As I got home from work Tuesday before last, I pulled out my phone and found that I had two new messages. The first was a text from a girl I’d been on a couple of dates with, in which she explained that although I was a – and this is a direct quote – “really great guy”, I wasn’t the sort of great guy she wanted to go out with. The second was an email from the Nicholl Fellowship, in which they said that although they wished me – and this is a direct quote – “the best of luck”, my script did not make it to the semifinal round.
As a sort of defense mechanism I try to assume that the worst possible thing will happen to me in every situation, so that no matter how it shakes out I either get to be pleasantly surprised or right about everything. I knew my script wasn’t going to win, but I was really hoping against hope to get to the semifinal round, where my script would have the chance to be read and rejected by the same people who vote for Best Original Screenplay every year. It’s a bummer that that didn’t happen, but being a quarterfinalist is still a good professional credential and I’ll get a bunch of unbiased feedback from the reader comments.
Still, I wasn’t going to squander a perfectly good opportunity to get drunk and absorb my friends’ sympathy. The next morning, suffering from a hangover and a severe case of self pity, I called in sick to work and spent the day watching Seinfeld, eating burritos, and thinking deep thoughts about my career. It was that night when the real trouble started.
I had just finished the Seinfeld episode where Elaine leaves a dirty message on Jerry’s tape recorder and George falls in love with her while trying an experimental Chinese baldness cream. As I cued up the next episode, parts of my MacBook Pro’s screen started flickering red, and moments later the whole machine went into kernel panic, which is Apple’s hipster answer to the Blue Screen of Death. I knew that this was a good indicator that my computer’s motherboard was fried, because when this same thing happened two months ago, that was what the guy at the Apple Genius Bar told me was going on – just before he replaced my computer’s motherboard with a brand new one, which had just now bit the dust.
I’ve never had good luck with my MacBook Pros. Software bugs and catastrophic hardware failures have become something of an annual tradition – about this time I every year I can usually count on spending at least a few hours on hold with AppleCare customer support, listening to their scratchy Top 40 hold music. Only last year I’d had to buy a whole new MacBook Pro because updating the operating system on my old one had more or less turned it into Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. And now that year-old MacBook Pro had just broken two motherboards in as many months.
If you watch A Christmas Story as often as my family does, you’ll remember the scene where the aging furnace in Ralphie’s house goes on the fritz again, belching black smoke through the heat register. Used to this, Ralphie’s Dad angrily grabs his toolbox and runs down into the basement to fix it, and then all you can hear is profanity and metal clanging against metal. That’s more or less become my troubleshooting routine for my MacBooks – swearing, restarting, more swearing, Googling for tips, angry tirades about how Apple are a bunch of fucking money grubbing crooks, scheduling a Genius Bar appointment, declaring to whoever’s listening that I’m going to fucking buy a fucking PC so I quit giving these fucking pricks my fucking money, and so on. It’s exhausting for everyone – myself included – and it always ends with my MacBook held together with just enough spit and baling wire to get it to its next crash a few months down the road.
This would frustrating enough on its own, but coming within 24 hours of an unwanted ego smackdown from the Nicholl Fellowship was a little too much for me to take. I scheduled a Genius Bar appointment and then started pricing out Dell ultrabooks online, planning the speech I’d make to the Apple Genius when he told me my MacBook would need its guts replaced yet again:
“No, you know what? Keep your crappy motherboard! You call this machine a MacBook Pro, but as a professional I haven’t got the time to keep dealing with this applesauce! Dude, I’m getting a Dell!”
“Noooo!” The Genius wails. “Not our competitors! And how clever to use their slogan from ten years ago!”
“You’re damn right it’s clever! I’m a clever guy!”
Petty? Yes. But after the week I’d been having I really needed to feel like I was winning at something.
On Thursday I made the familiar pilgrimage to the Apple Store in Sherman Oaks. My Genius looked like Central Casting’s answer to a stereotypical Apple Store employee: A white guy about my age with a mustache waxed to fine points on either side of his face. He listened with concern to my problems, checked a few of my computer’s settings, then took it into the back room to run some more tests.
When he swept back out of the room a few minutes later I was all ready for him to glibly tell me they were going to swap a third motherboard into my computer for it to destroy. I was going to indignantly yell “Just keep it! Sell it to buy more mustache wax!” and storm out of the store, when he said –
“Just give me a second. I’m going to talk to my manager about getting you a new computer.”
Minutes later he was back with a new MacBook and his manager, who explained that since my old computer clearly had baked-in hardware issues it would just be cheaper to exchange it for an identical replacement. My mustachioed Genius was opening the box to give me my new computer when his manager, processing my receipt on his phone, held up his hand.
“Hang on. Looks like we dropped the price of this MacBook by $200 after you bought your old one.”
He and the Genius looked at each other, then back to me.
“Alright, we’ll throw in a set of Beats headphones. What color do you want?”
All told, I’d much rather be a Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist with a broken computer and some shitty ear buds. But I'm finding that all this new free stuff is doing a great job of taking the edge off my disappointment.