Promises of Grace (Part 1)


“The File Exit command exits the Aztec Designer program. If any open design has been modified since the last time you saved it, you are prompted whether you want to save the changes to the file.”

I am technical writer. That means I write books no one reads – computer instruction manuals. Be honest, have you ever read one. “Insert the disk in drive A and press Enter. Open the Save As dialog box, select a file name, and press Enter.”

I drifted, turning away from the computer.

I carry my past around like an old suitcase. It’s hard to explain without sounding crazy. The past shapes my decisions even as I see the future implications before acting. And sometimes it makes me freeze – unable to take action.

“Goddamnit. . . Back to work. Still gotta pay the bills.”

Ten years ago I wanted it all. Thirty then, I thought I’d have everything: success, family, money. Now I’d settle for having my wife back. Back then, I dreamed of working as a hotshot computer consultant, making a lot of money. There were years when I came close. But lately I had to struggle for every contract. Too much effort and too little satisfaction. I was Burned Out.

Why was I wasting my time? All the time typing away, banging out another technical manual. The darkness grew until I turned on the desk light, a companion for my glowing computer monitor.


Six o’clock. Enough technical bullshit for one day. I shut off the computer, put on a CD, and grabbed a beer. Sprawled out on the couch – blue jeans, white polo, bare feet – I took a big gulp, knowing there’d be plenty more this evening. In my small apartment, the room was nearly dark making the city lights outside my window stand out, beckoning.

As I drank my beer, I imagined I was a kid in the kitchen of our house in Queens, seated at the chromium kitchen table. My grandparents were just outside the kitchen window arguing again in a mixture of broken English and Italian.

The TV was all I took from the marriage. That’s about all I wanted. The rest of my furniture was new – straight, simple lines and muted colors. The couch faced a large picture window overlooking the Burbank studios and the beginning of the San Fernando Valley. The trees were swaying in a warm breeze. A Santa Ana. Tomorrow, it would be hot and windy. Hot in the middle of February! How depressing. Which was just what I wanted to be – depressed.

The music was old and sad, and it made me remember the first time I heard it. It was back in New York, on a cold and wintry day. I had moved to California to escape that last, long winter. I vowed never to see snow again. Now, I missed it more than anything. The smell of fall and the crunch of the leaves. The quiet winters with long, cold shadows.

I had been married for 12 years, and our sex life was a lot like one of my manuals. 1) Remove clothes. 2) Insert dick. 3) Press Enter. Once even the pretense of sex ended, it wasn’t long before everything else evaporated – conversation, civility. Gina was a California business woman. In moments of deep introspection and honesty – especially after 3 or 4 beers – I knew from the beginning we didn’t stand a chance.

Time for another beer. The view was shimmering, black and gold with street lights and rows and rows of buildings and houses.

One of those houses used to be mine – and Gina’s. She was probably there now, fucking the Boyfriend (the one she was dating while we were still married), and fucking me. What a deal.

I saw myself as the poster boy of a new Lost Generation, drifting through college into a career for no reason, all the time trying to discover the meaning of life. Occasionally, for a few of us, life presented a defining moment. For fewer still, when that moment came, they understood what it meant. A point in time which snapped us out of lethargy and helped us find a reason to go on. But most of us drifted without ever finding their moment, and after a while, we stopped looking.

If I wrote one more computer manual, I’d go nuts.

About Richard Scheiner

I am the co-owner of Paradigm Information Services and the co-founder of Urban Wordscapes. Paradigm develops custom learning product solutions to support your technology or new product release. It pays the bills. Urban Wordscapes is a fun site that I am extremely proud off. It also lets me express myself creatively!
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