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Strange New Lands – Grace and Geek

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My husband’s friend is brilliant with computers and annoyed with the rest of us who hack away with little understanding. Bill tries to hide his impatience but I sense it.

For me, computers are mysterious boxes that are sometimes friend and sometimes foe. I feel helpless and bewildered by my laptop—especially when it abruptly (and for no apparent reason) decides to thwart my progress.

I am, therefore, thrilled when someone like Bill offers help.

Bill is a big bear of a man, full of bad puns and social awkwardness. He is the prototype of the computer geek, often churlish and condescending. But despite his social failings, Bill can also be sweet, warm, and passionate.

I’d configured a wireless network (amazing!) but couldn’t get my laptop to share my desktop printer. I asked various friends and colleagues for advice but none of their fixes took. Perhaps Bill and his wife would like to come over for dinner and he could look it over?

They were thrilled. They’d wanted to socialize more with us. Bill and his wife didn’t have many friends or social engagements. I’d been doubtful of our compatibility as a foursome but since the men were friends and I needed computer help, I thought dinner was worth a try.

Bill arrived, as usual, with a stale joke and a warm hug. Almost immediately, he noticed my computers purring in the background. He said he’d forgotten about our plans. My heart sank. But Bill’s natural curiosity directed him to a screen. I eagerly followed.

“So, did you invite us over so I’d fix your computer or because you wanted to have dinner with us?”

Ouch. What was that? I thought Bill was fine with my request. He seemed happy when I’d suggested it. And he’d previously offered help with no strings attached. What was going on?

“Both.” I replied honestly. There was nervous laughter. Bill began tapping the keys. Just as I’d hoped, my answer was a few clicks away. But he was annoyed by my desktop, it was too full. He started poking around to clean it up.

“Don’t worry about that. I can do it,” I said. I wanted to take up as little time as possible. I was desperate for Bill to check my new urgent problem. I showed him the cryptic message.

“I need wine before I’ll do any more.”

Sure. Ok. I had offered him wine earlier and now he was demanding it. What’s with the attitude? I poured more wine, sans chilling—eager to appease. Hopefully, a few more clicks would end my pain.

I attempted to make small talk. “You’re so great at this stuff, Bill. Is there anything you don’t know about computers?” Bill’s wife, Sandy, shook her head. Apparently, there was nothing her husband didn’t know.

Bill continued to tap at the keyboard, drink his wine, and complain about the clutter on my desktop.

“But that doesn’t cause my internet problems, right?” I wanted to keep him on track, before the meter ran out and I lost this opportunity.

He tapped and clicked. I had no idea what he was doing and Bill didn’t explain. Then he stopped. He was irritated. And my continual questions regarding my printing problem were met with vague and noncommittal answers.

Ok. We’re done. At least he made some good adjustments and I’ll hope for the best.

“You should learn what you’re doing with the computer,” Bill said. He was smiling but his tone was tense. “I have a friend. I worked on his computer for a while, gave him a lesson and then he asked what he owed me. I normally charge $150, I told him, but since you’re a friend, I’ll only charge you $100.”

I felt my jaw drop and then clench.

Bill continued. “We should set something like that up.”

Was I supposed to pay him now? If Bill didn’t want to help me, why not say so? Why be so generous with help at other times? Why did he talk of trades and ways “friends” could help each other if he was just going to present a bill? And why say all of this just before my carefully-planned dinner party?

Seething inside, I didn’t talk much during the meal and made excuses to end the evening early.

But then, after mulling the issue and finally talking with Bill, I realized a truth. There WAS something he didn’t know. He was as clueless about interpersonal relationships as I was about computers!

Suddenly I felt more compassion for him. Monitoring feelings and understanding social mores was natural and easy for me, but Bill really didn’t know how to function in the realm of emotions.

How strange it is to explore a foreign country. For me, it is technology. For Bill, it is understanding his own inner world.

We both have a long way to go. Bill is working on understanding how he feels so he doesn’t “dump” on others. These days I’m working on understanding blog gadgets, web design, and html.


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