The cyber soother

GOMER, my cyberguru, brought a load of fresh equipment. As a result I can make this very machine play Mozart at the same time it processes words. It is not playing Mozart at the moment, but only because I know from experience that newspaper columns written when Mozart is being played are always lousy.

Gomer told me it would also play Erroll Garner. That's what sold me. The idea of having Erroll Garner's piano pouring out of a computer that was simultaneously processing my very own words was irresistible.


With Erroll Garner's chords and my dangling participles intertwined through the miracle of megabytes, what unforgettable cyberduets we might play. It really is a marvelous age.

All too well do I remember the days before cyberwriting. There was nothing but paper, and it was dull, that paper, and it offered only two choices: lined or unlined. Words could not be processed, as they are now with today's magnificent word processors. They had to be formed by hand with pens or pencils.


In love with technology, I dreamed of a typewriter and soon was well-heeled enough to rent a big desk model for $8 a month. With the help of a typing manual borrowed from the library and my private stock of handkerchiefs (necessary as blindfolds to prevent peeking at the keys) I was soon a passable touch typist.

To perfect the skill I composed a novel of 90,000 words one summer. It was rejected by every publisher in the country. This did not discourage me for, as Truman Capote later said of Jack Kerouac's books, it wasn't writing, it was typing.

The typewriter had many defects. If you wanted to write under the influence of the great composers, for example, you had to leave the machine and place a record on another machine. This created distractions that harmed the writing.

For instance, when writing a romantic story set in old Europe, I would play Weber's lovely waltz music, "Invitation to the Dance," high volume. Creative catastrophe!

It immediately reminded me that I could not waltz, nor for that matter, tango, rumba or even do a fox trot, in fact that I was destined to live and die a wallflower. Depression makes brilliant writing impossible. Despite many phonographic renditions, "Invitation to the Dance" never produced a word of literature.

But maybe historical romances were not up my alley. I tried horror and suspense. Having seen "Fantasia," I chose a recording of Moussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain," set it on the turntable and raced to the typewriter to make the world forget Edgar Allan Poe.

Words failed me. All I could think of was the name Moussorgsky. The name Moussorgsky had me in its spell.

How in the world was it spelled? I was consumed by the need to know. I wanted to be able to say to lovely women encountered for the first time, "Well, no, I don't tango actually, but would you believe I know how to spell Moussorgsky?"


The world has not forgotten Poe, but I have perpetually forgotten how to spell Moussorgsky. It is spelled this way here today only because I have just looked it up in the Columbia Encyclopedia. The new machine Gomer brought probably has a cyberclopedia that would spell it out loud, maybe in the voice of Mozart's stone Commendatore, and I can't wait to hear it, but --

Well, to tell you the truth, I'm not up to finding new cyberstuff right now. Back there a while ago I put some Erroll Garner into the Whatever Letter They Call That Slot. Did I say earlier how much I like Erroll Garner? Not that Dave McKenna isn't right up there too, but Erroll -- and I should call him Mister Garner of course -- has always had a special -- what's that word everybody's using these days? --

-- Resonance. That's it. Always had a special resonance for me. So I thought, maybe a little Erroll Garner might help this column pick itself up off the floor, you see.

But I should have remembered: Erroll Garner has always meant martinis to me. Two or three sometimes. Put Garner on the turntable, and it's always, "Olive or lemon peel, sweetheart?"

One more, and whattaya say we tango?

D8 Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.