Ask Me How!
We finally got a second phone line, to hook up Mom’s illegal autodialer.
I remember wanting one for years before that, though I’m not sure if it ever occurred to me to actually ask, because I figured it was too expensive. Getting knocked offline every time the phone rang seemed like the regular way to use the internet.
(Sidenote: speaking of things that I thought were expensive, for years I assumed we couldn’t afford to replace the tarp that my dad and I would rake leaves onto in the autumn, even though it had a two-foot wide hole in the middle and made the job twice as hard as it had to be; in hindsight I think my dad was just working through some stuff.)
Mom got the autodialer from the woman ahead of her in the pyramid scheme – they dressed identically, turtlenecked and accessorized to sell on commission in dying industries – after having saturated the market for diet pills among my friends’ moms. I have no idea whether she had to pay for it. I did learn pretty quickly that the autodialer was a Windows 95 machine running some kind of telephony database app, and that it was faster than our other computer. They brought it into the basement one afternoon and hooked it up on a folding table next to the antique desk with our Packard Bell, and in my mind’s eye, the two of them side by side are almost too perfect: hardly anyone was downwardly mobile in the 90s!
I think I was a little offended that no one asked me for help organizing the desktop shortcuts or configuring the modem. It’s sort of nice to imagine that I was being intentionally protected from the tawdry world of autodialing, but I’m pretty sure they were actually just afraid that I’d break it. Which of course I did. It turned out that it could even run ZSNES with transparencies (real heads know), and that second phone line was too good to waste.
The girl who sat next to me in class that year was weird. I remember making her laugh by reading aloud from a library book in a voice that was in hindsight very, very racist, and I remember her writing down her AIM screen name for me after that. I remember that she had some kind of animated clock on her geocities page that she was proud of, and I remember that led subsequently to years of me trying to impress girls with pirated copies of Dreamweaver. I remember spending hours and hours keeping the second phone line busy, visibly doing nothing, going out of my mind every time she came online and waiting to see if she’d message me first.
The illegal autodialer got me my first kiss!