AOL: Agent of Lucifer

Published August 5, 1996 7:49PM (EDT)

i have a new
enemy. I'm one of those cheeky Christian girls who thinks it's
okay with Jesus if you have enemies as long as they are worthy enemies -- like
the entire Republican party, which has been my constant-companion-enemy for
most of my life. It's not that Jesus wasn't serious about his insistence
that I love everybody, because I know he was and is. It's that his promise
is that he loves me just as much when I'm being horrible and self-righteous
as he does when I'm being tender and giving. I don't understand how this
can be, but I do know it to be true. In other words, I don't think he is
smiting his forehead this very moment, crying, "OY VEY" or jabbering away in
frustration like a Yiddish Ricky Ricardo. I think he just rolls his eyes.

I also think he has an amazing sense of humor, because knowing as he does
that I consider the GOP to be a scourge and an abomination, tomorrow morning
I have an insurance adjuster coming to look at my funky pipes, and his name
is Richard Nixon. This is God's own truth. He goes by Rick. When I
returned his call the other day, I said rather sheepishly to the woman who
answered the phone, "I must have made a mistake -- I wrote down this adjuster's
name as Richard Nixon HA HA HA HA;" and there was a terrible, mirthless little
silence and then she said, very nicely, "That's his name. He goes by Rick."

He was very nice on the phone, but it made me profoundly anxious just the
same. I began to wonder if Rosemary Woods is still alive, and if so, whether
or not she has been hired recently by the company that insures my house.
Anyway, neither of them is my new enemy. (Yet.) My new enemy is AOL.

God, I hate AOL. AOL is the bane of my existence. It came already
installed on the computer I bought last year, and someone talked me into
signing on with them so I could get e-mail. But right away, it started
driving me crazy, because it took forever to sign on and get the artwork to
stop arriving. Even when I'd get on a little roll and sign on
successfully, a window would open and more artwork would start flooding on.
RECEIVING ITEM 1 of 2, it would announce. And I'd sit there trying to be
patient, maybe drumming my fingers just a tiny bit, maybe I have the tiniest
tiniest problem with control, HARDLY WORTH MENTIONING; and then page 2 of 2
would flood slowly on, a little like those old nudie pens where the woman's
bikini floods off and on. And I'd think I was about to hear the little valet
trapped inside my computer, whom I call Phil, announce, "Welcome! You have
mail." Or even just "Welcome!" which is okay even though I always imagine
Phil feeling badly about the lack of mail; and maybe having a little
co-dependent slip.

Furthermore, there wasn't even a way to get on the Web with the system
that came with the computer. I could send and receive e-mail, and check the
main news stories every day. But I'd click on the news icon, feeling very
cocky -- like me and Bill Gates, just clicking away on our little icons -- but
then another artwork window would open, and more artwork would begin flooding
in. RECEIVING ITEM 1 of 2, it would announce as the little bar graph
began darkening, and I have to say, it would download at a snail's pace.
You'd want to tear your hair out, if only you had more to spare. It was
always slower than fucking shit. (Aren't I allowed to say that on the
Internet now? Because that is the only phrase that I can come up with to
describe how incredibly slowly things happen on AOL. It's my impression that
a recent court ruling made it legal for me to spew, even obscenely, even with
hostility that it may finally drive old uncle Jesus to drink himself to sleep

Anyway: This endless process was all just to receive mail, or to check
out the latest news. So I've never been on the Net: I have never seen my
own column in Salon. I actually have no reason to believe that they're
actually running them, or running them exactly as I e-mail them in. Maybe
they're adding a heavy Scientology slant, I don't know. I have no way of

So partly because I want to see Salon, and mostly see my own tiny
princess name online, I called the AOL technical support line. I only had
to wait 20 minutes or so to talk to an actual human voice, which is not
bad. I've called them before with little e-mail issues, and been kept
waiting for entire seasons. But to tell you the truth, I call them all the
time anytime -- it's either them or the escort service. Anyway, a very nice
man finally comes on, and I tell him all my problems, both about trying to
get on the Internet and about my personal life; and he's very sympathetic,
especially when I say that AOL has made my life a living hell and it makes me
think about killing myself all the time. He's a good listener; he wants to
help me. He laughs at my jokes. We talk for awhile. I think we might
marry. And then he promises that he will immediately send me free software
that will upgrade my entire AOL system and I will be able to surf the Web
with the best of them.

So one day, a MONTH later, the software arrives in the mail. Now, I am
not stupid: I know it will be hard for me to install by myself and that if I
call the technical support line, I probably won't get my new fiance anyway,
so what's the point? So I call my Uncle Millard instead, who is my son's
godfather and also is totally computer literate. And after I remind him that I
ruined my figure giving birth to his godson, he agrees to come down and
install the new software.

My Uncle Millard tries for three hours to get the software installed.
Believe me, this man is brilliant when it comes to computers, not to mention
a saint among men. And he finally gets the AOL Web browser to work. After
he leaves, Sam and I go downstairs, sit down eagerly in front of the
computer and sign on. We click on Main Menu, and of course the nudie pen
artwork starts flooding in, and it floods and it floods and new windows keep
opening and more artwork floods on and it floods away like Old Man River. We
sit there stunned for 10 minutes while artwork keeps flooding in. Sam sits
on my lap watching patiently for the longest time, while I fantasize about
getting on the Internet; seeing my name in lights, or bytes, or whatever it
is you call the computer screen.

"Look, Mom," my good little boy suddenly cries out. "We're on!" And
it's true! The artwork has stopped scrolling! It's a miracle! Thank you,
Lord! We're sorry about those things we said about Republicans! We look at
each other with our mouths slightly open in joyful surprise, and he wants to
go to the Kid's Area of the Main Menu. But since I outweigh him by l00
pounds, I say, "No, no, honey, let me just go to Internet Connection for a
SECOND." And he looks at me like, Yeah, right; like he was born yesterday.
Breathlessly, I click on Internet Connection. And guess what? More
goddamn fucking artwork starts scrolling on -- Sam actually cries out in
anguish. Each window that closes is followed by another one that pops up.

Finally Sam just gives up; he knows when he's lost, and he snuggles in my
lap, lulled by the artwork bar graphs filling up one by one, like ticks.
What keeps me going is that in one moment, it's going to stop, and I will
be able to type in the words "Salon Magazine" and see my column on the
computer. And finally, this looks like it's about to become reality, and a
little slot opens where you are clearly supposed to type in the topic you
want the search engine to go searching for, and I put my finger on the S for
Salon, and -- I swear to God -- another window opens. And it says, "A connection
could not be completed to The server may be busy or there
may be a network outage."

It took us half an hour to get to this window that said that it was all
hopeless and that we could never be on the Internet. God almighty: AOL is
such an amazing waste of time; it's so fucking stupid, and yet at the same
time, it's so pleased with itself. It's like having Dan Quayle sit on your
desk acting superior, trying to remember how to spell "welfare cheats" for
his next speech to the Rotarians. What a waste it is to lose one's mind.

And the long and the short of it is that now, after this column runs, I
probably won't even be able to get e-mail at AOL. Someone from AOL is going
to read this article and then show up tomorrow morning, right after Richard
Nixon leaves, and remove AOL from my computer. I don't know: Maybe my valet
Phil is in the corporate office right now, begging them to give me another
chance. Hey, Phil, babe, go get em -- you're my only hope.

By Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is the New York Times bestselling author of "Help, Thanks, Wow"; "Small Victories"; "Stitches"; "Some Assembly Required"; "Grace (Eventually)"; "Plan B"; "Traveling Mercies"; "Bird by Bird"; "Operating Instructions" and "Hallelujah Anyway," out April 4. She is also the author of several novels, including "Imperfect Birds" and "Rosie." A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an inductee to the California Hall of Fame, she lives in Northern California.

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