Discworld

Tamara Shopsin remembers a less digital NYC in a novel about a legendary independent Mac repair shop

Tamara Shopsin’s LaserWriter II made me nostalgic for the hacks of a less-digital New York City–reselling CDs to Mondo Kim’s on St. Marks Place, using a found student ID to access an elite university’s perks, and Tekserve, the independently-owned Mac repair shop on West 23rd Street, where this novel is set.

I wonder if readers with no personal experience of Tekserve (or its legendary standing with Mac fanatics) will buy Shopsin’s descriptions of the place, and the people who worked there.

On paper, the whole operation sounds quirky to a point that may stretch credulity.

TekServe(The same could be said for Shopsin’s General Store, the celebrated and deeply eccentric family-owned restaurant at the heart of Shopsin’s earlier coming of age memoir, Arbitrary Stupid Goal.)

But sometimes fiction and the truth that inspired it are equally strange.

Once upon a time, Mac users weren’t totally at the mercy of Apple, with its proprietary software, its antiseptic Apple Stores and its “Geniuses” in matching corporate t-shirts.

Shopsin–who worked at TekServe for three months–documents TekServe’s ramshackle decor with fond, if deadpan accuracy.

The scavenged seating…

A ticketing system to rival the DMV’s …

The vintage Coke machine dispensing 6.5oz bottles at 10¢ a pop.

Shopsin introduces Tekserve’s co-founders David Lerner and Dick Demenus, a host of employees based on her actual co-workers, and a never-ending parade of customers through the eyes of 19-year-old introvert, Claire.

They immediately accept Claire’s job application when actor Steve Buscemi arrives to pick up his computer without the required ID–a crisis that leaves the reception desk scrambling for coverage.

Shopsin indoctrinates readers into Tekserve’s ethos along with Claire:

Don’t pretend to know the answer when you don’t.

Don’t overcharge customers for an inexpensive repair job.

Treat the stricken civilians who arrive with ailing, Hefty bag-swaddled iMacs in their arms, with patience and compassion, even if previous service repair orders pop up to flag them as jerks:

“It is hard not to cut people off when they describe their problems.

But cutting people off is not the Tekserve way. Patty taught this Tao well, and Claire abides, listening to every tangent and tragedy that has befallen each computer’s owner.”

Some of the tangents and tragedies become more interesting upon removal of the malfunctioning machines’ plastic casing. Shopsin leaves it to the reader’s imagination how a PowerBook 1400 came to be infested with baby cockroaches or a Bondi blue iMac with lube.

One of the New York-iest details in LaserWriter II are the thumbnail biographies of Claire’s coworkers, describing how each came to work at Tekserve, and what they were doing before–studying drama or opera, working in radio stations and recording studios, running a BBS at the age of 11. One of the oldest repair teks is a violinist with “crisp memories of World Wars I and II” who’d built the “first superheterodyne receiver in Bulgaria” prior to moving to New York, where he operated a freight elevator.

Few of these characters lodge firmly in the reader’s mind, but given the book’s brevity, this doesn’t feel like much of a problem. Together, they create a composite portrait of a really great workplace, where bosses don’t berate underlings no matter how egregiously they fuck up, and quickly promote a new hire with very little experience to a specialized position repairing printers.

Helpless no-nothings such as myself, who envision the proprietary lab to which the Apple Store forwards repairs as an all-white spaceship’s surgical unit, will find gratification in scenes of Claire removing dust from sticky rollers and gears with an ordinary household vacuum.

My curiosity about the technological workings of all things technical usually hovers hovers around zero, but it’s hard to stay disinterested when Claire opens up the printers she’s repairing, allowing their inner workings to speak for themselves.

A LaserWriter 8500‘s transport chute regales its separation pad with a funny yarn about an Acura Integra’s alarm sensor it met once.

And the octagonal mirror that directs the titular LaserWriter II’s raw beam comforts a gear who fears dusting by quoting Susan Sontag and encouraging it to ponder Nietzsche’s thoughts of eternal recurrence:

“Imagine this life you live now, you have lived before. Life is a loop that repeats infinitely and exactly. Every pain and pleasure shall return to you.”

Apple, whose origin story Shopsin recounts along with Tekserve’s, once urged consumers to “Think different.”

It’s a challenge Shopsin has taken to heart.

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Ayun Halliday

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.

One thought on “Discworld

  • November 14, 2021 at 10:09 pm
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    Both of the shops mentioned in this delightful review, Mondo Kim’s and Tekserve, were part of a New York City that no longer exists. The idea that an idiosyncratic small business could survive in Manhattan — and even thrive, as WNYC listeners will recall that Tekserve was a major sponsor of their pledge drives — is as passe as people walking five minutes to get their own takeout instead of feeding obscene schemes like DoorDash. Mondo Kim’s was right next to See Hear, the all-fanzine store; Tekserve was a block from F&B hot dogs. All out of business, along with everything that made the East Village and Chelsea special and interesting.

    I will read this book immediately, and would have liked to purchase it from either St. Marks Books or even the Barnes and Noble a block from Tekserve, but both of those are gone as well. Meanwhile, this is as good a place as any to mention something small and great and quirky and NYC that still exists. Louis Rossmann and his “right to repair” crusade videos — go to YouTube and search him up.

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