Monthly Archives: March 2014

D E L space star dot star

Back in the early nineties, I was in the third or fourth grade, and my family got our first computer. It wasn’t new, it was something my uncle was getting rid of. It didn’t really do much. There was no mouse. I don’t even think it had Microsoft Windows. I’m actually trying to remember how we used it, but I don’t think anybody did. It kind of just sat there as we all stared at it, longingly.


“Please mom,” I’d beg my mother, “Can we play with the computer?” and I remember my mom would call up her brother as he took her on a step-by-step tutorial on how to launch the solitaire app. They didn’t call them apps back then, they called them games, not like solitaire was much of a game, really.

That machine lasted like a month or two until my parents decided that maybe home computing was the inevitability everyone kept promising it would be. They tossed my uncle’s hand-me-down in the trash and bought a real computer. This PC had Windows, some old version of it anyway, something named after a number, way before Windows 95. But even though it was brand new, it was still old. Or maybe I’m just remembering it as old, because everything was so much slower.

But it was pretty old. When you turned it on, you had to wait like ten minutes before it took you to the DOS prompt. And you’d have to actually enter computer commands, just like in a cheesy 80s movie. You’d write something like, “Computer, run Windows.” And then you’d have to wait another hour or so while the operating system loaded. When it was all said and done, finally you could use its state of the art graphic user interface to click on the window that said, “Games.” And yeah, it was mostly just solitaire.

But then a few years after that we got a real machine, a Gateway 2000. I can’t even conceive of how my mom went about buying the computer, because I think about how I’d buy a computer today: I’d go on the Internet and pick something out. But we didn’t have the Internet yet. Our current computer wasn’t capable of handling the web.

The Gateway was everything that I wanted a computer to be. It booted right to Windows, which was awesome, and it was Windows 95, which was even more awesome. Now I could finally play with that Windows 95 startup CD, the one that all of my friends talked about at school. It had the video to Weezer’s “Buddy Holly.” And there were games, actual games: Minesweeper, Chip’s Challenge, Ski Free.

Everything was right in the world. My life had finally started to feel like the future I’d always imagined for myself. We had the Internet. I had an AOL screen name. But there was a problem. Instead of throwing out the old computer like they did that antique passed down from my uncle, my parents just moved it to the other side of the room.

“Now we have two computers,” was the idea, but it was a flawed idea, because while technically, yes, they were both computers, only one of them had anything worth using. I’d be waiting for my brother to finish up on AOL so I could take a turn on the Internet. I’d complain that he was taking too long, “You can always use the other computer,” my mom would offer, which was a joke, because it didn’t have the Internet, it was totally useless.

The only one of us who used it was my brother Joe. He had some trial version of a shareware game that one of his classmates gave to him on a stupid floppy disc. And he’d pop it in and play the same minute and a half of sixteen-bit action, over and over and over again. “He likes it!” would be the reply if we complained about having to watch him loop through the same screen on repeat for hours.

And that’s how life went for a while, waiting for my brother to finish up with the computer so I could use it, picking up the phone line every once in a while so as to interrupt the Internet connection, waiting by the door as he tried futilely to reconnect through the never ending chorus of busy signals.

I remember around that time telling all of my computer woes to one of my dad’s cousins at a funeral. This was a guy that I’d never seen at any family parties. He lived far away or something, I don’t know his story, my dad has like a thousand family members. But this cousin, nobody else was talking to him, and once I had his ear about computers, man, I was locked into that conversation.

This guy knew everything about computers. “You know,” he gave me some advice regarding that old PC that took up space in the computer room, “You could always wipe the memory.”

“How would I do that?”

“Easy. You wait for the DOS prompt to load up, and you type in ‘del *.*’”

I remember exactly how he said it, “D-E-L space star dot star,” and I repeated it to myself over and over again for the rest of the night, making sure that I’d be able to commit it to memory.

But once I had it in there, I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Obviously I wanted to use it, to see if it would actually work. But destroying a computer? I wasn’t a bad kid or anything. Annoying, maybe, but not capable of actually ruining something big, like a computer.

I couldn’t get it out of my head though. I just kept hearing it on repeat in my head, del *.*. Part of me wished that my dad’s weird cousin never told me about the command in the first place. It started to encroach upon more and more of my daily thoughts. Sometimes I’d boot the machine up and start typing it out, not pressing enter, but holding my finger just above, not even an inch away. I felt powerful, with the tiniest of movements, I was capable of utter annihilation.

And then one day, I don’t know what came over me, but in a momentary lapse of judgment, I did it, I pulled the trigger. Del *.*, enter. And all of these characters started flying across the screen. The hard drive made audible clicking sounds, a sure enough sign that something was going on inside.

That’s when I regained my senses, realized exactly what I was doing. And I freaked out, I wanted to undo it. I pulled the plug, hoped that if I just gave it a minute, we could forget anything had happened, let bygones be bygones. But it was too late. While the power light showed signs of electric current, there was nothing on the screen, no signs of computing activity whatsoever.

So I turned it off and left the room. A few days later, I heard Joseph ask my mom to help him with something on the computer, “my computer,” as he was fond of calling it, seeing as how he was the only one who used it at all. A little while after that, my mom asked me if I knew what was wrong. “With the computer?” I pretended to act all shocked, running to the new computer, making up what I thought was an elaborate ruse, like I didn’t even know about the old computer.

“Oh, the old one?” I acted relieved after my mom told me what she meant. “I have no idea. I never use that thing.”

And that was that. It sat there for a few months, and then one day my dad hauled it outside and left it on the curb for trash pickup. I’ve always felt bad about it, lying to my parents, ruining the computer that for some reason brought my little brother such a simple joy. I guess, mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry? Is that good enough? I’m sorry I broke the old computer, on purpose. But mostly I’d like to blame my dad’s cousin, because why would you think it was a good idea to give a little kid his own computer self-destruct button? Not cool man, you might as well have given me a knife, or a bottle of spray paint, with strict instructions never to use them. Of course I’m going to use them. Don’t you know anything about little kids? So if anything, it’s really that guy’s fault, not my fault. Thanks for ruining my little brother’s computer.

Be yourself

People talk about this stuff all the time, but it’s really hard to make your own way in the world today. You’ve got so many competing voices, all of them trying to tell you what to do, how to dress, do this, do that. Sometimes you feel like you’re not really making any decisions at all, like you’re kind of just floating through life, randomly bumping into this, barely staying on two feet as you collide into that.

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You’ve just got to be yourself, that’s the best piece of advice I can give to you. Take a look at your clothes. Do you ever feel like the rest of the world is subtly dictating the terms of how you dress every day? Unless you invented your own pair of pants, I’d have to say that, yes, you’re just following the crowd. How can you be yourself if you’re just wearing what everybody else is wearing?

Take off your pants. OK, you’ve got to make your own pants. And you’ve got to make them out of something crazy, something unique. How about shirts? Take a bunch of shirts and sew them together until they’re pants. That’s it. You’ve done it. You’re being unique, you’re starting something new here. You’re being yourself.

There’s only one problem. You’re not being yourself, because I just told you to do it. So take off your shirt pants and put your old pants back on, because you look like an idiot, because you were just following orders again. You’ve got to think even bigger. And no, the pants thing is totally out of the question now, because whatever you wind up doing with your pants, I’ve already put the whole pants idea in your head. So just move on.

No, you’ve got to like, embrace your inner you. What does that even mean? Exactly. If I told you what it meant, we’d be right back to where we were with the whole pants thing. Is this starting to make sense? I hope not, because then you’re not being original. I’m being original right here, and so really anything you’re thinking right now, it’s all derivative.

I’m being derivative, because I’m starting to get to that point where I’m saying the same thing over and over again. But that’s me, I’m being myself here. If, for some reason you’re still reading this, which I doubt, because I’ve already said the same thing like three or four times already, five or six if you count this sentence, but if you’ve made it to this paragraph, you might think, OK, I’ll just stop now, I’ll stop being Rob and I’ll start being me.

Well, it’s not quite that simple. You’ve got to give it time. Your brain’s still going to be processing everything I’ve put in your head. Go ahead and try it, say to yourself, “I will not think about this anymore.” You’ve already failed. Because just by not trying to think about it, you’re already thinking about it, still. Thinking about what?

Again, exactly. You see where I’m going with this?

The Pacific Northwest

If I could just uproot my life and move somewhere new, I think I’d pick the Pacific Northwest. I’ve never been there, so I’m really just relying on the bits and pieces of information that I’ve picked up through media and popular culture. And yes, I have to admit that, a lot of what I’m thinking of in my head is probably mostly just my imagination. Like maybe I saw a picture of a forest somewhere in Washington State and I thought, yeah, that’s what I want, that’s the life for me.


And from there I kind of just built up what it would be like to live there, right in the middle of that forest. I’d have a cabin, something you’d definitely describe as rustic, but with all of the modern conveniences that I’m used to living with here in New York. I’m picturing like a giant octagon shaped log-cabin, a big open space with a lofted second floor. A giant kitchen to the side with built-in restaurant quality appliances.

Where would I get my food from? Because I don’t want to live near any cities or towns. I’d have to own a pickup truck, something at least twenty years old, over two hundred thousand miles would be perfect. But it’s one of those trucks that’s built to last forever, and so aside from regular maintenance, oil changes and tire rotations and whatever, I really won’t have to do anything in terms of upkeep. I’ll just keep driving and it’ll get more and more comfortable each time I take that once a week, hour-long drive into town to stock up on groceries.

And obviously I’ll have a giant beard, what with all of that forest living and everything, so when I do emerge from my solitude to buy Pop-Tarts or Marshmallow Fluff at that grocery store, it’ll be a shock, to everyone in town, to me, like wow, I’m totally living off the grid here, I’m really in my own world. But it’ll be cool. This grocery store is going to be a really small one, and right by the only checkout, there’s a small counter where you can have a cup of coffee and a sandwich or something.

It’s the only face-to-face contact I’ll have with anybody, really, not that you’d be able to tell. All of us mountain-men, we’d all get together at that counter, drinking coffee, telling stories about our composting toilets or the family of grizzly bears that’s been threatening to circle the house for the past few days.

This grocery store/coffee shop town is going to be one of those small towns that’s so small, nobody really lives in it. In fact, the only reason there’s a grocery store in the first place is to support the thriving but disconnected association of people that live deep in the forest, totally isolated from even their closest neighbors. Maybe it’s not a town at all, maybe it’s just this one guy, he’s living all by himself, but for whatever reason he started the grocery store. Maybe he saw the demand.

Maybe it’s getting to him, what started out as an easy way to make a living, supplying peanut butter and toilet paper to all of the other solitary aficionados living scattered throughout the local wilderness, it’s turned into a full-time job, stocking the shelves, keeping track of inventory. He needed to hire some help, and what started out as the guy living half an hour out west coming around every other day to help put price tags on the merchandise with an old-fashioned price tag gun, it’s turned into a full-blown employer-employee relationship, and now his family is moving their cabin fifteen minutes closer to save money on the now-daily commute. Pretty soon he’s going to be hinting at health insurance and paid sick leave.

So no, they’re going co-op. Which is fine, because to be perfectly honest, things were getting a little too organized. It’ll be a good time to get back to basics, start my own little farm out behind the cabin. Yes, I’ll still have high-speed Internet, OK, like I said, my place is going to be totally modern inside, only rustic in appearance. And so I’ll have the computer, right, the pool table, the indoor/outdoor meat smoker. But aside from the once every two years that the telecommunications company drives out to my house to upgrade my modem, that’ll be it. Just me and Mother Nature.

And maybe I’ll join that co-op eventually. I don’t have anything against a little bit of planning here and there. Really, I just didn’t want to have to suffer through the growing pains natural to any upstart organizations, those boring meetings where someone is like, “What are we going to call our co-op?” and then there’s like half an hour of pointless debate. I’ll just show up, you tell me where to stock the Crest White Strips, I’ll stock them there, fine, that’s my contribution, can I have my groceries now? Can I go over to the lunch counter and have a cup of coffee?

Because that’s all I really need in life, just the great outdoors, a hot cup of coffee, my own private cabin, and the Internet. That’s it.

Five reasons to stay inside this Spring

Everyone loves spring. “I just love spring!” That was my sister’s status update on Facebook just now. And I’m sure it was your sister’s too. Just check. See? Well, I know this might be a controversial opinion, but spring can suck it. That’s right, I hate spring. It’s the American Idol of seasons. Yes, it’s here every year, and sure, the crowds of people all look like they’re having a great time. But it’s all a big joke. Spring is a big joke. And it’s not funny. Here are five reasons to stay inside this spring.

1. Haven’t you kind of gotten used to hibernating?

Everybody likes to go on and on about how they can’t wait for the warm weather, but be honest, you’ve grown to enjoy the peace and solitude brought on by an entire season of Arctic chill. When you slept in until two in the afternoon on Saturdays, you could find some measure of solace, looking out the window, viewing the barren icescape and telling yourself, whatever, I wouldn’t have gone outside anyway. But now you’re going to start getting woken up really early in the morning to the sounds of chirping birds and all of that other springtime nonsense. “Come outside and play!” The whole world will be demanding that you get out of your comfortable bed and put on a pair of shorts.

2. You’re going to have to wear shorts

Do you like wearing shorts? That was a rhetorical question. Nobody likes wearing shorts. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for everybody, but for me, there are certain parts of the body that don’t necessarily want to be on display for everyone in the world. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have great ankles and calves. OK, you know what? Maybe I don’t need to talk specifically about me here. But shorts are annoying. They’re either too long and baggy, making you look like a little kid, or they’re way too short, making you look like a 1970s minor league basketball player. Why can’t we just all wear really loose fitting, lightweight pants? Wouldn’t those be comfortable for springtime? Or what about capris? I was promised that everybody would be wearing capris by now. Why did you lie to me, 2003 Spring J. Crew men’s catalog?

3. It’s impossible to keep up with an appropriate level of spring enthusiasm

Everybody loves spring. You have to. There’s no other alternative. It’s like, as soon as that last pile of snow melts, there’s already a group of people your age walking back from the park, and they’re all holding lacrosse sticks, just out for a nice early-spring lacrosse-toss. Where do you keep lacrosse equipment all year? Doesn’t it get really dusty? How do you all already look so impossibly tan? And you get that pit in the depths of your stomach, like holy shit, I’m doing it again, I’ve probably already done it: I’ve wasted spring. And so you make a really way-too-late effort to go to the park and post spring photos to Instagram, you hashtag stuff like #lovespring, and I don’t know what else really, I’m not too good at hashtagging. But no matter how much you try to enjoy spring, you can’t shake that feeling that you’re not really enjoying it, certainly not as much as everyone else, not the lacrosse guys, not your neighbors. Seriously, where do you guys get time to play croquet? I mean, I work a full-time job too, and I’m regularly forgetting to eat lunch.

4. We won’t get to say “Polar Vortex” anymore

Yes, this winter was a cold one. As a New Yorker, I’d never before experienced what it felt like to have a frigid wind immediately freeze to my cheeks the tears they had just a second ago forced from my eyes. I had to buy a new coat, another pair of gloves, mittens, there really didn’t exist an adequate number of layers that would have properly insulated me from temperatures that hung out around zero degrees on a daily basis. But, someone came up with the term “Polar Vortex.” And we got to say it. A lot. Surprisingly, it added a level of depth and sophistication to virtually every interaction. And there was nothing exclusive about it. Whether it was a college professor or the mentally unstable panhandler trying to stick up a subway with a banana, not a single conversation passed this season without somebody throwing a hard PV. I don’t know why it worked, but it did. It was like a very tiny packet of Mexican seasoning that turned this manager’s special ground chuck of a winter into three month long Taco Tuesday. But now it’s over. What else do I have to talk about? Nothing.

5. There is no spring

For real, spring is just a myth, a marketing strategy cooked up by advertising wizards to make you spend tons of money on spring clothing. It’s like, buy this jacket, it’s lighter than your winter coat. Or, don’t you think it would be a cool idea to wear these boat shoes? So you buy them, the jacket and the boat shoes. And it’s great for that one day after winter when the temperature outside is nice enough that you don’t need a scarf. But then a week later it’s warm. Nobody wears a jacket when it’s warm out, regardless of how lightweight the material is. It’s the same with those boat shoes, they’re made to be worn sockless, but once the temperature starts rising, your feet need socks, I’m telling you, do everybody a favor and wear some socks, OK? Because there is no spring. It’s cold, and then it’s colder, and then it’s really cold, and then it’s nice for like a day or two, and then it’s fucking hot. And you’re like, what happened to spring? There is no spring.

Originally published on Thought Catalog