Sign up for our Headlines morning newsletter.

The most interesting things on the web, handpicked each day. Sign up for our Headlines morning newsletter.

Personalities

Pervert

Apple Computer is well-known for its excellent customer service, but what happens when they’re liable for your perversions? MICHAEL BARRISH inspects the details of the case.

DEAR APPLE COMPUTER: My roommate Donna is in her room right now, having sex with her boyfriend. I’ve moved my chair next to my door so that I can hear them better. I also have my door slightly open, although not so open so as to seem suspicious; just a casual amount of openness, as though I had swung the door shut behind me without looking and had mistakenly believed I had closed it. Which in a sense I had. That is, I think the average person would say that my door is closed right now—not firmly closed certainly, but closed in the sense of, say, defining a closed space. Others might disagree. Others might insist that a door must be 100 percent closed to be considered a closed door, that even a door that is 98 or 99 percent closed is still open. Whichever way one views it, and I believe both views are valid, I can state without fear of contradiction that my chair is now as close to the door as possible without being visible from the hall; I’ve checked this several times, adjusting both the position of the chair and the degree to which the door is open, or perhaps closed, depending on how one looks at it. I’ve also removed my shoes and am sitting with my feet crossed in my lap so that Donna won’t see them through the crack in the door should she glance this way on her way to the kitchen or bathroom. Not that Donna is about to leave her room any time soon, judging by the sound of things in there.

This may sound surprising, but contrary to appearances, I would rather not listen to my roommate have sex; it seems a terribly rude thing to do, to deliberately listen. Of course if one can’t help but hear, that’s another matter; there’s nothing rude about listening to something you can’t help but hear. If anything, the person or persons having sex in that case are the ones being rude, assuming that the walls that separate you are of reasonable thickness.

Only I’m suddenly not so keen on this word rude. Can a person having sex be expected to temper his or her exclamations? Miss Manners or someone like that would certainly say so, but I myself am not so sure. That is, if there’s ever a time we should be released from this sort of social obligation, it’s during sex. I mean, not to get too personal here, but there was this one time in my own life, fairly recently in fact, when I happened to produce quite a bit of noise while coming; I don’t know how much noise exactly, I was coming at the time, but let’s just say a lot, however much a lot may be—enough to rouse everyone in the building. Should I have contained myself? Should I have toned it down a bit? Ideally at least, I think I should have, as some of my neighbors no doubt wondered if I was in my death throes; a person coming like that can sound like he’s in his death throes. Unless of course he’s saying things a dying person would never say, such as, ‘Oh baby, don’t stop, I’m getting my cookies.’ Suffice it to say, I didn’t say any such thing but rather moaned or groaned or perhaps bellowed. Maybe I bellowed. I’ll have to ask my girlfriend if I bellowed. Or ask one of my neighbors, now that I think of it. No, that was a joke, I wouldn’t ask any of my neighbors. Nor would I ask Donna, for that matter. Not that Donna would have any way of knowing whether I bellowed, Donna having been out of the apartment when this happened. In fact I think that’s what gave me the license to bellow, assuming I did in fact bellow, the fact that Donna was out at the time, the fact that my girlfriend and I were the only ones in the apartment. Not that I consciously thought this, not that I consciously thought, Hey, here’s my chance to bellow. Rather I simply allowed myself, knowing what I knew, to emote a bit more than usual, which in the end led to what it led to. And you know what? I’m glad I didn’t tone it down a bit. I’m glad I didn’t even consider toning it down a bit. I’m glad that the very thought of toning it down never crossed my mind. Because for those few precious moments, I did what I felt and it felt incredibly good to do it—there being few such moments in this life. Of course were it possible, I would have preferred to have bellowed in a soundproof room, say, or on a deserted island or a ship at sea, or let’s just say very far from human ears, aside from my own of course and those of my girlfriend. But this as it turned out was not how it turned out. The point of course being that there are limits to what can be expected of us, limits to what we can expect of ourselves, and that social demands are not the only demands we face.

That was a rather preachy sentence. I think that the clamor in Donna’s room is beginning to get to me. Or it’s not really clamor, I wouldn’t call it clamor but rather something much softer than clamor. What is a word for a sound that’s much softer than clamor yet no less persistent? I suppose I should just call it what is, which is breathing, heavy breathing, or rather breathing interspersed with an occasional sigh.

Although a sigh is a kind of breathing, isn’t it? a form of exhalation. Not that I’m so intent on listening. I mean, I’m listening, that’s why I’m sitting where I’m sitting, so that I can listen, but still and all, I’m not trying to listen in such a way that I can actually hear what’s going on in there, so that I can actually distinguish between different forms of exhalation. No, that’s not at all why I’m listening. I have no interest, by listening, in knowing what’s going on in that room except in the most general sense of knowing. It is crucial, for reasons that will soon become obvious, that you grasp this distinction. I am listening, yes, but hopefully in such a way that I cannot hear what I am listening to. I trust I’ve made this clear now.

I believe it’s been over an hour since Donna and her boyfriend began having sex. Or rather, that’s how long it’s been since things first got quiet in there. This is when I assume it began, at the moment they suddenly piped down. Of course it’s possible that they both fell asleep at that point or started meditating or, I don’t know… ran out of things to say, but for several reasons I doubt this, the biggest one being that this is the first time they’ve see each other in nearly a month. No wait, the biggest reason is that they’re definitely having sex at this moment, I can hear them doing it, the sounds I’m hearing are definitely sex sounds, so that if they, say, fell asleep an hour ago, they must not have slept very long.

In any case, all this speculation is beside the point, because I know precisely what happened in that room. What happened was, Donna and her boyfriend walked in and Donna immediately saw the flowers her boyfriend had left for her on her dresser and so she said something like, ‘Oh, sweetheart, you shouldn’t have!’ and then they hugged and kissed for a bit, not especially erotic hugging and kissing but rather I’ve-missed-you-so hugging and kissing, and then she told him about her recent adventure, or misadventure, which I’ll get to in a second, and then they chatted about miscellaneous topics for a good half hour before one or the other did something a bit suggestive, a bit amorous, I can’t begin to guess what with these two, and this is how it started, more or less.

But to return to what I was saying, or rather to what I was leading up to saying, I think it’s rather important to note, so as to grasp the full significance of what has happened to me, that I am not now nor have I ever been a pervert. Not that I have something against perverts; I just don’t happen to be one.

Only now I suddenly wonder what the dictionary has to say about the word pervert.

An interesting thing happened on the way to the dictionary. The phone rang and it was Donna’s father calling from England. I told him that although Donna was definitely back, the pile of mail outside her door having disappeared, I didn’t believe she was in her room because I couldn’t hear any sounds coming from there. This was a mistake, to equivocate like this with Donna’s father, for in his fatherly way he insisted that I knock on Donna’s door, just to be certain. Had I the chance to do it over, I would simply lie and say that Donna was out, period, end of answer. I mean, I was already lying about the sound issue, why not lie about the whole thing, why leave the door open, as it were, for Donna’s father to walk right through? Well, I actually had a reason for doing this, only it wasn’t a very good reason, that reason being that I was concerned that when Donna and her father finally did speak, Donna’s father would ask where she had been and Donna would say she hadn’t been anywhere and so her father would say, ‘But your roommate said you were out,’ and Donna would say, ‘But I wasn’t out, I was in,’ and so Donna’s father would conclude that I’m some kind of a jerk, which I’m not, and Donna, knowing I’m not a jerk, would wonder why I had lied to her father. So to prevent all this from happening, I said what I said, only it backfired. Because what happened next was that I couldn’t think of any reason not to check if Donna was in her room, so I told Donna’s father that I would be happy to go check, and then I walked into the hall and counted to twenty Mississippi in my head, then came back and told Donna’s father that Donna was not in her room nor anywhere else in the apartment, I had checked, but that I would be sure to let her know he had called. I suppose I could have just knocked on Donna’s door, that would have been the simplest thing, but then Donna and her boyfriend would have had to stop what they were doing and Donna would have had to talk with her father, which could only have been a weird and disturbing experience for Donna, to suddenly go from being in the middle of having sex with her boyfriend to being on the phone with her father. I mean, I’ve seen pictures of Donna’s father, and Donna’s father looks remarkably like an older version of Donna’s boyfriend, or rather Donna’s boyfriend looks like a younger version of Donna’s father, so lord knows what weird and disturbing thoughts would have gone through Donna’s head upon disentangling herself from her boyfriend and picking up the phone and hearing her father’s voice. I spared Donna this little trauma by lying. Although to be perfectly honest about it, I may have had another reason for doing so. I mean, I did, I did have another reason, I had two reasons for lying, one being the one I’ve mentioned, the spare-Donna-any-disturbing-thoughts reason, and then this second reason, which I’m just now getting to.

But before I get to this second reason, I want to mention what the dictionary had to say about the word pervert. A pervert according to the dictionary is someone given to sexual perversion. My first thought on reading this was that sexual perversion would be defined as the acts of a pervert. As it turns out, the actual definition is only slightly more helpful, as follows. Perversion is a quote aberrant sexual practice especially when habitual and preferred to normal coitus, end quote. I believe this bears repeating. Perversion is an aberrant sexual practice especially when habitual and preferred to normal coitus. I particularly like the phrase normal coitus. Because on first reading one thinks, Why say normal coitus? Why not just say coitus, coitus being so… normal? But then one sees that the word normal is there for a reason, that the editors are making a distinction between two kinds of coitus, normal and abnormal. They don’t indicate which positions fall into which categories, they don’t get into that level of detail, but the distinction, the dichotomy, is implicit in the word normal. Be that as it may, I have never before listened to any of my roommates have sex, so I would hardly consider this behavior habitual. Moreover I do not prefer it to normal coitus, or any sort of coitus for that matter; in fact I would hardly consider it a sexual practice at all. So by this reasoning I am not a pervert—and it’s true; I am not, nor have I ever been. Although in the interest of completeness, there was this one time in college when I spent the night on the couch of some friends, and these friends, whose bedroom was directly above me, had sex during the night, I could hear them from where I lay, I couldn’t help but hear them from where I lay, and so I laid there listening to my friends have sex, or rather one of my friends, the woman, because the other, the man, I couldn’t hear. Well, I did hear certain things that indicated he was involved, a certain thump-thump-thumping sound, but the only voice I heard was that of the woman. It was arousing too, I admit that, to hear my friend, the woman, sigh and moan as the tempo of this thump-thump-thumping sound slowly increased. So as I was listening I masturbated, big deal, this does not make me a pervert. Had I taken to staying over at my friends’ house night after night so that I might gratify myself on their couch, one might make a case for perversion. But as it was, I never again slept on that couch and in fact turned down several late-night offers to do so. Thus I feel safe in stating that I am not a pervert.

Not that being a pervert is such a bad thing to be, in my opinion. I mean, for all I know, my roommate Donna is a pervert. For all I know Donna and her boyfriend are now engaged in some act of perversion, abnormal coitus perhaps, I really don’t know nor even care to know. And that, you see, is what’s so infuriating about the situation I find myself in today—that by sitting here listening to Donna have sex with her boyfriend, I am quite consciously violating her privacy, her right, because I do consider it a right, to have her private acts remain private. This may come as a surprise to you, but for all this and more, I blame Apple Computer. This is why I am writing to you today, to make clear Apple Computer’s responsibility in this matter.

Why do I blame Apple Computer? Well, it begins with certain problems I’ve been having with my PowerBook—a PowerBook, I hasten to add, which is still under warranty from Apple Computer. You see, last week my PowerBook failed to recognize its hard drive, which is to say it became totally inoperable. At that time I called Apple Computer and was told that I had no choice but to re-initialize the hard drive; that is, to erase everything on the machine, including an entire day’s work. Reluctantly I did this, then spent half a day re-installing various files and programs and re-setting all my settings the way I like them. The PowerBook worked fine for a week, then today suddenly failed to recognize its hard drive. I called Apple Computer and was told that I had no choice but to re-initialize. If that sentence seems eerily familiar, it is because it is a shortened version of a sentence I wrote just three sentences ago. Naturally I reminded the Apple technician who made this recommendation that I had recently re-initialized the hard drive and that this approach had failed to produce the desired result. Nonetheless he insisted that re-initialization was my only choice. After a rather spirited exchange which culminated with me shouting over and over again, ‘Fix my PowerBook! Fix my PowerBook!’ I was transferred to a sympathetic-seeming woman in Customer Relations who repeated back to me everything I told her, then surprisingly agreed that it was indeed Apple’s responsibility to fix my PowerBook. Fine. However there was a catch, and that catch was that although it was only ten in the morning, my PowerBook could not be picked up that day, that is today, and so given that today is a Friday, it would not be picked up for another three days, which meant that the soonest I could expect my PowerBook returned to me would be five days from today, or more likely a week. I pleaded with this seemingly sympathetic person to have my PowerBook picked up today, but she insisted that this could not be done, a computer could not be picked up on the same day that the request to have that computer picked up was entered into what she called the system. This woman made frequent and ominous reference to the system. I offered to send the computer to Apple myself, to make all the arrangements and to foot the bill myself, but she said that this too was impossible, for it could not be tracked in the system. By now she had stopped repeating back everything I was saying and instead suggested I call Customer Relations. Of course I was already talking to Customer Relations—this woman, a member of Customer Relations, was suggesting I call Customer Relations. I immediately envisioned a scenario in which I would bounce from one Apple representative to another in an effort to resolve an ever-escalating chain of problems, much like the old lady who swallowed the fly. ‘I don’t why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she’ll die.’ Maybe this sounds sort of funny, sort of humorous, the notion of a long-time Apple customer in the role of the old lady who swallowed the fly, but let me tell you, it wasn’t funny at the time. Because when this woman suggested that I call Customer Relations, I finally realized what the system was, I finally realized what I was up against, I finally realized the truth about Apple Computer, and it scared me. So what I did was, I backed down, I gave up, I agreed to have my PowerBook picked up on Monday, thanked the sympathetic-seeming woman for her kind assistance, and hung up the phone. End of story.

Only now I don’t have a computer and as it turns out I can’t do my work without a computer. Of course in a sense I do have a computer, I have the aforementioned PowerBook, but this computer doesn’t function, so in a sense it’s not even a computer anymore. I mean, you wouldn’t say that a corpse is a person, would you?—it’s a corpse. There’s even a different word for it: corpse. Granted, there is a significant ontological difference between a functioning computer and a living person, I grant you that. Not that it matters. Because what matters is, I can’t do my work. So instead of doing my work, I sit in my chair, the same green chair I’m sitting in now, and think, Where can I get a computer, where can I get a computer, where can I get a computer, until I finally remember that my roommate Donna has a laptop and that last week Donna was conveniently deported to England while attempting to re-enter the country from Australia because of some insane problem with her visa, and that because of this insane problem and all the bureaucratic bullshit associated with it, she probably wouldn’t be back in the country for another week or so. Fine. So I go into Donna’s room and take her laptop from her desk and bring it back to my room and try it out and soon find that it’s a much nicer computer than my PowerBook, only there’s one problem, one hitch—that instead of a trackpad or trackball, it’s got one of those annoying little button doodads that stick out of the keyboard between the g and the h. For some reason this doodad thing has always reminded me of an aroused clitoris, I think it’s the way it feels, the combination of hardness and softness, plus the awkward sense of mystery it invokes in the novice user. Still and all, I persist with Donna’s laptop, and even manage to do a bit of work, not much but some, because of course every time I want to select text, I have to rub the little clitoris doodad a tiny bit this way or that, then tap the clicker thing with my thumb at just the right instant. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, or do but haven’t had the chance to experience it, consider yourself lucky, because it’s 10 times harder than you would ever imagine it to be.

Anyway, while I’m struggling with this clitoris thing, there’s a knock at the door, so I go to the door and ask who it is, and it’s Donna’s boyfriend. Why is Donna’s boyfriend at the door? Why has Donna’s boyfriend shown up at our apartment building? To explain my concern here, I should say that although Donna and I are on friendly terms, we’re not exactly friends. Which is to say that if Donna happened to discover that I had used her computer without her permission, there’d be trouble; trouble being the last thing I need from Donna. So my concern is that Donna’s boyfriend will go into Donna’s room and notice that her laptop is missing, which will leave me no choice but to tell him that I have the laptop in my room and that I’ve been using it to do my work; this being information that Donna’s boyfriend will then pass onto Donna, at which point the shit hits the fan. So you see, I’d rather not let Donna’s boyfriend into the apartment. But how can I not? What excuse can I possibly mumble through the door to keep him out? If you think of something, please let me know, because I still haven’t come up with anything myself, aside from standing in front of Donna’s desk while making causal-seeming conversation with Donna’s boyfriend, which was not a strategy to keep him out so much as one to prevent him from noticing the missing laptop, or rather the fact that the laptop was missing. Luckily for me, this actually worked, or at least didn’t fail, for Donna’s boyfriend simply placed some flowers on Donna’s dresser, explained that her insane visa problem had been rectified, then left to go pick her up at the airport. The minute he was gone, I went back to my room, saved my file to disk, deleted it from Donna’s hard drive, and returned the machine to its rightful place on Donna’s desk. Fine. A few hours later Donna and her boyfriend show up and immediately duck into her room because of course they haven’t seen each other for nearly a month and Donna’s been through this nightmarish experience in which she was handcuffed and leg-cuffed, if that’s what it’s called when they put handcuffs on your legs, so as a favor to Donna I decide to go to the copy shop and do some work on a ridiculously expensive rental computer so that Donna and her boyfriend will have the apartment to themselves.

Only I can’t find my disk. Where is my disk? I look everywhere for my disk but can’t find it—it’s gone, it has disappeared, vanished without a trace. Then I realize where it is. It’s in Donna’s laptop. I left my disk in Donna’s laptop. Why did I leave my disk in Donna’s laptop? I left it there because of Apple Computer, because of how distraught, how unhinged I felt in the aftermath of my dealings with Apple Computer. You may laugh at this and yet it’s the truth. Had Apple Computer not put me through what Apple Computer put me through, I never would have left my disk in Donna’s laptop. That’s the truth. Furthermore I would not be sitting here now, listening to Donna and her boyfriend have sex. Because of course the only reason I’m sitting here is that I’m waiting for them to finish what they’re doing and leave that room, if only for two minutes, so that I can sneak in and hopefully grab my disk out of Donna’s laptop before she discovers it there herself. For this I blame Apple Computer. I am not a pervert. My second reason for lying to Donna’s father, for telling Donna’s father that I had knocked on her door when in fact I had done nothing but stand in the hall and count in my head to twenty Mississippi, was that I was concerned that by interrupting Donna and her boyfriend, I would inadvertently extend the amount of time they would spend in that room, that I would set them back, so to speak, in their love-making, and that I would therefore be forced to spend an even greater amount of time listening to them have sex—something I take no pleasure in doing and in fact find distasteful and even abhorrent. For this too I blame Apple Computer. I am not now nor have I ever been a pervert. Apple and Apple alone is responsible for the predicament I find myself in today. I expect to see my PowerBook returned to me promptly and in good working condition, along with a letter of apology signed by an authorized representative of the Corporation. I want satisfaction and I will not rest until I receive it.