Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Going Viral

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2010 at 11:55 pm

{Photograph depicts my grandmother’s typewriter, now stationed in my brother’s apartment, Washington, D.C.}

Somehow, I caught a virus. Well, my computer caught a virus. But the difference isn’t that big. A flu would leave me bedridden, miserable, and hopelessly behind on my work. The computer virus left me miserable, hopelessly behind on my work, and without excuse to lie around in bed. After all, if my laptop didn’t work, I’d have to find one that did.

At the last minute, I managed to rescue over 5,000 photographs, 700 songs, and biblical volumes of writing — good, bad, and sentimental. I also salvaged some decent vacation videos, and an entire digital copy of The Dark Knight, which I didn’t realize was still on my computer. All of this could be replaced or had been backed up elsewhere; it was the photos that freaked me out. I could download infinite copies of Live and Victory at Sea albums, but that picture of my brother Joe, standing in the cold with a soap-eating grin? Irreplaceable.

In the meantime, I needed a word-processor and Internet connection — for filing columns, for correspondence, for grading papers, for my work-schedule at the medical school, and for my homework at Chatham. I regularly check two different e-mail addresses, whose inboxes are routinely flooded throughout the day, and on any given morning I may have to write thousands of words of new material. One little virus could cripple my output.

So I became a kind of digital gypsy, wandering from one municipal computer to another. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would use the computer in my [shared] office in Duquesne; when another adjunct needed to use it, I skipped down to the underground computer lab in the Union. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I camped out in the library at Chatham, before classes, furiously knocking out new manuscripts and unrelated work. On Fridays, I went to the Carnegie Library. For an entire month, this is how I operated — and when all else failed, I’d use my iPod Touch outside a cafe, exploiting the free WiFi for all it was worth.

In a way, this was nostalgic: For three years, 2003-2006, I worked as a freelance writer without any dependable Internet connection. I would use the computers at the public library in Oakland, or a Pitt student would loan me a password, or I would borrow a terminal at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (and yes, I realize how awful and immoral that sounds, but I also volunteered there, so don’t you judge me). Sometimes I’d even use the computer in the library of Filmmakers, where I knew the librarian in charge; this is how I learned to operate an iMac, which for a luddite like me is now small task.

But the fond memories wore off quickly. Which is why, when I logged onto my own Dell to rescue some final documents, I was astonished to discover that the virus was gone. Somehow, Norton AntiVirus had forgotten to update, and while the computer lay dormant for that month, Norton kicked into gear and erased the offending spyware. It’s really kind of miraculous, like stigmatic palms or the face of Jesus appearing in waterfalls.

Thanks, Norton.

Snowmaggedon: 9

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Two days after the snowfall, I spent a frigid Monday night wandering around Oakland, where I found the statue of Galileo Galilei quilted in snow. I relished the irony — the man who spent his lifetime defending celestial movement was now frozen solid, in the middle of a city locked in stasis.

Snowmaggedon: 8

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 6:12 pm

As night descended over Shadyside, the playful spirit persisted. Students threw snowballs and wrestled in the bluffs. The bars flooded with youngins dying for human contact. I shared a few beers with my friend KC, and as I stumbled home at 2 a.m., I smiled at the inscriptions in car windows.

Snowmaggedon: 7

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Despite the good-cheer, I reminded myself how many houses lacked power, how many cables had snapped. Fire engines and ambulances swished through the snow, and cherry-pickers rose over distant copses. The most pressing problem: For people who simply had to drive — for groceries, for urgent Saturday shifts — parking became a rabid concern.

In true Steel City form, chairs were set in parking spaces. As I understand it, residents can reserve the parking spaces directly outside their houses with a positioned lawn-chair. All along the avenues, plastic seating stood like sentries between the frozen mounds.

Snowmaggedon: 6

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Cameras emerged from satchels and pockets: Film, digital, SLRs, point-and-shoots. I had never seen so many lenses and models. Even the baristas stepped outside to shoot with their souped-up Nikons. Even passersby with camera-phones shot furiously in an effort to document the uncanny afternoon.

Snowmaggedon: 5

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 5:41 pm

In Squirrel Hill, business owners were good-humored. Sandwich boards advertised “Snow Day Specials,” and cafes attracted hundreds of pedestrians, who sipped mochas and chattered eagerly about the epic snowfall. Strangers waved as I passed, like the grateful survivors of a shipwreck. Look at this disaster we’ve shared, they beamed. Aren’t we comerades, kinda?

Snowmaggedon: 4

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm

The sidewalks were a patchwork of pathways. Some sections were cleanly cleared by snowblowers; others were hardly touched. In-between, boots had dug primitive trenches in the moldering snow, and pedestrians wearied themselves by trudging through them.

Where the sidewalks were intraversible, walkers opted for the street, sharing sloppy lanes with slow-moving cars. Fifth Avenue was a carnival of vans and collegiate hikers, many carrying blue grocery bags full of fresh supplies.

Snowmaggedon: 3

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Electrical wires slung dangerously low. Every few minutes, a slight breeze would rustle globs of snow from branches and rooftops, and they would disperse into a cloud of powder.

Snowmaggedon: 2

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Saturday morning, as I plodded around my neighborhood, I saw car after car stuck in the drifts. Each vehicle was its own vaudeville act: One woman, Justine, was stuck in a bluff, only two feet from the cleared pavement of Dallas Avenue. Once freed, she intended to drive to Cleveland, where her mother would enjoy a surprise birthday party. The twist: Justine was in charge of the party.

As I helped Justine shovel snow from beneath her chassis, an SUV pulled up behind her car. The driver tried to maneuver around, but his bumper was soon engorged in snow. As soon as Justine was free — literally shoved into the street by myself and a few neighbors — we began work on the SUV.

The van pictured above was driven by a sour middle-aged man. The man had left his house for one reason: To help his wife, who was stranded in her car a few blocks away. The man’s only duty was to give his wife’s car a jump. It took three men to dislodge the van.

Snowmaggedon: 1

In Pittsburgh on February 9, 2010 at 5:12 pm

We expected six to eight inches. As we settled in for an episode of “Six Feet Under,” we watched snow-flakes drift past the windows. As the hours passed, the snow fell in sheets, blanketing the court and alley. By the time we fell asleep, our front stoop was buried beneath a foot of snow.