Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living an Enhanced Life

I’m getting tired of people trying to enhance my life. My cell phone company wants to enhance my wireless experience for a nominal additional charge. What are they going to do? Persuade my friends to call more often and everyone else to leave me alone? Bill Gates wants to enhance my computing experience. It’s already so enhanced it acts as if it would be better off without me. You want to type a blog article? We’re in the middle of an important security upgrade; type your freaking blog some other time. Steve Jobs is enhancing your smart phone enjoyment by preventing you from acquiring apps that let you make free phone calls. Even my bank is joining the enhancement band wagon. They told me they are improving their terms of service but the only change I can see is an increase in their fees.

I’ve even done some enhancing of my own. In my last job I was supposed to help teachers enhance the learning process. Actually, the only thing that could enhance the learning process would be to get rid of the current crop of students and find some new ones.

I think all this enhancement stuff is the digital age’s version of planned obsolescence. Does it strike anybody else as mildly irritating that the people who are trying to sell you their upgraded, start-of-the-art gadget today are the same folks that sold you the antiquated dysfunctional crap you bought from them last year? I’m not the one that’s calling their prior products crap – they are! For example, look at television. Are we to believe that predictable sitcoms and overly hyped “reality” shows are better in high definition than they were in their more blurry format? Is the script any better when delivered in Dolby digital stereo?

If you believe television shows are better now that they have been enhanced, then prepare yourself for brilliance when you watch The Big Bang Theory in 3D. Of course this means that you will have to replace your $3000 flat screen marvel with a new $4000 3D model, but it will be worth it for the enhanced level of entertainment you will receive. The nature of programming will of course change somewhat. Lest you forget you are watching in 3D, lots of things are going to be hurled at your face. No doubt your cable company will think it only fair to charge you extra for all that hurling.

Even texting has been enhanced. It now converts speech to text, adds GPS location tags, and emoticons to save you the bother of typing LOL at the end of every line. (Imagine if someone had told Charles Dickens that without emoticons nobody would know he was being humorous.) Texting is getting so good that it is almost like using your phone to have a conversation. I wonder if Alexander Bell could have foreseen that coming!

Some people think that none of this is happening fast enough. The other day I heard somebody say, “I love 3D. I wish there were more of it.” Perhaps he should try looking out the window.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I didn’t plan it this way but it seems as if my whacked-out mailman is becoming a recurring figure in this blog. Before I left for Mexico, I submitted an online request to have my mail held until I returned. The day after I returned I grabbed a plastic bag and hiked over to the post office to collect my mail. A very pleasant woman behind the bullet-proof glass kindly offered to assist in an English that was obviously a work in progress. She asked for my ID and scrutinized it suspiciously. She cheerfully informed me that my street does not exist. She would not believe me when I assured her that not only does the street exist, but that I have lived on it for five years and have had the same letter carrier throughout that time – the whacked-out mailman.

Fortunately a co-worker overheard the conversation and corrected the recently arrived clerk. With a huge smile she announced that she would retrieve my mail and disappeared into the bowels of the building. After a lengthy wait, she returned empty handed. “You have no mail,” she chirped. She seemed delighted. No mail for five weeks? I asked her if that seemed credible.

“No mail,” she bubbled happily. Realizing that further discussion would be futile, my empty bag and I left. I would have to ask the whacked-out mailman what was going on. When I checked my emails later that day there was a message from a company with which I have an account informing me that a first class letter they had sent me had been returned with the notation "Attempted, Not Known, Unable to Forward." Well at least I now had a pretty good idea where all my mail had gone; back to the senders.

Apparently I have disappeared, at least as far as the United States Postal Service is concerned. Consequently I have also disappeared as far as anyone who has mailed me a letter is concerned. The fact that I am still not receiving any mail means that I am continuing to disappear. My first reaction was that I really needed to get this straightened out. But as I considered the situation, I realized that it might not be so bad.

Suppose a collection agency were to send a dunning letter, or the traffic court sends me a parking summons, or I’m selected for jury duty. My mind began to race. Suppose the IRS tries to contact me. I am “not known, unable to forward.” In a world where we are monitored and tracked, where every detail of our lives is logged into databases, where marketers know how much we earn and where we spend it, wouldn’t it be nice to just disappear from the radar screen?

I realize that being an unknown and unforwardable person probably has more disadvantages than it’s worth, but it’s a tantalizing existence to think about. I suppose I will have a chat with the whacked-out mailman – but not today. I want to savor one more day of invisibility.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I destroyed the smoke detector in my apartment last night. (I’m hoping that neither my landlord nor the fire marshal reads this blog.) The damn thing finally pushed me over the edge. Every time I use the oven it goes off. Not that I use the oven often, but I had a store bought pizza that had to be cooked. I waited for the oven to preheat and then slid the pizza in. Within minutes the first ear shattering wail assaulted me. The cat slammed back his ears and ran in panic to hide under the bed.

Having been through this before, I knew what to do. I grabbed a dining chair, positioned it in the hall under the detector, climbed up and pushed the button which temporarily silences it. But the deafening shriek continued. This time it would not be subdued. I felt blind rage sweep through me. This plastic contraption which was supposed to save my life in the event of a real fire came to represent every frustration in my life. It’s voice was that of the army of institutional bureaucrats who obstruct the business of life, unhelpful help-line technicians, inflexible bill collectors, illogical gadgets that don’t work – in short, everything in life that pisses me off. To add insult to injury, standing on top of the chair so close to the thing, my eardrums were really starting to hurt.

So I hit it. I slammed it as hard as I could with the palm of my hand. Pain shot through my hand and wrist. I screamed at the detector but it screamed back at me more loudly. I scrambled down from the chair, holding my throbbing hand, and ran to the closet where I keep my tool kit. This was war. I was not going to be bested by a piece of plastic with a printed circuit board and a tiny but incredibly powerful loudspeaker. With my good hand, I rummaged through the tools until I found it: The Avenger, better known to most folks as a hammer.

It was surprisingly well constructed. It took repeated blows to dislodge it from the bracket on the ceiling. As pieces of it ricocheted off the walls and fell to the floor it continued to wail. Finally the little speaker itself was knocked loose. Even in its disembodied state as it drifted in slow motion down to the floor it managed to screech a few last insults at me.

But it was finally silent. A sublime peace fell upon my apartment. I glanced up at the bare wires that dangled from a hole in the ceiling and felt satisfied. As I picked up the remnants of the smoke detector and tossed them in the trash, I smelled something pungent. Something was burning. I ran into the kitchen and jerked open the oven door. Smoke wafted out and filled the room with a blue haze. My pizza was burned to a crisp.

There’s a moral to this story but I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps I should have known better than to buy pizza in the supermarket. Perhaps I should know by now that the kitchen is not a safe place for people like me who can’t cook. Perhaps I should carry a blunt object with me at all times. What I do know is that I won’t be bothered by that infernal noise maker any more, that my hand is still throbbing and that I won’t be getting all of my security deposit back when I leave.

It’s not easy being a bitter old queen.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Patriotic Old Queen

I’m back in the good ole USA again after 5 weeks in Mexico and I’m happy to be home. Not that Mexico is a bad place; quite the opposite really. I’ve thought about moving there several times. I could sure live better on the limited money I have in Guadalajara than I can in New York City. But the simple fact is that the United States, all things considered, is a great place to live.

I don’t mean that in a flag waving, stand-up-and-salute-the-fighter-jets-flying-overhead, patriotic rhetorical way. I mean simply that we have a better, easier life here than most people in other places around the world. Sure we have too much consumerism, waste and energy consumption per capita but damit we can buy almost anything you can think of, almost anywhere you live, often 24 hours a day, and the stuff is pretty good quality.

More importantly, we have a relatively representative democracy. (Yes, I can hear the howls of derision from the entire spectrum of political views.) Maybe corporations exert excessive influence over politicians but it’s small potatoes compared to the rampant corruption in many countries. Perhaps our infrastructure is deteriorating but it is doing so from a far more advanced state than anything south of us. There is poverty in the United States, too much of it, but it pales in comparison to the state of affairs in third world countries – to the way the vast majority of the planet’s population is living.

So I’m feeling pretty good about being an American right now. Tomorrow I will start tearing my country down again. I’ll bitch about the government, taxes, the dirt in the subway, the rudeness of my fellow citizens, and on and on. But railing against everything wrong with this country is one of the rights, if not duties, that we Americans have.

Wearing a flag lapel pin or slapping a cheap bumper sticker on your car does not make you a good citizen. Being a good citizen means never hesitating to criticize what’s wrong and, hopefully, trying to make it better. It means continuing to fight for full participation and equal rights for everyone. It means having the courage to fight for protecting our constitutional rights and the confidence to believe that when America leads the world by example rather than by military might, we are at our finest. That’s what makes this country so great.

That’s why I’m so happy to be home.