Tuesday, March 23, 2010

151 days to Bar Mitzvah: post-modern middle school

Another sign middle school has changed: we just got back from Best Buy in Colma, where we bought a very small laptop computer -- a netbook, I think it's called. We did this on the advice of Ms.Christina Pak, BHDS English teacher Ms. Baumer and school counselor Ms. Loveland, who created a powerful voting bloc suggesting that the Jawa, not a natural "writer" and an even worse "handwriter" would benefit from typing his notes and in-class writing.

This Jawa, he comes by his illegibility honestly. Part of my job is walking around houses, surreptitiously taking notes that say things like, "GIANT master bdr. w/ bath and spa tub, 2-head shower, double vty. W-in w/ organizer." As hard as that is to understand the way it's written here, there are times -- an increasing number of times, I'm frightened to admit -- that I get home from looking at open houses and can't make heads or tails out of what I've written. I, too, need a Gateway notebook computer.

A limited survey revealed that 100% of polled female Brandeis Hillel Day School faculty members thought the Jawa needed to be typing in school. After not pausing for a moment to marvel at the casualness with which they theoretically spent our money, I got on board. The trip to Best Buy was planned.

Notebook computers (translated from the Japanese as notabuko computer, I'm not kidding)cost far less than laptops. The best ones top out at $400. Besides that, they're so freaking cool looking that it was all I could do not to buy one for myself. Better yet, their total lack of capacity for games and other distractions is perfect for our needs.

The Jawa, bless his heart, did not choose the most expensive notebook computer. He picked the Gateway that was $80 less, leaving us free to make up the difference with a two-year Geek Squad warranty. "Would you like to get some extra protection?" asked the young salesgirl. Before I could point to the Jawa and say, "Don't you think it's a little late for that?" Sandra Bullock was saying, "Yes, we do," citing all of the factors that led to me own a dozen pairs of eyeglasses before the age of 11 as a reason to spend the extra $60.

From there, we celebrated in one of my favorite thumb-your-nose-at-the-city ways: dinner in a restaurant with laminated menus. How can you go wrong with a menu that includes food from every corner of the world? Especially if said menu is coated with plastic, making is much easier to clean at the end of the evening shift? Maybe all of those people I see shoving past each other on BART every morning would find a new, calmer worldview if that world included sliders with bacon and cheddar and restaurant interiors designed by HOK architects of Kansas City, Missouri.

Throughout this ordeal, if you can call it that, one thing was holding me back. It was the image of my Jawa showing up on Monday as The Kid With the Laptop. Would that be like being The Kid With Glasses, The Jewish Kid or a middle school favorite, The Kid With Sweat Rings Under His Arms After P.E.?

"So does he just show up tomorrow with a laptop?" I asked. "Do they need to send some kind of a notification to his teachers?"

Will they make fun of him? Will the teachers stop class and say, "Now, everyone, the Jawa will have a laptop in class. Lets try to treat him like we treat everyone else and not make him feel weird?"

Fortunately, Sandra Bullock thought to ask him, "Will you be the only one with a laptop in class?"

"Oh, no," said the Jawa, who'd removed the machine from its box and had the contents spread out across the table, dangerously close to the sweet potato fries. He began ticking off the names of people in school who used laptops. The list was comprehensive. According to the Jawa, it included at least half of the kids in his class. Even the popular girls, for whom loopy, engaging handwriting seems to be a birthright, were showing up wired.

"What a relief," I thought, and then, "Wow, in seventh grade?" When the nice young salesgirl offered us the two-year Geek Squad warranty, my first thought was, "In two years, it'll be a toss-up as to what makes that thing less practical: its overall condition or its obselescence. Which means that by the time he gets out of college, he'll conservatively be on his third or fourth laptop, maybe his fifth.

Naturally, this brought back memories of the first time I saw a computer in a dorm room, while visiting my friend Chris Drape at Stanford in the spring of 1984. I was down the road at Santa Clara, where no one had computers in their dorm rooms. Two years later I saw my first Mac. Bruce Cech had one in his room at the fraternity house. It was amazing. Never again would we have to make party fliers by hand.

The Jawa "thinks of himself as a tech guy," according to the school counselor. You don't need to be a "tech guy" to lug a notebook computer around middle school in 2010. They're just the modern-day version of the big plastic combs we stuffed in the back pockets of our 501s in 1978. The combs were cheaper.

So tomorrow, the Jawa will show up in English class. Like a full half of his class, he'll put down his backpack, reach inside and extract the small nylon bag that holds his notebook.

And then what? Eleven kids start looking around for three-pronged outlets? Eleven kids power up, and the fourth and fifth minutes of class are punctuated by the robotic chimes of eleven simultaneously booting computers?

You're telling me that every day, that English teacher lectures over the sound of eleven sets of hands gliding over their keyboards? On the bright side, this means that within ten years, I can stop explaining to phone interviews that the sound they hear is me typing their responses to my questions.

Then class ends, everyone struggles to wind up their power cords, shove them in their backpacks and jam their notebooks into whatever room's left. And then onto the next class. All in a day's work.

It's mind-boggling.


Butter Goats said...

Bizarre! I must ask the Girl Child if this is common in public middle school.

The Hammer said...

Our kid has been laptop equipped since Nov and it has really helped with homework etc. Good idea. By 8th grade they're all wired. Regular backups required to avoid inevitable disasters.

Libby said...

One must charge the laptop the night before so as to avoid the hassle and embarrassment of having to plug in and then recoil after. Many use the influx BM cash to purchase said laptop.