I Have Been Watching This Man’s Laptop for Thirty Years

Have you ever seen a sunrise reflected in a dead computer screen? Or heard a lithium battery wheeze its last, horrifying breath? Come, then, and I’ll tell you the tale of how I squandered my life watching a 2017 Lenovo ThinkPad.

I remember it like it was yesterday—the café in full swing, keys clacking, beans grinding. And there I was in the middle of it all, with my soy cortado and a crisp hardcover copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” All was right with the world, when suddenly a man approached my table.

“Hey, man!” said the man. “Would you mind watching my laptop for a sec?”

Wiping the still-hot foam from my lip, I looked up at his kind, biscotti-shaped face and replied, “For sure!” Then he vanished into the morning crowd. Oh, I was as innocent as a young arabica bean!

At first, it was fine, the watching. The music played on, and customers with their cortadi floated to and fro in my peripheral vision.

This is easy, I thought.

As time wore on, however, I began to grow restless. Was he in the bathroom? Did he step out to make a call? Was he debating flavor profiles with the baristas?

An hour passed. Then two. Damn it, where was he? Not even his screen saver of cascading family scuba pics could hold my interest.

By the early afternoon, I’d had enough. My neck ached. Mr. Gladwell beckoned. Plus, I wanted a scone. But, as I made for the counter to fetch myself a treat, it hit me—if I averted my gaze for even a minute, even a second, some over-caffeinated laptop thief might run off with the man’s prized possession. And who would be responsible? Me!

Suddenly, I found myself sweating. Returning to my post, I resolved to banish all hope of baked goods and merely sit and watch.

And watch I did. Watch and watch. Indeed, as I peered ever more intently at the man’s electronic device, the room began to fade until the only thing I could see was the computer’s gray plastic chassis, the only sound I could hear the gentle spinning of its disk drive.

How long it was before I noticed that the coffee shop had closed, I couldn’t say. Was this the “tipping point” the book foretold? I’d never read far enough to find out.

As the days turned into weeks, I began to question whether he was ever coming back. Of course he will, I reassured myself. It’s a Lenovo! But still, something seemed off.

That winter, I began to think about my wife and kids. Were they O.K.? I was supposed to pick up souvlaki on the way home. And Erica had that hip-hop recital. I wonder how they’re doing now. I wonder whether they ever got souvlaki.

When the café turned into a poke bar, I knew that I was in it for the long haul. This must be some errand, I told myself. It was humor like this that kept me going through the middle years.

The poke craze must have fizzled out, though, because after a decade or so the poke bar became the low-rise condo you see today. Perched in a corner of the lobby, I gaze upon these disintegrating computer bits, awaiting his return. I wonder whether my kids live in a place like this, with little laptops of their own.

Thirty years on, my beard is long, my skin wizened, my life used up like an old Nespresso pod. Still, I console myself with the knowledge that I kept my word.

And yet, when night steals over the lobby, my innermost fears strike me like a jolt of Wi-Fi: Was there ever a man? Was there ever a coffee shop? Or has it always been this—just me and the Lenovo, locked in a never-ending embrace?


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