When you work in the information technology biz, or ‘know a bit about computers’, word invariably gets around to family members. Because you’re family (and therefore free or cheap), you become the first line of technical support when they have a problem. I don’t mind it; I’m happy to help and keep them from falling into the clutches of places like Best Buy.

I don’t usually get a lot of those calls, but a few days ago it was as if the moon had moved into the right zodiac sign or something. No less than three members of my partner Tom’s family had computer problems on the same day.

First it was his uncle Jim in Lexington, reporting a failing hard drive in his laptop. I bet that one’ll have to go back to the manufacturer because the drives are proprietary. Then it was his grand-aunt Betty with a system that “just locks up all the time”. Next up was his grandmother Allene, and for her I’ll probably wind up building a totally new computer, hers is so old.

I decided it’d be easier to work on the computers down here in my basement where I have everything I might need, so I asked each one to drop the offending boxen off at their convenience. I promised to deliver them once the work was done. It took me a couple of days, but I got all the computers built or back into fine working order, except for Jim’s laptop. I was right – the hard drive is trashed, but I managed to save most of his files.

Yesterday morning I started calling all of ‘em to tell them that their Friendly Computer Repair Person was finished and the boxen were ready to go. Now, Tom’s family is a pretty laid-back bunch. They’re all easy going and rarely in a hurry about anything. It’s one of the things I like best about them.

So I figured I’d return the computers, then, each time I had an occasion to go into town, over the next few days or so. I didn’t think there was any rush. Was I ever wrong! Every one I talked to was insistent that I bring their computers by as soon as I could, preferably today.

Oh well, I can understand that, I get impatient myself when one of our systems is down.

Since Jim was the farthest, I started there. Lexington’s a small, sleepy village, so I was kinda surprised to see so many people milling about on the streets. Humph, I thought, early Friday evening and already the drunks are out. As I drove by some of ‘em, it was odd – I kept getting that “you’re not from around here” look like you see sometimes in old Western movies. Anyway, I found Jim’s house, came in, and I told him what the story was with his laptop. There was a little kid there I’d never met, turned out to be one of his grandchildren he was babysitting.

She was a nasty little piece of work if you ask me – as I was replacing the laptop on the desk, the little monster came up behind me, grabbed my right arm, and tried to bite it! “Hey!!” I yelled, jerking away. I looked at my arm. The little bastard didn’t break the skin, but she left a mark and there was oozy saliva all around it. Grabbed a few tissues from a box on the desk, I wiped the muck off. It was like trying to wipe a sticky, stinking jelly off, but I think I got it all.

“Carnie’s a little stinker, eh,” Jim said. That was putting it mildly – she stunk to high heaven. She must’ve been what I’d smelled when I first walked in. He turned to the girl. “Now you go in the other room, Granddad’ll feed you later.” She walked out of the room, very slowly, as if she’d just woke up.

“Um, yeah, she is.” I didn’t tell him what I actually thought of her, since I don’t like kids much and didn’t want to offend him. I said my goodbyes and got back on the road. As I passed through Lexington again, it seemed like there were more people wandering around, now in groups. They were walking along kind of stiffly, with their heads bent down as if watching every step. People that can’t hold their liquor, I thought. As I drove by, some of ‘em looked up at me with the weirdest look on their faces. I got back on the freeway and turned the radio on. Odd, I thought, all three of my favorite stations seem to be off the air.

I made my way to Betty’s house near Armington. They live way back in the woods and I’m never sure I can find the place. Finally, I found the road up to Betty’s and turned. I pulled up in the driveway, Betty opened her door, and I brought her computer in. She showed me where to put it, and I started set it up, reconnecting all the peripherals, and turned it on.

Betty’s been real sick lately, her doctor’s got her on some kind of heavy-duty drugs, and the house had that kind of “sickness” smell to it. So I wasn’t surprised to see her lurching around just a bit. I was surprised, though, when she bent down, as if she was going to put a disk in the computer – and instead tried to take a bite out of my bare leg. Maybe she didn’t like it that I was wearing shorts on such a cold, rainy day or something. Before I had time to think about it, I stood up real fast, and backed away from the computer desk. Betty looked up at me with the damnedest expression on her face.

“Um, everything looks OK and I’ve got one more to drop off so I’d better get going,” I said all at once, as if it were one word.

“Oh, but you just got here, and you must be hungry, I sure am …” Betty said, sounding like she was stoned or something. She lurched toward me, and then I noticed the odor in the house was just like the smell at Jim’s place. Time to get the hell outta Dodge and I wasn’t wasting any time.

“Thanks but gotta run see you later let me know if there’s anymore problems OK,” I said, running toward the door.

Gotta run was right. I ran all the way back to my car, jumped in, and floored it – something I never do. I drove away as fast as I could over the gravel driveway back to the main road. That dame needs her medication adjusted, I thought, as I headed to Bloomington and Tom’s grandmother Allene’s house.

Reaching the outskirts of Bloomington, I turned down the street that led to Allene’s. I pulled up in her driveway, grabbed the computer, and rang the doorbell. Allene answered and showed me in. She seemed a bit distracted and not completely “with it”, unusual for her. Anyway, we went to the back bedroom where the computer would be set up. I got to work.

I asked her where Doc (her husband, Tom’s grandfather) was, and she replied, “Oh, he’s din – I mean, he’s gone out to get dinner. I hope he gets somethin’ real good, I’m real hungry tonight. I’m so hungry I could eat just about anything.” She looked at me with that same damn weird look that Betty had on her face. Then she clamped her hand down on my arm and, for an old lady, she was pretty strong.

I pulled my arm free – she really had a hold of it, but I got free. And she smelled – just like Betty and Jim’s granddaughter! This time I didn’t linger to say goodbye or anything. I ran to the door, tripping over some crap on the floor, flung it open, and ran to my car. Thank the Gods I hadn’t locked it. I quickly jumped in and locked the door. You can bet I broke the 30 MPH speed limit getting out of there.

By this time I was starting to wonder what the hell was going on. I knew some of Tom’s family had their little quirks, but this was ridiculous. As I drove on, I decided it was probably nothing to worry about. Probably stressed-out people. Yeah, that was it. Nothing to worry about at all.

Just as I pulled into our driveway, my cell phone rang. It was Tom, calling from work. He wanted to know what was for dinner. He said he was tired of the vegetarian stuff I’d been making, could we have something with meat in it …