Monday, April 30, 2007

Cool New MySpace People

I have lots of reasons for hating MySpace, although most of them are that MySpace is owned by a company called Intermix Media, which is owned by News Corp, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch... so every time you sign in to check on your top eight friends, it's like you're basically giving Sean Hannity a blowjob. Liberals in the media need to start spreading that image: A vote against H.R. 2060, the Internet Radio Equality Act, is like giving Rush a sensual massage — there's 336 dudes in Congress and I'd like to remind all of them that rubbing Limbaugh's junk is totally, a hundred percent gay, just in case the mental image on its own wasn't enough to discourage them. But today's reason for hating on MySpace is that they keep on suggesting I meet "Cool New People" like this:

I don't know about Ryan or Seamus, but Hillary? Really? Did they change the meaning of "cool" and forget to tell me?

Full disclosure: John Edwards is in my friends, but hey, at least he's got a well-defined universal health care plan and has taken responsibility and repudiated his vote on the war in Iraq. That makes him cool. I'm sure the entire MySpace demographic, which seems to consist of fourteen-year-olds, derivative alt-rock bands, and hacky, pandering stand-up comedians, will agree with me.

I'm a little disheartened by this MySpace electioneering, since most everyone on MySpace is either too young, too dumb, too drunk, or too much of an automaton selling home mortgage and penis-enhancement cream to actually vote. It's like campaigning at an underground rave, although who wouldn't get a kick out of seeing Mitt Romney in a mesh shirt, head to toe in body glitter and twirling a couple of lightsticks. Dude, Romney, if you do that, and drop some X, I'll totally forgive the whole Mormon, Reagan-idolizing Republican thing you've got going, which is being a whole lot more generous than most of your base would ever be.

By the way, did you hear that MySpace and Mark Burnett, also known as the guy who's responsible for shoving seventeen iterations of Jeff Probst in America's face, are coming up with a new political reality show. Bunch of people with webcams and free time upload audition videos, and — in a shocking twist for democracy — idiots vote on who's the most telegenic. It's all premised on the notion that anyone can make a good leader of the free world, even this jackass, who's flipping us off in his profile picture. Or this woman with presidential-sized tits. Or even this retard could be our president. I'm sure that's exactly what the founding fathers had in mind.

Despite the comparisons it's getting to American Idol, I'm not all that worried about MySpace Picks The President having a huge effect on the political process. See, with American Idol, all those millions of people keeping Sanjaya on TV for weeks had to do was send a text message or go online and vote. I firmly believe, and Hillary will back me up on this, that's all that the nation's youth is willing to do in order to make their voices heard. In the real election, you've gotta figure out where your polling place is, get off your fat ass, deal with the elderly people staffing the voting machines. Pretty sure the kids are all too busy posting panda fight videos on each other's bulletin boards.

Monday, April 23, 2007

While you were busy this weekend not running up extraordinary charges on your cell phone bill, the Korean electronics manufacturer LG was hosting our first annual National Texting Championship. Swifter, higher, stronger, abbreviated-er. The competition must have been thrilling: all the excitement of touch typing, but much, much smaller. Our first ever national text messaging champion is Morgan Pozgar, a thirteen year-old girl — I know, I can't believe our country's best text messager is a tweenager — or, as the AFP article I found described her in the headline, "13yo skool grl." Thanks, clever AFP reporter, for dumbing us all down like that.

I guess the plus side here is if, say, our army is stuck behind enemy lines in Iraq and they need someone to SMS the Defense Department "omg, nd 2 get outta here asap!!! lol!" in an emergency, now we know who to turn to. Thank God.

I do not understand the appeal of texting. I mean, you've got the damn phone right there, so why can't you just use it? The whole texting trend started in Europe, where they're apparently too good to actually talk to each other, and also too good to hit on me in the bars. The Finnish cell phone company Nokia popularized texting back in 1998, when they focus-grouped what the marketing department calls "a younger demographic." High school students. Nokia asked the same dumbshits who brought us Carson Daly and five direct-to-video American Pie movies what they were looking for in a phone. This explains why your cell phone has games that you'll pay $4.95 a minute for on it. You see, grown-ups were all using their phone for bourgeois things, brokering business deals or calling triple-A when the car broke down. Kids are supposed to be in school, but they've got more important things to do, like alerting their friends, "party @ jims house 2nite." Society began to crumble, and the super-classy prime minister totally dumped his gf via txt msg. Nokia stumbled upon the untapped market of people who find being a useful, productive member of society just a little too onerous, and the next thing you know, people are too busy Twittering and texting their votes for American Idol to reproduce, and that's the end of the human race.

And the prize for hastening our doom is $25,000, cash, which I'm sure tweenage Morgan will put to good use, donating it to cancer research or saving it in her college fund or... no, according to the article, "ozgar, who says she wants to work in fashion when she's older, had no hesitation about how to spend her prize money -- 10,000 dollars for the east coast championship and a further 15,000 dollars for the national award. She said she was going to hit the stores in New York City." You know, for that kind of money, you could buy like, two-hundred cell phones and text your 200 best friends simultaneously.

Now there's a competition that I would watch.

I think what I resent here is the cultural assumption that we're all too busy to have genuine freaking contact with each other. Every new technology seems bent on making our conversations even more vapid than they already are, while the proliferation of communication makes us think we're actually in touch with one another. I mean, no one ever gives me a phone call, except for my parents and my boss, and the fact that some people find the possibility of human contact completely gratuitous sort of irritates me. Just a little. Okay, who's in my chat room? Hundred people, maybe hundred twenty. I wonder what their vital stats are, that's definitely the first thing I care about when I meet someone. Is "skifan218" a dude or a chick? If I have sex with skifan218 — through the keyboard, mouse, the fiber optics, the TCP and ARP-routers, bits and bytes: it's all so hott! I'm too busy to spell correctly and I've got to express my deepest emotions in punctuation. "Jane and I live less than a mile from each other, and we never would've met if it wasn't for eHarmony!"

So what do we do? We legitimize this crap. We give it to the most well-adjusted people in our society, the children, we let them make up a new language, a new subculture. We have a reason for being our lazy, alienated selves: the kids are all doing it. I can't wait until we take the trend to its conclusion and infantilize everything.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I finished Foucault's Pendulum the other day, and I'm super disappointed after six-hundred forty one pages. The book itself is a glorious nightmare to puzzle through, a satire of conspiracy theories that's it's own remarkably well-constructed world domination plan spanning the past seven centuries and also total bullshit. My issue with Foucault's Pendulum, though, is how predictable it is. Might sound weird — but I freaking called it! The whole point and purpose of the book I summed up in my post from a few weeks back, more infelicitously than Eco, naturally. But also much more readably.

I should be a writer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Vote "No" on Prop #2

Today's the Board of Education election, the most useless election ever. There's only one guy running for Board of Ed, so the good news is that I can fuck with our sacred democratic process by writing in Abraham Lincoln or Tom Cruise or Captain Crunch or something. (I think either Lincoln or Captain Crunch would make a better addition to our Board of Ed than any of the current members.) I wasn't going to bother voting, but there's also the budget issue, which I voted "yes" to, since I don't pay property taxes and therefore it doesn't affect my bottom line. And there's Proposition #2, which allocates money to spread Astroturf on the football and soccer fields behind the high school. Well, that sounds like hard-earned tax dollars well-spent, after all our high school football and soccer teams haven't done for me. How much money are we talking about here?

Two million dollars. For fake grass. I think for that sort of money, we ought to be able to Astroturf the whole town.

I wasn't on the football or soccer team back when I went to high school. I wasn't one of those aloof emo kids either; I joined the literary magazine, the band, the quiz bowl team, and probably some other stuff I can't even remember, and you know how much local money all of those clubs got combined? Not one damn penny. We had to sell cookies, magazines, bagels, oranges (surprisingly popular), any sort of crap just to make, say, a thousand dollars for a new computer. So I'm a little bit resentful that people are coming together for the sports teams the way no one, not the school or the PTA or the Board of Ed or the town helped us out.

I have a compromise. We spend the two million dollars on new books instead of Astroturf, but then we let the soccer players kick the books around outside. Everybody wins.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Call Center

We had this little cross-continental tech support incident at work yesterday.

Last week, the office became the proud owner of a Hewlett-Packard all-in-one scanner-copier combination device object thing. I plugged it in, but we were all dismayed to discover that it wouldn't make copies, at least not without resizing and shrinking the original. Much time was wasted. This morning, the hardware IT guy came in and made a call to HP tech support, which is evidently located in Bangalore, India.

Let me say that I am overflowing with sympathy for the poor people stuck working the help desk; I've spent days dealing with the less technically-inclined over the phone, and frankly the combination of confused half-wits who don't know a mouse from a hamster and angry jerks blaming their computer problems on you that you have to deal with would turn even the most patient saint into a raving mad Luddite. I honestly don't know how the help desk people keep their cool — not to mention actually solving customers' computer issues — unless maybe heavy, heavy doses of Valium are involved.

There was probably a bit of frustration in the air already, since we'd been looking forward to photocopying things full-size for a week already, and even sitting across the room I could feel the vibes of disgruntlement going down the phone lines, into the switchboard, beamed to a satellite, and bounced back to India. Just to boost the awkwardness, the hardware guy, interfacing with tech support, put India on speakerphone. It sounded like this:

"Did you press the 'copy' button or the 'print' button?"

"Did you install the HP 5570 Scandisk driver?"

"When you go to print, does a window appear on the screen?"

...and a little pitchier...

"Does the HP Document Center start up when you turn on the scanner?"

"Does the picture shrink in one direction or both directions?"

...India's voice turns musical....

"Is the scanner plugged into a USB 2.0 port?"

"And is the printer plugged into an IEEE-2848 parallel port?"

"Did you try resetting the scanner?"

I'm sure HP spent a good deal of money sending this tech guy to accent reduction classes (no way generous billion dollar company would make its beloved employees pay for their own training) but now he sounds like Apu from The Simpsons.

"Okay, when you want to make a copy, you need to go and scan your image into the Document Center. Then select Export to PDF from the File menu and open the PDF with Acrobat Reader..." which I'll admit sounds like a lot more work than just pressing the copy button and standing by the printer, waiting for output. This sent our hardware guy over the edge. "You know, this scanner was advertised as being able to make copies. If it's gonna be that much work, I'd rather just return it. What's your return policy?"

Thus starts like a five-minute debate on the topic "What'dya mean you don't have a return policy?" I'm almost certain something or other was lost in translation from English to heavily-accented English, but the gist of the conversation was as follows: The scanner is supposed to make full-size copies. Also, the scanner is not supposed to make full-size copies. Once you settle the contradiction without causing a rift in the time-space of the universe, you can't return the scanner.

"What's your return policy? Your return policy. We only bought the scanner a week ago. It's not functioning the way I expected it to function. It says right here on the box that it makes copies." And this is only the shit from one customer that one Indian call center guy has to take. Imagine dealing with this twenty-four/seven, a nation of a billion people, with nuclear weapons. All I'm saying is we should start building fallout shelters now. "But it should make full-size copies. If I want to shrink the copies, that should be my choice. Your return policy. How do I return this and get my money back? What do you mean I can't get my money back? You realize that you're basically telling me, and my group, and everybody in my organization never to buy another HP product ever again?"

And that's where I'd find license to just hang the fuck up, which is why I shouldn't be working the help desk.

Our guy was a trouper, though, staying on the line through repeated requests to get a manager, and then repeated requests to make sure he wasn't going to hang up on us while getting the manager, and then repeatedly telling us that the manager wasn't in. Even after we thought he hung up, and we were all making jokes about how much HP customer service has gone down the tubes since they outsourced it to India, he was still on the line, double-checking our phone number and everything. Man, if they gave out awards for the most tenacious call center guy, I'd totally nominate him. And if I'm ever in Bangalore, I'll be sure to take him out for a drink.

Fortunately, I don't think I'll ever be in Bangalore, so no having to follow through on that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Film Review: The Lookout and Grindhouse

I want to spare you some of the disappointment I felt walking out of both these movies and totally lower your expectations. Not that either movie was bad at all, but the reviews were so glowing that both films' mere artful adequacy and eleven dollar price tags made me feel cheated in the end. Let's start with The Lookout, starring that kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun and directed by some guy. It got an 87% rating on and a 73/100 rating on, largely on its success as a character study instead of a bank heist flick. A good chunk of my reaction to The Lookout was, therefore, honestly my mistake — you pick up on one stray reference to Memento in an obscure write-up somewhere and you start assuming this and that. Blatant thematic similarities to Rian Johnson's much more cerebrally engaging Brick — again, the former alien kid plays an insider-turned-outsider who becomes the center of an intricate criminal plot — also popped into my head. Despite what everyone who saw the movie before had to say about it, there just wasn't all that much to tickle my brain. I felt like I could totally disregard whole chunks of the movie, and worse, since I wasn't occupied trying to piece the thing together, or at least mesmerized by the cinematography a la Brick or (another one of my favorites I'll talk more about later) Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, my mind kept wandering back to the wrong questions, namely, "Doesn't the alien kid's mental disability seem a bit inconsistent?" I mean, with Memento, I had to watch the movie three times before I finally realized, "Hey, how does Guy Pierce remember that he has no short-term memory?"

I'll say that as a character study, looking at Joseph Gordon-Levitt's tragic collapse after breaking his brain in an annoyingly-filmed car accident and the conflict between his conscience and his desire to reclaim some his past glory — and independence, the film is truly successful, if not maybe a little too gentle. Even forgetting some extraneous scenes with a dopey comic-relief Jeff Daniels that bring the character study down, I could have done with more contrast, both internally between Joseph Gordon-Levitt's two desires and externally, between him and the stock but beautifully manipulative bad guys. It works, and all the pieces fit, but — and maybe this only because I had a different movie in my mind — I just didn't care.

Then I snuck into Grindhouse, which seemed appropriate, given the whole conceit of the movie. Not that that's why I snuck in — I would've snuck into a self-made Volver double-feature too — but I'd have a different justification. (I'm cheap and movies are overpriced.) Let me first say that I don't think Grindhouse is really for mass consumption, especially for anyone of my generation who's never been inside a movie theater with fewer than eighteen screens, stadium seating and reclining chairs, and Dolby 5.1 surround sound. It's for film pervs like Quentin Taratino — and I think "film perv" is an appropriate way to describe anyone who lists Manos: The Hands of Fate among his favorite movies — trying to relive the good old days when you couldn't be a hundred percent sure that the sticky stuff on the theater floor was just Coke.

Grindhouse is two full-length movies, four "previews" for fictional coming attractions, and I think there was a random cigarette ad in there somewhere too. Despite what often-wrong New York Times movie critic A. O. Scott wrote in his review, they're not funny, or sly parodies, or worth anyone's time. For example, one of the fake films is "Machete," starring Mexican Danny Trejo as the title character and some Mexican guy who looks like Cheech Marin but apparently isn't as a machine-gun shooting priest. Yes, they quip lame one-liners like they did back in the [fill-in-the-blank]-sploitation days, but so what? Those jokes started off life moldy and didn't age well. I was really hoping that "Machete" would be a slick commentary on America's attitude towards immigrants, like something South Park might do, but it's nothing more than an excuse to watch people get dismembered in various ways. Not that it's supposed to be anything more than that, but... I'll get back to this point.

The only fake trailer that I thought had potential was for a serial killer movie called "Thanksgiving," which features an old woman having sex with a turkey and not one but two scenes of some girl making out with a decapitated guy. Eli Roth (hack!) is already in talks with Lions Gate to bring it to the big screen for next Christmas. A. O. Scott found this trailer fucking hilarious. I did not. It could've been hilarious — and I was waiting for this reveal through the whole grotesque preview — if the crazed killer turned out to be a giant turkey, or a guy in a turkey costume. See, Eli, that's parody — taking something self-important and unaware of its own silliness and then mocking it by exaggerating that silliness. With these genre-blind morons, I can't fucking believe Mirimax isn't producing my serial killer movie already.

Scott writes that this old grindhouse fare has a sort of soul and individuality that the modern Hollywood focus-grouped and studio-produced Firehouse Dog crap can never hope to match. I won't disagree with him, but having seen tons of B-movie junk plus these faux-relics, it's pretty clear that the Grand Guignol tripe has a banality all it's own. Does it really matter if you liked the blurry rape and torture scene in "Thanksgiving" while the scuzzy guy two rows in front of you preferred the blurry rape and torture scene in "Werewolf Women of the SS?" There's a visceral thrill in watching gratuitous sex, violence, sadism, misogyny, etc., but let's not pretend that there's anything more profound going on. Or at least, if there is something more profound going on, let's pretend we're disturbed by it instead of inspired. (Another reason I love Lady Vengeance so much: it's got one of the most disturbing torture scenes ever in it, and most of the scene is completely off-screen. You see the elaborate preparations, and your fucked-up mind takes over from there.) The grindhouse sub-culture feels like the legions of internet porn, where there's something for everybody, but really, once you've seen one dirty website, you've seen them all.

Apparently nothing illustrates this better than "Planet Terror," the universally-acknowledged "bad" part of Grindhouse. I gotta say that the only time I really freaked out at seeing something gross on a screen was the grand finale of FOX's 101 Things Removed From the Human Body, when a doctor from India was telling us all about a surgery he was performing on a man with a distended abdomen and found a fully-grown conjoined fetal twin inside his stomach. (Or somewhere.) "Imagine my surprise," he says, "when I reached into his belly and another fully-formed hand grasped mine." Yeah, okay, that would make me drop my scalpel too. But I know people who cover their eyes at the gruesome scenes, and I can understand where they're coming from. However, a message to the gaggle of teenage girls in the Grindhouse theater with me: First, it's two in the afternoon on a Thursday. Shouldn't you be in school? And second, you don't need to freaking flip out at every disgusting thing Robert Rodriguez puts in front of the camera. It's just latex. It's not real. Chill. Like, the first time someone loses a fake limb with a hemorrhage of fake blood, maybe. (See Michael Haneke's Caché for an example.) After ninety minutes of this, can't you either become a little inured to it, or at least stop complaining about how violent video games make our kids violent? One or the other.

Okay, so "Planet Terror" was lame. Too sophisticated for MST3K, too pointless to justify itself any other way. But we knew that. I was there for Tarantino's "Death Proof," about a crazy guy who chases women in his crazy stunt car. As usual, Taratino's shit got excellent reviews — "Planet Terror" pays homage to the grindhouse, but "Death Proof" elevates the grindhouse to art, they say. But, just like Kill Bill didn't do with the spaghetti western and wuxia genres, it collects the thematic elements from its parent genre, adds a modern sophistication and Taratino's trademark constructed dialogue (which I love, by the way, and I wrote my film class final paper on) and then goes absolutely nowhere with it. Okay, not entirely true: Tarantino clearly uses his incredible film talent to satisfy his weird "Fox Force Five" foot fetish and Amazon fetish, which apparently distract him from the types of beautiful, redemptive stories he explored in Pulp Fiction and, to a lesser extent, Reservior Dogs.

I thought — I don't know — that the characters in "Death Proof" would... what's the word the formulaic screenwriters use? Grow. Here's "Death Proof" in a nutshell:
Act One. Group of women talk a lot. A lot. Stalked by misogynist serial killer stunt car driver. He drives his car into their car. 200 miles per hour. Body parts fly. Body parts fly. Body parts fly. Same shot, four times.

Act Two. Group of women talk a lot. A lot. Stalked by same misogynist serial killer stunt car driver. Crazy stupid woman ghost rides the whip out on the highway. He drives his car into their car. A lot. Big car chase. After like twenty minutes, the crazy stupid woman finally falls off the car. But she's okay.

Act Three. Group of women talk a lot. But they're in a car, driving real fast, so you can't hear what they're saying. It's unfortunate. Group of women stalk same misogynist serial killer stunt car driver. They drive their car into his car. A lot. Big car chase. Won't spoil the ending.
So back in the sexploitation era, when the women's lib movement was growing, cynical hack filmmakers pandered to both ends of the sexual inadequacy spectrum with X-rated filth that had titles like "Rape Squad" and "Hooker's Revenge" and, one of the "most depressing experiences" of Roger Ebert's life, "I Spit on Your Grave." They all have the same plot: in the first act, women are sexually degraded (dedicated to the sex fiend men in the audience) and in the second act, those women take their violent and often sexually degrading revenge (for the crazy feminists in the audience). Meanwhile, rational people might enjoy the cinematic renaissance of Scorcese, Coppola, or Lumet.

I have to say that the second and third acts of "Death Proof" are a lot of fun to watch, certainly more than the rest of Grindhouse, but what bothers me is that — especially when I combined "Death Proof" with Kill Bill — I feel like Tarantino films like he can simultaneously copy the depressing cynicism of his inspirations and transcend it because his films have the artistic credibility that the old B-movies lack. His dialogue really helps feed that narcissism. Artistic credibility, in my mind anyway, is linked to the filmmaker's expression — Tarantino clearly expresses his admiration for the grindhouse soul, which like I said above, I find feeble — but beyond that, the film is hollow, and the more I see of him, the emptier he seems inside. Given his film record, his scenery-munching role on Alias, that episode of CSI he directed, and his multiple drunken appearances on Jay Leno, what on earth fascinates this guy besides womens' feet?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Why Are People Always Trying to Get Me Drunk?

Like at speed friending last night, where we were standing around a bar table and the topic turned to drinking, as it's wont to do. So there's me, Insouciant Dude, Insouciant Woman #1, and Insouciant Woman #2 — and I got in trouble the last time I used the word "insouciant" in my blog, so I'm gonna tell you right now, it's not an insult so don't email me — and I think Insouciant Woman #1 (or maybe it was Insouciant Woman #2) asked Insouciant Dude what he was drinking. "What do you want me to be drinking?" Insouciant Dude replied insouciantly.

"Gin and tonic," she guessed. Insouciantly.

"I am drinking a gin and tonic."

"No, really?" And thus I watched an insouciant conversation begin.

Insouciant Dude talked about his hardcore drinking fun in Budapest. Insouciant Woman #1 refused to drink in Hoboken — lucky for the denizens of Hoboken — because she'd get lost trying to drive along the clusters of Hudson county bridges while intoxicated. "I love how that's your reason for not driving drunk," I said, guzzling Sprite, cause I'd be driving home soon myself. Insouciant Woman #2 told us a I-guess-you-had-to-be-there story about getting drunk, unable to find her way home, and stranded in the middle of nowhere, hitching rides to South Orange.

So then we came around to my turn to tell a drunk story. I should've just made something up. I have my pretty decent first drink story, but my sober mind couldn't put it all together quickly enough: beginning, middle, end; schoolhouse lies about the power of the spirits; neuroscience experts-to-be reassuring me that only the inhibited brain cells would be killed off; that "blue stuff they use to disinfect combs." It was a mish-mosh of half-finished sentences, half-remembered experiences, and none of the eight paragraphs of context I included in my post about it. Instead I just said that I only started drinking in my senior year of college and I didn't do it enough to have any good drunk stories.

I might as well have said I was from Mars. I get this response a lot, and it's gotten old very quickly. "You don't know how to swim? Well, we gotta teach you!" Or "You've never gone out dancing? This weekend, you and me, I'm taking you to a club." For some reason, it's never anything I know how to do, like, "Are you telling me you really don't know how to do differential calculus? Well, sit yourself down, cause I'm here to make you smart!" Writing this down, I might point out that it would get less old if anyone actually followed through on their promise to turn me conformist, but anyway....

"You have a lot of catching up to do." I think it was Insouciant Dude who said that, but suddenly all three of them were offering to take me out. Tonight. "We've gotta get you drunk!" Like they really need an excuse to hit the bars till last call.

Here's the thing: I fucking love drinking. I love everything about it. Beer is a pussy frat-boy drink for me; I'm a hard liquor person. Gets you drunk faster. Vodka, rum, tequila... anything this side of Everclear really. (Grappa and rocket fuel excepted.) And none of that mixing liquor with fruit juice wussy crap. That's fuzzy navel-ly girly and a perfect opportunity for the bartender to stiff me on that sweet, sweet ethanol. Point is, you can partake in something for years and years and years and still be a dilettante, and you can be relatively new to something and be totally into it. I don't need that pity encouragement, let's just go out.

Monday, April 2, 2007

My computer is back in the hospital and I'm starting to realize that I'm stuck in this dysfunctional relationship with Tekserve. I brought my laptop back to them last week, still suffering from narcolepsy and also from a misaligned CD drive. This time, I brought my computer in for diagnosis knowing full well how tight he and I were, and hoping that they'd be able fix his little circuits up while I waited. But no such luck. They took my laptop and left its sad motherboard and memory on a shelf in the back, rotting away in the clinic queue for the second time in as many weeks.

What gets to me is that the Tekserve customer service techies are really cool about the whole thing, at least upfront. The generalist who first took a look at my computer apologized for them not fixing it right the first time, said he put my laptop right at the front of the queue on the Tekserve technical techie's desk, and even left me with one of those computer science brain teasers I so detest. (Puzzle: Detect a loop in a linked list.) But the minute your computer in their care, it gets trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare of unfilled stock orders and bizarre "extensive" testing, and frankly I don't think I'm ever getting my machine back. I wonder if there's a heated debate in the back between the technical techie and the boss techie like on those medical shows: "I can justify keeping it here another twenty-four hours for observation, but after that I'm gonna release it."

"Dammit man, if we send it out there without a diagnosis, it'll be dead in less than a week!"

"Then you have a day to figure out what's wrong with it." Scene.

I already complained about the computer's first stay with Tekserve, which despite my Mac withdrawl, went pretty smoothly until they told me they needed to order a part. It just felt disingenuous to me, like they had the computer for four days at that point and they knew what it needed, so why didn't they put in the order as soon as I left? I don't have any proof of this, but I believe that's exactly what they did and "a part is out of stock" is their euphemism for "we're running behind," which is what I would've rather heard. I asked if they thought my computer would be ready that day and they told me no, but my annoyance and long face at having no computer (other than the five other computers in my house) for the weekend turned moot when I got the call at six in the evening, after I got home.

Instead I got to be annoyed because I had to make another pain-in-the-ass trip into the city to rescue my damn computer, which was explicity what I was trying to avoid when I asked them if the computer would be ready that day. We don't all live in Manhattan, Tekserve, so how about you work with us here for a minute? Like, when I call and ask for a status update, maybe tell me where in line the machine is so I can plan out my whole day. Thanks.

It's been a week now, and Tekserve still has my computer — which I'm assuming did not skip to the front of the line — and I'm getting antsy. I want to call them up and ask, hey what's up, but the work order they printed out for me says, specifically, "Please don't call to ask if we are done sooner, we'll have to stop fixing computers in order to answer the phone! We'll call you when it's done." I don't remember that admonition being on my first work order, so I feel like I made some horrible trespass upon them when I called that first time.

Also on the work order, which is cluttered with stuff like this, another warning: "We'll call when your repair is complete, please don't come to pick up your unit until you have heard from us." I bring that up because everyone I'm bitching to about my computer in absentia is telling me that I should put in a personal appearance at Tekserve, that you get better service when you're standing right there in the flesh. This has never happened for me, ever: I get the same indifferent service no matter what I do. Besides, what I am supposed to say to them: "I demand you drop whatever you're doing and repair my computer this instant!" I really do feel like they're not treating me right, especially on the re-repair, where they've now had the machine for longer than they did the first time. Next time, I'm seriously gonna just ask them to give me the new pieces and I'll do the repair myself.

Which brings me back to the whole dysfunctional relationship. See, my iPod is on life support, with its ticker holding less and less charge, and I'm going to need a new one. So what's the first thing I think? "Better go to Tekserve and get a new iPod." Goddamn it! After they took the computer hostage, I still want to deal with the Tekserve techies? Do I really have that little self-esteem? And of course, the answer is yes. The thing about Tekserve that I noticed is that, unlike every other electronics store, and especially the Apple Store, the Tekserve techies realize that you're an intelligent human being and don't talk down to you, almost in violation of everything Apple stands for. When I bought my computer at the Apple Store, the sales-phony spent like twenty minutes telling me how easy Tiger is to use and how you have to be a rocket scientist just to turn your Windows machine on. Or take a look at those "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" ads, where hypochondriac PC-guy makes a huge freaking deal about how tough installing a video driver is. Yeah, Apple: I'm too stupid to put the CD that came with the camera into my computer and follow the instructions on the screen. Last time I bought a PC peripheral, I tried to eat the USB cord that came with it, and then for like five hours I was all, "How come this hard drive won't show up in My Computers? Oh, maybe I was supposed to plug the cord into a port on my computer instead of dousing it in ketchup! How dumb am I! Now if I could only compare the shape of the plug and the shapes of the holes in my machine, and figure out where to stick this damn thing." Note to Steve Jobs: I'm not a toddler, and I'm not Mom.

So you tend to get sucked in when you're talking with a techie who shares your passion for Unix-based computing rather than just parrots back sales pitches. It's like we've got a connection, ending up in a $269 purchase, and I can walk out of the store feeling like a cool geek. (Answer: Hash the node addresses for time efficiency, or switch a flag bit on each node for space efficiency.) And I keep going back. Although next time, I'm not letting the Tekserve techies get anywhere near my beloved computer.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Vow of Celibacy

Here's a counter-argument to the proponents of abstinence-only sex education: the strip of condoms I found in my dresser drawer that are, as of today, past their expiration date, and the profound wave of unfulfilled, celibate depression that washed over me as I threw them out. They're not fish, you know — they have a lifespan of years, apparently. Even counting that Summer of Mono, I still had fifteen hundred nights, mornings, and lunch hours of potential carnality wasted.

I should've taken one of those virginity pledges with my church back in my younger days, before I turned jaded — apparently a sexless quarter-century will do that to you — and when it was okay to have sex with anything, regardless of whether it was inanimate. The virginity pledge route would've been a win-win for me: seventy-five percent chance I'd get laid, and if that fails, when I get to the Pearly Gates, I could tell Saint Peter, "I may have raped the earth and shown antipathy and callousness to my fellow man, but at least I kept my virginity oath." James Dobson says that's what counts. "So, Pete. There any loose women here in heaven?"

And there'd have to be, cause otherwise it wouldn't be heaven, would it?

Not that the opportunity hasn't quite presented itself — once. I was hesitant. I could get pregnant. The pill's ninety nine point nine nine seven percent effective. I knew all the erotic stats, plus in ninth-grade health, they showed us that Lifetime movie where the teenagers do it and there are Consequences. You know the one: Dermot Mulroney gets that late eighties' chick knocked up and she tells him and he's totally like, "I thought you couldn't get pregnant the first time," and the whole entire sex ed class bursts out laughing because even if you didn't know that you could get pregnant the first time, what kind of wishful-thinking dumbass would you have to be to say with a straight face that you thought you couldn't get her pregnant the first time. It's this constant being talked down to that turns young people to... well, drugs.

But our health teacher was — clearly not too squeamish — but too busy promulgating her paranoid Wilson Bryan Key theories to warn me that condoms are lubricious. Rip it out of the package (teeth help!) and the damn thing slips across the bed. Maybe I wasn't ready then and I needed a minute to get used to the idea of rubber condom grease all over my cock, like I'd been eating fried chicken and ribs off of it.

Bad metaphor.

Abstinence by default, the overwhelming sense of sexual hibernation, now fills me with disenchanted deadness. Purposelessness, in an evolutionary manner at least, watching the world slowly populated by Tom and Katie's crazy Scientologist alien children. Pining, the whole lubrication thing — and yes, I know, it's a convenience for (I guess) her pleasure — now seems trivial, and I'd die to slather my dick in lard and spermicide, maybe disinfectant, and just have a big old life-affirming slobbering food fight with some girl's vagina slime.

Worse metaphor.