Geek Rhétorique

Chapter 2: Crisis in Paradise


The call came like a piercing bolt of lightning in the dead of night. I was at work, the staff manicurist polishing one hand, while I stepped through the debugger with the other.

"Melinda -- I'm sorry -- I'm going to do it. I'm going to kill myself. <click>"

It was Jill. Jill Thompsoncrest, sole heir to the Thompsoncrest family fortunes (if she survived) and an amateur computerphile. When I say 'amateur', I mean in the same sense as an Olympic gold medalist is an 'amateur'. She never worked for money. She didn't need to. But her Macintosh LISP compiler was legendary -- available only to her close friends and family, and to a lucky few who managed to pirate it. I had known Jill for years as a strong, steady, brilliant woman, and a 5'11" blonde knockout. She had been at the cutting edge of technology, and the center of the hottest social scenes for years. There had always been some wealthy, dynamic programmer or other chasing after her, but no one had ever captured her interest, until she met Herbert. After that, she lost interest in everything else.

I felt partially responsible, having introduced them. She was looking for a good device driver, so I gave her his number. He had it done in 3 days, all in assembler, and fully optimized. It slipped onto her system as smoothly as a pair of silk tap pants. She said it took her breath away. For a while they were blissful together, but before long the relationship was losing synchronization. When they finally crashed and burned, Jill was devastated. I tried to reason with her, but it was no use, she didn't want to go on without him.

I know how she felt. Hell, I've been there, more than once. A friend would say to me, "You're better off without him. He's ugly, he's rude, he never even remembered your birthday. What did you ever see in him in the first place?"

"He writes beautiful code."

"Really?"

"God, extraordinary."

Next thing you know, she'd be going out with him. Personally, I've never gotten desperate enough to consider suicide, but dozens of people I know have. So when I got the call from Jill, I knew what to do. I task-switched to my electronic address book, did a search for Jill's record, and pressed the button labeled suicide, a feature I had recently implemented. It autodialed 911, the state trooper, and the local police in Jill's zipcode with a synthesized message. It then checked links to her closest friends and family, but I aborted the call to Herbert... better to keep him out of this.

Tom returned the call a few minutes later. "I'm going to look for her", he said. He hopped into his BMW convertible and checked out the places he thought she might be -- Herbert's penthouse, her mother's mansion; he finally found her in front of her lake house, half conscious, with an empty bottle of sleeping pills. When he paged me from his carphone, I hurried over.

Melinda in a high-fashion suit leans against an elaborately carved library mantel. click for enlargement

The waiting room at Geek Memorial Hospital is well appointed and comfortable. Jill arrived in plenty of time for the stomach pump to remove her from danger, so all that was left to do was to get a double shot at the espresso vendor's stand and have a seat. With all the town's best known hackers converging at the hospital, it was impossible to persuade the press that nothing was up, so to appease them I let them take my picture by the mantel.

When Jill was ready for visitors, we filed in, hugged her thin, pale body, and tried our best to show support. Then, exhausted, those of us who didn't have a banquet to emcee or an intimate rendez-vous planned that night trooped off to the nearest sushi bar to chill out.

No more than a week later, Jill had met an aeronautics engineer and antique car collector with a very prestigious email address: NASA.gov. They were appearing in euphoric photos all over the society pages and shocking the town with their unabashed affections. Just goes to show you: love is less reliable than a beta version of Windows. Just don't go blowing out your EPROMs every time it crashes! Remember, there is always a newer and better version waiting to be released. Vive l'amour!

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