Clickity clickity clack.
Not the muted, subdued sounds of the modern laptop keyboard on which I currently type. Those are akin to modern homo-sapiens when compared to the cro-magnon of old style keys of mid to late nineteen-eighties computer keyboards. You could feel the made-in-China metal spring recoiling defiantly against your phalanges with every keystroke. Each letter required a firm, and confident strike. Although the PCs and word processors all had a backspace key, the hollow, tinny sound, and upward pressure of tapping each letter instilled in you an anxious need to hit the correct key on the first strike.
I imagine that they designed these input devices to ensure a seamless transition for those who had grown accustomed to analog style typewriter key recoil. Those who when forced to type on a modern QWERTY device have the nagging notion that “It doesn't feel like I'm actually hitting the key!”
It was on a machine connected to such a keyboard that I inadvertently set in motion the following events. I don't remember exactly what year it was, but I can recall that it was late fall. Probably about November, as most of the trees' foliage had succumbed to the force of gravity, and those leaves that remained were past the peak of their firey color. They were grey and crunchy like a once famous pop singer who has since lost her talent, and dignity. What I remember for certain was the keyboard connected to my family's computer. Loud and springy. It wasn't an Apple-2e, but to the layman, it was definitely comparable.
My mother had talked my father into buying it as an expense for her job, she was a secretary and middle proof-reader for Highlights For Children magazine. With a home computer, she was able to take her work back from the office on diskette and make progress while staying home with her children; my brother and me at the time.
At first Dad had been reluctant to spend the money on a personal computer system, which was far more expensive at the time than it is now, but after talking to friends and reading a few magazine articles, realized that in Mom's off-time, the machine could be used for games, and entertainment. In fact he ended up buying a modem when he learned that some of his work buddies played MUDs, or Multi-User-Dungeon style games. Early, online text based adventure games. Imagine World of Warcraft for blind people.
In any case, Dad learned that the computer could be used for far more than just work, or business. So whenever I found out about a game that interested me, I would tell him about it, and he would typically find it and buy it so I could play. I remember we had a version of the Oregon Trail that was different than the one I played at school, and also a Star Trek battle game which was pretty fun.
He also picked up practically anything that he thought looked good, or perhaps more accurately, whatever he could spare in petty cash from the Circuit City the next county over, or the local PC repair shop. Thusly, we ended up with a ton of games, a few good, some forgettable, and many of which were pretty crappy.
Having to wake up to ride 35 minutes to school five days a week, coupled with my early A.M wakeup time for catching Saturday morning cartoons resulted in my often times being awake from at least 6 o'clock on Sunday mornings. The only programs that came in on our fake wood paneled, dial operated TV in the sunrise hours of Sunday were repeats of The 700 Club, black and white romance movies, and a show called Yan Can Cook. Not exactly riveting television for a boy under 10 years old. So occasionally I would play computer games until my parents woke up and could take me to the park, or could humor me with board games.
Mostly I played what were considered at the time to be action, or adventure games. We did however, have several games that dad picked up very cheaply because they were intended to be educational. Things like Math Blaster, and learn-to-type programs. There was always plenty of selection, and I never felt starved for a PC game to play.
There was one game that I remember distinctly. It stays in my memory not exactly for reasons of it being incredibly fun, or unique, yet I still feel I won't soon forget it. I remember sitting in my Rambo pajamas, flipping through the diskettes in my father's case looking for something to pass the time until the day started when I came across a game that caught my eye simply because I hadn't played it before. Lord knows how long it was there before I finally noticed it.
The black plastic wafer had a simple off-white address label style sticker on it reading; “Ebgerd 087114” in fading printer ink. Mind you, back then diskettes having low budget labels giving virtually no information about the program contained within wasn't abnormal. I pushed the disk in, slid the plastic closer tab over the drive and typed in “Ebgerd” on the command prompt.
A program started up and looked like it had the potential for an hour or two of fun. The main menu screen was simply a black background with a pixelated image of a cartoon man with a large forehead, slicked hair, dingy grey skin, and what I looked to be a rather tacky fringed, sequined jacket. The title of the program “Learning with Ebgerd; The Rock N' Roll Troll with Soul,” was displayed in large text over a black background dotted with musical notes. I pressed space and a menu came up with the following choices: “Arith1, Arith2, Spelling, Vocab1, Vocab2, Typing1” and “Typing2”
Although I could already tell this was an educational game, I decided to give it a shot. I had nothing better to do. The “Arith” programs consisted of pretty simple math problems, and I quickly grew tired of them. They only went as far as times-tables to 6. The spelling and vocab games weren't great either. Just unscrambling words, and multiple choice word definitions. I suppose they did their jobs though. It's thanks to that game that I still know the meaning of the word “masticate.”
It was the typing games that really stuck with me though. I felt that they were the most effective, as well as the most fun for me. They were both the same, “Typing1” and “Typing2,” it was just the speed of the program which changed.
Upon choosing a typing game, the monitor would switch to a screen showing the large foreheaded fringe jacketed character from the menu screen (I later deduced that this character was named “Ebgerd”) in the upper left, with a music stave in the middle of the screen.
A MIDI style song would play as the image of Ebgerd, would hold a microphone to his mouth and sing along as the notes dotted across the stave moved from right to left. On certain notes, the player was signaled to press a key on the keyboard to spell words. The “Typing1” program had words 6 letters or less, whereas the “Typing2” program used longer words and moved faster.
The game actually worked as intended, and I began to become more and more familiar with the locations of keys on the keyboard. To this day, I credit that game with helping me learn to type as quickly as I do. But as much good as the program did, I have made a promise to myself to never play, nor look at it again for more than a few seconds.
After the initial lazy Sunday morning that I discovered it, I would continue to load up the game, and play the typing program. For a while, I didn't play any other games, only the Ebgerd typing one. It was fun to play, and the words it chose for the player to type, aside for a few standards, seemed to always be new, and different.
The main things about the game that were always the same however were the song that played during gameplay, and the graphical flashes when a string of words was completed. The entire time that you played the typing game, a stock Rock'n'Roll song played in MIDI, or Chiptune style. At least that's what I thought at the time. It was a fairly standard variation on the twelve bar blues that was so popular throughout the '50s and '60s. It wasn't until later in my life that I figured out the actual song that the game was playing through the speakers.
So every few weeks or so, when I became bored with whatever game I was playing on the ancient computer, I would go back to “Ebgerd, The Rock N' Roll Troll With Soul” and mostly play the typing program, as I found it to be the most entertaining. Naturally, I got better and better at the typing game, and it honestly helped be become a more fluent computer user. Though regrettably not without backlash.
As I would play through the game with its seemingly unending bank of words for me to learn to type, I would sometimes get caught up in the experience of playing, and not realize when I had completed a level. I would be staring, unblinking at the cathode-ray-tube monitor for over 20 minutes at a time. Eyeballs drying in Sandman's dust, pupils trying to keep up with the wildly flashing colors indicating successful typing.
Black jumped to white which cut to green. Pink. Brown. Violet. Grey. Blue. A millisecond a piece of each of the 64 colors the program could muster, strung together repeatedly into a hypnotizing orgy of violent digital mayhem. All accompanied by good old American Rock n' Roll. "The music of the Devil," as dubbed by mid century tight-wads.
I was later told by my parents that I was sometimes found early on Sunday mornings blankly gazing at the computer monitor, with crusty, white dried drool on my chin, or in an apparent daze with my head tilted backward over the swivel-back chair. My pale, bloodless face and vacant eyes providing a three dimensional silver screen onto which the yellowing plastic monitor would project its myriad, pastel hues.
One morning, I was found by the neighbors standing with my arms outstretched in the middle of our off-the-main-drag street. Another my mother told me I had been sitting on the front step, crying into my folded forearms. A few weeks after that, my parents told me that I woke them up, proudly displaying to the both of them a shiny white and red bone fragment, a tooth, I had found between the metal prongs of a pair of needle-nose pliers. It turned out to be a lower canine. My own, though I don't remember ever removing it. It wasn't a baby tooth, and thus, was never replaced. It did, however, leave plenty of room for my wisdom teeth, which I'm told would have impacted my lower jaw.
In each instance of blackout, whether I had actually been found at the computer or somewhere else, the machine was always left powered on. Always with the primitive bleeps spitting their bluesy jingle from tinny speakers. The screen always alternating between the flashing of colors, and the unattended gameplay of a certain typing trainer.
I was never diagnosed with epilepsy, nor any other physical, or mental ailments, save for a bout of depression at age 19. So I still don't exactly have an explanation for an event from my adolescence that would have no doubt gone into my police record as an assault charge without some covering-up. However, I think I now know what triggered it.
When I was a teenager, I had a few girlfriends. Well, what a teenager calls “girlfriends” anyway. In my ignorance, I started to think that things might be getting somewhat serious. I decided to test if she felt the same way about me the best way I could think of. I decided that she and I should watch the movie Predator together. If she could get through it with me without drifting off, or making any snarky comments, I figured she would be a keeper.
We got about a 20 minutes or more through the movie, and I was feeling pretty good about how things were going. If she thought the flick was reprehensible, she was doing a fine job of hiding it. But at a certain point, I don't know exactly what happened, but I passed out. More specifically, I went into a sort of trance.
I can remember the part of the movie when Arnold Schwarzenegger decides to go forth with the mission the government has proposed to him. The commando team were in the sinister glow of a crimson light bulb, travelling to their destination in a helicopter. After that, my memory gets kind of fuzzy. So fuzzy in fact, that the chopper scene was the last thing I remembered before awakening on my ancient twin-size mattress, lights out, eyes trying to focus on the dark lump that was actually my mother zoned out asleep, sitting arms folded at the foot of the bed.
What she told me, by extension, what my "girlfriend" told her, was that while watching Predator, I became “glassey-eyed” and stood up suddenly. She said I had punched the wall several times, and then started clawing at my chest and arms with my fingernails. Both of these claims I corroborated by simply glancing at my bedroom walls, and looking at myself before taking a shower. I had no idea what had happened. I knew the girl I was seeing would most likely not want to continue with any relationship.
I was out on a camping trip at age 15, just me and a few buddies. We had a battery operated AM/FM radio with us, and were listening to the local classic rock/oldies station while sitting around the campfire bullshitting. There is a point in time at which I can no longer remember what happened, and have to rely on the recollections of others on the camping trip. Apparently, we were all sitting, four of us, around the modest blaze, when I suddenly became agitated and physically assaulted a friend who was with us. According to the other two on the camping trip, I have no memory, I began staring into the flames for several minutes before lunging at the victim. They tell me I cracked his head against the ground, thank god there wasn't a stone beneath it, before kneeling over him, and trying to pull the canine teeth out of his lower jaw with my hands at first, and then my own teeth.
The other two friends were able to pull me off, and subdue me relatively quickly. Although I'm sure that no one else slept very well that night, I was out until sunrise when I woke up, and heard what had happened, what I had done. I was mortified.
After the camping incident, I learned from my parents that I had had more issues when I was younger. Apparently they had found me with self inflicted scratch marks on my arms more times than they had told me as a child. One day in October when I was 11 I had run headfirst into, and started pounding at the neighbor's storm door, shouting something about "Uncle John." I don't have an Uncle John. They said that they once found me halfway through our own screen door, scratched up, and dotted with bug bites, dried blood on my lower lip and chin.
I eventually found out through a mix of conjecture and personal research, that all these instances had occurred in the early morning hours of a Sunday. I had no idea what any of this meant. I had never had any other mental, or emotional problems to speak of. It wasn't until I was into my thirties that I finally discovered what was happening.
After a long period of having no blackouts, nor violent instances, I came across a single strange thread amongst all the violent outbursts I had. After my mother died (dad had died several years prior) I once again got my fingers on the old springy keyed computer.
After going through the possessions of both my dead parents, if you can imagine, I needed a release. A break from all the grim comings and, more fittingly, goings. After dad died, mom ended up eventually buying a new PC, complete with Windows 95. Fancy, I know. I searched the file manager for any information that looked important. Credit card, and tax info, usernames and passwords, anything that might help close out the estate and get this whole ordeal finished more quickly.
I knew that even though mom had a new machine, dad kept his files on the old one. Looking for any remaining financial records, I booted up the old PC. It was almost as old as me. Its black screen with greening graphics looked coolly inviting. I saw that the Diskette drive was still loaded and closed. I popped the 5 and 1/4” floppy out and read the label; Ebgerd 087114. For absolutely no reason at all, I re-inserted the diskette, and loaded the program. The pixelated, large browed, and flamboyantly dressed main character of the game popped up like a greeting from an old friend.
I instinctively went right to the typing program. After I started getting the hang of it back, I was doing quite well. bobbing my head to the vaguely familiar tune, and squinting at the stroking colors which accompanied getting a good score.
Clickity clickity clack.
I woke up what must have been several hours after I started the game, lying on my back. The milk crate I had been squatting on was several feet away. My head was throbbing, my left forearm bent at an odd angle, obviously fractured, my tongue dry and swollen. My pupils couldn't stand the light streaming brilliantly through the torn curtains for more than a few seconds. So I let my ears do my observing.
I heard the wind rushing outside, a knocking at the door, the digital ring of a telephone, mice scuttling through the walls, flies buzzing hither and yon, a weedwhacker a few hundreds of yards away, my empty bowels gurgling, a truck air-braking at the corner, and almost silently prominent above all, the legacy PC speakers beeping out the notes of a rock and roll song,
The monitor flashed violently as I ventured a peek. The colors were hypnotizing and I hastily closed my eyelids. Then all I could hear were the square notes of a song. One I had heard many times in the past. One I could never quite remember fully. One that had been fiendishly following me thanks to the effects of that unassuming old black diskette.
I heard them repeating over and over in the blackness of my mind's eye. The notes of the song. The notes of “Long Tall Sally.”
Written by Urkelbot