My first job after graduate school was working for a local discount book chain started by a wealthy couple who wanted to give Crown Books a run for their money.
The husband was originally from France and despite his tenure at the World Bank, he was the worst person I’ve ever seen when it came to managing money. I’m sure his wife knew this. Her first husband had died and left her a fortune in real estate and investments. She wore the financial pants in this second marriage and would often explain her tardiness because she’d stopped to buy another house. The bookstore chain was really just something to keep her new husband happily occupied.
I started as a part-time bookkeeper to help their accountant who was more concerned about her affair with a married man than actually balancing the books. In an odd coincidence, her first husband had been one of my high school classmates. She took that as a sign to bond. I took it as another sign of poor judgment on her part.
A few months after I started, it was decided to install a computerized inventory system. This was the mid 1980s and the only computers around were very large, very complex mainframes that required large office spaces and full-time programmers. The dear Frenchman decided to put me in charge of the project and promote me to inventory manager. I was a theater major who knew nothing about computers, inventory or the book industry but that didn’t seem to deter him. I think it was my theater background that influenced him. He loved Yves Montand, the French actor and singer, almost as much as he loved his very rich wife. He would often pull me into his office and play Yves Montand records, stopping to interpret them for me, waxing poetic about the beauty of his voice. I was his artistic kindred spirit and it got me the promotion.
Large computers meant larger offices. They spent a small fortune gutting an industrial park building in Hayward – making it look like a New York gallery with outrageously expensive artwork. All that money spent, but they never could do anything about the swampy Bay smell that oozed its way into the building. I kept wondering how long you could run a discount book chain on a Manhattan budget.
It was under these circumstances that I met Clara, a wicked smart computer programmer from Berkeley who practiced primal scream therapy while listening to Wagner in the nude. She swore by it. My observation was that it didn’t really seem to help much with her relationship with her boyfriend or her father. She still wanted to IPL them all the time.
Initial Program Load (IPL) is a term for loading the operating system into the mainframe computer’s memory. It was a precursor to re-boot and it took a long, long time. It was a major thing to do and would down the system for hours. Clara and I used to joke that when we had kids, we’d want to IPL them occasionally, just to get some peace and quiet. I lost touch with her once the company went bankrupt but the concept of IPLing stayed with me for years. And in the past few weeks, it’s been rattling around in my brain.
Like a big mainframe computer, the whole world crashed over a year ago, leaving us to wander around wondering how long we would be down. As we begin to recover, I’m very aware this isn’t a simple laptop reboot; it’s a long, slow, laborious mainframe IPL and it’s going to take a lot of effort to get back up and running.
The opportunity now is to take a look at what parts of my pre-Covid life I want to reload and what parts no longer serve me and should get cleared out in the cache. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
For starters, I used to go to Penelope’s Cafe every Tuesday morning to meet my writing group. We would sit shoulder to shoulder with wildly imaginative thought bubbles floating over our table. I would treat myself to a womelette (terrible name, very yummy) and cinnamon dolce latte. While that nourished my body, I fed off the creative energy exuding from everyone around me. That needs to get loaded back into my life program, ASAP.
So do hugs, hugs and more hugs. And a commitment to notice smiles. I mean really notice them now that masks can be removed. I’m going to load back visits with friends and family like Santa loading up his sleigh on Christmas Eve. I’m going to load in new routines I’ve developed over the past year; rituals that remind me to be present and grateful.
What won’t get loaded back in? I’m still sifting through this but for starters, I don’t need things; I need people and experiences. I also want to clear my cache of unnecessary busyness, dreaded obligation and quick judgement. I’m sure there will be more there, but that’s a start.
We don’t get a chance to IPL our lives very often. I realize this one was forced upon us. Nevertheless, I intend to take what lessons I can from the past year and build back my life with greater thought and intention.