The [S]um of All Fears

Once upon a time, I farted in an Apple Store. And since I couldn’t even afford an iPod charger’s cellophane shrink wrap, I didn’t feel entitled to break wind. The guilt became more overwhelming than the smell.

The cords, the cords!

While my friend bought her iPhone, I pulled out my slider phone to check messages. Like chum for sharks, the archaic technology attracted the attention of an Emo kid with skinny jeans and a misunderstood air about him. He sidled up to the blonde wood island where I leaned, unsheathed his Mac from a sleek, skull-embossed bag, and eyed me suspiciously. Behind thick, black, artsy frames, his eyes darted from my battered phone and settled on my face, his penetrating gaze conveying unequivocal dismay.

You sad, old, PC-using fossil. There’s no hope to be found here by you or your embarrassing Zack Morris phone. Be gone with ye!

I shifted uneasily, pulling at my faded polo shirt like a teenage mother trying to hide the bumpy mistake she’d made with the football team captain under the stadium bleachers. But at least my friend’s proximity afforded me some semblance of a protective Apple shield. With her tutorial finished, she returned–her acquisition drawing the Gollum-like kid’s attention away from me. We turned to go, with faint muttering following us.

My Precious.


Years before I fart in the Apple Store, I find myself at a mall kiosk (not this one), quickly being surrounded by curious cell phone associates, each of whom hymn-and-haw over the prototypical instrument I’ve produced from my bag.

“Holy crap! I’ve never seen something like this!”

Brian, the head clerk, calls to his coworkers.

“Margo. HEY, Margo! Come take a look at this!”

Margo, a slight, dark-haired, mousy woman obliges. As incredulous as Brian, she looks to me for answers.

“But, where’s the screen?”

I push two side buttons, jiggle it, and the screen springs up. Boom. They flinch. I am Prometheus.


Suffice it to say, throughout college, I didn’t have a strong track record keeping up with the latest technology. Much less using my desktop for anything other than schoolwork.

In fact, the most risqué thing I’d ever done online was send a winky face emoticon via AIM. And that necessary gumption hadn’t come easily, especially since it took me an absurdly long time during freshman year to understand the basics of instant messaging.

Wait, you mean to tell me that I can talk to someone online who’s three hours away in East Alabama right now? That’s…just…like…insanely cool.”

Throw in my latent confusion of “S” and “C” from third grade speech therapy, and my virtual self sometimes presented as a solicitous sex addict to AIM buddies and random computer users.

“Alright. Now, to finish the formula, enter ‘SUM’ followed by the cell numbers in parentheses.”

My undergraduate adviser stands over my shoulder, watching as I tap his prompt into the equation.

“Uh, no. SUM.”

I retype it again, seeing nothing wrong with the equation: CUM(E5:E7).

Little did he know, the closest I’d been to sex or porn was Kate Winslet in Titanic. And even then I’d found the necklace more interesting than her nakedness–noticing a similar jewel in an art book I’d just gotten as a birthday gift from one of the slack-jawed sleepover buddies gawking at The Boobs.

“Hey, look at this! The dress is different, but the necklace is like hers!”

No one noticed.

So much for birthday boy privileges!


Still, my technophobic anxiety eventually acquiesced to raging hormones. Porn won. And so did a computer virus.

Had I not been overly frugal and eschewed my anti-virus software renewal, I wouldn’t have had to experience The Walk of Shame to the nearest computer repair shop. Because, of course, the technician asked the standard, ridiculous question.

“So, how’d ya get this?”

Well, I was looking at pictures of puppies and kittens, and wabam! Trojan horse.

That’d never work. But my answer was no less transparent. And what my downcast eyes didn’t surrender, my browsing history undoubtedly did. So I returned two days later, paid the ridiculous sum required to rebuild my computer, and took it home.

Then revisited the site. And got another virus.

Like I’d hoped an “F” on a seventh-grade Algebra test would morph into a “B” over Thanksgiving break, I thought, the next day–after I’d panicked, cried a little, and unplugged my computer–everything would be fine: certain photos actually would be photos of roosters. But as I’d learned the day after Thanksgiving, magical thinking is just that.

Aside from revisiting the site, my biggest mistake was returning to the same repair shop. The technician sighed, motioned for me to hand over my debilitated computer, and asked the same question. I blamed it on my roommate, the one who used my computer when I wasn’t looking. Nonexistent roommates never consider the consequences of their actions.

After paying for my computer twice over, I swore off porn for years. But then, years later, I had a weak moment. And got another virus on the same computer. This time, the old battle wagon just couldn’t take the action. So I salvaged what existing files I could to my external hard drive, apologized to my old friend, unplugged it, took a hammer from my toolbox, and dispatched it in my backyard Office Space style.

It was the only way.


Years later and many subscriptions of anti-virus software wiser, I’m running a basic Google Images search on one of Big Brother’s computers for an actor I’d seen in a movie the weekend prior. But as I’m gaily gushing over the actor’s looks to two female friends at work, I have a momentary feeling of dread, but shrug it off. Enter: cock shot. On Big Brother’s screen.

Stunned, I immediately think back to the moment several months before when I’d suddenly lost control of this particular computer’s mouse. A dialog box had popped up, the slowly typed, DOS-style message reading, “Hello, Matthew. What are you doing? Don’t worry, just keep working. I’ll be done soon.” I’d felt like Sandra Bullock, caught in The Net. Big Brother’s net.

But perhaps if I’d embraced a bit of my AIM technophobic asceticism, neither I, nor my friends, would currently be privy to the actor’s exceptional supporting role. And my face wouldn’t be washed in the same shade it was all those years ago on my trips to the technician’s office.

The [s]um of all fears.

2 Replies to “The [S]um of All Fears”

  1. Bwahahaa. I didn’t even think it was possible to GET naked photos – or anything alluding to naked photos – on Big Brother’s screen. Not that I tried. Uh.. ever.

    I had the old Nokia sliding chrome phone with the green screen back in 2001 and was pretty much the coolest kid around. I only gave up hope a few years ago that it would ever be usable again and finally threw it away. I still miss it.

    1. HA–I KNOW! I think that’s why I was so damn shocked. I think it happened during one of the common technological craziness-meltdown situations. So maybe somebody momentarily dropped the ball (ba da bah!) on the whole filtering thing. Live and learn, and then nevertrythatagain! 😉

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