MY NEW COMPUTER has eaten the Bach. Nerds have been telling me for years something bad would happen, but I hadn't expected the eating of Bach. I'd expected the bad something to be like an old Moscow show trial. I would have to tell the world I was obsolete, out of touch with the new slang, the new clothes, the new totality of the total newness, kaput. And why? Because I had sneered at the cyberfuture instead of accepting it with joy.
It was an egoist's fantasy. In Moscow trials, people who had committed the crime of being annoyances to Stalin always had to tell the world about it before being shot.
I am a product of that era when losers crushed by authority were entitled to one final moment on stage. Before flying to Kingdom Come, Cagney had his triumphal cry, "Top of the world, Ma!" Before the bullet in the back of the head, Stalin's detractors got their names in the papers.
This Bach business was unlike the anticipated punishment I deserved. Like some cyber-picador needling the cyberfuture, I had laughed at cyberpeople and cyberthings.
The nerds had given fair warning. "Sneer while you can, antiquated pre-cyberian," they said, "for you are already as obsolete as the horse collar, the skate key, the old gray bonnet with the blue ribbon on it, and old Dobbin hitched to the shay."
History's junkpile was my destiny. Being a romantic, I looked forward to getting off a great line when the nerds took me away. Standing on horse collars, skate keys, old Dobbins, hand-cranked Model T's, Olivetti portable typewriters and 1933 Blue Eagle posters, I would cry, "Top of the junkpile, Ma!"
Now the eating of the Bach has me wondering whether I have offended the Cybergeist in a dangerous way. The circumstances were as follows: My cyberguru Gomer had brought a new batch of cyberstuff, including a Windows program that enables you to play solitaire when you should be writing a book as great as "Moby Dick" and as irresistible to the public as Geraldo Rivera.
After several days of playing solitaire, the profound pointlessness of that game -- a favorite among the suicidally depressed, I am told -- left me wanting more from my new machine. Well, it had more to offer. It had a slot that would accept a compact disk. Gomer the cyberguru had said it would play music.
"How wonderful," I thought, "to sit here playing solitaire on the machine's screen while it simultaneously played music that adds an ennobling significance to the act of placing red sevens on black eights."
In short, the computer was soon pouring forth the glorious sound of Alfred Brendel at work on Bach's "Italian Concerto" in F major. It seemed miraculous that with Bach issuing from its cyberguts, the machine could simultaneously deal out hand after hand of solitaire and flawlessly obey as I placed red queens on black kings, black fours on red fives.
Yes, there might be something to be said for this cybernonsense after all. Why, if I could only learn what a modem was and how to use the fax, I might ring up the Internet and play this beautiful music to some stranger in Mexico or South Dakota.
The music ended. I touched a button. The tray slid out. The compact disk did not. Not Bach. Not Brendel. I tried shoving the tray back, wondering if there was a "Retrieve Bach and Brendel" command I ought to look for in "Windows for Dummies."
The machine issued happy digestive hums. The tray did not slide back, but sat there in full-ejection mode. The computer looked like a computer that was insolently sticking its tongue out. Or was it asking for more to eat?
"Give me back my Bach," I said, a little angrily, as I started trying to work a finger into the slot. Then it occurred to me that this could be madness. Suppose the thing was developing an appetite.
It has been like that for a week. I have these fears. Gomer, of course, is unreachable. Hiding from the Windows 95 panic, I suppose. A curse on Bill Gates.
, Gomer, Gomer! Where are you?
Russell Baker is a columnist with the New York Times.