When I was in elementary school, my family got a computer. As with all mid-90s computers, it was massive and it was slow. We had to buy a special desk set just to accommodate all its bits and pieces, and the rat’s nest of cords that trailed over to the wall outlets weighed about as much as I did, but we thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Up until that point, the only computers I had used belonged to the colony of dated Apples my school kept in its dark womb of a computer lab, along with a similarly archaic complement of dot matrix printers. But the school was undergoing significant renovations, and the plan was for School 2: School Harder to include brand spanking new, top of the line computers loaded with marvels like Windows 95 and Mario Teaches Typing.
To keep us up to speed on these pinnacles of technology whilst away from the classroom setting, the school
commanded gently suggested that all of our parents purchase equivalent machines for our homes. School computer access outside of class time would, of course, be granted on a limited basis to any students whose parents were awful people who didn’t care about their children’s education, but it was not the preferred option.
And so it came to pass that we owned a computer.
Each of us had our favorite programs. I was addicted to Minesweeper and Operation Neptune. My father favored a golf game whose name escapes me. And my mother, the consummate artist, instantly and irrevocably fell in love with Paint.
Oh, how she loved the novelty of drawing on a computer. You would think the imprecision of moving a cursor around with those old temperamental ball mice would have driven her crazy, but she was too excited to care. To heck with her intricate oil paintings and watercolors; the future was here and she was a part of it!
As part of her inaugural celebration of this new creative outlet, she decided to draw an elaborate portrait of one of our dogs standing in the backyard on a sunny afternoon. I stood watching over her shoulder as she sketched in our lawn and the surrounding shrubs, and finally the distinctive limbs, features and spots of our mischievous but beloved dalmatian.
When the scene was finished, she sat back and eyed it critically for a moment. Then, with a snicker and a glint in her eye, she took up the mouse again and made a few quick alterations. “There,” she said with a smile tugging at her lips, “that’s more like it.” And we both burst into fits of giggles.
The illustration was no longer of our dog standing in the yard. It was of our dog shitting in the yard.
When we had finally tired of admiring her masterpiece, she saved the image just in case we ever needed another laugh in the future, and we went off in search of something else to do.
We promptly forgot all about the picture.
The computer served us well for some time. We all got more and more comfortable using it. In fact, we had just reached the stage where we pretty much took it for granted when, inevitably, it broke.
One evening, as my father sat down at the computer desk and pressed the power button, tragedy struck. Instead of the usual friendly beeps and boops of the computer going through its startup motions, there was a sudden whiff of burning electronics, and from deep within the box the repetitive wail of an “OH SHIT, SOMETHING’S BROKEN” alarm came to life.
This was well before the days of any of us even dreaming of cracking the case open ourselves to try and assess the damage. My father quickly unplugged everything so the alarm would shut up and resolved to take it in to a repair shop the next morning.
And then there was nothing we could do but wait and hope for a call saying everything was going to be okay.
The absence of the computer was profound. Without us realizing, it had become a fixture of our lives. The entire room took on an empty, derelict quality without it, and the mass of disconnected cords left behind flopped about like fish out of water.
Also it was a bitch to have to do my school projects without Microsoft Encarta.
Finally, the phone rang with good news. Our computer was fixed and ready to come home. My father would pick it up the next day and our family would be whole again.
But when Dad came home the following afternoon, it was empty-handed. “You won’t believe this,” he said. “They had it all fixed and ready to go, but then some guy came in and stole it this morning.”
Naturally, we were shocked. How could this have happened? Why us? Oh, the humanity! My mother remarked that it was lucky that we didn’t keep any important personal information saved on the computer.
Dad and I nodded our agreement.
Then, suddenly, Mom gasped.
“What, what is it?” my father asked with concern.
“Oh my god, the picture,” she whispered.
For a moment I wondered what the heck she was talking about. Then the realization dawned on me.
“Oh my god,” I giggled, “the picture!”
My father, not having been in attendance at my mother’s drawing session, was still confused. “What picture?” he asked.
“The one I drew of Penny crapping on the lawn.”
“I drew a picture in Paint of Penny taking a dump on the lawn. It was for a joke. What’re they going to think of us when they snoop around in our computer and see that?“
I honestly couldn’t tell you in that moment whether my mother was amused or whether she was genuinely concerned that some stranger was out there somewhere judging her based on a Paint drawing of a dalmatian dropping a deuce. All I know is that the thought of our computer thief having his delicate sensibilities offended by a bitmap image of a shitting dog made me laugh even harder, and then my dad started cackling away about it too, so there was nothing left for my mother to do but join in.
I’ve owned four computers since. All have brought with them their own new quirks and tales of intrigue, but none will ever compare to the case of the purloined pooch in Paint.