Berger’s Burg: Columnist fights with !@#$%& computer

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The first one was from a reader who claims to be my "Number #1 fan." She writes: "You are my favorite. Nobody comes close to you as a personality. Please...

By Alex Berger

Fan mail is great. I recently received two lovely letters six days before National Columnist Day.

The first one was from a reader who claims to be my "Number #1 fan." She writes: "You are my favorite. Nobody comes close to you as a personality. Please send me an autographed photo so I can worship you from afar."

Gloria pointed out that the letter was Xeroxed. So, I sent her a copy of my newspaper picture -- Xeroxed.

The second fan letter came from a lady with apparently excellent taste. She writes," I think you are the greatest! When I can't sleep, I read your column." This humble columnist loves receiving accolades like these before National Columnist Day.

What? You never heard of this inspiring day? Well, let me explain. The famed World War II columnist, Ernie Pyle, was killed by enemy fire on April 18, 1945. He was covering the Pacific theater, and died four months before it ended. The date was chosen as a tribute to Ernie Pyle. It eventually extended to all columnists, who face their "Three C's" of writing: Comments, Complaints, and Compliments. However, I will add a fourth "C' to the mix: "COMPUTERS!"

To err is human, but to really screw up, you need a computer. Haven't you noticed a few more wrinkles on my grumpy face? These etches of crankiness were not caused by Gloria. They are the result of that !@#8L#! electric box, my computer. When it comes to gadgets, I am certainly the Big Klutz of electronics, but this is downright ridiculous. Let me begin at the beginning.

As a pre-baby-boomer, I was brought up with the manual typewriter. My college manuscripts, my letters to the world, and my early columns were all produced on my trusty Royal. Yes, I had to labor like a coal miner. Yes, I snipped, pasted, and retyped. Yes, my fingers were dyed white from the many smears of White-Out. Yes, entangling the typewriter ribbons was a nuisance. And yes, completing my tasks took an eternity. Ah! But at least, whatever I typed on the page remained there forever. I was a relaxed and happy man.

However, earlier, in 1946, scientists in Philadelphia invented the first computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. This electric wonder weighed in at 30 tons and filled an entire room. A few years later, experts were predicting that computers would someday be as light as 1.5 tons. Little did they fathom that it would be reduced further to the size of a typewriter. And little did I fathom that this ignoble invention wouldmake my life miserable 30 years later. But, I am getting a little ahead of the story.

On a dark and dismal day in 1993, Gloria and my two sons, Jon and Vance, presented me with a computer for my birthday. "This little machine will do half your work, Dad," Jon said. "Then why didn't you buy me two?" I quipped. "Maybe we should have," Vance chipped in, "in case you break one." "If you had bought two, I would have married them and sent both of them off," I replied. Then smarty Gloria added, "They might have had a baby and the first word out of its mouth would probably be 'data.' " And so began my death-dance with the computer.

I studied the manual. It was so technical that I still couldn't tell a floppy disc from a daisy wheel. So I resorted to my natural, innate ingenuity -- I contacted my sons. They set me up and gave me a basic course. I was ready. They stressed that computers, when used as a writing machine, make writing so easy, so painless, so...

Let me continue. My first two columns were flawless. I was proud of my prowess with the new plaything. But disaster soon sttuck. I had just completed a column on a Queens rock band. It was one of my best works. The night before I was to print it, I decided to add one word to that column. One word, do you hear, only one word.

I got out of bed, drowsily tiptoed to the computer, and filled in that one word. While doing so, I inadvertently pushed the wrong button. Gasps and Gazooks! I froze as I watched my masterful words being eaten by the computer. My life passed before me. Cold sweat, heart palpitations, and numbness gripped my body. I called my sons, I called my editor, I called the FBI but none of them were able to advise how to piece my Humpty-Dumpty back together again. So, I had to re-do it. It was an inferior substitute because one can seldom, if ever, reproduce a column exactly as the one he previously had written. To this day, I bemoan the fact that this original column was lost to the world.

A few weeks later, I again created a masterful column. Before printing it, I reached for my massive Webster's Dictionary to look for just the right word to close my final paragraph The huge tome slipped out of my hand and tumbled down onto the electric wire. The connection was pulled from the socket. Once again cold sweat, heart-palpitations, and numbness swirled through my body as my magical words vanished forever. Did you hear that? Forever! Eternally! Until the Twelfth of Never!

Despite the agony, I again forgave the computer. But the straw that broke this columnist's heart happened while I was typing this very column. There I was, typing away, minding my own business, when it happened. The column was half-finished when the computer began to eat the words again. I don't know what set it off. Was it my punching a wrong key again or was the computer angry about my choice of subject?

Computer, please be good to me. I promise never to write a nasty word about you ever again, so help me.

Reach Times-Ledger columnist Alex Berger by e-mail (yes, he can open e-mail) at (Warning: Don't hit the wrong button, or you may send the message to Burger King)or contact him the old-fashioned way at 718-229-0300, Ext. 139

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