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hembeck2007-01-11.jpgAfter dinner last Friday night, Lynn, Julie and I settled in to watch the previous evening’s episode of My Name Is Earl, taped on our old fashioned VCR contraption. After the laughter had subsided, we all went our separate ways for the next several hours, but around ten o’clock, I proposed to wife Lynn that we view the next offering on that selfsame tape, The Office. As long as she could be comfortable, she was fine with that idea, so I met her in the bedroom. I’d taken the tape out of the machine earlier (one of four such working antiquated devices we have constantly humming around here at the house - hey, they don’t call me “The Human Tivo” for nothin’, y’know!…), and had placed it on top of the VCR. The only illumination in the room was the light coming from the TV screen, and in my careless and darkness-addled haste, when I reached up to grab it, I instead knocked it off its not-particularly precarious perch.


Yup, it hit the hard wood floor behind the set, and it hit it hard. In a nutshell, it broke.

Nearly twenty-four years of handling VHS tapes, and this was only the second time I’d ever broken one (I’ve dropped more than that, true, but sometimes you get lucky with just how they land, or are blessed with a soft surface to receive ‘em…) - but unlike that other, long-ago attack of the butterfingers (two decades past, maybe?…), THIS tape had stuff on it that we still hadn’t seen yet! Oh, the horror! Besides The Office, there were the latest episodes of 30 Rock and ER (no, we don’t watch Scrubs - I bailed out after the first season. Yes, it’s well done, but I find several of the characters just a tad bit too obnoxious - plus, I found the tilt from wacky (if inspired) comedy to patients actually dying and then back again to the yuks a bit TOO disconcerting, so no, I don’t watch Scrubs…). Julie tried to fix the busted VHS tape using some carefully administered clear tape, but ultimately, we decided it was just too risky - what if we popped it in the VCR and it got stuck? Better to live with the loss of a couple of programs than kill a videotape machine in a fruitless attempt to watch said shows.

Besides, NBC had the entire 30 Rock episode posted online, so we were good there. Eventually, we’d see that Office episode, since that’s one of the few currently produced programs that I make sure to pick up the DVD sets of (which I wouldn’t have even considered after the show’s uneven first season, but man oh man, did they ever come on strong during their sophomore season!), and as for ER, well, they usually rerun those things, too. If not, we’ll just have to muddle through. Unfortunately, unlike the Tina Fey starrer, NBC isn’t giving those shows away as they’re certifiable hits, but they do have a little thing called “The Two-Minute Recap” on the web, and eventually, we opted to check those out, mostly so we wouldn’t be confused by NEXT Thursday’s entries. Well, The Office review was good enough, but the ER one tossed a little promo for the upcoming episode on the end of the recap - and proceeded to give away what otherwise would’ve been a pretty big surprise to me! Geez - this was exactly the sort of thing that made me swear off watching ANY coming attractions (or hitting the mute button when a commercial for one of my faves comes on the screen) years ago, but this time around, I was blindsided, and didn’t have enough time to react properly. Oh well - that’ll teach me not to turn on the light when I’m handling something fragile.

And if THAT didn’t, well, later that very same night…

Lynn and Julie were asleep. I was out in the living room with my laptop. Sitting alone in the dark, with only the light from our slowly dying Christmas tree and from my own computer screen, I was beginning to watch one of Mark Evanier’s YouTube selections (a Paul Winchell show). Since the sound on my laptop can be pretty loud and tinny, I always use a small set of headphones at night when other folks are catching their zzzzzs. Now, usually, I sit up close to the screen, but since I realized that this video would run for nearly half an hour, I decided to sit back and relax.

And when I did, I inadvertently pulled my headset out of its jack.

So, I flailed around with the end of the headphone wires, trying to get the end back into the proper hole.

In the dark.

Well, I missed the green-coded input source, and the red one, too. Instead, I accidentally touched the end of the wire to the USB jack, a half an inch away (this is where I hook up the scanner cord when I need to use that aspect of the computer), and as soon as I made contact -


The screen went dark. Instantly.

Now, I’ve had my share of errors where the laptop turns itself off (not TOO many, thankfully), but this was different. On those past occasions, I just rebooted. This time, pushing the start button did absolutely no good whatsoever. Suddenly, there was no power left, none. My computer was dead. I’d killed it. All because I wanted to get a little bit more comfy - AND didn’t want to bother to turn the light on!

Yeah, last Friday was a fairly bad night hereabouts…

I couldn’t go wake up my technical expert - she was sound asleep. Realizing the potential enormity of what I’d done, though, prevented me from getting to sleep anytime soon. Why, I had to watch TWO entire episodes of the recently released Gomer Pyle, USMC DVD set (Frank Sutton is perhaps the most underrated foil in television history, don’tcha know?…) before I could calm down enough to even consider snoozing off. All of Hembeck.com was contained on that laptop - did I just kill that, TOO?…

The next morning, I explained what had happened to Lynn. She had no immediate answers - and since tech support takes the weekends off, she couldn’t call up the big guns, toll free number or no. So I walked through most of Saturday in a daze. The temperatures hit an unsettling - yet delightful - seventy degrees here in upstate New York, but I couldn’t even begin to appreciate it. All I could think about was that I didn’t have my trusty, faithful PC. Four years of dutiful service, turned on from practically the moment I first get up every morning, with the off switch rarely flipped until I go to bed later that same night. No, I don’t sit in front of it the entire time (THAT was three years ago now…), but even when I’m slaving happily over my drawing board, I’ll take the time to regularly stroll by my laptop, constantly checking to see if any mail came in - y’know, the sort that’s NOT concerned with selling me ways to add inches below deck! And on Saturday, I couldn’t do that! Lynn was willing to share the master computer, and even Julie let me check my MySpace on her own laptop, but it just wasn’t the same. WAH! - I wanted my computer BACK!!

So I went out shopping with my daughter to get my mind off my troubles, when, standing in Macy’s, trying to look inconspicuous loitering in the Young Miss section while Julie was in the fitting room, I suddenly knew what THIS, the 86th episode of “The Fred Hembeck Show” was going to be about!

Me 86ing my laptop!

(I really didn’t have much of a Maxwell Smart tribute ready to go anyway. Now, a SGT. CARTER one - well, soon, friends, soon…)

Hey, at least that’d be a way of making SOMETHING out of this sorry situation.

And then came Sunday. Lynn did a little bit more research on the net. She tried taking the battery out, dusting it off, and putting it back in.

Wonder of wonders, it booted! But a check of the battery also indicated that there was very, very little juice left, even plugged in (which how I keep it nearly all the time). All we really needed to get was a new battery, and considering we’d seriously discussed investing in a new laptop, that was quite a bargain. (Oh, I know that a new laptop would be even more up to date with all the latest bells and whistles, but as I told Lynn: savings for not having to buy a new PC, a thousand dollars; not having to endure the aggravation of slowly and methodically teaching me an entirely new set of computer rules, PRICELESS!!…)

So we ordered the fresh power source Sunday (they may not be there to help you on the weekends, but by golly, they ain’t missing any chance to make a sale!), which finally arrived on Wednesday, after several days of closely monitored - and limited - use of the outgoing battery.

No, I DIDN’T really 86 my computer - and Lynn insists that the whole plug in the wrong socket scenario was merely a coincidence and that the thing woulda probably blinked out anyway - but I like the whole synchronicity of the 86 terminology that I decided to tell you the story anyway! Plus, lessons learned: we’re transferring a lot of my website’s files to the main computer as back-up just in case, and every time I pick up a VHS tape nowadays, I grasp it with a tight and steely grip.

And y’know, I’m not gonna shave in the dark anymore either! I’m kinda tired of people staring at me at the supermarket…

(Fear not, though - there’s always a light on at Hembeck.com, folks!)

-Copyright 2006 Fred Hembeck


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