some guy (self) wrote,
some guy

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What do you mean by 'never'?

At a Rotary Bar-B-Que some years back... I run into my former boss from AEFA, and he introduces me to the gentleman he hired to replaced me after I left. I was a little insulted by this, since the only reason I left was that they had no money in their budget to continue my position after the project was over. Yet, here someone was, receiving a paycheck to fill that position. Grr.

Perhaps to assure me this wasn't a reflection of my performance there, he approached every person at the Bar-B-Que to talk up my skills. "Does your company use computers at all? Well, you gotta hire this guy to maintain them - he's amazing."

I think most people took that with a grain of salt, seeing as how he was there with my replacement. But, one person listened, and I've never heard the end of it.
    "Maybe you can come over to the house and have a look at my machine," he said. "Sometimes, the screen just goes blue and there's a whole bunch of jibberish. Do you know what causes that?"


    See, the whole bluescreen thing is a black hole for me. It's an intermittent problem, meaning there's often no way to predict when it will happen or force it to occur. So, there's no way to be sure it's fixed when you're done. There are technicians who can isolate the cause of these, but I'm not one of them. And, I explained this to him in plain English.

    I mean, I can wipe out the hard drive and reinstall Windows, but there's no guarantee the user won't recreate their problem environment the moment I leave. And, they never agree to such measures until all other avenues have been exhausted. Which means more and more hours spent charging less and less as my confidence dwindles. All roads lead to failure. And somewhere in there, the client decides two things:

    1. Anything that goes wrong from here on out is my fault until proven otherwise.

    2. I'm the only technician who can ever work on this computer again because I'm familiar with these unique problems now, and the next guy won't be.

    Put another way, these jobs are always a negative experience, of a type that always prolongs itself indefinitely.

    So, I tried a new tactic that day: I explained all of this.

    His reaction? Denial, of course. This thing with his computer would probably only take a few minutes to look at, but if it took longer, he'd insist on paying full price for my time. And in saying that, he raised the stakes and more or less set a timeline. Maybe I'd get lucky and fix it in the first hour or two. But more likely, he'd grow to see me as incompetent for not accomplishing what I told him up front I'd be unable to, and wonder how I justified charging so much when I'm obviously no good at this. If a second visit were required, it would be met with hostility.

    I explained this, too. And again, he insisted his faith in me would not waver no matter how long it took or how expensive the job got.

    I didn't want to call him a liar to his face, so I just insisted I was the wrong guy, and left it at that.
Since then, whenever I run into him, his first question has been "So, when are you going to come over to fix my computer?"

And every time, he's been shocked to learn that I wouldn't touch his computer with a ten foot pole.

Last time, he caught me in the middle of a dozen stressful situations, studying for MCSE exams, pressured to put in more hours at work, little time left to get all my belongings packed into a much smaller space.. Deadlines on all sides, and several family members with computer problems hounding me on top of all that. I was not in the mood to have the same conversation again, so I snapped at him instead, venting about these things to help illustrate that I couldn't afford to even sympathize with his computer problems.

That one actually did turn out to be a simple question, which I was able to answer via e-mail. I probably should have left it alone, though. My behavior frightened him off for a while, but he called and e-mailed yesterday with something new.
    Now, I wasn't home yesterday. I didn't look at my e-mail until probably 10pm. I got the phone message mid-day, but was in no position to call him back even if I wanted to. See, I don't have a phone. My cell phone's in pieces, and something's wrong with the wiring in this house, such that no land-line will function in the room I spend most of the time locked in. So, people don't get called back very quickly, if ever.
So, he tried again this morning, and the person who answered thought they'd explain for me why I wasn't planning to call him back. This upset him quite a bit. It came as a shock again to hear that I might not want to work on his computer, since I've never said anything about this before. And, if I felt this way, I at least owed him the consideration of a phone call. As punishment for my rudeness, I will never hear from him again.

I feel bad, both for him having to hear that from someone else, and for that person having to sit through his response.
(In my defense, I was going to e-mail him back today. I needed to sleep on it, lest my reply include things I'd regret saying later. But, I did plan to write back. The phone call was never going to happen, though.)

His problem this time was in the realm of 802.11 configuration, which I know nothing about but could probably research enough to do the job. But, to what end? I don't want to fix computers. And, I don't want the door open for him to ask that of me.

So in the grand scheme of things, I'm okay with one more person being angry at me.

No plans to try and fix this. Either he'll keep his word and I'm free, or he'll lump this in with all the other times I refused to fix his computer, and forget the whole thing.

Either way, smoothing things over can only make the situation less optimal.
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