Saturday, January 3, 2009

Metastatic Carnage: Another Meatspace Adventure - Part I

Metastasis: v.

1. Sometimes abbreviated mets, is the spread of a disease from one organ or part to another non-adjacent organ or part.

Carnage: n.

1. Massive slaughter, as in war; a massacre.
2. Corpses, especially of those killed in battle.

The phone rings and I'm still in bed. I check my cell, 7:58 ante meridian.

Why the fuck is someone calling at such a god forsaken hour?

I don't make it to my office in time, clicking 'talk' brings nothing but dial tone. The voice mail from this untimely wake up call is nothing but voice spam.

It's in Spanish. That's new. Fucking cell numbers just went public recently and we all have to suffer the wardialers.

More importantly there's a message from the boss, left the night before.

"Hey man, call me when you can. I need you to take care of something for me."

Crap. Anything from the boss phrased just so usually means a gruesome task lies before me. I'd rather club a baby seal with a sack full of kittens than 'take care' of whatever hellish misery demands my attention. I call back, the boss isn't up yet.

Motherfuckin' mondays.

Remote work until noon. That means sitting in my chair, staring at my dual LCD monitors answering questions better handled by an irate chimp. Here's a few gems from that morning.

Client1: My password isn't working and we can't login to the server.
Me: Ok, what's the password supposed to be.
Client1: ********
Me: Ok you typed it in wrong.
Client1: No I typed in exactly that and it DID NOT WORK.
Me: (wanting to say that computers don't bullshit around and there's no way in hell you typed it in correctly or it WOULD be working right now) Maybe there was a glitch in the keyboard or something.

Client2: I can't get to my webmail.
Me: K, how long has it been going on and all that...
Client2: Oh it just started today.
Me: All the computers at the office are showing up online, can you get onto the internet?
Client2: What do you mean?
Me: I mean, if you double click on IE or Firefox does anything come up?
Client2: Well no, it just says 'Page cannot be displayed'
Me: OK, You might want to check that the ethernet cable is plugged in and restart the computer...
Client2: There's nowhere to plug it in. Oh I am in a hotel by the way.
Me: Oh. Well in that case you might want to ask someone there about getting onto their wireless network so...
Client2: I don't have wireless on my laptop.
Me: OK. Well you'll need internet access to check your webmail.
Client2: No I have a shortcut! Shouldn't that connect me even when I am offline?
Me: (christ)

Oh and the best by far.

Client3: My CD's keep falling out of my computer.
Me: Hmmn. Are they sliding out or just not showing up when you try to read them?
Client3: No they keep falling out when I open or close the drive and I really need to update (my software) today.
Me: I'm not sure I understand how the CDs are falling out. Is your tower at an angle or something?
Client3: Well I didn't like the fan blowing on my leg so I moved the computer and now all the CDs fall out.
Me: Did you turn your computer upside down?
Client3: Oh. Am I gonna get billed for this?

Such is my life.

Despite the inerrant intellectual fortitude of my computer illiterate flock the day goes somewhat smoothly at first. Then the boss calls back. We get to have an Interesting Conversation. This time when he calls I am ready.

"We have a problem with your Favorite Client," he says. There are only two possibilities. Both would make a three-headed fire breathing jackal seem cuddly.

I ask which archtypal villain I am to be pitted against, the Hydra or Medusa.

"It's the Hydra," he tells me. "We sent someone out last week to take a look at some printing issues but he only had 20 minutes before he had to leave. I think he was taking someone to the airport."

"I remotely resolved some printing issues for the Hydra last week," I protest. I should know better. You cut off a head and at least two more sprout up.

"It's a multifunction printer and the scanning component isn't working now," he tells me. "I really need someone to take care of it." A whisper of static highlights the unsaid command.

"Meaning you want me to do it?"

"Be there at 2pm."

Hell and damnation! It's an hour and a half to Greensboro on a good day. Things are looking slipshod and rusty right about now. I plan the trip and inform (my coworker) that he'll have the joy of covering for me in the post meridian part of the workday.

Noon rolls around and I am three seconds from being out the door. I've already thrown up an away message when the phone rings yet again. There's a half second delay before the caller ID kicks in and like an asshole I grab the phone during that briefest of intervals.

"This is Nick"

"Hi there, Sssssssssson." Oh fuck. It's Medusa and yes she sounds like a snake talking through a leaking steam valve.

"Hi you evil old cheap ass witch of a demon-fucker," I say cheerfully. "I bet you're calling because you want me to bring another sack of baby skulls by your office because you're sure to have run out since Friday when I last stopped by."

I paraphrased that part just now.

"You remember that issue we talked about last week?"

What the computer that I gutted and reloaded for you that took forever and a day for you to authorize and then you demanded it be brought back before the parts had even been shipped to me that took two freaking hours to set up because you didn't have all the CD's? The one that had a hard drive with a barely audible operating noise that you considered 'terrible and grating?'

"I remember," I tell her.

"Well your boss said that you would take care of it for me today. I just wanted to find out when we get to see you."

Visions of machetes, staple guns and blow torches flashed through my head. Lucky for me the Medusa was only 15 minutes away from the lair of the Hydra.

"I have another job in the area at 2pm. I'll stop by after I get done," I tell her. I neglect to add 'you crusty old windbag' though the urge strikes hot.

Great, the day is shaping up to be just fluffy.

My tiny little civic shoulders the requisite burdens of cables and parts. I have to move the gun out of my trunk to slide in my giant plastic bin of PC parts. Natalie wouldn't have me leave the weapon at home so I tuck it back in, resting against a tangle of Cat5e and technological miscellanea.

Lunch and the drive up pass by without incident. As I left I only had 4 pieces of nicotine gum but surely for such a routine trip this would be plenty. . .

Would you be reading this if the day had gone smoothly?

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

I was thinking of the Light Brigade as I made my grim approach to the Lair of the Hydra. Here walked me, a solitary seraphim charging into the blackest battlefields of hell armed with naught but spitballs and a spork.

Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:

Ten full minutes pass before anyone will even talk to me. That might not sound like much but when you're wearing a dorky yellow work polo shirt standing in front of a room full of patients it is an eternity or three. Finally I am admitted and come face to face with the nine-headed dragon herself.

(Note that I had never actually met this woman until that very moment. Her reputation was earned solely through verbal beatings over the phone and the occasionally scathing email.)

The problem: Printer will not print despite being fixed last week and scanner part will not scan. The Hydra hands me the driver disk and vanishes, leaving me alone in an alcove with a derelict multifunction printer.

No sweat right, easiest job in the world, just pop in the cd to install the software . . .

I blink hard as I reach out to put the Cd in it's intended receptacle. There are words written on the disk, words like the printer model and supported operating systems. The model number is a match but this is 2008 and the fucking disk does not say XP/Vista it says Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows N.T. 4.0 on it.

This is going to end poorly.

Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Despite assurances that the printer would work with XP I cannot even get a test page to print. Forget about the scanning software, I don't even make a scratch in that particular issue. What I do get, after reinstalling the drivers and doing a few hard resets is half of a test page covered in flecks of black crap that have no business being there.

At first I shake the stuff off and try again to the same effect. A few inches down the test page cuts off entirely and these flecks of shit pop out on the paper.

I investigate by prying open the printer. There's a ribbed belt running right to the carriage. It's flat and thin like tape but it's ridged like a belt you'd find wrapped around a tensioner on an engine block. Some parts are shiny. I reach out and gently run my finger over the belt. Half an inch of the 'tread' flakes off as I do.

Sweet creeping Vishnu I couldn't wipe a booger off with that little force. Problem solved: mechanical failure due to the printer in question being older than Methuselah's dirty ball sack.

I keep trying to get the scanner software worked out but it just isn't happening. Even trying through MS Paint or the Scanner and Camera Wizard gets me zilch.

I've only been here for fifty minutes and I feel like I have lost a year to this pit.

Just then the Hydra walks past and I flag her down.

"Oh you're still here," she says. "Is it working yet?" I force a smile.

"No, and it's never going to work," I tell her. Why not, I think to myself. Might as well be blunt before she eats my soul and craps it back into my head.

I do my best to explain what is wrong but to no avail.

"I just don't get it," the Hydra snaps. "Last week you send a guy out for 20 minutes, he can't fix it. Now you come out and spend 4 hours before you tell me that it's broken and you can't fix it."

That's right, less than an hour magically became four hours that I had been there. I choose not to point out that this would have put my arrival time before they even went to lunch. Again I do my best to explain that the printer is kaput.

"Well did you at least get the scanner working?" I shake my head and explain that the printer is just too old and that I couldn't find any compatible software for her. Oh man does she get pissed. Taking a different tack I explain that the easiest way to fix it would be to just get a new multifunction printer and be done with it.

"But it was working from home. We had this at my house and we brought it in because it was working," the Nine heads glare at me. This actually changes things.

"Oh did you have an XP computer at home that it was working with?" I ask. That would lend hope in a hopeless situation.

"No, it's Vista."

"You had THIS printing and scanning with Vista?" I gesture at the dingy beige monstrosity, it's fleck-felching maw all agape.

"No, it never worked with Vista that's why we brought it here." It happens. Sometimes people are so thick-skulled that the brain physically lashes out at your skull and you go half-blind with something between rage and helpless despair that the world is run by people just like the Hydra.

Since the situation has already deteriorated I make my move to escape. The Hydra's in the middle of berating me for 'breaking' their non-functioning printer and she just walks off. Now it's an awkward moment. Subcon's urging me to run for the door but I have to ask the requisite last question of someone. I pick the receptionist and mercifully she lets me go.

In the background I hear the Hydra screaming curses at one of our sales reps. Normally I would feel bad but taking on a client that far divorced from reality has a way of blunting my sympathy.

The boss just chuckles when I tell him what was wrong. How can he be laughing at the idiocy I just wasted an hour of my life on? My knuckles turn to white stone. I want to punch something cute in the face.

"Don't worry, they're going to pay. We already told her she needs to just get a new one. Hell if she had done that in the first place it would have been cheaper than trying to get us to fix the old one."

I just shake my head and press on. Before I can confront Medusa in her sterile cage I get an urgent call for help from a Neutral Party.

It's a decent client, not my favorite but certainly better than average. One PC is dead and they need it working to print xrays. It's a little out of the way but Medusa's not going anywhere. I stop by to check things out.

I was hoping the computer would boot and I could just reload drivers but no such luck. Wouldn't make it to the windows load screen before just shutting back down. I was hoping safe mode would work but no such luck. That failing I was hoping a repair install would do the trick but no such luck. Finally I knew I would have to just bite the bullet and do a fresh install.

It's an older box so this takes about 40 mins. Just as the install is completing my luck seems to have finally changed. I watch the install get 99% of the way done before crashing out.

Fuck. I don't have any hard drives with me. I have a stack of them at home just hanging out in anti-static bags but did I bother to bring one along? Of course not.

I kidnap the PC and decide to bring it back tomorrow. I know that I'm going to have to see Medusa again so I might as well save myself the trouble.

It's after 5pm and I should be kickin' off my socks and migrating from my office downstairs to the couch. Instead a short drive found me tapping my aching feet waiting for Medusa to show up to the office x-mas party so I could get the go ahead to leave with one of her precious PC's.

A word on the complaint and an aside on HDD technology: A 7200 rpm hard drive is basically a metal gyroscope encased in a metal enclosure that attaches to a metal cage in a metal computer case that is held on with metal screws. It makes a little noise. This is normal operating rocedure. Apparently abiding by the laws of physics is not good enough for Medusa.

"The noise is REALLY bothering us," she told me last week. "I think it's just going to break like the last one you had to replace."

Never mind that PC hardware is my bread and fucking butter she was convinced that my expertise did not counterbalance her gut feeling that it was about to fail. Forget trying to point out that it's a shitty old case with loose rivets. Pay no heed to the shoddy operating conditions or complete lack of maintenance. I couldn't see the motherboard it was so dusty last time I took this stupid box home.

Again, the boss assures me that she'll get billed for it. I say ok and take the thing home to tinker with. I grab a handful of honey baked ham when no one is paying attention. That's the highlight of my day.

It's 5:30 and I am not getting home until at least 7pm. Knowing traffic it will be more like 7:30 but I try not to think too hard about that. For half an hour I just rock out, thankful as hell that the thinking parts of my day are done and over with. I'm about 5 minutes into "Funeral March for Queen Mary" by Henry Purcell. It's a classical piece, thrilling and a little terrible. They synthed it up for the opening sequence of A clockwork Orange.

Natalie calls as I'm driving past Thomasville, exit 103. She just got out of work. It's ironic, yesterday when she called me I was driving past Thomasville as well.

We chat but nothing earth shaking comes up. I mention my dual duels with The Hydra in Asheboro and the Greensboro Medusa. Our call gets cut short a few minutes later.

It's one of those 'oh shit' moments when you feel a weird creepy feeling about a millisecond before you realize that something awful is about to happen.

Maybe subcon crunched the visual data and was trying to warn me, maybe i've got a little superhero blood in me. At any rate my foot is already over the brake pedal when the two cars in front of me appear to reverse towards me.

Shit shit shit.

I say this out loud as I lean hard into the braking maneuver. My foot is maxing out the brake pedal while i'm pulling back against the steering wheel. I have about one full second left. Some milliseconds ago I dropped the phone and grabbed the wheel with both hands.

My idiot conscious decides to gloat that I managed to stop with enough time to still see both of the Red Charger's wheels on the road in front of me.


My car jumps ahead and every muscle in my body goes taut as a bowstring. I barely feel the first impact but crashing into the car in front of me hurts like a full body bitch slap. For a few seconds my brain stops working properly. I am conscious and can see but information just isn't being processed like it should. In a daze I blink hard a few times. My left arm feels gritty and sore, I was holding too tightly on the steering wheel. Confusion reigns.

Pushing the gear shift into park about eighty times harder than I need too doesn't help the surging panic and rage. Yanking back the parking break hard enough to snap a tombstone does little more. Finally throwing a numb fist at the warning lights button I can speak again.

"Motherfucking Mondays!"


Part II should be up in a few days. In the meantime here's a video of my surveying the damage done by the wreck. Yes it really happened and no I was not seriously hurt or anything.

If you can't wait for a day or so be sure to check out the first Meatspace Adventure: From Mundanity to Metafiction.

I promise the next MSA will not have 'meta' anywhere in the title. Hopefully I can be a little choosier with my titles.

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