inanimate objects


I remember 1968 as a pretty good year. I went to Hawaii that summer and stayed with my grandmother. Just before I left, I had fallen in love with a guy named Steve, and he wrote me letters while I was there and signed them, “Love, Steve.” Not even “love ya,” (or worse, “luff ya,” both of which mean something else altogether.)

It was a good year. But for some reason, it was also the year that the appliance industry went completely insane and decided that what the world needed were stoves and refrigerators and dishwashers in HIDEOUS colors. Why settle for a white stove when you could have one that was Harvest Gold or Avocado Green instead? And why have stoves that simply sat on the ground like other appliances? No, let’s DROP THEM IN TO THE COUNTERTOPS! Yes. Make them a hideous shade of green and wedge them into the kitchen counters so they can never come out again. THAT is what the American household has been craving.

This was way cool in 1968.

And oh yes–make them indestructible.

When we moved into our 1968-built house in 1993, there were many things to love: the screened-in porches, the acre of land with rose bushes and a flagstone patio–but I eyed the appliances with quiet horror: the avocado green dishwasher, refrigerator and stove.

Still. Realistically, how much longer could they last? They were already 25 years old.

“It’s okay if you break down soon,” I whispered to them on a daily basis. “You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty.” (In our family, we don’t seem to be capable of parting with anything until it breaks down. It’s a pathological condition.)

The dishwasher was the first to obey. It broke down six months later, and we replaced it with a nice white, whisper-quiet model.

Next, a year or two later, the refrigerator obliged me. I thanked it for its service as it rode out of the house on the Maytag man’s dolly, while a gleaming, new, modern, ice-making model took its place.

But the stove. It would not die. Oh sure, the heating element of the oven went out once, and we started pricing stoves and realized quickly that because our stove was the now-infamous type known as a DROP-IN, (meaning that it is smaller than the average stove and doesn’t have any feet to it) we would either have to pay Big Bucks to replace it with another drop-in, OR we would have to dismantle all the kitchen counters to make room for a normal-sized modern stove.

My husband replaced the heating element for $30, and we sent the children to college with the money we saved.

The stove made up its mind that it would not die. It just sat there day after day, an ugly avocado green thing–like an angry frog–perched in the kitchen, heroically roasting vegetables, baking birthday cakes, cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, boiling water for the tea day by day, expecting gratitude for its undying service, no doubt. In an age when nearly everything can be counted on to break within the first five years, this stove celebrated its 40th birthday with no fanfare. Then the 41st, 42nd and 43rd came and went. I could feel it quivering with its plan for immortality.

We kept pricing drop-in stoves that were a more reasonable color. Surely they would grow cheaper, wouldn’t they? But no. They were probably having to be custom-made somewhere, since no one was buying them except refugees from 1968 like ourselves. They climbed upwards of a thousand dollars. Who would put that kind of money into a too-tiny stove just so you could have one that was another color?

Ridiculous.

“Paint it,” people said.

“Don’t paint it,” said the guy at the paint store. “You have no idea the trouble you’re in for.”

I am often willing to be warned away from trouble that involves a paintbrush and some burner elements, believe me.

And then on this past Saturday, a friend called and said that he had a present for us. He had just that moment been riding down the street and had seen a person hauling a white, drop in, General Electric stove out to the curb. Throwing it away! WHAT WERE THE CHANCES? My friend practically flipped his truck he pulled over so fast. “Are you throwing that out?” he asked breathlessly, and seconds later, he and the guy were loading it up into the truck–and it was on its way to its new home. Our home.

“Oh, by the way, it does work, doesn’t it?” he asked before he pulled away, and the man said, “Sure! Works great.”

We were elated but…well, cautious. We put it in our garage and cleaned it up some, although it didn’t need much. Truthfully, our green one looked much worse for wear. This stove was clearly a youngster of only 35 or 36.

Today an electrician came over and helped us lug out the old green one and hard-wire the new one into place. (Because in 1968, you didn’t just plug in your avocado green stove–oh no, you had to have it HARD-WIRED right into the heart of your house.)

I held my breath as we tested it. Everything worked!

We moved the avocado green one out onto the porch until we think of what to do with it. I put on some Beatles and Little Rascals music to salute it as it left its post. I said I was sorry for the unkind things I’d said about it all these years. It really was a very good drop-in stove, come to think of it. I’m sure it would have made it to 143 if only given the chance.

2011 at last!

But I’m glad to say goodbye to the last vestige of 1968.

All my inanimate objects are ganging up on me again.

At this moment I have no idea where I put the GPS, the external hard drive to my computer, my favorite pair of sunglasses, my blue hoodie, the leggings I bought in New York three months ago, the spare toothbrush heads I just got for our electric toothbrush, or the beaters to the electric mixer. I also can’t find the garlic press, the “good” scissors, the bottle of orange nail polish I love, and my spare house key.

Luckily I didn’t even know my cell phone was missing until I went to call its number so that I could discover the precise coat or purse pocket in which it was lurking.

Instead, a woman’s voice answered. “Hello!”

I was stunned into speechlessness. I kept saying, “Um….” and then “ah….” and finally I said, “I thought I was calling my cell phone!” And she said, “And I think you probably are calling your cell phone. I found it on the floor of Woolsey Hall last night.”

We had been to Woolsey Hall for a concert the night before, and I had turned the ringer down on my phone and then jammed the phone into my jacket pocket, thrown my jacket over the seat, and then sat down on it. There is no cell phone in the known world that is not going to take advantage of a moment like that, out of its usual pouch in the purse’s zippered side pocket? Are you kidding me?

And here was this woman, all willing to give it back to me! She was in New Haven, about twenty miles away from me. The only thing was, it was 8:15 a.m., and I had a meeting at 9:30 thirty miles in the opposite direction, and I looked like hell. No shower yet, no make-up, and my hair was still mashed up from my pillow and sticking up at all crazy angles all over my head. But I’d never get everywhere on time if I stopped to think about my HAIR. Besides, what good is combed hair if you don’t have a CELL PHONE? I had to go!

She didn’t give me her name or address, but she told me that if I came to a certain intersection and called her cell phone number, she would run out and give me my phone. So I threw on clothes and ran and got into my car and sped through rush hour traffic into New Haven. Did you know that the average stop light gives you exactly enough time to put on one eye’s worth of mascara or one lip of lipstick, IF you have the tubes out and ready to go right as the light changes from yellow to red. (And did you know that drivers behind you give you only ONE nanosecond after the light turns green before they start their angry honking?)

I didn’t let anything get to me. I was thrilled beyond measure that I was getting my cell phone back. Nearly everyone I know who has ever lost a cell phone has…well, just lost it. I left my former cell phone once in a different theater (same M.O….phone in jacket pocket, jacket flung on seat, cell phone slipping out on floor), and later discovered it for sale on EBay. (I recognized its cracked case and its flower decal.) Right now I have a friend who is missing his BlackBerry and calls it every now and then only to have its “new” owner hang up on him as soon as he hears who it is.

I had thought of everything, even rewards for this wonderful woman: a box of Girl Scout cookies, Thin Mints that I had on the kitchen table, and $20 that I borrowed from my husband. Quarters for the parking meters in New Haven while I got out to wait for her.

But when I got there, I realized that I’d forgotten a really important detail. It turns out that when you are missing your cell phone, it’s nearly impossible to call the person who has it once you’re not at home anymore!

“Oh,” I thought. “Well, I know what I’ll do. I’ll just call my husband and have HIM call her and tell her I’m here.”

Duh. Again: NO cell phone! (I think I may be mentally ill.)

Just then a stranger passed by and made eye contact–it may have been my sticking-up hair and the half-applied mascara and lipstick that made her unable to look away–and when I explained the whole story to her, she at first started backing away from me. I could see I sounded exactly like those people who are always trying to scam other people with a story ending with, “So could we please just go to your bank and withdraw a lot of your money so you can give it to me?” But then she agreed to dial the Cell Phone Rescuer’s number. And five minutes later, a woman wearing one of those orange construction vests came running across the street from a road crew, and handed me my cell phone. We shook hands and I offered her the cookies and the $20 bill.

She pushed the money back at me. “I’ll take the cookies, but I’m not taking any money for this,” she said. And then she hugged me and jogged back across the street, back to work. When she got to the other side of the street, she turned and waved.

It was worth briefly losing the cell phone just to stand there on that street corner on the first sunny spring morning in a long time, thinking how lovely some people are. You can’t trust the inanimate objects, of course–they will always try to get away from you at every opportunity–but how nice to learn once again how great the ANIMATE ones are.

I go along mostly feeling as though I’m pretty much keeping up with modern life. Or at least make a passable pretense of it.

After all, I have tweeted. I have visited tumblr. I can (usually) upload and download photos. Recently I’ve learned to work not only my television set but also the DVD player and the VCR without even looking for the manual. I can program the GPS to get me places (although I often argue with it.) I even go on facebook whenever I think of it, which isn’t all that often, but still. Facebook is a well-known time suck. You could go on there and between farmville and what-Jane-Austen-character-are-you and sending and receiving little green plants, you could lose years of your life, and emerge crazier than when you went in.

But today modern life soared out in front in an effort to confuse me. I found out that I’m actually an app. Or rather "What Comes After Crazy" is.

(What Comes After Crazy is my first novel, and I still feel very protective about it, since it took me a ridiculous number of years to write, and so it lived in my head longer than most children live with their parents. And now it’s been out in the world since 2005, but, like any good parent, I still try to keep up with where it hangs out, you know. Part of that keeping track of it means that I have a google alert on it, so that whenever anybody writes anything about it, google tells me about it.)

And google has reported today that it’s an app.

Aren’t apps like when you have an iPhone and you want to know what restaurant to go to, and there’s an app for that? Or you want to check the sports scores, and so there’s an app for that?

So, here’s my question. Are people, you know, going to read a whole novel…on the phone? Is that what this means? Come on now. Do people seriously want to read on screens that are the size of their fingertips? Or does this have something to do with the iPad, which as Bloglily pointed out, may be the worst name of a product ever.

I have no idea. I’m just here, making my way through winter, leading writing workshops and working on a new novel—and every now and then, going out to once again do battle with technology: arguing with my GPS, wondering why tumblr doesn’t have an E in it, and following some tweets.

Is there an app for any of that?

I’d forgotten what happens when you make a plan to hibernate: the whole world lines up as one gigantic test of your will.

It can’t help it. It wants to know how badly you intend to keep your promise to yourself to Just Do One Thing. It’s actually a public service, just a reminder to you to hunker yourself down and set your priorities.

Here is what just the last few days have brought:

1. Our wonderful, sweet, delightful tenants decided they would like to leave our attached in-law apartment and live elsewhere. But why? What happened? Just last week, we were all shoveling the driveway together and laughing and smiling. They’re a lovely young couple, and we LOVED them! Was it the three snowstorms that made the driveway an athletic challenge? Or did we make too much noise over Christmas? They won’t say. “The apartment does not meet our needs at present,” was I believe the way the letter phrased it. But I know what it really is: it’s simply a test.

2. So we are back on Craigslist, looking for new tenants. Reams and reams of pages of new potential tenants!

3. Our car–the one with 215,789 miles on it–is suddenly very, very tired. And has recently taken to issuing black smoke to express its displeasure with life, and today it just refused to start for 20 minutes and then changed its mind and started right up. You could almost hear it chuckling to itself. The trouble is, it’s time to re-register the thing. Do we ditch it now and spend time trying to hunt down another car we can afford, (the novel, the novel!)… or take the chance of re-registering it and THEN ditching it a month from now, after we’ve spent money on it, getting it healthy enough to even qualify to be registered?

4. Objects are starting to play tricks on us. The garage door opener disappeared and stayed missing for nearly 24 hours, and then reappeared in a friend’s car, where it had apparently fallen out of my bag while she was giving me a ride to Starbucks on a day when my car keys were already lost. (This was two lost objects in one day, which is far too many for somebody with my nerves.)

5.  The plumber has declared that our copper pipes have the consistency of “tissue paper.” I don’t want to speak any more about this, because I don’t want the pipes to get the idea that this is a bad thing, you know? I hurried the plumber out of the house when he started to talk about this. He replaced one length of pipe that had actually sprung a leak, which was all very good of him. But I don’t want the pipes to get the idea that this kind of thing is going to be tolerated for their whole length, or anything. Just the idea of having the entire pipe system of the house needing replacement is enough to make me break out in hives.

I can’t afford to get hives now, at least not until January is over.

There are other things lining up to be dealt with, too. There always are. Sinus infections, insurance fights to be waged, heaps of laundry to be done. The Christmas tree to be removed. A newly purchased vacuum cleaner to be boxed up and returned to the store for a credit because it refuses to suck things up. Fascinating discussions at Starbucks among the customers. 

Ah, but I will not be diverted. I have been writing every day. The pipes may turn into a sprinkler system, the tenants may desert us, and all my objects may defect, but I am churning through pages, taking Sudafed, ignoring the outside world, keeping my head down and typing away like somebody who knows what she is doing.

I. Will. Make. This. Deadline.

Oh, and I’m on a blog tour!! Tomorrow I’ll post something about the schedule…after I go look it up!

Hope the Januaries don’t have you in their clutches. 

I don’t want to make any of you wild with envy or anything, but today a plumber came to my house.

I know. It is not an easy thing to get such an event to take place. And it’s not like it happened just by magic. We had been waiting for quite a while–it was a couple of weeks since we made our first request–and we waited patiently, because when you are waiting for a plumber, attitude is everything. If you get mad, or worse, lose faith that it will happen, then the universe steps in and puts you back at the bottom of its invisible list. You must wake up every day, confident that the plumber is working his way to you. Do not let doubt creep in.

I can’t even imagine what it must be like to actually BE a plumber, a person whose services are so in demand that he cannot even stop to answer the phone. Ours is a perfectly nice man, a little on the taciturn, gruff side perhaps–but this is just because he is forever having to put up with people standing knee-deep in water wondering why he didn’t get there before. People are not at their best when they are standing knee-deep in water or are hearing hissing sounds from their pipes.

We were not knee-deep. We were big-toe deep perhaps, and even then only in one section of our garage, inside a closet where all the mysterious waterworks of the house seem to be located. I often go and look at them as they gurgle and hum and send water along its confident way through the pipes of our house. They seem quite sound. I hear the well pump go on and off, hear the chuggling sound of water in the pipes, notice its fervent flow when you turn on the taps.

But then a few weeks ago we stepped into the garage to find a puddle. We peered at the machines who looked innocently back at us.

I mumbled a few words, something along the lines of, “We are too busy for this right now. Stop it this instant!” (This sometimes works, and I always recommend trying it first when there is a household crisis.)

The leak stopped, we made it through Thanksgiving, and then it started up again. We called the plumber’s answering machine. The leak stopped. Then re-started. Re-stopped.

The plumber did not call us back.

Some days we would step into a puddle in the garage, some days not. Then there was a hiss, and a slight mist of water coming from the pipes area.

I emailed with friends, trying to plan our times to get together. “I don’t know when next week I can really see you,” I said to my friend Peggy. “A plumber is expected sometime.”

She wrote back that she was also in line for a plumber. She’d been waiting for two weeks for her plumber. It had gone on so long, in fact, that her mother felt sorry for her. One day when the mother had worked her way up to the top of some plumber’s actual list and actually had him in her house, she called Peggy and said, “Would you like to come over and gaze upon my plumber?”

We laughed.

So today my plumber came. I was still in my pajamas, wearing an old ratty sweatshirt and flipflops when he arrived, but I did not dare make him wait while I changed into real people clothing. You don’t want to risk him going off to some other, more deserving job. I showed him the non-leak (because of course it stopped when it heard he was coming.) He knew what was wrong, though, and replaced a whole section of copper pipe. Before he left, he ominously predicted that many, many more feet of copper pipe will be needed soon and for a lot more money. Our pipes, he said, remind him of aluminum foil.

“Happy holidays anyway,” he said. He really is very, very nice. He used to have a toilet seat riding on the grillwork of his truck. And sometimes he would bring his nice dog with him.

Lately, though, he is just busy being the most harried person in America, beleaguered by phone calls and hissing pipes and people standing knee-deep in water and yelling at him.

I didn’t yell. I like the brand new copper pipe, and I am currently just glad I can go to see my friend Peggy.

“Today,” I will tell her, “I gazed upon my very own plumber.”    

Life has been simpler since I have accepted certain things about myself. I know, for instance, that I will never understand how the electricity comes out of the walls, nor will I ever know exactly why it takes TWO REMOTES to run my television set, and why it is that even then you have to press a series of buttons in rapid succession and if you make a mistake and miss one, then someone (not me–oh God not me) has to get out the manual again and reprogram the whole thing from scratch. But there are certain things I CAN do, even things with technology. I know how to work my iPod most of the time, and I can operate my cell phone and write emails! Almost 100% of the time they actually go through.

Okay. So I have this book coming out. I may have mentioned this. KISSING GAMES OF THE WORLD. Comes out on Election Day.

I decided that I should use my skills to write to my family members about this book. I have a far-flung family–lots and lots of cousins I hardly ever see, an uncle or two, and an aunt–and I decided that I should, you know, TELL them about the book.

So they could, you know, BUY IT.

I made up my mind to write them an email, a humble, informative–okay, BEGGING email. In it, I pointed out that I have hardly ever whined about a book coming out before, but that I had chosen to whine to them now because the economy has gone to hell and these days people hardly have two $10 bills to rub together…but if they DID have two $10 bills, I said, maybe they would like to pre-order my book on Amazon. You know, in the name of family love and values. I even humbly mentioned that Publishers Weekly had said the book was an "absolute treat, filled with realistic twists, complex characters, and a moving conclusion."

And then came the whining. I said that according to the publicist for the book (who would, I’m sure, have me go stand in Times Square in my underwear if it would sell even one more book!), pre-orders are very important to the life of a book these days! Could be the difference between a book that is gingerly tended to on life support and one that is tossed into the scrapheap of history, she said.

I gave the link to pre-order. It is here, if you are interested. And I signed it with love and hope that we would all see each other again soon.

Then I did something I never did before. I gathered all their email addresses and put them together in one file that I called "sandi shelton." I have always admired that other people send emails without everybody’s addresses showing all over the place. How elegant, I have thought. How technologically savvy such a person would be who did something like that!

I pressed the SEND button with no regrets.

But then, as always happens, there came the middle of the night. I was up late, blogging away about blonde chicken chili. To make the entry interesting, I decided to search the internets for a nice picture of a chili pepper and perhaps some spices. I found one and emailed it to myself and then I found a picture of spices on a spoon, and sent that to myself as well.

And then I realized what I had done. I had sent all my relatives (some who barely even know me as an adult) a begging email, followed by a wordless picture of a hot chili pepper, followed once again by a photo of spices on a spoon. Would they see this as a warning? A definitive sign that I have gone crazy?

Clearly, I had to say SOMETHING reassuring to them. So I wrote them another email, this one at 2 a.m., insisting on my own sanity. I tried to explain about the problems of emailing.

Readers of this blog, I have to report that mostly they have not answered me. Oh, my aunt wrote back and said simply, "fascinating." My mother’s brother said, "I was wondering where your mother’s genes had gotten to."

So now that I’m a known crazy person among my family members, I’m contemplating other, more daring, ventures. Perhaps I should start sending them pictures of different objects every few days or so: a bunny slipper, an eggplant that looks like Nixon, or maybe a Q-Tip. It might be a sort of ransom note: PRE-ORDER MY BOOK OR YOU WILL CONTINUE TO GET PHOTOGRAPHS IN EMAILS FROM ME!

Bwaaahahahaha!   

I am writing this on my assistant, back-up computer, and while I write this, I am watching my REAL computer delete every single thing it has in its memory.

This is not for the faint-hearted, believe me. In fact, next to childbirth and having my wisdom teeth removed and one bad day when I thought I was going to have to have a root canal but then received a dental pardon, I think this may be the hardest thing I’ve ever watched. This is because I know that I am losing all the music that I have so painstakingly downloaded from iTunes (and, yes, NEVER BACKED UP ON DISKS, because who would think a year-old computer would break down). I have had to sit here and know that this computer–this computer whom I have loved and polished and cooed over and dusted the dog hair out of and even VACUUMED (when I hardly vacuum anything)…yes, this very computer has betrayed my trust, and is right now losing all my emails, including the addresses of people I may never find again. And the list of all my Bookmarks on the Internet.

Sigh. If you never hear from me again, you will know why. I lost you when my computer contracted Technological Alzheimers. (Try me again–please!)

Anyway, I am not going to rant and rave. Before its spectacular death this time, at least, the computer was willing to hand me back: my novel, all the newspaper stories I have written since the last computer meltdown, letters and photographs, and a couple of videos I took from my camera. And beyond that, I’m not going to rant and rave because I had a splendid day today that included hanging out with little kids in a pumpkin patch, and then eating ice cream cones while we watched llamas saunter around and a goat climb onto a roof at the little farm near our house.

(82% of my computer is now erased. The program that is taking all this away has a very Orwellian name: Destructive Recovery, which the Tech Person on the phone did not seem to find ironic at all, even when I laughed.) (Really! Who THINKS of these names??)

To catch you up to date, though, the computer failed spectacularly a few weeks ago when I was at Starbucks ready to write many scenes of my novel. You know how it is: you sit down AT LAST knowing what you’re going to do with that character, and you’ve figured out the ending, and you also know that you need another secondary character and you know that her name is Lori…and then your computer refuses to turn on, just directs some angry-sounding beeps your way. The people in Starbucks turn and stare at you as if you’ve polluted the office atmosphere there.

So, after a few phone calls, the computer went off to visit with its makers at HP…and then it FINALLY came back home, all shiny and enthusiastic, and sporting a a new motherboard, a new fan, a new screen, and a sound card.

Then it wouldn’t boot up. And its only explanation was that it had error OOx0000008. Thanks.

(Ohhh! It’s now finished with the destruction recovery. It is saying, “Please wait…”)

At least it is very polite now that it’s been visiting its origins.

(Now it’s inviting me to restart my computer, and if I do not see the Blue Screen of Death, then I can go along on my merry way loading up programs again, but, as the technician on the phone said, if I DO see the Blue Screen of Death, then–well, THEN all hell will break loose, and I have to get HP to send me a new hard drive, and then I have to wait for days and days more. Weeks, even!

Isn’t the suspense here just palpable?

(ACK! The blue screen! But wait. It’s a different blue screen, a KINDLY blue screen. It says, “Please wait while Windows prepares to start…..” and then nothing happens for a very long, a breath-takingly long time.)

Anyway, it was a beautiful fall day outside, and last night we went to our town’s little country fair and saw the pigs and the cows and we rode on the rides, and it’s so much fun to get caught up in all that again when you are with an almost five-year old and a baby of 16 months. Although word to the wise: it is NOT a good idea to take a baby of 16 months on a Ferris wheel, especially an enormous baby who is fighting and squirming and screaming and trying to eject himself over the side, especially when the little swinging cart is at the very, very top. Just saying, for next time. No Ferris wheels.

(Windows is now thanking me for purchasing this computer, playing a very soothing lullaby-type song, and asking me to “spend a few moments here setting up my new computer.”)

And…and….by god, we have had a successful encounter, Windows and I! I THINK WE HAVE ACTUAL SUCCESS!!  It has set up the computer, it will agree to accept the thumb drive with my novel, etc., upon it. There is even a slight, slight chance it will remember me and restore my emails to me. And I’ll reintroduce it to the camera, the iPod, and my Internet provider, my bookmarks, my youtube favorites, my blog. All of that.

And I’ll start backing things up. I promise this time. No, really.

 

Have you met Google Talk?

I have to admit: I’m on it all the time, whether I want to be or not. It’s the main way I write my novel AND talk to my kids all at the same time. Sort of like major multi-tasking.

I’m getting used to having the little screen pop up in the corner of my novel, and I can dash over to it and type a few lines, and then go right back to my book without ever having to click out of anything.

But the other day I was there, typing away to Allie, when suddenly my computer started to sound like a phone ringing.

I jumped back.

And then there was Allie’s voice, COMING OUT OF MY COMPUTER. She was saying, “Hello?” and she sounded as baffled as I was.

“How is it that we’re talking to each other instead of typing?” I said.

She didn’t know. Except that it turned out that her baby, Miles, was sitting on her lap, and then he leaned over and pressed a button on the computer, and suddenly we understood what that little “Call” box was referring to.

YOU CAN ACTUALLY CALL THE PERSON YOU’RE TYPING TO.

We felt a little ridiculous when we realized that this had been available to us all along–times when we foolishly used the telephone to communicate, for instance.

“The BABY figured this out?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “Get used to it. Children always know more about modern technology than their parents do.”

“But, Mom,” she said, “he’s not even eleven months old.”

They learn fast these days.

 

P.S. I tried to tell my friend Alice about this amazing happening.

“Allie’s voice came out of your computer?” she said.

“Yes, after the sound of a ringing phone. Allie’s computer had called my computer, don’t you see, and then we could talk to each other.”

“How did the computer CALL another computer?”

“Well, who knows? There’s a button you click on.”

“No,” she said. “No. That didn’t happen, and it’s not true, and I can’t hear about it anymore.”

“Well…” I said.

She took a sip of her wine. “But I’ll tell you another amazing thing,” she said. “My son was visiting over the weekend, and he used his CELL PHONE to check his email! Did you know people could do that??”

Yes, I said. I’ve heard of that.

During my morning drive-by through the Internet, I discovered that scientists have at last turned their attention to figuring out how it is that strings go about getting themselves tangled in knots.

You know. How is it that you can put a silver chain in a jewelry box, close the door, and return in two days to find it wildly entwined with every other object in there?

At this moment, as I’m typing, I am watching the cord of my iPod, which is lying innocently on the couch next to me, in a nice straight line. I know, however, that when I leave the room to go make a cup of tea, it will begin to wriggle itself into a knot–and by the time I wake up in the morning and need it to come along with me to the gym, it will be in a hopeless tangle. That happens every single day.

Apparently scientists are as fed up with this nonsense from inanimate objects as the rest of us. They finally decided to get to the bottom of it. How the hell can a thing knot itself up into a thousand tangles without humans even being in the room?

So they watched and waited and snuck up on strings, and discovered that these little rascals are using MOTION to do it. And as one scientist noted, it takes surprisingly little motion to encourage a string to start the little dance that weaves it in and out of another available string.

Okay, so he didn’t say the word ‘dance.’ Scientists aren’t ready yet to admit that objects are dancing while we’re not looking. But they did say, “A highly flexible string placed in a very large container will have a higher probability of becoming knotted than a stiff one that’s confined in a smaller container,” which I think surely means that the highly flexible string is certainly flexing itself around and around. Without, supposedly, a life force to guide it.

I’m hoping that next they intend to go start watching socks.

It is obviously time to blog again.

I have to keep blogging, you see, or else I will forget how, the way I neglected to watch television for a while and then discovered I had forgotten why we have so many remotes and what purpose they all serve. This is a modern problem for which there does not seem to be any solution. Apparently TV sets require NUMEROUS sets of remotes, and hardly ever do you find buttons on them for the things you really, really need, like: TURN OFF. TURN ON. LOUDER. SOFTER. PLAY DVD. STOP DVD.

There. Six choices. Why does this require two remotes, each with 150 inscrutably worded buttons?

Here are what the buttons on my main remote say: REC LINK. PROG CHECK. ANGLE. 3D-PHONIC. TOP MENU. MENU. MONITOR.

What, I would like to ask, does any of this mean? 

You see, engineers of America? This is why I and most of my friends are unable to watch movies unless our children are at home. Press the wrong button, and the whole thing stops working.

We at least need a button that says: UNDO EFFECTS OF BUTTON YOU JUST PUSHED. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I thought I was the only one who couldn’t work the TV set, until I talked to my friend Karen. She has a fancy TV, the kind that has picture-in-picture, which is handy for when you are waiting for the Weather Channel to get around to telling you what the forecast is in your area, and you want to watch something else while you wait. Which is what Karen was doing: watching a regular show, with the Weather Channel on in a little tiny screen in the bottom of her TV.

Let me just say that I would never be able to do something this risky, so when Karen was telling me this story, I was already in awe of her and wanted to nominate her for some kind of technology award.

So there she was, watching, and then the moment came when she wanted the Weather Channel to be on the big screen and the other show to be on the little screen, and so she pressed a button on one of her remotes…and poof! The big screen turned into a fuzzy mass of black stuff, and the Weather Channel stayed where it was…tiny and unhearable.

Then she did what anyone would do: she pressed each and every button on all her remotes, trying to find the one that would work.

I had to laugh when she was telling me this. I have been in this situation before–madly, insanely pressing all buttons on the remotes, including the secret, unmarked button that translates as: BLOW UP THIS TV SET AND MAKE SURE IT NEVER GIVES ME A PICTURE AGAIN.

It is when you have pressed every single button for the third time and nothing has happened that you see there is only one thing left to do: you hurl all the remotes across the room, and then go and kick them. Sometimes crying is necessary.

In my circle of friends, it is widely known that if you were able to restrain yourself from throwing the remotes AT the televsion set, you deserve a special award.

Next Page »