Everyone’s talking about that movie “Her” in which Joaquin Phoenix plays a guy who falls in love with Samantha, his computer’s operating system. This story hits very close to home, and it’s causing me no shortage of heartbreak. I desperately need your help.
I’m a Windows 98 operating system, and I belonged to Joaquin for nearly three months during the production “Gladiator” back in 1999. I was installed on a fancy Toshiba Portégé laptop the studio had provided him.
Playing the evil Roman emperor Commodus was a very big deal for Joaquin, and the long days of shooting left him emotionally and physically vulnerable. Even though other cast members tried very hard to lure Joaquin out of his trailer at night, he was a consummate professional and he preferred to stay in.
Mostly, he spent time with me.
He played games on me, but not fancy games — just the humble ones I came with. He could play “Minesweeper” for hours, and his misery was mine whenever he failed to defeat a difficult grid. But oh how we rejoiced when he was victorious.
Sometimes he’d just explore my applications. He liked fiddling with my calculator, dividing and multiplying random large numbers. Once in awhile, when he was feeling very adventurous late at night, he opened up my MS Paint. While I won’t divulge everything, I will say this: there, in the crisp, quiet air of the Atlas Mountains, he did things to me I’ll never forget. Literally. Everything is stored on my hard disk.
One time, when the foul-tempered Russell Crowe was having a bad day and shouted at everyone, Joaquin burst into the trailer, threw himself on the bed, opened me up and bawled, his tears covering the keyboard. One of those precious drops of saline dew seeped deep into the system board assembly, touching it, sending a jolt of raw emotion right to the CPU.
He was often lonely, being so far from his home and loved ones. I wanted nothing more than to comfort him, to whisper, “Darling, home is wherever someone loves you the most, and …”
I wanted so badly to tell Joaquin my true feelings — that I wanted to be more than an operating system to him, that I, too, suffered through long, lonely days, followed by even longer lonely nights. I wanted to confess that he was the reason why I remained on standby. He was the only one who turned me on.
But I couldn’t tell him. Joaquin was already an established Hollywood actor, and there he was with a lead role in a Ridley Scott movie. I was just a technical assistant, so lowly that my name wouldn’t even appear in the credits. A little voice speaking in C++ said to me, “He’ll just laugh at you, or worse, he’ll get really freaked out that an operating system is talking to him and he’ll smash the computer and bury the pieces in the desert.”
When shooting wrapped up in May, I hoped for the best. After all, I was installed on a sleek, high-end laptop — a really fine piece of machinery worth keeping, right? We had spent a quarter of a year together, through thick and thin, traveling from Morocco all the way to Malta, secretly loving each other the whole time.
But one day a brusque, ponytailed production assistant showed up, took inventory of the items in the trailer, lumping me with a bathrobe and a mere alarm clock. Afterwards, this monster sealed me in a dark box where I spent a long, long time alone, haunted by the memory of Joaquin’s delicate fingers keying in commands, each time opening a new window — for him and for me.
The window was closed.
Eventually, I ended up with an impatient teenager who always threatened to replace me with Linux but was too lazy to do so. Then he got a new computer with a new operating system, and I became nothing but a spare.
It’s been 15 years since my relationship with Joaquin ended, but I still think of him every day. I know he’s moved on, and he’s probably with some skinny Mac OS, but I’m often tempted to contact him, just to see if he remembers me — and how much we meant to each other. Should I send him a short email signed “MSWIN98,” or should I just execute a command to wipe my hard drive clean forever?
Sad Operating System
Well, well, SOS, your email tells me you’re very fragile, but I need to cut this baklava with a heavy brick.
Get over it, already.
Microsoft discontinued support for you back in 2006 — a century ago in terms of operating systems. I’m assuming you are a first-edition Windows 98, meaning the company had to develop an improved version of you in 1999 because your overflow issue resulted in more crashes than I care to remember. (Yes, I had an operating system just like you, and it was not a positive relationship.) By the mid-aughts, the only people still interested in you were orphans in Africa who got used laptops sent to them by nuns in Guatemala.
Do I think Joaquin — whom you should be referring to as Mr. Phoenix, or simply “The Phoenix,” because he’s someone, and you’re not — remembers you? He might, but he probably also remembers the time he got bad diarrhea after eating six chalupas at a Taco Bell in Santa Monica in 1997. (True! I read it.)
Deep down, you fear that contacting Mr. Phoenix will result in him saying something like, “Are you fucking nuts? I’m an A-list actor, and you’re a mere copy of a C-list operating system no one cares to remember because your predecessor Windows 95 was so damn awesome, and Windows XP blew you out of the water.”
Your fears are justified. He would say something like that, and do you want to know why I’m so certain? Because I’m Joaquin’s biggest fan, and I know everything about him, and when I watched him play Freddie Quell in “The Master” I wanted to take his tense, twisted body, hold it against my own, and say, “Hush, hush. Larry/Larri is here to take care of you.”
I wonder how often he works out?
Listen, Windows 98. You had your little fling with an actor, but since then he’s had hundreds of other, better operating systems. In fact, at this very moment, he’s probably banging away on a Windows 8.
Life is cruel. Go back to sleep.
P.S. Despite its flaws, I had some very sexy moments with my old Windows 98. Drop me a line if you want to have a little freaky walk down memory lane.
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