How a really cool bunch of people, most of whom I’ve never met, did something wonderful for my friend

I met my friend Sylvia — known to many of her online friends as Sly — in June 1998.  She was one of the participants in a small community poetry workshop that I facilitated.  It didn’t take long for our little workshop to transmute into a group of friends who also happened to get together to write and talk about poetry.  We met every week for years, usually at Sylvia’s place, until — as tends to happen — life took different people to different places.  The friendships remain — among the most important of my life — but the workshop was no longer.

I still go to Sylvia’s place every week anyway.  We hang out talking, and watch lots of movies and entire TV series on DVD, from our first “Xenafest” in summer of 1998 to Battlestar Galactica, Six Feet Under, Bablyon 5 — we’re currently doing NCIS.  It’s my regular Wednesday gig, so important to me that folks who want me to do other things on Wednesday evenings are almost always SOL.

But I mostly go there just on Wednesdays and the occasional Sunday.  The rest of the time, well, Sylvia doesn’t have the big bucks or the ability to get around much — so her main social outlet is via the Internet. It was therefore quite a blow to her when a fire in her apartment last December kicked her out of her home & into a hotel, computerless, for several weeks until her apartment was fixed back up again. Miraculously, her aging computer survived the fire.  But then, in early April, it died.  A friend helped get her to the library a couple of times to use the computer there, but mostly all she had time to do was to inform her online friends why it was that she hadn’t been online.  And her chances for getting another one very soon weren’t good.

A few days later I got an email from one of those friends, via a small email discussion list that Sly had created several years ago to talk about Hurricane Katrina, that no longer much discussion.  “Does this list still exist?” Kathleen asked. Her email described Sly’s situation, and went on to explain,

At least 17 people, mostly from 4MA, are getting together to raise approximately $500 toward buying Sly a computer.  If there is anyone on this list, particularly anyone in Alaska who could help us by finding out what kind of setup Sly has at home so we can try to duplicate it, or anyone with any idea where we could buy a computer.

Well, hot damn.  I got on it, & became 4MA’s Anchorage liaison.  Kathleen & another 4MA member, Lynne, would collect the funds & send them on to me, & I would take the money & help Sly buy a computer & set it up.

4MA is short for 4_Mystery_Addicts, a very active mystery book discussion list that has been one of Sly’s most important social venues for years & years.  I’m not a member — I tend more towards science fiction/fantasy, & in any case couldn’t keep up with 4MA’s high volume — but I’ve always had a strong affection-from-afar for the folks at 4MA because of all the warm and wonderful things Sly has said about them over the years.

I didn’t know the half of it. Neither, it turns out, did Kathleen — because in the end the funds that 4MA members (including our friend Cam here in Anchorage) donated toward getting Sly back online was — well, they say that pictures are worth a thousand words: how about 1,020 of them? — one for each dollar raised amongst themselves by 4MA members, and over twice what was originally expected.

$1,020: What 4MA members donated to help Sly get a new computer.

That’s what I had in my pocket for a brief time yesterday after the last of the funds arrived, before Sly, Leslie, and I headed over to Best Buy to pick out a computer. Here Giovanni, the guy who helped us at Best Buy, is showing her some of the features of a Dell Inspiron, the computer we ended up getting for her.

Sly checks out a computer at Best Buy

Sly is a little blurry in this next photo because she moved her face just as I took the shot — but I still like this photo of her & Leslie as we were paying for the purchase.

Leslie and Sly at Best Buy

Besides the computer itself, we set up an appointment next Wednesday for the Geek Squad to come over to Sly’s house & go beyond the basic computer set up I would do for her — teaching her some the computer’s features, setting up the printer I’m giving her (more on that in a minute) and her own little local wireless network, plus 6 month’s ongoing consultation, all for just $139.00. We also paid $139.00 for two years “insurance” so her computer can get fixed if there’s a power surge that fries her motherboard, or something. The $1,020 paid for all but $19 of that, but I was happy to make up the difference.

I’ll be really happy for the wireless network, because then I can check my own email on my iPod when I’m hanging out with her Wednesday nights, & both of us have a habit of looking stuff up in Wikipedia about the various programs we watch or stuff we talk about. As for the printer, I got a free printer from the UAA Bookstore when I bought an iMac November before last — but I already had a good printer, so it’s been just sitting in my office at work ever since. Sly will get it now.

Here’s Sly & me with Leslie & Giovanni outside the store after we loaded the new computer in Leslie’s car. Thanks for all your help, Giovanni!

Sylvia with Mel, Leslie, & our man Giovanni at Best Buy

Back at Sly’s place, Sly caught a breather at her desk before we got to work clearing it of old stuff so I could get her set up.

Sylvia takes a breather before we start clearing her desk to set up the new computer

Here’s a slightly blurred shot of her old setup before we took it apart. The TV at left stays, of course, but the computer monitor in the middle is from the old dead computer, & must go, along with some of the other stuff.

Sly's old setup on her computer desk

There were a lot of cables and cords to sort out.

The Gordian knot: the tangle of cords & cables of Sly's electronica

That’s when I told Sly the story of the Gordian knot. According to this legend, the person who could untie the Gordian knot would become the ruler of Asia. Alexander the Great tried to untie the knot, but it was too complex — so he pulled out his sword & chopped it in half. He went on to conquer big chunks of Asia… but he also died pretty young. Maybe because he cheated?

I only wanted to set up a computer, not conquer Asia.  But I was dealing with electrical and cable cords — so it seemed safer not to cheat. Besides, I don’t have a sword. In the end I got the cords all sorted out and the ones no longer needed got stowed away in a box.

The basic setup we did was easy, & didn’t take much time at all. And so… here we go: Windows 7 starts loading.

Up & running: Windows 7 starts its setup on the new computer

And here’s one happy Sly with her new computer.

Sly's & her new computer

The design of this computer is similar to an iMac in that the hard drive & DVD/CD player is all in one piece with the monitor, instead of having a tower off to the side. It makes for a far less cluttered desk. But I’ll probably make her a pedestal so the monitor can be higher off the desk (so she won’t get a stiff neck from looking down), & we’ll need also to figure out where the printer will go.

By the time I left at 9:23 PM, Sly was online writing her first email: a thank you to 4MA for making this possible.

Thanks, 4MA! — Sly writes an email to the folks who made it all possible

And I caught my bus, and then had a very enjoyable walk home with a beautiful Anchorage sunset. It capped off a wonderful evening.

An Anchorage sunset — Mel's end to a wonderful evening

Thank you 4MA

When I told Sly on April 13 over the phone about what you the members of 4MA were doing for her, she said “I’m gobsmacked!” and, a little later, “Now I’m all a-twitter!” She was completely overwhelmed with appreciation for the kindness, generosity, and friendship of all of you at 4MA.

As indeed was I. I still am, especially because I know firsthand how important the computer and being able to talk with friends like you is to her quality of life. It means much to know that she has a huge pile of friends who care so very much about her.

Lynne (LC) sent me a list that she thinks is complete of those who contributed to this wonderful gift.  And so — Maddy, Jane B, Carl, David, Judy B, Julie, Ella, Barfly, Randy, Stacey, Annie C, Mary De,  Lucinda,  Judy W, Yvonne, Elizabeth R, Merrill,  Kim R, Fran, Jack, Karen C, Helen L, Don L, Donna, Lesley AS, Sunnie, Lourdes, Deanna, Peg, Kathleen H, LC (Lynne), Denise, and Cam — a heartfelt thank you.

As we left Best Buy last night, Leslie, Sly, & I were talking about you 4MAers, and Leslie remarked, “It takes a village.”  People like you make the village.  People like you make this world turn.

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