Fragments Of My Brain
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Gabriel came to see me. He's one of the minor but essential archangels around here, working on the help desk to fix our computers if they fritz out or go squelchy, as they all do now and then, because, you know, they're only human.

Mine was running slow--taking a long time to boot up, enjoying whole minutes of cogitation when asked to do anything even slightly out of the ordinary. Just, you know, acting weird. It's an old computer, but not that old. Kind of like me.

"What's with it?" I asked Gabriel, who was honking around in its registry.

"I dunno," he said, which might be the motto of the help-desk employee. Nobody really knows why computers, like people, have operating difficulties at times. Suddenly things won't run, or crash, or just go hinky, for no reason other than that their silicon brains get scrambled and suddenly can't handle the load. I know how they feel, if indeed they do, which has never been disproved.

"Maybe he just needs to be defragmented," said Gabe. "Sometimes the hard drive gets too full of stuff, and big files are stored all over the place, and it takes the processor time to find all the little pieces that are stashed everywhere. When you defrag, you put the pieces of the files together and the machine runs faster."

I knew that already. But it had been a while since I performed that service for my hardworking friend.

"It's like your brain," Gabe said. "When you get stressed out, you forget stuff and can't find the right word, and it takes you a little too long to respond to people because your brain is looking through all that material to find the right thing to say."

I looked at him and couldn't think of a thing to say. He had just described my condition perfectly. Having trouble finding the right words. Disremembering names. Entering a room and then not knowing what I went there for ... My brain was fragmented. That was it. I needed a good defragging. Gabe tapped a few buttons and left.

I watched the defragmenting utility. There's a little graphic that shows you what it's up to. First it finds all the big mojo files that keep the operating system running and puts them together. Then it looks for the executable program files that need to be clean and snazzy to run your key programs like Word and Excel and Ning Po mahjong, which I play while I'm on the phone. If that sounds stupid to you, sorry. You don't do anything wanky in your office to remain sane, huh?

The graphic was making progress, looking for little bits of data and putting them back together. In the lower-right-hand corner was a tiny block of red. The defragger picked it up and unified it with a larger chunk of the same color in the top of the window.

Dee came in. "You called for me?"

"Did I?" I couldn't remember. "Did you fax that thing to Moskowitz?"

"Half an hour ago," she said, and left.

Watching the graphic pick up and merge bytes of work I had done, I ran things over in my mind. In the right part of my brain was a small thought about Ruth Jordan, the Kozlowski juror who screwed everything up because she was old, cranky, stubborn, and a lawyer. Now there would need to be a new trial. It was hard to put the guy away, wasn't it? Even harder than it had been to trap and cage Martha. Now she wanted a new trial too, but she might be in jail by the time her summer plantings were coming in, and they might be affected by the global warming that either isn't happening, if you're an industrialist, or is, if you're not, an idea that for some reason was side by side with a chunk containing a bleacherful of baseball players gobbling steroids to break all the honest records set by Babe Ruth, who ate a lot of hot dogs, which are on the Atkins diet while orange juice isn't.

The defragger was moving through yellow files now. I thought about all the business I had going on. Why was I meeting with Hopkins on that research study? Did it have to do with the new marketing blitz I was supposed to understand by next Wednesday, because there was a meeting about it with guys from the agency, which is next to a sushi place that has excellent spinach salad with a peanut dressing to die for--which is a movie with Nicole Kidman, who seems to maybe be getting back together with Tom Cruise for the sake of the kids, and I really should call mine this afternoon to make sure my daughter got that check and my son isn't cutting gym classes, although I understand why he would--I always hated gym because kids made fun of the way I looked in shorts--and I wonder whether it'll be hot in August when I go to the beach?

Gabriel returned and found me staring into the screen with a pleased if vacant expression. It felt good.

"You feelin' okay?" he asked, watching me quizzically.

"I'll let you know," I said. "But this was definitely worth doing."