The Worst Junk in America

It was my first job and perhaps because I hadn’t pursued any post-secondary, at twenty-six I was stuck punching a card in and out. 

Every morning, I logged on with my username 0008791 and a password that I crafted with the utmost care. If I could have any control over my life and guard it, it would be this. As I waited patiently for it to accept my credentials, the computer would screech like a rusty old tin can being dragged across a gravel road. I savoured the sight of its mechanical yellow orbs shining like beacons amidst its grey and green exoskeleton, accentuated with vibrant, primary-coloured switches like a warrior’s battle armour. Here, I experienced a feeling of empowerment – as fulfilling as the smoke that used to puff from my dad’s cigarette and his beloved 1957 Chevy that left oil stains on the garage floor. 

Despite my lack of formal education, I had a knack for computers. I started out in a basement, fitting wires and connecting various bits and bobs, gradually working my way up to the fume-filled garage we affectionately called Microsoft.

I’m Bill, an inventor without a degree. It’s not like I don’t enjoy education, I love learning but I struggle as my ideas could eclipse the ivory towers of academia. I also struggle with love. I twist wires into shapes that resemble my ex-girlfriend, I dream of being a fearless outlaw like Billy the Kid. Alas, I’m stuck in the 80s, a time capsule waiting for the modern world to catch up to me.

To get out of the house, I attempted to start dating again, but it’s not easy when my glasses fog up and my best friend Steve makes fun of me for wearing my dad’s khakis. Even my mother suggests wearing Levi’s 501 as all kids in California are more casual. She even tried to set me up with our next-door neighbour, Evelyn, a slim brunette with piercing black eyes who always glared at me while I worked in the garage. I wanted to impress her by showing her how everything. “Behold, the Vortex 2000!” I said proudly as I pointed to the machine that took up most of the space. Evelyn just rolled her eyes and asked, “Why would anyone want to go back to the Stone Age?”

I tried again with my latest project, a robot that could make pancakes. “This is my best invention yet,” I said, as I programmed it to start cooking. But just as the robot started to mix the batter, it went haywire and started spraying pancake batter all over the room. Evelyn was not impressed. “This is the worst junk in America,” she said, grabbing the thermal accumulator. “Do not touch that,” I cried, and that was the last time she visited. 

For a while, I couldn’t stop thinking about Evelyn, and I found myself spending more and more time in the Vortex which was now able to chat with other machines and users online. I no longer had to worry about the awkwardness of meeting in person or wearing the wrong pants. Part of me wondered if she would still find my inventions ridiculous, now that my name was in the sky. IBM was supposed to be IMB for I’m Bill, but I’ve always had a problem with the patent office. Would she finally see past my previous failures, including lack of formal education and appreciate my passion and drive for creating? I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to impress her in person, to prove that I was more than just a guy with a soldering iron and a dream.

But here we finally are chatting simply as Billthekid and Eviebasic with nothing to say other than “Hello”. 

– Janine Parkinson

(From June 22, 2022 with Thursday Writers, San Diego Writer’s, Ink.)


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