Monday, March 23, 2009

"Naked 15 Year Olds" -- A Scene in a Laptop Shop


Late forties, easy-talking, confident electronics expert.

Mid-forties, mouthbreathing man in awkwardly baggy clothes, visibly unintelligent.

Twenty-something guy waiting quietly while his broken laptop is tested.

REPAIR GUY: (To CUSTOMER) Your power cord�s busted. I can get you a new cord for about 50 bucks.

CUSTOMER: What about those other laptops you�re selling? Are they any good?

REPAIR GUY: They�re ok, but yours is newer and more powerful than those ones. I�d just keep yours and replace the power cord.

CUSTOMER: How much would you give me for trade in on this one?

REPAIR GUY: Trade in for what?

CUSTOMER: For one of those other laptops you�re selling.

REPAIR GUY: (confused) What�s wrong with this one?

CUSTOMER: Well it ain�t working.

REPAIR GUY: Yeah but you just need a new power cord. I�ve got one right here, 50 bucks.

CUSTOMER: Yeah but how much would you give me for trade in?

REPAIR GUY: (frustrated) Well, I don�t know, 150, 200 bucks? But I�m telling you, you�re better off just keeping this one, it�s a better computer.

CUSTOMER: (distressed) So what happened to my power cord?

REPAIR GUY: It broke.

CUSTOMER: Why? What happened to it?

REPAIR GUY: They�re just cheap, you know? They�ve got 12 year olds making these things, they break, what are you gonna do?

CUSTOMER: Ok I guess I�ll take the new cord.

REPAIR GUY: Ok. Also I noticed you got no antivirus on here.

CUSTOMER: What�s antivirus?

REPAIR GUY: Keeps viruses off your computer. If you�re surfing the internet and you got no antivirus you�re like a naked 15 year old standing outside the dock bars when the ships come in.

CUSTOMER: (pause) What?

REPAIR GUY: I said you�re like a naked 15 year old standing outside the dock bars when the ships come in. Your computer is.

CUSTOMER: What�s that mean? What happens?

REPAIR GUY: To what?

CUSTOMER: What happens to a naked 15 year old on the docks?

REPAIR GUY: (flabbergasted) Well she�s gonna get sex!

CUSTOMER: (nods) Oh. So my computer�

REPAIR GUY: I�m just tryin� to say your computer is vulnerable if you got no antivirus. They write viruses to look for computers without antivirus.

CUSTOMER: That sounds like it�d be illegal.

REPAIR GUY: Well it�s illegal to spray gang tags on my dumpster out there but they still do it!

CUSTOMER: Yeah but it seems like if they caught someone making viruses--

REPAIR GUY: Look, I�m just saying you should get some antivirus, but that�s up to you.
(Turns to address ISAAC, slightly under his breath) That was pretty good right? A naked 15 year old outside the dock bars when the ships come in?

ISAAC: Uh, yeah, seemed pretty clear to me. Good metaphor.



Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Night - OR - How I Almost Got in a Fight and Kissed Someone's Girlfriend at a Barry Manilow Concert

What do you do when a beautiful buxom blonde invites you to a Barry Manilow concert in the VIP box for free? You go to the Barry Manilow concert and almost get in a fight with a middle aged couple sitting nearby because they keep shushing you for talking during the songs even though it�s an arena show and it�s very loud but apparently this Barry Manilow concert is the highlight of their miserable lives because they are treating it like a religious ceremony and when you try to mildly reason with them the man makes as if to get out of his seat and says, �Oh are you a tough guy? Are you a tough guy?�

Then you drink six whiskey gingers and watch an orange, oompa-loompian Manilow gyrate through a few hits before you leave the arena with the buxom blonde who on the way out tells you she wants to make out with you which never happens because her boyfriend unexpectedly shows up at the bar you stopped at several blocks away and angrily takes her home so you just go back to your apartment and hang your blue �ULTIMATE MANILOW� glowstick on your wall and call it a good night.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Consider the Weinerdog

Jane Marion Wheeler is gorgeous. Look at her. Her eyes are deep lakes of butterscotch, big and wise and soulful. Her hair is the rich brown of molten milk chocolate. She stands less than four inches tall, but her body stretches nearly two feet like a sinuous limousine. She is my sister�s Dachshund, and she is the most beautiful weinerdog I�ve ever seen.

Not only is Jane a stunning specimen of miniature canine grace, she is warm and loving and completely emotionally available. This weekend I ended up crashing on my sister�s couch for a night. Walking into the house long after everyone else was asleep, I found Jane at the door to greet me, leaping and spinning in giddy circles, her tail whip-whapping like a twanged car antenna. I threw a blanket on the couch and climbed under it, and so did Jane, prancing around on my stomach, making relentless lunges at my face with her pointy wet snout.

Jane loves me. She loves me wholly, with absolutely nothing held back. It�s�kinda gross.

A few things occurred to me as I lay there trying to fall asleep, with Jane curled peacefully on my belly, or my back, or my feet, patiently readjusting herself whenever I changed positions. Every time I moved an inch, her mainsail ears perked and she set about licking my fingers, elbows, feet, any exposed skin she could find. It occurred to me that this is Jane�s �love language�, her preferred medium of showing affection. As yucky as it feels to me, being slobbered and slimed from every angle, I realized that this is her version of a hearty hug and �How are you?�.

So why is it so repulsive?

It�s not that this is a case of unrequited love. Jane isn�t an obsessed stalker calling me in the night and panting, showing up at my work, mailing me severed extremities. I love Jane as much as she loves me. How could I not? Look at her! Her sausage body wiggles when she�s happy! And she�s always happy!

So why can�t I accept her affection? Why do I grimace and cringe away from another creature trying to tell me she loves me? Is the chasm between puppy love and people love really that vast?

Maybe it�s an issue of complexity. Animal love is elemental. A dog either hates you or worships you as a god. There isn�t much middle ground. If they love you, they want nothing more than to show that love, constantly, in the most direct way possible. And what could be a more direct PDA than licking someone? Tasting them, the scent and essence of their skin, trusting and valuing them so highly that you want to actually absorb them into your bloodstream, germs and parasites and all. This is where human kissing came from. Almost all mammals do it. Humans are the only ones grossed out by it.

To be fair, dogs do lick their asses�

But even if Jane�s tongue was marinated in Lysol, wouldn�t I still dodge it? Maybe it�s instinctual for humans to dodge love, or at least such blatant displays of it. Animal love is direct; human love is labyrinthine. We have a layered hierarchy of expression, from a cool nod to a friendly hug to wild passionate sex. The lines constantly blur. Acquaintances become friends, friends become lovers, lovers become enemies, enemies become friends, friends become friends with benefits. We aren�t used to simplicity. We can�t tolerate guileless, unrestrained adoration from a dog any more than from a human.

People love each other, sometimes even wholly, but there are always barriers to our expression. We can�t just go up and lick someone, it�s not allowed! Much too honest, too literally in-your-face. To keep from being repulsed by ourselves, by the true, frightening depths of our need for each other, we invent elaborate procedures to dilute and obscure it. To avoid looking �desperate� or �needy�, we make ourselves pretend not to care. Whether it�s romantic love, friendly love, even family love, we follow cool clinical protocols. We take it slow, we give each other space, we pretend to be self-sufficient and wait three days before calling.

Jane calls bullshit on this. Jane says, I will lick you! That�s how you�ll know I love you! Would I lick you if I didn�t love you? Look at me! I am beautiful, I am perfect, I am full of innocent, primal love, and I love you! Now let me shove my nose in your mouth.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

On Texting

A friend of mine told me I should try writing nonfiction essays so I'm gonna give it a go...

Are there holdouts who still revile text messaging as a silly habit of teenagers and techheads? In the world I live in, texting is rapidly eclipsing voice calling as the dominant form of telecommunication, and it's not hard to see why.

There will always be conversations we won't have via text--business talks, declarations of love, suicide prevention--but for the average everyday exchanging of thoughts and information, the traditional phone call is making less and less sense. Not only is it costlier than texting, it also wastes precious time and social energy on redundant greetings and farewells. Who wants to go through the whole routine of "Hey, it's me, how are you, ok, talk to you later, bye" when the core of your conversation is simply, "Meet at 6:00"?

We hate repetition, familiarity breeds contempt, and given the large number of phone interactions we have with people in any given day, having to go through the traditional conversational hoops every single time can be maddening. Sometimes so maddening that we will actually choose not to contact someone at all rather than suffer through the stumbling introductions, the time delays and resulting overlaps in speech, the whole awkward experience of speaking to someone without seeing them.

Text messaging is often seen as a less "real", less "human" form of communication. But people who view it as yet another example of technology killing personal connection are obviously forgetting the original form of long-distance talking: the letter. What is texting but a shorter, brisker form of mailing a letter? For thousands of years letters have served the function of connecting people who aren't able to be together physically. And, counterintuitively, written communication is actually a more natural form than voice calling.

Compare it to Isaac Asimov's concept of "the Uncanny Valley". This is the idea that in an artificial representation of a human being, we can accept crude simulations, and we can accept real humans, but there is a point in between that basically creeps us out. When something is so realistic that it appears human, yet isn't quite there, it strikes a sour note in our primitive cores. The subtle flaws, the subliminal wrongness disturbs us.

The telephone puts us in the Uncanny Valley. We hear each other's voices, so we feel like we're actually talking to each other, but all the subtle nuances of human conversation are gone. Facial expressions, body language, gestures, all the things that augment our words and make people understand what we mean, these are all absent, and it leads to weird, stilted conversations full of interruptions and awkward moments of dead air.

Why is texting better? Because we don't expect those nuances from written communication, and so we don't miss them when they aren't there. We just take the information at face value, and wait until our next physical meeting to get the tone and timbre, the personal essence. There will never be a replacement for live, face to face conversation, but when a coffee date or afternoon stroll is impossible, give me written communication any day, whether it's texting, email, or snail mail letters, and keep me out of that Valley of the Real Dolls.

The advent of text messaging has actually created whole new forms of expression. The immediacy of it, the feeling of safety and the ability to take time to gather thoughts, allows us to open up our lives in ways not possible before.

There's the effect of Constant Contact. With the ease and casual nature of texting, it's now possible to send the most trivial observations or amusing tidbits to the people we care about throughout the day. We get to share each other's lives to a degree of detail that would never happen otherwise. That funny bumper sticker, that shirtless guy in the coffee shop, that pigeon we just ran over, we can share these moments as they happen, without having to wait till the next time we see each other and trying to find conversational openings to fit these stories into. The effect is that we feel like our friends are always present, sharing our days with us. We feel a little less alone.

Has texting even changed the very nature of romantic relationships? Look no further than the phenomenon of the Post-Date Recap Text. You've just come out of the concert or movie or demolition derby. You're smiling at each other, making small talk. The feeling is in the air that you've had a good time and there is chemistry, but no one wants to say it. You're both bubbling with thoughts and feelings, but because people are reserved and uncertain creatures, none of it comes out. You come to the street corner where you'll part ways. You hug, she says thanks for the dinner or the drink or the lap dance, and you walk back to your car. Wait for it...wait for it...there it is! The Post-Date Recap Text! She says, "I had so much fun, call me soon!" or "You're adorable, let's make out next time!" or "I can't believe you took me to a cockfight. Never call me again."

And there you have it.

We use texts to say all the things we leave unsaid during our face to face time. Because texting is self-contained and immediate, it doesn't have to follow any natural conversational path. It doesn't have to wait for the right moment. You can just say it, whatever it is, whenever it comes to you. The result is that people communicate on a whole different level through texts. Face to face, we've only just met and aren't comfortable with each other, but over text, we can talk as if we've known each other for years, and we can say whatever might be on our mind, no matter where we are or who's listening, like a psychic direct-line into people's heads. We text things we can't vocalize.

A friend of mine told me a story about a moment he had with a girl. He was sitting next to her on a couch, longing to kiss her, but too shy to make the move. He texted her, "Do you want to make out?", she read the text, she smiled, and he went for it. Dorky as hell? Yes. But also kinda cute? I think so.

Of course there's a very legitimate question here: Does having a form of communication this immediate and easy actually atrophy our ability to communicate in real life? If we become accustomed to safe, nonlinear conversations that don't require us to be quick-witted or brave, will we eventually lose those traits like vestigal tails, and begin to thrive only in digital realms? Time will tell, but there's no going back now.

At least, not until financial apocalypse brings down the cell phone companies and we're all reduced to mumbling, abbreviating halfwits...


Monday, March 2, 2009

"Now We Have a Map of the Piano" -- new story

Here's a lighter tale to cleanse your palate from that last one...

Also....does anyone know what the hell happened last Friday, Feb 27th, that caused my site traffic to spike to about FIVE TIMES its usual level, then drop back down to the usual trickle on Saturday??