Today we shall put aside all political battles to discuss a more insidious conflict: The one constantly waged between mankind and machines.
It must first be understood that some people have technological aptitude. Others -- and that includes me -- have technological ineptitude. We who are not at peace with technology pay dearly for this.
Machines -- be they computers or simple engines -- have contempt for those who do not understand them and plot humiliating little schemes as punishment. I would say that this is a scientifically proven fact if only this were proven. For the moment, this theory is a Ph.D. waiting to be awarded.
No doubt those of you who are mechanically or technologically inclined think this idea is paranoid. You think machines are inanimate objects without the ability to reason or bear grudges. "Huh!" is what I say to that.
I understand why you cannot see the truth: That is because the machines that you technologically inclined people deal with immediately recognize your aptitude and respond by being obsequious. Even when they break down, they react to your knowledgeable care by behaving logically. They are like horses that know what sort of rider they have on their backs, according to some sixth sense.
"Be nice to the well-informed human," is the secret mantra they hum among themselves. "Henry and his machine-ignorant friends will be around later, and then we can have some fun by breaking down."
My first acquaintance with machines behaving badly occurred with motor vehicles. While it is true that cars back in the day were more prone to mechanical malfunction than they are now, they misbehaved with me to a remarkable degree. Regularly, they would not start and, once started, they found every possible excuse to break down.
My worse experience as a young, mechanically clueless person was a trip made around Europe in an old Volkswagen Kombi (known to Americans as the VW Bus), the traditional vehicle of hippies in the 1960s. As a product of a technologically efficient culture, those Kombi vans had a reason to hate hippies, what with their unkempt looks and indifference to German engineering, and they must have mistaken me for one. While mostly kempt, my youthful beard may have put me on their wrong side.
On my spluttering grand tour of Europe in that sulky vehicle, I visited the historic garages of Italy. The final adventure was crossing the Austrian Alps with fast-diminishing braking ability. Thank goodness France was flat.
But automobiles have pretty much given me a free pass on aggravation since then. I suppose the fun went out of it for them. Yet even to this day, my car has a permanent engine warning light on. The car has been checked and all appears well, but the light stays stubbornly lit. Of course, I know the problem. It is the eye of the pagan machine god keeping watch on me, telling me that at any time, if it so pleases the engine community, my troubles will return to put me in my place.
Meanwhile, the baton of driving me crazy has been passed to new machines. Certainly, computers have given me challenges over the years. When computers do go bad on me, the tech support people are apt to say, "Well, I have never seen this before." Of course not. The computers have complete respect for them.
In recent months, my battle has been taken up on a new front, one that hits home. Yes, my household appliances appear to be in full revolt. When the toaster got toasted and its replacement operated moodily, I thought nothing of it. Then the hot water heater went cold and the air conditioner went hot. When the air conditioner was repaired, it waited only long enough for a heat wave to go hot again. It needed a part, we were told -- true enough, it needed part of my wallet as tribute.
My heart was truly broken when the fridge broke. It wasn't even old. I loved that fridge -- it was where I kept my beer, not to mention the milk, etc. Now I am reduced to saying nice things about the other appliances in their presence to keep them on my side -- "This stove bakes up a storm, eh?" "I love the way the washer and dryer are sensitive to my underpants."
I know they are watching and listening, biding their time, waiting for the chance to punish my lack of interest in their workings. That is life for us who are machine clueless.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org