Chapter 2: The Day My Butt Said Good-bye
Have you ever noticed that there are these weird souls walking the earth, twisted beings who have a habit of using the word “mister” in front of every noun, especially when they speak to their children? If, in fact, these individuals do exist, it would do my heart good to actually see one in the flesh. Such is the profound impact that they have had on my life. Not a day goes by, it seems, that I don’t ponder their actuality.
Surely at some point in your existence you have heard strange statements such as these emanating from the mouths of adults: “Come on, Johnny, we’re going bye-byes. Let’s put on Mr. Jacket.” “We don’t want to trip and fall! Shouldn’t we tie Mr. Shoe?” “Eat Mr. Asparagus! You want to grow up to be big and strong, don’t you?” “Now, Billy, tell Mommy when you have to go tee-tee. Don’t pull on Mr. Penis!” Chatting with one such individual, at this point, would be tantamount to exchanging barbs with a legend, not unlike sitting down to tea and crumpets with the ever-elusive Bigfoot.
I don’t recall my parents ever speaking to me in such a condescending manner, but there must be culprits out there somewhere. I see you trying to hide. I demand that you show yourselves!
Don’t laugh! No one is truly innocent here. How many times have you schooled your children on the dangers of the toxic menace by placing one of those emphatic little ugly-face stickers everywhere you stored cleaning supplies? I understand that researchers actually polled a group of children while designing the sticker and asked them which color and which face they found to be the most offensive. What is that lovable but vile little fellow’s name? Isn’t it … Mr. Yuk? Okay, not quite the same thing, but close!
Even the corporate world has gotten into the act. Why would anyone—unless they were of a certain suspicious mindset—name their coffee maker Mr. Coffee or market their cleaning solution under the name Mr. Clean? Why, for the love of God, would a company want to coin their outdoor portable toilet Mr. John? How about the culinary expert who provides cooking tips to millions of TV viewers and goes by the name Mr. Food?
You see, for years now, I have been attaching the Mister prefix to just about any noun that would stand still long enough to be lured into my web. I knew no shame. I would direct full-grown adults to close “Mr. Door.” I cautioned my teenage girls to wash “Mr. Hands” before dinner or warned them that there would be no dessert unless they cleaned “Mr. Plate.” From the time they were toddlers, I threatened my children with a menacing pincer movement featuring my big toe and second toe and calling it “Mr. Lobster.” Since my kids are far too old and sophisticated for my antics these days, I am now breaking in my grandchildren. Unfortunately, since they are boys, they could give a rat’s hind-end.
I used the Mister prefix for no reason in particular—just a long-running gag, a ploy to get a rise out of my friends and family, an annoyance designed to rattle as many nerves as humanly possible. And it’s worked to perfection; just ask any of them.
I meant nothing by it—just a little something to take the edge off. The whole philosophy speaks to my personality. I am what my wife commonly, albeit crudely, refers to as a real “smart ass.” I am endowed with a kind of wry, sarcastic, David-Letterman wit, a cynical sense of humor that often makes people either stare at me in puzzlement or smile and shake their heads in disbelief and say, “You’re bad!” My heart swells with pride when I elicit this comment. Mission accomplished.
I’ll also say or do anything for a laugh. My wife, Debbie, in fact, refuses to laugh at these antics and often advises others to do the same. “Don’t laugh at him,” she begs those who would even think of reinforcing my subtle attempts at humor. “It will just make him worse.”
How could I have known that middle age, the Mister designation, and gravity would one day form an unholy alliance? Who would have suspected that they would join forces in an evil attempt to pound me into submission? How does that old saying go? “What a tangled web we weave …”
My thoughts take me back to the days of the early children’s shows, those ancient forerunners to today’s whiz-bang kiddy fare. My earliest recollections center on Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo, two of my favorite shows from the (gulp) late fifties.
I’m sure many of you sat mesmerized by one of the late-1950s, pre-technology-boom television sets like I did. You probably recall that one worked these televisions like rubbing two sticks together to get a picture going compared to today’s state-of-the-art, digital, 55-inch, plasma, LCD (liquid-crystal display), DLP (digital light processing), 3-D, high-definition wonders. By the way, where would technology be without initials?
These television sets also provided only three channels, no color, no remote, a tiny little speaker that sat in until today’s state-of-the-art sound systems could be created, and of course, who could forget the forerunner to today’s cable systems, the irrepressible “rabbit ears.”
Ah yes, no TV was complete without rabbit ears, that little gizmo, a fixture atop the TV set that required constant adjustment to enable it to boldly, albeit meekly, go out into the airwaves to seek out a signal. If there were a mantra for the brave new world of harnessing TV reception it would no doubt have been “I know you’re out there somewhere.”
Sometimes, you may recall, a member of the family actually stood by the TV, manually adjusting, more like fidgeting with, the metal rods—the rabbit’s ears, if you will—until the picture, like today’s army recruit, was the “best that it could be.”
More often than not, it was a losing battle. The picture fluctuated between low-grade and high-grade hard-to-see. Remember how we put little pieces of aluminum foil on the tips of the rod-like extensions? What was that about anyway?
But our expectations were low back then. These days, the quality of a television picture is measured in futuristic language like pixels and lines of resolution. Back in the fifties, the mark of a good picture was determined by whether or not we could make out the images.
In general, it’s hard to fathom the astounding leaps that technology has made since we walked the earth in the fifties and early sixties. It’s actually difficult to draw comparisons between then and now; it’s just not a fair fight. Talk about a time machine. Take this, H. G. Wells.
Perhaps you’ll recall that we used rotary telephones for communicating back then. Forget the notion of a personal computer. Computers were in their infancy. There was no such option even when I attended college in the early seventies. I often paid someone to type my theme papers or, if push came to shove, wrote them out in longhand. It pains me to even say that. Computers were of the mainframe variety and occupied entire rooms. Data was represented by holes crudely punched onto cards and then stacked into a bin and sucked into the vast system.
It almost ticks me off the way I can push a button and save a manuscript on both 750 gigabytes of hard-drive disk storage space and a 4-gigabyte USB “flash drive” when I was forced to write eight-page college papers with an ink pen. I have an iPod that boasts 8 GB of space. Who would have believed it?
In the same vein, I have seven hundred photos stored on the compact flash card in my digital camera with space for thousands more. I would never have dreamed this possible when I was taking thirty-six pictures at a time on rolls of celluloid film and storing unused rolls in the refrigerator.
Starbucks, McDonalds, and other establishments lure the laptop generation into their facilities with the offer of “WiFi” Internet availability—the ability to wirelessly stroll about in cyberspace. The meaning is clear: “Come, eat our food, drink our beverages, partake of our computer access. Stay a while. Take your shoes off. Y’all come back now, ya’ hear?”
Compare the old vinyl record album and its “snap, crackle, pop” sound qualities with MP3 music magic, which isn’t even touched by human hands at any point; it’s just harnessed, digitally coded, and compressed and then transferred right into your digital audio player at your command like the force in Star Wars—nothing to unwrap, nothing to store, nothing to throw away. Amazing!
I can still remember the first time I heard a compact disc in about 1986. I bought one of the first CD players. It was a surreal experience. As Lionel Ritchie sang “Dancing on the Ceiling,” I felt as if the music was coming, not only from the ceiling, but from all around me. How apropos.
Then we have that one technological breakthrough that best exemplifies how far we’ve come as a technosociety—a device that harnesses fifty years of aforementioned technology into one neat little package. Yeah, that’s right, the cellular telephone, a palm-size, mini-computer marvel.
You have one. I have one. Nowadays, many of us even forsake our home phones in favor of cell phones. Imagine one gadget that accepts those MP3 format digital tunes I spoke of and allows us to takes digital photos; surf the web; check the weather in Madrid, Spain; watch movies; send and receive e-mails and text messages; and access the Internet, which I just met in the late nineties. As Ethel Merman once barked, “Who could ask for anything more?” Oh, and by the way, you can make calls with it too.
Truth is, despite all the modern-day hoopla, I sometimes get a little nostalgic about the so-called good old days. When we had had those three channels and manipulated those rabbit ears we weren’t picky. We watched whatever programming was offered, including movies. We didn’t have three hundred channels like we do now, but as my wife’s friend would say, “We didn’t know for nothin.” I remember watching Saturday Night at the Movies together as a family. I wonder how many families do that these days.
I have to ask myself, have we come too far? Are we, in fact, in over our electronic heads? Are we brilliant, or is it that we just don’t know when to quit? Do we really need to carry on conversations, text our homeys, answer e-mails, watch movies, groove to Lady Gaga and Prince, and check the weather in Zurich while we stand in line at the grocery store? Do innocent bystanders really have to be held captive to our telephone conversations as we stand in long lines at the bank?
I can’t help but think about the time when my wife and I were dating and we sat in the car talking and swooning over one another in the Eat’n Park restaurant parking lot. We put our headlights on—a signal that we wanted service—and the waitress came to the car on roller skates to take our order. Our food was placed on a tray, which sat propped up on the car window. I recall how cozy and private it was. We didn’t feel the need to hurry home to watch TV or e-mail or text, and neither one of us had a cell phone that threatened to ring to the tune of some obnoxious rap song.
Sometimes I say to myself wistfully, Take me back to the telephone hung on the wall, to the days of the princess phone, to the days when life was simple and you had to rise from your seat to change the station. Take me back to the days of three channels and the beloved rabbit ears with the mysterious aluminum foil on the antlers.
Oh, that’s a lie. Who am I trying to impress? I like Blu-ray DVD players and 60-inch DLP and razor-thin LCD TVs and laptops as much as the next guy. I hate to admit it, but I’m a couch potato—I channel surf with the best of them. I just get sick of seeing someone’s face stuck in their Android when I’m trying to talk to them. And I don’t want to get rear-ended by some sixteen-year-old girl texting her little friend.
I’m climbing out of that time machine as we speak—tight fit.
Now where was I?