The night before the end, I could be found proofreading my final math paper due the following morning. It was on the inherently contradictory nature of math and the mathematicians that struggled with this reality. I took a momentary glace at Facebook when the spinning wheel of death jumped into view. And stayed. I watched, as nothing moved – not Facebook, not my paper, not even the mouse. I put the whole laptop on my lap, and leaned back on the couch, waiting.
I’ve had this MacBook for seven years now. For a while, the particular black model I have has been discontinued. Two friends and I were obsessed with the idea of owning one back in middle school, and after saving up some money we all went to the store together to buy our very own. The attachment I have to it is strong – what started as a purchase inspired by youthful impulse quickly transformed into the best tool I could have imagined. It grew up with me, up until a point. It traveled with me to Hawaii, Greece, Kenya and New York. I clutched it as I applied to college, and later opened my letters of decision. It even helped me to discover my obsession with art, and in turn meet some of the most expressive, thoughtful people I know today. One day about two years ago I decided with some friends it would be fun to decorate faces on the back of our computers with pipe cleaners, googly eyes and such. Attached is perhaps an understatement, I even made sure to clean it regularly.
Lying back on the sofa, I put my hand slightly to the right of the track pad. Somewhere within it, I felt a disturbance like something rhythmically catching. I had a sudden crackpot theory, I felt sure that the hard drive was located directly under my hand, and the sound was the disk within it catching on some piece of debris.
thunk thunk… thunk thunk…
I turned the computer off and on, and the same blank screen displayed each time. It was already 9 PM the night before my huge paper was due, and I contained my panic as much as possible. An idea hit me – I would open up the computer, clear whatever was in the way of the hard drive and then quickly print my paper.
“Terrence!” I called, and my stepdad entered from the other room. “Put your hand here, do you feel a thumping?”
“Yes but… it’s really faint,” he said frowning.
“Do you have a small screwdriver?” I asked, making it clear I was totally serious.
We walked into his office; he turned away from me to fish through a desk drawer. “Aha! Yes here’s one,” he announced triumphantly. He handed me a plastic bag with one single tiny screwdriver in it. I profusely thanked him and went back into the TV room with my laptop.
I turned the lights all the way on, and watched a few YouTube videos to learn how to take apart my computer. I took the tool to my laptop, and slowly began removing the screws that held it together. After about thirty screws, I was able to move on to the most difficult step: prying the lid off. It is held in place by about a dozen sharp magnetic hinges. I started from the back, relived at the ease by which it gave way. As I pulled towards the front though, it became nearly impossible. No matter how much strength I used, the middle part stayed stuck down. I put the lid back down, and flipped it over to observe the problem. I realized that I had missed one screw in the battery compartment. It was visibly smaller than all the others, but I had come too far (and was too stubborn) to stop trying. I twisted with all my strength to get it out, but only rendered the task impossible. The screw had been stripped.
“Well, fuck it, I’ll just prop the top case open with something while I slide out the hard drive to see what’s wrong,” I thought. I flipped it over once again and began to pry the lid off once more. This time to hold it open somewhat, I shoved little objects on the TV room table into the small gaps I could create. Pens, magazines, and a remote stuck out of the sides of my laptop, wedging a gap just small enough to see into the computer. I grabbed a flashlight to peer into the small crevice I created near the right of the track pad. At first, I thought I did something wrong, the inside of the computer just looked gray and fuzzy.
“…Wait,” I thought, realizing that the inside consisted of a hearty, thick layer of lint, dust and debris. I was unexpectedly faced with the condition my computer had for years been working under and was overcome by a feeling of poignant respect. I stuck the nozzle of a can of pressurized air into the gap, and squeezed the trigger. Lint flew out of the tiny slits I created, filling the air with a gray snowy filth. My cats napping next to me woke up and began chasing wildly around the room, batting at the air. After a little, the front right corner was satisfactorily clean, and my suspicion was confirmed. Indeed there was something labeled “Apple Inc. Hard Drive, 120GB.” My heart dropped when I saw that the drive did not have the spinning disk exposed. Rather, the whole unit was neatly tucked into a little mechanical square. I shoved my hand into the little gap, removed the drive and felt a sharp pain. I was able to quickly pull the drive out, and looked down at my fingers. The exposed sharp metal hinge had cut my finger open. After washing my hand and putting a Band-Aid on, I returned to my task. I cleaned the little drive, put it back, removed the array of objects wedging my computer open, and turned it on once again. I prayed that somehow cleaning the outside would fix it, but the same blank screen appeared. The only difference was that now, the thumping was obviously detectable.
THUNK THUNK… THUNK THUNK…
The reason I say my computer had grown with me to a point, is that about a year before it failed all together, the hard drive had run out of room. About once a month it would remind me that my computer was about to be full once again, and I’d move files onto little USB drives. I have about a third of my music on a drive at my mom’s house, all the photos I took in tenth grade on a drive at school, and all my high school writing on another drive at my dad’s house. Pieces of my information lay all over the place, partially on little ragtag USB drives, and partially on my old pulsating laptop drive.
The next day I took it to the Apple Store. “Would you mind taking a look at this? I don’t really care about a repair at this point, I just want the information back,” I asked the chubby lady behind the Genius Bar counter.
“Well do you have an appointment? I can’t simply be asked a question unless you have an appointment,” she answered without looking up from her computer screen.
“Well no… Alright one second.” I went to the man at the front, and scheduled an appointment for five minutes later.
I walked back to the bar. “Alright I have an appointment or whatever, will you look now? Last night my computer made a weird thunking noise, and I had a huge paper due the next day, so I cleaned the hard drive attempting to fix it. I couldn’t figure out what it was though so I just put it back.”
“What? You opened it? Do you even know which one is the hard drive, sir? Well I obviously would have been glad to help you. But if you opened it, well, I’m afraid there’s little I can do.”
“How does opening it affect anything? I just want to see if I can get the information off it. Here, look.” I took my 75% dust-filled computer and laid it on the counter, followed by a baggie of tiny screws and various pieces of the battery I had removed the night before. “I don’t even want my computer fixed, can’t you just please see if I can have any of the data back?” I pleaded, making a show of desperation. Maybe there’s some sort of human inside of this fat woman that feels some sort of human sympathy. Maybe.
“Um… no put that away please,” she said, quickly looking around. It was clear on her face that I had embarrassed her. I could imagine her thinking, “Heaven forbid somebody sees we used to make a product like this, nonetheless with all the pieces aflutter! This might affect my income, for god’s sake!” She forced a smile, turned to me and said, “It’s too much liability to do that for you. If we were to take your computer and try to recover anything, you could potentially sue us if we ultimately find anything. Now sir, I’m very busy here, please take your bag of junk and leave.”
I looked her up and down and walked out. After driving home I told my mom about what happened.
“Well since we were planning to get you a new computer for graduation anyway, I was thinking of just getting you one now. But this morning I looked up buying tips on an Apple rumor website, and saw that they will allegedly release a new MacBook in a few weeks. I think it would be smartest to wait till graduation after all,” she reported to me, and I nodded in agreement.
I sat down at my desk, glancing at a box in the corner. This box contained all the stickers I had been collecting for the past two years for my future computer. So far it contained stickers from Coachella, City Lights Books, Human Rights Campaign, and a few random ones created by artists and activists. “Just one month,” I thought. “Then I can aggregate all these broken, hodgepodge pieces into something. Until then, I have this little box, that may or may not contain anything of this past.”
THUNK THUNK… THUNK THUNK…