As all of us who live far away from their parents know, there comes a moment in every visit to them when they bring up the Box in the Garage. That is to say- the box of your childhood treasures which they’ve been lugging around like the placenta of your adolescence ever since you left home. It’s a tricky situation for me- on the one hand- everything in that box is precious and laden with historical significance- so there is no way that any of it should be thrown out. On the other hand- what am I gonna do with all that crap? Have you seen the size of my place? I bring home that box- where’s the dog gonna sleep? Plus, let’s keep it real- how much difference is it really gonna make to clean out one box from that garage? It’s like trimming the Elephant Man’s toenails or the sum total of all US efforts to address Global Climate Change so far. Seriously- if Congress can’t even be bothered to save the human race from extinction then what is the fucking point of having them there? We should just disband the fucking thing so we can shut off the A/C in the Capitol – at least then we would know that we’re making a difference.
Anyhow, the point is, I don’t want to deal with the Box in the Garage so when the subject comes up, I rely on the magic of Passive Aggression to make it go away. Seriously, have you tried that shit? It’s like pixie dust, just sprinkle on annoying tasks and watch them disappear in a cloud of silent resentment.
Still, there comes a time in everyone’s life when one has to get off the endless Merry Go Round of “I’m totally gonna take care of that box on this trip” / “Golly, I really hope we have time to clean out that box while I’m here” / “OK- NEXT TIME-I’m TOTALLY gonna take care of that box” – and face up to one’s past like a man (Or woman. Or whatever.) Most developmental experts agree that the best age for this is 25, although 29 is considered “acceptable”, 32 is considered “pushing it”, and 41 is considered “A fucking embarrassment. Seriously, dude- are you kidding me?? You made your parents schlep a box of your shit to Albuquerque??? You should be ashamed of yourself” – and, I suppose I would be ashamed of myself if shame was an emotion I was capable of feeling- though, as you can see from the accompanying photo- it’s clearly not. Still, the time finally came- and I went through The Box.
And, oh- what treasures did I uncover! A one legged Han Solo in a winter jacket like he just had a grisly snowmobile accident on Hoth, a high school chemistry notebook so extensively covered in doodles that my boredom could be seem clearly from space and handwritten instructions for my mother for using the VCR. I can say without fear of contradiction that these instructions were among the most condescending pieces of writing the world has ever seen- right up there with Everybody Poops, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and, of course, Paul’s famously lost “Letter to the Co-Worker who Keeps Eating my Food” – “Love is Patient. Love is Kind. So, I’m kindly and patiently asking you to please not take my Lean Cuisine meals out of the freezer. Cause I don’t know if you’re seeing my Mandarin Chicken through a glass darkly but my name is clearly written on it so please don’t touch . Thanks!!! :)”
I won’t include the full text of my instructions- suffice it to say that they started with “Turn on TV and VCR” and ended with “Pull the head off a live chicken, drop its bleeding carcas (sic) in a pentagram drawn on the floor and dance around it on one leg holding the head in your right hand, over your head”. Hah! How witty! How droll! Look at teenage me- Oscar Wilde with a denim jacket and a pornstache! I’m so very very clever for a person that can’t spell carcass. How simply absurd it was that my helpless mother even needed instructions to do something so painfully intuitive and obvious as using a VCR. Why, if it wasn’t for my help, she never would have even been able to set the time and the clock would simply have blinked 12 for eternity.
Anyhow, I wasn’t exactly sure why my mother kept those instructions in the Box all this time until I told her I got a new iPhone. Suddenly, she got excited because she regularly FaceTimes with my sister’s kids and she realized that she might be to FaceTime with me as well:
“Does your new phone have FaceTime?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Great! That means we can FaceTime each other!”
“Great! Can you FaceTime me?”
“Oh. Uhm. I don’t know how, Rachel and Claire always call me. Can you FaceTime me?”
“Sure. Well. Actually not. I don’t know how either.”
“I guess I could call Rachel.”
Suddenly- it all became clear. I understood exactly why she held on to those instructions for all of those years- and my headless chickens had come home to roost. (SHAMELESS HACK ALERT: I stole that joke from my wife. Like I said. I HAVE NO SHAME.)
Honestly, this is why I was afraid of getting an iPhone in the first place and held onto my Blackberry. I’m no idiot- I knew the Blackberry was obsolete- hell, Research In Motion was emailing me every week to be like “Dude we appreciate the support, but seriously- it’s ok. let it go. (sent from my iPhone).” And don’t start thinking I’m some kinda Luddite. I’ve been using computers my whole life. Shit, I went to Computer Camp, I programmed in BASIC, I had a goddamn Compuserve account in 1985 which I accessed using a 300 Baud Modem so I could fail to pick up “girls” in chat rooms. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? Of course not. Most of this stuff happened before you born. I’m only making things worse. Using these references to demonstrate my computer skills to millennials is like using my daguerreotype skills to demonstrate my photography acumen to a National Geographic photographer. Or for that matter- like using “National Geographic Photographer” in a paragraph that’s all about how I’m not totally old and irrelevant. Ironic- right? That’s some real Alanis Morrisette shit for you. Ha! There’s a hip and relevant pop-culture reference that ought to salvage my credibility. How ya like me now, kids- I’m a regular Chris Kattan! Whazzzzzz UP!!!!!
The point is- I’m good with Computers. I’ve always been good with Computers. I’m a beige box, CRT, color coded serial port, dust-caked vent in the back, mess of cable, Ctrl-Alt-Delete PC using motherfucker and that’s why I liked the Blackberry- it was like a teeny weenie baby little computer- little screen, little keyboard, little touchpad to make the little mouse cursor around. It even worked like shit most of the time and had to be rebooted regularly when it died for no reason. Like a little bit of home in my pocket. The only thing that would have made it better would have been bright green type on a black screen. Now- don’t get me wrong- I knew it was a piece of shit- but it was a piece of shit I was comfortable with- like a busted old couch that’s been worn to the exact shape of your ass or a favorite pair of jeans that you wear until the pockets are all torn up from keeping your keys in them or a favorite pair of boxers that you wear until they are completely worn through at the crotch. It was worn and abused and outdated and inadequate and every time I pulled it out I felt like I might as well be pulling out a car phone connected to a brief case and sure, I should have been ashamed of myself for using such an absurdly outdated piece of technology but, as you can see in the accompanying photo, I don’t do “ashamed of myself” and so, years after the rest of the world’s Blackberries had been converted to e-waste, I was still lugging one around in the torn up pocket of my comfortable jeans with boxers that were little more than negative space held together by optimism.
Then I spilled water on the table one day and my Blackberry took it’s big chance to kill itself so I got an iPhone. Well, ok, I’ll be honest- I called our IT department to ask about getting another Blackberry and, was informed in the gentle tone usually reserved for interventions with heroin addicts that I had a problem and that the first step was admitting it and the second step was BUYING A FUCKING IPHONE ALREADY. So…I did. I’ll be honest- I was worried this would be my technological Waterloo. I wouldn’t be able to cope with the keyboard on the screen, I would be paralyzed by the sheer smooth slick Appleosity of the device, I would try to download Instagram and the clock would start blinking 12:00 o clock and I would never be able to make it work again and everyone would know that I was old and out of touch and useless and some snarky fucking teenager would have to write out instructions about how to use my iPhone and would include some asshole joke about sacrificing chickens and I would have to kill him and no court in the land would convict me because judges are useless and old, too and their iPhones also blink 12:00.
But none of that happened. Turns out it’s a great device. I love it. Fits my hand like my dick except it’s socially acceptable to play with at Starbucks (trust me). I still have to get a 10 year old to explain FaceTime to me, but otherwise- I’ve adapted perfectly. I’ve even adapted to the on-screen keyboard. See- I was all freaked out that there was no way I’d be able to type accurately on a keyboard if I couldn’t feel the buttons. And so I was relieved to discover that, in fact, I was right- there is no way of typing accurately on a keyboard when you can’t feel the buttons- it’s physically impossible- it’s like tapdancing a Jane Austin novel in Morse Code on ice skates or expressing an opinion about gender issues as a man- no matter how well intentioned you are- you just end up clumsily pushing all the wrong buttons. But that’s ok! I can just blithely bang out complete gibberish and let auto-correct figure it out! It’s amazing! No wonder kids have trouble spelling- they thing “tomorrow” is spelled “rpnottpw” and “since” is spelled “ximvr”. Wow. I just sounded a million years old. Seriously, Wilford Brimley and a pterodactyl are talking about what a lame ass I am (“back in my day, when we made a mistake we had to use the BACKSPACE key. Sometimes- five, ten, even fifteen keystrokes. And we liked it!”) When texting on an iPhone, you’ve gotta be like Lot leaving Sodom- never look back at the chaos behind you and have faith that Auto Correct will make it alright. And- you know what? Usually it does. I mean, it might not be exactly the message you intended to send- but it’s the message that Steve Jobs would have wanted you to send- and, so, according to Apple Logic, it is therefore superior to any independent thought you might have had on your own. Thank God Steve uploaded his consciousness to the iPhone before he died! (well, what did you think Siri was?)
I mean, I know people complain a lot about Autocorrect- but I think we should have it in every area of our lives. Like- how great would it be if we had Autocorrect when we spoke. Just think about how much less trouble Donald Sterling would be in if he had said “It bothers me a lot that you have to advertise that you’re associating with Wack People- do you have to?” Nothing controversial about that. Nobody likes the Wack- they’re always on Crack. And it might be rude of him to tell her not to bring Ernie Johnson to games, cause he’s a super nice guy and all, but it wouldn’t be racist.
Anyhow- point is- iPhone. Fucking great. And to think all those years I was terrified of making a change. Made me think- what other sorts of changes can I make? Well, it turns out there’s quite a list: anger issues, impulse control, grooming, fashion, table manners, physical fitness, workplace appropriate language, driving, hand-eye coordination, remembering birthdays, work-life balance, diet and terrifying amounts of body hair. Oh- and I’ve never flossed. Like EVER. Huh. All this self-reflection is actually really demotivating. It’s listening to NPR- 10 minutes and I’m like- “let’s change the world!” but after an hour I’m all “pass the Cheetos- we’re doomed!” (I’m also easily discouraged) Still- I didn’t want my iPhone to be disappointed in me, so I decided to at least go swimming. This was partially an effort to improve my abysmal physical fitness and partially because it was ridiculously hot. Like- crazy hot, stupid hot, like even Pat Sajak can’t deny there’s a problem- hot. Anyhow- I headed to down to the Culver City Municipal Plunge ™. If you’re not familiar with Culver City- and shame on you if you’re not- I mean- we’ve got more gastropubs per square foot than Rome has fountains and a Palm Springs nursing home has glory holes, but, anyhow, if you’re not familiar with this little town, the Plunge ™ is a beautifully maintained city pool about a mile west of the Kirk Douglas Theatre. I’ve gone swimming there many times in my mind but, unfortunately for me, and every person in America, thinking about exercise while eating Cheetos is not actually considered exercise by the American Medical Association or Michelle Obama. So, I decided to go for realsies. I packed my little Culver City Mayor’s Luncheon Commemorative Totebag with my bathing suit, towel, and sunscreen, made sure I had a couple dollars in change and I took the bus to go swimming, This, btw, is the first time in history that a person over the age of 11 has used the phrase “I took the bus to go swimming.” Last time this sentence appeared in print it was in an essay titled “What I Did My Summer Vacation” and it was preceded by “When Dad left, my Mom couldn’t afford to send me to camp anymore” and followed by “When I ask her to drive me to the pool she just cries and screams at me that it’s all my fault she’s going to die alone.”
Anyhow- I got off the bus in the sweltering heat and approached the shimmering blue water of the Plunge ™. As I got closer, I began to see troubling signs: a truck with a generator; scruffy dudes with pony tails; a honey wagon. Bad stuff. Disturbing stuff. The rat droppings of the film industry. When I got to the Plunge’s ™ entrance- I saw another sign. An actual sign. A sign that read “Closed for filming starting at 8 AM. All Day. On the hottest day of the year. Because we hate you. You, Eric. We hate you and find your suffering funny. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Too far?”
I wasn’t sure what to do.
I just stood there sweating.
I read the sign a few more times.
It didn’t change.
The pool was there. Calling to me. Icy cold relief just on the other side of the fence.
But they were filming.
And I couldn’t get to it.
This was a terrible day to work on my physical fitness. But an even worse day to work on my anger management issues.
I may have yelled “motherfuckers” at no one in particular and screamed “You just wait til the Mayor hears from me about this!” to a tree. That tree is really shaking in its roots.
And now- I’m not sure I can ever go back to the Plunge ™. Or rather, I wouldn’t be able to go if I had any sense of shame- but, of course I don’t.
So…yeah….self improvement. Fuck that shit. But the new iPhone? Awesome!
I guess the moral of this little story is that it’s better to upgrade your phone than to upgrade yourself. Wait- no, that’s a terrible moral- maybe I should FaceTime my Mom and get a better one. Crap- where did I put those FaceTime instructions from Rachel? I’m pretty sure she said there was a chicken involved.
And if she shows me how to Uber, I won’t have to take the bus to the pool anymore.