The cinder block walls are off white, the color that white glossy paint gets when it’s too cheap and has been there for too long. The dappled sunlight leaks into the room from outside, the windows are cracked open enough for me to tell that it’s a nice spring day. The air is fresh, clean and I don’t know yet that they will only be that way for a couple of days.
I look at my laptop, a grey plastic hinged slab. It is the thickness of a ream of paper and about three times as heavy. It barely fits into a backpack and the AC adapter is just as heavy. I have to bring the AC adapter everywhere because the batteries barely hold any charge. I think the last time I checked, I could boot the machine into Windows and bring up the file manager before it just shut off.
I’m listening to the modem dial the four digit extension into the University’s mainframe for the nth time. It is a sound that I know very well. A dial tone. Four beeps. Then a busy signal or the telltale screech of connectivity. I don’t know how many times I’ve dialed the number, but the number of times I have booted up the laptop and not dialed into the mainframe is without question, a lower number. I think perhaps, if I cannot connect, I’ll just visit the mainframe lab. The mainframe itself is this big, palpable metal box, and I’ve seen it, in its cold room, its voracious appetite for tapes and paper. The squelch of the single speaker hidden behind the keyboard announces my successful connection to the mainframe.
The sunlight shifts ever so slightly and I have to fiddle with the screen and to bring it into visibility. There are about sixteen discrete shades of grey it can produce, and the banding between them is something I have just learned to live with. The contrast and brightness controls are discrete sliding bars. Each of the bars has about a half an inch of play but the potentiometers are so poor quality that there were really only three settings.
I watch as the terminal window springs to life, characters coming into existence, line by line, character by character, slow enough to see them fill in from left to right. There’s text and more text. I read the characters, soft bits of cohrent light creeping in amidst the darkness of the screen.
I open up the rec.games.video.arcade and read FAQS that strangers have written about the games I’m interested in. They’re strangers, and I pretty much keep to myself.
I’m just amazed that the whole thing works.