Fifteen years ago today (well, possibly tomorrow, bearing in mind I’m on Greenwich Mean Time here and the following events took place in the eastern United States), two things happened which effectively began two passions of mine, though both have confounded me over the years and I’ve felt much despair regarding the possibility of either of them ever becoming a permanent fixture in my life, though perhaps in 2013 I’ve finally begun the necessary processes.
Ooh, aren’t I being mysterious? Yeah, like you’re not used to that by now. It was Friday the 25th of September 1998, and I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the end of the second week of my eight-month student exchange with the University of Michigan. For the first time ever (outside of field trips) I had a roommate, and although we were beginning to get under each other’s feet, he was very kind to me and let me watch his TV, and even took me into the bosom of his family (hence why I’m still in touch with them fifteen years later). Although the exchange programme had almost gone wrong and I’d thus arrived late, I was able to study whatever courses I wanted, such as two first-year Astronomy courses, as this wasn’t part of my Geology degree and was merely a cultural exchange (indeed, I and the other guy I’ll get to presently were the first from our university to go to this establishment).
Anyway… one reason I’d wanted to go to America so badly was that I’d grown tired of English girls, with whom I seemed to have no truck (or a similar word) whatsoever; somehow I’d gotten it into my head years before that American women would be the way forward for me. I’d noticed a couple of cute girls around campus, but was still finding my feet; my roommate’s cool younger brother thought I’d find someone if I remained positive, and so I kept my eye out.
There was a cute Hispanic (but northern US-accented) brunette who worked at the help desk in our dorm complex, short but curvy, with a tendency to wear shorts; I’d noticed her the previous Friday, but hadn’t really spoken to her yet, though she seemed to be nice. But I wasn’t confident, perhaps because my roommate, despite looking like a young George Clooney, was himself rather shy and reluctant to chat girls up, and if he didn’t have the guts, how could I?
My roommate had gone home previously for his birthday, but had come back with the pieces for his new PC (a Pentium 166MHz, which seemed a lot in those days); he’d let me play Tomb Raider II on his PlayStation (which also seemed good in those days!), which was fortunate as our cable TV connection was broken. It was thus as I wandered the undersea wreck of a fictional cruise liner, from the comfort of a chair in an upper-storey dorm room, that I felt a small earth tremor, the epicentre down south on the Ohio/Indiana border, and went down to the common room by the help desk to see if there was anything about it on TV. I did speak to the girl briefly at that point, but she said she hadn’t felt a thing… however, it’s worth commenting that I e-mailed my mother to say “The Earth has moved!”, adding “no, I haven’t gotten a girlfriend all of a sudden…”
There was an astronomy open house taking place on a campus rooftop that evening; my mother convinced me by phone to ask that girl to go with me, and also told me not to wimp out just because I was worried that the other girl at the help desk might get jealous or upset because I wasn’t talking to her. (Hey, it’s a valid concern: I’m never sure if women are all one big sisterhood who are glad for each other’s found happiness, or a raging mass of rivals who are always trying to steal each other’s happiness… I’m sure the truth varies between individuals!)
And so, properly commanded by der mommandant, I took my roommate for moral support to the common area. I was, naturally, nervous… so imagine my relief when I overheard the object of my desire chatting to the other girl behind the desk, saying she was studying Geology and Astronomy courses this semester! Thus I gained my way in, which when it comes down to it is all you need to initiate contact with someone. We got talking, and she seemed quite happy to talk to me about herself (she said she wrote sci-fi stories, which got me intrigued!); I asked if she was going to the Astronomy open house… and was interrupted by the other guy from my university, who I hadn’t met up to this point but turned out to be living in my corridor!
ARGH! I believe the appropriate term ends with “block” and starts with a similar word! But no, that’s chauvinistic — it didn’t matter, because the girl was still interested in talking to me, and actually suggested we “go together” to the Astronomy evening. So effectively she asked me out…!
I won’t go into excruciating detail about our evening together; suffice to say, we got very close very quickly (not in terms of that, though — she later told me she was keeping her virtue for her wedding night), and I saw her again, which made me happy. It took courage to talk to her, and later to hold her hand, put my arm around her and kiss her (all reciprocated, I should add), and somehow I’ve never achieved that level of “success” again. If only I’d had the strength to slow things down and not try so hard to make up for lost time with her, and if I hadn’t thought, the moment she tried to slow things down, that she was simply going to be the “first of many”, and effectively broken up with her, it might have lasted longer than a week…
(Perhaps in another universe she’s my wife, I’ve lived in the USA for 15 years, and 9/11 never happened?)
I don’t want to believe that I’ve been alone all these years because I’m still somehow pining for that one girl; I have been looking at other women, and trying my luck, but it’s very possible that I just need to find another American, and get away from boring English women…
But what of the other thing that’s confounded me all these years, that happened on the same night? Well, no, not the astronomical sciences — when I got back from my date, my roommate was hoping to put his new computer together with the help of one of his friends and was feeling a certain jealousy (which meant a lot to me as, with no false modesty, I’d say he was the better looking of us both!). I helped him assemble his PC, and this was back in the days before colour-coded plugs and sockets, so it was no mean feat! I also installed some game demos (I’d brought some computer magazine cover CDs with me to America, for no apparent reason), and we got his contraption working fine. That was the first time I’d ever tinkered with a computer other than my own puny Amstrad, and it felt good to use my intelligence in such a way!
It took some time, but I learned more about PCs by trial and error as I went along, and thus, a year later, got my own when I started my final year back at my own university; I then tinkered with its innards for the next few years, achieving amazing things with a relatively primitive machine, when everyone else was moving on to Pentium-IIs and IIIs. In 2004 I even used my mother’s old PC and a replacement processor, together with a DVD decoder card, to make a PC that could play DVDs… though that machine died on me (just as I was watching Evil Dead 2). I finally built a decent machine out of (relatively) modern parts in mid-2006, and have been building my own since then.
But whither my career in IT? After all, I took an MCSE course in 2010, got an A+ qualification in 2011 and failed a Windows 7 exam in 2012; I’ve ended up stuck working in admin for far, far longer than I planned, largely due to inertia, but at least I’ve kept doing IT stuff in my spare time, helping other people with their computers etc. And I’m with an agency now, who will ensure I don’t falter again; I just need to convince my technical trainer that I’m ready to take my A+ exams (at a higher level than before), and I can move on to the next stage.
So there you go, my two current passions, women and computers, both of which I started out with on the same night, fifteen years ago. We’ll just have to see what the next few months bring…