The approaching millennium has me worried about all the computers, mostly because of a notice I received from the publishers of a magazine to which I recently subscribed:
"The news is simple. Your subscription is coming to an end, yet we haven't received your renewal order. Perhaps our letter and your instructions crossed in the mail. I'd like to think that. But it's not too late. Mail your renewal today, and everything will be fine." It was signed by the circulation marketing director, a Mr. David D. Williams.I was confused, since I had only ordered this magazine a few months ago. I called and spoke to a real live person who cleared up the mystery: "Oh yes, according to our computer, your subscription is about to expire."
"When, exactly, will it expire?"
"On Nov. 28, 1998."
"But this is only April."
"Well, the computer likes to take care of things early to avoid any errors. It doesn't want to be responsible for you missing a single issue."
Obviously the computer was a Virgo. The woman went on to assure me that I didn't have to renew today, since the computer would send a reminder once a month until the awful and actual demise of my subscription.
"Is the computer by any chance named Mr. Williams?" I asked, not altogether jokingly.
"We call it Herb," she replied, apparently finding nothing out of the ordinary in my question. I hung up saddened, thinking about Herb frantically working overtime while Mr. Williams, if he exists at all, was probably riding around in a golf cart with his human buddies.
Then I remembered something that occurred about 30 years ago. As a high school graduation gift and send-off to college, my mother gave me a subscription to The New Yorker. Arriving every week, the magazines soon filled up the corners of my teeny dorm room while I, pondering the meaning of life and fraternity parties, found little time to read them. I looked forward to the expiration date, and so did my roommate.
Deciding to keep the subscription for herself, Mom sent in a change of address form. Although she started receiving it, I still got my copy every week. For the next two years we called and wrote, alerting the publisher to this mistake. No matter. The magazines kept coming - a situation attributed to "computer error."
In a desperate attempt to escape the constant onslaught of pithy intellectualism and sophisticated wit, I transferred to another college and took up residence with my parents. This brought about a new wrinkle - we started getting three copies of the magazine, all at our home address. Taking care of The New Yorkers became a full-time job. (My father considered building an addition for magazine storage, but decided we needed groceries more.)
After much swearing, pleading, and cajoling, we finally succeeded in stopping our subscription. I'm guessing that particular computer suffered incredible rejection, leading to even higher crimes and misdemeanors. Who knows if it isn't responsible for my monthly bill from Sears for $00.00.
All this neurotic computer behavior has given me a great idea: What's needed are computer analysts, but of a different kind. They'll be very much in demand come Jan. 2, 2000, with so many computers feeling guilty and depressed after ruining society the day before. (People will by then have given up all responsibility for errors of any kind, except perhaps leaving the baking soda out of the brownie recipe.)
With my son's future earnings in mind, I'm going to stop my nagging and instead encourage him to spend all his waking hours on the computer. He could be the Sigmund Freud of the next generation! Of course, he could always be a mailman - with all those computers freaking out, there's bound to be a lot more junk mail.