Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

A wonderful life

I had a George Bailey moment recently.

One morning, while the Missus and the Munchkin were still sound asleep, I got up and padded around the house. I happened to notice that the glass door on the front of the stereo cabinet was ajar. Having a compulsive personality, I immediately closed it. It wouldn’t stay closed. I tried closing it again. It still wouldn’t stay closed. Losing patience, I tried to figure out what the problem was. As I held it in my hand, I realized what the problem was. One of the hinges was broken, and as I stood there, it came off entirely. So there I was, standing in my underwear, next to an upstairs window in full view of any passing neighbors, with a glass door in my hand held onto a cabinet by only one hinge, which couldn’t support its weight. I couldn’t take the door off and I couldn’t let go of it because it would likely break the glass. What to do? Should I call for help? Would my soundly sleeping family hear me? Or would I be better off opening the window and calling to a passing neighbor (as startled as she or he might be)? Why do these things happen to me anyway? I stood there for a good long while, looking like an idiot.

Okay, maybe that sounds more like a Buster Keaton moment. Eventually, I got the second hinge to let go so I could put the door down without breaking it. This event on its own would not have been a big deal, but it came at the end of a fortnight of continual contretemps and mishaps. Everyone has days where everything they touch seems to turn to disaster. Every flick of a light switch results in a burned out bulb. Things break in your hand. You keep injuring yourself. Well, I had had two weeks of that. The zenith was the day in which, in the span of a couple of hours, I burned my arm on a skillet and lost my two most reliable technological assistants. I dropped my Timex Datalink watch, which had all my phone numbers, appointments and birthday reminders (and also told the time) and it went dead. Almost immediately after that, I had a catastrophic computer crash.

After all that, it was still the episode with the stereo cabinet that was my George Bailey moment. You remember George Bailey. He was the character memorably played by Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life. That film dealt with a single pivotal day in George Bailey’s life, with a lot of flashbacks to show us how George had arrived at the point at which we find him in the movie. In a nutshell, George decides to go throw himself off a bridge because a wooden ball on top of a post at the bottom of his staircase’s banister comes off in his hand. Of course, it isn’t just the one instance of the ball coming off that drives poor old George over the bend. It’s because the thing has come off in his hand a hundred times before. It’s because his daughter’s piano lessons are getting on his nerves. It’s because he had a bad day at the office. It’s because his idiot uncle Billy lost a huge amount of money, which he witlessly handed to mean old man Potter who wouldn’t dream of giving it back, and now the family savings and loan is ruined and George will probably go to jail. The ball coming off in his hand is merely the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s the one last frustration that makes everything else unbearable.

Now, I never got to the point where I actually thought seriously of throwing myself into the river Corrib. But all these mishaps were taking their toll. And the incident with the stereo cabinet nearly drove me over the edge. But like George Bailey, I had a divine intervention. Okay, it wasn’t exactly divine, but it helped me put things in perspective. After a few days visiting computer shops and Internet cafés in Galway, trying to find a way to get Windows XP to boot on my Thinkpad again, I gave in to desperation and actually rang IBM technical support. For about an hour in the wee hours of the morning, a very nice man somewhere in the States figuratively held my hand and talked me through all the possible options for getting the computer to boot again. He had me try things I had already attempted on my own, to no avail. He had me try things I hadn’t thought of, again to no avail. Then gently he introduced the possibility that the computer was never going to boot again and that it would be very expensive to extract my files off of it, and that maybe it was time to think about running the product recovery disc and starting over.

“Do you have your files backed up?” he asked (the question all people talking to a tech support guy dread). I’m not always great about backing up my files, but as fate would have it, I had got caught by the Blaster worm a couple of weeks before and had done a major backup as a precaution. I had backed up all my spreadsheets, all my personal and financial information, all my email, even all the files for this bloody web site. What was killing me was that I had never gotten around to backing up the files that took up the most space and would have required a serious investment of time and blank CD-R’s to get backed up. I hadn’t backed up all the photos we had taken with our digital camera. The vast majority were of my daughter. The idea of losing all those photos was devastating. Make no mistake, enough of the photos were backed up so that there are still way more photos of the Munchkin than have been taken of myself or the Missus our whole lives. And of lot of the photos weren’t great, since we saved all of them, regardless of quality. Still many nice photos would simply be gone forever.

Once my IBM interlocutor heard this, he redoubled his efforts. He thought of more things to try. He went and talked to other tech guys to think of more ideas. In the end, we both knew it was hopeless. But at least I knew that I had tried everything. I thanked him and crawled into bed. The next day I started the long process of wiping my hard disk, reinstalling Windows and a bunch of application software, not to mention downloading 42 updates to Windows (and that’s just the “critical” ones) over a dialup connection. While waiting for files to copy, I pondered what kind of person I was to have so carefully backed up spreadsheets showing my exact net worth but not all of my precious daughter’s photos. It put things into perspective.

Like George Bailey, I learned once again that a lot of things we worry about in life aren’t really all that important. What’s really important are those we love.

And somewhere at an IBM call center, a tech support guy got his wings.

-S.L., 18 September 2003

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