“Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time.” (Howl, Ginsburg)
“Oh, [F—]! Oh, [F—]! Oh, [F—]!”. It was Sunday in Wisconsin. And even though the TV was on, which meant of course the game was on, my string of unstoppable expletives had nothing to do with the fact that the Packers were gaffing its record-breaking winning streak to the usually wobbly Chiefs. Instead, I was standing, heart pounding, eyes blurring, and hands shaking like the A train as I realized they held a total stranger’s laptop.
Given that I was traveling with my laptop and opening it on a Sunday while visiting family halfway across the country to do work during a potentially historic game (at least for dedicated cheeseheads) should tell you there are certain other matters keeping me up at night (two of which are in active litigation).
But dinky di! The year closed out leaving me with renewed belief in the goodness of human kind, if not unfettered faith in our natural inclination to be good when no one’s looking.
That fateful Sunday, as I watched the Packers slowly and irrevocably break their near record streak, I believed that the fate of my laptop was inextricably intertwined with my home team’s performance. I was only partly wrong.
As sure as my laptop was lost, the Packers lost. Despite multiple calls, made with frantic freak out barely restrained, by the time I returned to La Guardia on Monday, there was still no sign of my laptop, no hint anyone was looking for theirs, and dwindling hope I would ever discover who “Noah” was. (His name was revealed when I first turned on the laptop but then we got snared by the various gatekeepers, protecting all of Noah’s identity from about seven pairs of prying eyes). It was small wonder no one had called to claim Noah’s notebook. Mine was only two weeks old – that newness likely a fault. It was shiny and pretty, and fit for heavy lifting or at least a really great screen for a serious gamer.
While, like a couple of Kubrick apes, my sister and I tried to break past face recognition on the mystery laptop, Noah, a 17-year old Aussie, was wondering where the hell his Skyrim disk was. He didn’t bother to call the TSA but, when I finally tracked him down through my partner’s super sleuthing and hard drive cracking, Noah didn’t run or hide. To his credit, he politely informed me his uncle would be returning to the great concrete jungle December 25th (yes, Revel, there is a Santa Claus and he comes from a land down under), and he would be happy to make the switch, and how did I happen to find him?
There is a favorite part of a Dr. Seuss classic: the end of the Cat in the Hat, where the very naughty gato has just whisked away every sign of his presence and suddenly Mother, who was not privy to the pranks and havoc that ensued in her absence, turns to the children to ask them what they did while she was away.
After finding Noah’s Skyrim: the Elder Scrolls disk (the disk drive – too obvious for any of the seven of us back in the Dairyland to think to check), my Brooklyn wizened and technogeek partner removed the hard drive, and we found young Noah’s treasure trove of surreptitious classroom snapshots, college apps, and, frankly, little else.
I was grateful for the clear compass on young Noah, a leery lad standing at the threshold of adulthood and high stakes academia (I only got on the wait list of the law school at the university he’s applying to), and soon certain to face harder ethical questions than whether to return the laptop of an adult who apparently was too distracted by this big busy world to notice having made the switch (another downfall of my laptop’s newness — I was judging its familiarity by weight and feel rather than actually looking at this thousand dollar piece of luggage going through security). Yes, your author is the culpable party. It was only later as I stood watching the Packers fall to pieces that I recalled a missed Blink of a moment: the person behind me had picked up his laptop and turned it over, looking at it oddly, almost like a Space Odyssey primate, while I strode confidently past, proud and smug at my deft ability to sail through security regardless how much luggage and crap was strapped on me. It was not even a full second when it flashed that something was amiss(ing).
So Noah of the Elder Scrolls posed the question how I found him, which certainly was to mean what did I find out about him. My partner is perhaps more virtuous or less curious than me. I suspected there was much more Noah had in store. There were, I was sure, secret savant rantings and prodigious teenage genius locked behind some hyper-encrypted file, and couldn’t my partner please get out of my way so I could find it? The best he did was indulge me in looking at Noah’s college essay. It was a rough draft, needed some work, but it was a valiant beginning.
Noah, hanging out back down under still had my laptop in his possession, and could just as easily look for secret genius in my own traveling home (and would just as likely find none). But the question hung in the air, crossing continents, “how did you find me?” And I silently questioned the same of him. Had he, too, broken in and was he now poring over some long lost files, riveted by my screenplay eleven years in the making and insisting his father, the renowned and wealthy producer, read it immediately, or was he sifting through techno glut and the electronic clutter of one overworked paper pusher? Or was he biting his nails through another wave of Skyrim withdrawal, staring abjectly at the useless trapped gadget? And if I told him how I rifled through his files and found his email address on his college app, would he feel like turnabout was fair play, pop out the hard drive, and look at the person who on the other side of the globe was looking at him, both of us through electronic techno bobble eye goggles? I stood staring at his question in my email on my iPhone, and paused for a moment before I answered.
Ted Geisel asked his young readers, “Well, what would you do if your mother asked you?”
QUESTION: what would you do if your Noah asked you? Go ahead … Gimme the dirt!