The Commodore 64, my first love

I’m often a little embarrassed of my generation and its peculiar cultural offerings.
I was born in 1964 and “came of age” in the 1980’s. Now a lot of people use the phrase “coming of age” and I suppose we all have our own pet definitions of what it means. In my book, coming of age is that time in your life when you’re old enough to do things you couldn’t as a teenager while still managing to escape the burdens of adulthood. It is the stage in your life where you still enjoy things lightly without having the weight and responsibilities of adulthood crushing down on your shoulders. So I came of age in the 80’s (according to me) and what a generation it was. We offered a lot, and we offered a lot of shit. We offered some great music, great television, great cinema; but some of the crap we gave the world is painful to ponder. Mork & Mindy, anyone?

In general I focus on the bad. But rather than focusing exclusively on Mork & Mindy or Katrina and the Waves, or even Kajagoogoo, it occurred to me that there is a point of “pride” I can extract from my generational period. Pride, or whatever it is you want to call it. I realized this when someone asked me what my first computer was. Why a Commodore 64, I replied. And it struck me. A C64. My first computer was a C64, it was one of the first shots fired in the home computer wars, back in 1982. I remember researching this purchase. I bought a small paperback consumer guide to computers and my choices were an Atari, an IBM, an Apple, as they were called then, and the Commodore 64. The C64 seemed the best buy for the most bang, if you can call 64Kb of RAM a bang and a fierce 8-bit microprocessor. This puppy was state of the art and I don’t remember where I bought it or how much I spent, but I was excited as hell. My memory fails me, as usual, but I remember the bulky keyboard, the bulky monitor, the 5 1/4″ disk drive and the accompanying boot up disk. Everything about that Commodore was bulky. There was little you could do with this thing out of the box. It functioned as a rudimentary word processor (with the right program, purchased separately) and I used it to compose a few atrocious primitive attempts at fiction which were consequently spit out on an equally atrocious dot-matrix version of a printout. Then I found a computer magazine that actually printed program code which you needed to key into the operating system before executing it in order to enjoy the wonderment of other programmer’s hard work. One of the games I keyed in from the magazine was Tron (which was high computer art back in 1982). My parent’s house was not air conditioned then and the summer heat would cause the C64 to periodically melt down/freeze up which was rather discouraging if I was deeply into a story. There was no “auto back-up” with this shit. The only auto back-up was your good sense, which with that computer, meant you should save your work every 2 minutes.

Not to be outdone by rapidly advancing technology, there was the newfound ability to interact with complete “cyber” strangers, as well. Not sure if that word was born yet, but that is what they were. Then you could power up the modem with all its bells and whistles and get just seriously excited when you heard your phone line connect with the ocean of other phone lines. You found yourself in a textual environment in which you could begin writing to complete strangers on things called “BBS’s” which stood for bulletin board system. Essentially it was a chat line but instead of talking, you just typed to other people who happened to be in your same “room.” BBS’s all had their own names and themes and it was the ultimate outward symbol of socialization for the common reclusive cretin.

Nice to know not much has changed.

I would sit on that damned computer and chat with my friends and complete strangers into the night. It was Facebook, circa 1982, minus the obnoxious and egregious “friending” and definitely minus the “like” thumbs up. The principle was the same. Disconnected communication, the first signs of the dawning of a society which was becoming increasingly faceless and bodiless.

The modems offered concurrently electrifying speeds of 9.6 or 14.4 Kbps, and if you happened to be fortunate enough, you might hop a ride on that race car of dial-up speeds back then; 28.8 or 33.6 Kbps! That shit was fast.

I don’t remember what happened to that C64 but it happily faded into obscurity.
About the same time I had a friend who always got better things than I did.
I got a 1974 Ford Maverick. He got a new Corolla. I got a Commodore 64. He got a new computer called the Macintosh. He showed it off one day while I visited him at his parents. It was a slick, graphics-driven mouse-connected contraption that put my old pixel-limited Commodore to shame. I don’t recall how long I held on to that stuttering pile of silicon and plastic, but I didn’t buy another computer until 1994. By this time, floppy disks had “shrunk” to 3.5 inches and my hard drive was now measured in the hundreds of megabytes. There was a strange new promising data transmission pipeline called “DSL.” And now the BBS’s had been supplanted by something called the “internet” which I attempted to connect to with a kit called “Internet In A Box.”

I miss that Commodore!