I never learned how to use Microsoft Excel. I have a pretty good excuse, actually. But it’s a huge long story of an excuse and it starts a long time ago. When I was a little kid I remember when my family bought our first PC. I was in love with it. All I wanted to do was be on this computer. And this was before the Internet. I’m just thinking about how lame it must have been, but I was infatuated. I remember when PCs were just coming into the mainstream and how I wanted one so desperately, every day was just me trying to control my insatiable urge to have and use a computer, but because I was a little kid, with no job, no money, I couldn’t do anything about it. I’d just have to sit around and watch my little brothers and sisters watch Barney. I wasn’t allowed to play Nintendo on weekdays, so I couldn’t even play Zelda.
At my Catholic elementary school, we had a computer lab. It was run by this ninety-year-old nun named Sister Anthelia. She was so old she still wore the nun outfit. I don’t think she knew anything about computers. I think that whoever was in charge of the school was like, “Jesus, this lady is completely unfit to teach. But what do we do with her? She’s a nun.” And finally somebody else was like, “I don’t know, put her in charge of the library.” And that first person would reply, “I’ve already thought of that, but then where would we put Sr. Margaret? She’s even crazier.” Until eventually they’d decide, “Well, whatever, just make her the computer teacher. Those kids are only in there for like twenty minutes a week anyway. That’s got to be harmless enough.”
And it was torture, because I wanted to use those twenty minutes every week to actually use the computers. Like really badly. But Sister Anthelia would make us spend the first ten minutes memorizing and reciting back these ridiculous prayers that she wrote herself. It was agony. If we didn’t place the correct inflection on just the right word, she would make us start all over again, “And slower this time! Much slower!”
Finally we’d get to power on the Apple IIs, computers that were already obsolete, even in the technological dark ages of the early 1990s. The screens didn’t even have black and white, they had black and green, like in the Alien movies. They had giant B drives, floppy disks that were actually floppy. And nothing ever worked. The whole lab was all just a huge disguise, a lie perpetuated by the school, they’d parade the parents around on Open House Day, “Look parents! Check out our computer lab! We’re getting your kids prepared for the future!” and parents back then had no idea about computers, not the majority of them anyway. There was always that one kid whose mom or dad worked for IBM, but everybody hated that kid, because he was always bragging about how much he loved playing with his computer back home. “Oh you don’t have Oregon Trail? Too bad. It’s awesome!”
But finally my parents realized that we’d have to get a computer eventually, and one day there it was. Like I said, this was pre-Internet, so there wasn’t a ton of stuff to do on the computer. I could fool around with the MS-DOS prompt, make it say stupid stuff. I could play Oregon Trail, which, yeah it was kind of cool at first, but after a while you get tired of watching all of your family members die of dysentery or chlamydia. So after that got old I started fooling around with this other built-in program, Mavis Beacon’s Typing.
Basically, with this program, I taught myself how to type really early. I think I was only in the second grade. Although, I say early now, because that was early back then, but I have no idea how early kids today learn how to type. Maybe much earlier than second grade. Maybe my kids are going to read this story someday and think that I was some sort of cave man. But whatever, I could type really fast.
I remember my older cousins used to pay me ten bucks to type out their papers for high school. That was the best. Although, I remember the first time I had ten dollars, I really wanted this Mr. Fantastic action figure, you know from the Fantastic Four, right? It was on display at the comic book store, and I just imagined it stretching out and doing all sorts of cool stretching stuff. But when I finally bought it, this piece of shit action figure, its limbs just clicked out of their hinges a bit, lengthening oh so slightly. This was the worst approximation of stretching powers, a total let down. Like I could see when it was fully extended where the plastic limbs were held together by the thin plastic joints. Even worse, one time when the arms were fully extended its right forearm snapped off, meaning the only way to fix it was with Krazy Glue, meaning after that it couldn’t extend at all. So it was terrible. But I had wanted it so bad that I lied to myself for years, telling myself that it was a cool toy, that I liked it. But what are you really supposed to do with action figures anyway? They’re cool to look at for a minute, but I wasn’t one of those kids who held them in his hands and made up adventures, making weird noises and making them fight with other action figures. I’d have much rather tormented one of my siblings, driving them to tears to the point where my mom would actually yell at them for making too much noise crying and screaming.
But what am I talking about here? Computers, right? So I taught myself how to type really fast, so fast that when I got to high school, and we’re barely out of the 1990s here, there were still a sizeable number of students who didn’t know how to type. To correct this deficiency, there was a typing class freshman year. But if you passed the typing assessment on day one, they didn’t make you sit through the class. I just got an extra study hall. I thought it was great, but I didn’t realize that during this class they not only taught you had to type but also how to use Microsoft Word and Excel.
So I never learned how to use Excel. And you don’t really need Excel in high school, or in college either. I had to take one physics class in college and we needed to do one task for one project in Excel, so the professor made everyone come in on a Saturday to learn the basics of Excel. But it was a Saturday class so everybody just kind of hung out in the classroom pretending to already know everything that the professor was talking about, not asking any questions, nobody raising their hands, so that way he’d think that maybe calling this Saturday class was a little unnecessary, and OK fine, class dismissed.
And for that one assignment, I just did all the work by hand and then I went into Microsoft Word and created a table that, when printed out, looked like it had been something that was created on Excel. And it worked, but only for that one assignment. The thing about Excel is, and I’m guessing here, because I really don’t know how to use it, you put all of the information or numbers into certain spots and then run certain functions and the program does all of the work for you, even laying it out at the end. So instead of just paying attention during that class, I made all of this extra work for myself, doing all of the calculations by hand, and then formatting it in a grid.
But that was just one time during sophomore year of college. I didn’t have to think about Excel, not even once during the rest of my higher education. I don’t even think my computer had Excel, just Word. But then I graduated and became an adult. And I put on my resume that I knew everything about Microsoft Office. I had this one job as a paralegal, and I was hired specifically to keep this one lawyer’s Excel spreadsheets organized and up to date. It’s a good thing that this lawyer didn’t know anything about Excel either, because she probably just looked at them and was like, “Whatever, these spreadsheets are stupid and unnecessary anyway and I might as well just enter the data in myself, randomly, wherever I feel like it.”
So I didn’t learn anything. That’s not to say I didn’t try. I remember one time I was like, “You know what? I’m going to figure out Excel. I’m going to do it.” And I looked online at some tutorial for how to do some function. And I followed it step by step and I think it worked. It did something cool with numbers. And I was like, “OK, I learned it.” But then maybe a month or two later a situation finally arose where I could have used those skills that I thought I had taught myself. But too much time had passed and I’d forgotten everything. And I tried to go online to find that tutorial again, but you know how Google is, right? Like what did I type in that time two months ago that led me to that tutorial? I had no idea. By the time I found it, I had spent maybe twenty minutes. And then I started the tutorial and got overwhelmingly frustrated and even depressed as I remembered how long the tutorial took the first time, and the idea of doing it again was just something that I couldn’t bear to put myself through. So I quit that job and started waiting tables.
I never have to use Excel. Every once in a while I’d be trying to open Word but I’d accidentally click on Excel and the icon would bounce up and down as the program loaded, and it took forever, creating a new blank spreadsheet, making the whole computer come to a halt as it opened up this bulky Microsoft program, only so I could close it out immediately, “Are you sure you want to close Spreadsheet1 without saving? All data will be lost.” And I’m just like, “Yes! Close! This was all a huge mistake!” So finally I just removed the icon from my home screen. I think it’s in the application folder somewhere, but I’ll never use it. Like Power Point. I think it’s right next to Power Point. I have no idea how to use Power Point. But for real, those presentations, even the good ones, even the ones with animations and stuff, they’re all so boring. Just a bunch of boring information spiced up with a couple of generic clip-arts here and there, a generic slideshow. Nobody likes slideshows. Nobody likes spreadsheets. Right?