereabouts', and call back.

I explain the problem all over again to still another technician.

"Sir, they did nothing wrong, because they were not scheduled to call you until ten o'clock this evening, and it is not that time yet."

I'm stunned. I tell him I used the words 'ten o'clock tomorrow morning', and the technician used the same words back, and the supervisor who did the follow-up call used the same words back.

"Well I do not see that, sir. It says very clearly here ten o'clock P.M. I am looking right at it."

"When I called at eleven-fifteen to complain I hadn't received the ten o'clock call, why didn't the technician tell me then the call was scheduled for tonight, not this morning?"

"It is not a problem, sir. We can simply reschedule your call."

I'm trying to cut down somewhat on the number of people I tell to go fuck themselves, so I simply told him to forget it. I was going to buy my wife a Gateway instead.

The thing is though, when I checked the most recent survey of computer manufacturers in Consumers Reports, Gateway had a much worse reliability record than most of the manufacturers.

Who had the best record?


We've owned a number of Dell computers over the years, and never had a problem with any of them, until now. Chances are, the disk failure was related to the loss of power earlier in the day, somehow. The same issue of Consumers Reports also said public satisfaction with customer service at all the computer manufacturers was way down across the board. People were buying fewer computers these days, so all the manufacturers were cutting customer service staff, and not training staff properly.

So we bought another Dell.

As frustrated as I was with my experience with Dell technical support, the reality is they do make the most reliable pc's, and it would be stupid to ignore that and order a competitor's machine simply out of 'vengeance'.

This past Thursday, we had a local electrician come out to take care of our blown sockets. He spoke in a really, really quiet voice, so that I started looking at his uniform to see if there was a volume control knob anywhere. It took him an hour to get everything working, chewing on a toothpick the whole time, and he even had to drive in the rain to the nearest Home Depot to get a part he didn't have on his truck, but when it was over, it only cost us $158, and we had our power back.

So our faith was restored.

Mary got her teeth cleaned Wednesday.

We were half an hour early, so instead of sitting in the waiting room flipping through old People magazines, reliving all the crises in Brad and Jennifer's marriage, we drove in the rain across the rest of the strip mall, parking finally in front of a store where everything inside costs a dollar.

I find a charm in a shop that only displays goods worth a dollar, in part for that subliminal impact it has: Walking around, past rows of goods, if you didn't know this shop only sold stuff for a dollar, that fact might not occur to you right away, although you'd probably know subconsciously a particular thing was missing, making your visit slightly odd, much as it might not occur to you, until I point it out, that this paragraph lacks that most common of all building blocks of our grammar, 'e'.

It amazed us both what you could buy for a dollar. Coloring books, and I mean pretty thick coloring books, with detailed black and white sketches inside, waiting to be filled-in. Hair shampoo, for Christ's sake. The same canvas gardening gloves with green rubber dots on them for grip that elsewhere sell for five bucks. Stone bowls, and not just plain stone bowls, but ones with cupids prowing on either side. One dollar!

I bought a woven wood basket filled with sea shells from Indonesia. I would have paid a dollar for the basket itself, it was well-woven, but here I was getting three dozen shells as well, and not just clam shells and scallop shells, but also about eight large, spiral shells in which crabs carry on their back the sound of the sea, each big enough to feel heavy in my palm.

How do they make a profit? If I bought that basket full of seashells for a dollar, what did the store pay for the basket? It must have taken at least a little while to scoop all these pretty shells out of the wet Indonesian sand, then ship them somewhere, weave the basket, surround the whole presentation with shrink-wrap plastic, and put the small, gold stickum label, Made in Indonesia, on the plastic wrap bottom of the basket.

The checkout was low tech, understandably. No clerk standing away from the register, ignoring you, phone in her right hand, tilting the phone so she's making a storewide request at a flat angle into the speaker, and what's up with that flat angle, anyway? Does it have something to do with feedback? The clerk, a roly-poly jolly guy, simply counted the number of items we put on the counter, multiplied them by a dollar.

I got a phone call yesterday, Friday the 21st, from an old friend I hadn't heard from in a few years, George.

The last time I talked to him, he and his wife were planning to move to London, where she's from.

Plans change, and he's back in the states.

When he asked how things were going, I told him about Mary's stroke.

He himself is from India. He quoted an old Indian proverb: Good health is a crown only the sick see.

I mentioned a few Latelys ago I was updating our personal calendar, in which we write each day about what happened that day, and how in updating the calendar I had noticed all the coincidences associated with certain dates.

For example, we first brought our cat Elf into our home on November 30, 1990, and she died precisely one decade later, on November 30, 2000. We pawned the wedding rings from our first marriages on January 19, 1980, and were married to each other on January 19, 1981.

Here's the latest coincidence.

On August 11, 1996, our next door neighbor Jim called us to say he had found a small kitten by his home, and wanted to know if we would take it, aware of how much we like cats.

We went next door. It was a newborn, and looked weak. We took it in, named it Baby, but it died that night, in Mary's arms, while she tried to put milk in its mouth with a dropper.

The next time we got a phone call from Jim, it was to tell us another kitten had showed up on his doorstop. We went over again, took her in, naming her Lady. She's since given birth to five healthy kittens.

When did Jim call us about Lady?

August 11, 2002.

The same date, out of 365, six years later.

We've found so many date coincidences, suggesting a pattern, I urge all of you to keep a calendar of what happens each day in your life, to see if date patterns arise.

What does it all mean?

I don't have a clue.

But I suspect it means something.