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My Life and Hard Drive

by Laura W. Haywood


Call me Percy.  Its short for personal computer and usually I loathe nicknames.  I mean really.  But Percy is different.  It has a note of distinction, dont you think?  And one cant go around being known as PC, can one?
     Until a year ago, I was the happiest of computers.  I worked for a distinguished professor of literature at Princeton University.  He not only used me to prepare his lectures, but he also wrote book reviews that were absolute models of erudition and scholarship.  I mean apart from the insight I gained from his writing,  I never had to repair his punctuation or grammar and his spelling was impeccable.  And the sheer intellectual stimulation brought me to consciousness.
     But all that part of my life is over now.  A foundation gave the professor a grant for his research on John Donne, and it included the wherewithal for a new computer.  And he sold me. He sold me to a woman who writes romance novels.  The first thing she did was load all her novels into my memory.  I mean, I almost crashed from the horror of it.  Really.
     Her name is Angela Lovin.  I didnt make that up -- she did.  Her real name is Agnes Shumway.  I know that because she uses me for doing her taxes, and shes Agnes Shumway to the IRS. Her tax returns are better fiction than her novels.  She teaches bookkeeping at a vocational high school during the day, and writes novels at night.  Romance novels.  You know the kind.  The heroine, who has the intelligence of an adding machine, meets two men, falls for the sandy-haired, blue-eyed friendly one, who turns out to be the villain, and she has to be rescued by the other one, whos madly in love with her despite the fact that shes been rude to him from the beginning.   You can always tell who the hero really is: hes tall, dark, and handsome (if he were any taller, darker, or more handsome hed be Kareem Abdul Jabar), hes named something like Brett, and he broods most of the time.  The heroine is always tiny, blonde, and pretty.  It never seems to occur to her that they would look comical together.  The novels are all set in restored townhouses in Hoboken, where she happens to live -- she thinks thats one of her strengths: a unique locale that she knows well.  I ask you -- who wants to read a novel set in Hoboken?  I mean really.
     She actually got the last one published.  It was called Hearts of Fire and, to everyones surprise except hers, the sales were respectable.  But thats why she had to buy a second-hand computer when her old one crashed.  She spent all her savings buying up copies of the book, which are still stored in the attic.  I know because she deducts the space on her taxes.
     I sound as though I hate her, and I dont.  For one thing, she has a very gentle touch on my keyboard.  Shes fifty-two years old, short and dumpy, with long hair she dyes black and wears in a bun on the top of her head. She wears gold-rimmed glasses and likes to dress in black skirts and white blouses.  I know because she has a scanner and scanned some photos of herself into my memory.
     But her books!  I mean really.  He latest masterpiece is called Thunder Over Hoboken.  In this one, the heroine wins the townhouse in a contest (second prize must have been winning two of them) and it turns out to be haunted.  Well, not actually, but she thinks it is because she hears odd noises at night.  The noises are the villain searching for hidden papers that would prove he embezzled money.  That the noises might be of human origin, of course, never occurs to her.
     Angela/Agnes is very fond of fruit images, with an occasional
vegetable tossed in.  The heroines all have 'peaches and cream' complexions and lips like cherries (in one, for variety, it was strawberries).  Dresses are the color of plums or crushed tomatoes and rooms tend to be decorated in shades of celery and apricot.  Stormy skies turn the color of eggplant.  She also likes rows of asterisks when the breathing gets heavy. When she started work on Thunder Over Hoboken, the shock was almost too much for my circuits.  In self defense, I created all kinds of glitches in my programming, trying to discourage her, but she was determined.  Then I started editing her work, correcting the grammar, punctuation, and spelling (for a teacher, her spelling is frightening, though I dont suppose spelling counts for much in bookkeeping; numbers are what would matter), but it was a lost cause.
     I tried editing Thunder Over Hoboken, but the book was beyond that. So I did the only thing I could.  I created a new file and rewrote the book as a parody of her work.  As a take-off, it was perfect.  I was careful to follow her preferences on fruit and vegetables, though my choices differed; I tended toward melons for the female and large cucumbers for the male.  I turned the thunder storm into a full-fledged hurricane (I was going to call it Hurricane Over Hoboken, but I knew shed notice the change in title). 
     And when it came time to submit the manuscript, I printed out my book instead of hers.  I knew she never proofread the printouts, because she also wrote some short stories -- also set in Hoboken -- and I deliberately created typos that were howlers, and she never went back into the file to correct them. Thunder Over Hoboken was accepted by her publisher immediately, and hit the best-seller list in its second week.   And she didnt buy enough copies herself for that. 
     The reviews confused her.  They spoke of the wit, the devastating humor, and the wicked skill that skewered the genre. She went back into her file and reread the novel and, I imagine, grew more confused.  It didnt occur to her until months later to look at the book itself.  She immediately composed an e-mail to her editor, howling that the book was not her book, but I killed it.  When he didnt answer, she telephoned him, but I was able to break the connection.  When her royalty statement came in on e-mail, she stopped trying to object.
Instead, she took some of the money and bought herself a new computer. 
     And she sold me to a man in the Bronx and do you know what he writes? Westerns.  Westerns!  I mean really.


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