My first computer, in the early 1980s, is a Kaypro (C/PM operating system) bundled with WordStar (“the most popular word processor ever invented”) and a JUKI daisywheel printer. I select the Kaypro because an article in New York magazine calls it “the computer of choice for New York writers.” I buy it at the purchasing place of choice, Wolff’s (near Columbus Circle), where New York writers are milling about like musicians at Izzy Young’s Folklore Center in the early 60s (well, I assume they’re all writers).
The Kaypro boasts of a built-in “large 9-inch display” with green phosphor characters, and 64K of RAM. (My IBM Selectric has the equivalent of one byte of RAM: if you hit two keys almost simultaneously, it “remembers” the second letter and spaces it properly.) The Kaypro stores files on 400K floppy disks, and the whole machine folds into a hard-shell “transportable” case—convenient if you’re not trying to transport it very far.
Once I get the system up and running, I notice that WordStar defaults to justified right-hand margins, which I dislike (especially in drafts). I change the default, but now the spaces between letters are wackily uneven, making for a disjointed printout. I call Wolff’s and Kaypro, but nobody knows what I’m talking about. Am I the only New York writer who has this issue—I can hear Dylan wailing “Oh my God am I here all alone?” I call a New York writer friend who says he doesn’t have the problem, then looks at a printout and realizes he does but it doesn’t bother him. I am bothered.
Eventually I reach someone at WordStar who says, “I know what you mean. A rabbi called last week with the same problem.” He explains that the culprit is “microjustifcation,” which is what makes justified text look professional but stays on even when justification is turned off. “I guess we should put those together,” he says. There’s a “dot command” (huh?) to turn off microjustification: “Just type .uj off at the top of the page."
Voila! It works! But .uj off has to be typed at the very top of every page that gets printed, which means deleting and replacing the code whenever a page is revised. Back to my WordStar friend, who says he shouldn’t be telling me this but there’s a hidden array of commands that can only be reached by typing a hyphen. He gives me directions to change the default to microjustification-off, and my documents print out perfectly without typing any codes.
Then my JUKI printer quits, with no justification of any sort. I lug the machine to Wolff's. While I'm crossing the street, a stranger looks at me and announces: “Another JUKI breakdown!”
At long last, I am not here all alone.