To know Charlie is to be well aware that he has a terrible addiction. For the last several years, this addiction has become increasingly debilitating and all-consuming. As with most unhealthy obsessions it hurts not only Dad, but his family as well. To be honest, this tragic situation has us all living in our own personal Hell. The number of bruises and stubbed toes alone…!
Yes, I’m ashamed to say that my father is addicted to computers. Not the Internet, mind you, though he does seem to download viruses (usually unintentionally) from less “respectable” websites a little too often. (How he keeps finding them, I’ll never – and don’t want to – know.) For Charlie, being able to get a computer on the Internet or play Hearts is only the end game. What he is addicted to is the collection and dismantling of PCs, laptops, or anything with an artificial pulse.
Towers, hard drives, floppies, motherboards, printers, monitors, etc.; you name it, Charlie probably has it, as a whole or in parts, taking up space somewhere in his shop, back patio, garage, or den. It may even be, slowly but surely, creeping its way into the living and/or dining room.
The symptoms of this addiction are:
1) A constant need to do what he likes to call “fix” (even if it’s not actually broken).
Note: To “fix” does not necessarily mean “to make operational.” “Fixing” is also not limited to Charlie’s current collection. It can include items belonging to friends, neighbors, or anyone willing or naïve enough to supply it to him. We’ve tried to cut off his “dealers,” but thus far to no avail.
2) The excessive accumulation of unnecessary and obsolete electronics.
Note: Charlie’s ability to determine the true value of modern technology went out with the Original Heathkit Collection. Ultimately, this lack of expertise results in everything ending up either dismantled in a box somewhere never to be seen again, or added to the stack of towers and spare parts; a claustrophobic assembly that must be circumvented like a maze to avoid bumps, bruises, and general injury.
As an example, Dad owns several printers. This is not for any particular reason as he really doesn’t print anything other than random email fwds (which, by the way, he keeps in a three-ring binder for the purposes of sharing with indifferent family and friends). So, one day I asked if I could use a scanner to copy some old family photos (found shoved into the bottom shelf of a book case, buried behind computer towers and printers). In an attempt to provide me assistance, Dad motioned to the closest and likely the most recently purchased and/or acquired in disrepair printer/scanner, which just happened to be installed, connected, and surrounded by 2 feet of towers and equipment.
Should I just climb on in there and try not to get injured or step on anything? Or maybe I should take the printer out and install it onto my laptop in another room? While both choices would require entering the computer graveyard/obstacle course (like something out of The Running Man) as long as I could exit the belly of the beast unscathed I could deal with a little temporary discomfort. It was only meant to be a short scanning job anyway.
As I patiently looked on, Dad seemed to be considering whether or not the printer/scanner should be in another room; “I don’t know if I want to move that,” he said still assessing the situation. “It’s too big.” Charlie’s solution? We must take a trip in the car to hunt down and purchase a smaller, more easily portable printer/scanner.
Easily portable? Are we going to be doing some printing in the car?
I swear I am not making this up.
In the end, while I did managed to convince Dad to save his money, regrettably I knew his addiction would likely get the better of him one day and a new minutely smaller device would find its way into Hell’s little gauntlet. Such is, I suppose, the life of a retiree with idle hands.
Sometimes I wonder what life would be like – for Dad and myself – if he had decided to join one of those retirement communities in Florida. Charlie is not a Hawaiian Shirt wearing, shuffle board type, but would his compulsion to “fix” and accumulate carry over to a new environment? Would he finally be satisfied there? Would the addiction be cured?
There would certainly be less storage space. Plus sun tanning on sandy beaches, fresh oranges and key lime pie, and cocktails at poolside. I suppose I’d even visit a little more often.
On the other hand, I’m afraid Charlie is a creature of many habits, habits which do not involve contentment or the great outdoors (unless road trips to Office Max and Best Buy count). Rather than rain, he’d complain about the heat. Instead of the “blasted squirrels” destroying his cardboard recycling he’d be tormented by tropical birds and alligators. And where there is closet, garage, or shuffle board space, Dad would find a way fill it. Maybe in a more agreeable climate I wouldn’t have so many bruises from bumping into towers, monitors, and printers (or a least I wouldn’t mind it so much). Even so, Charlie is who he is and I’m not sure I’d want him to be any other way. For better or worse, he made me who I am today; quirky, strong, and a hardcore minimalist. Besides, to be honest I don’t really like Florida anyway.
Unlike Hell, it’s not so much the heat, but the humidity.