You ever have a day where the world throws wide its living room drapes and lets you take a good long gander at what’s really happening on the other side of that cheerful, ordinary suburban glass. Have you?
I have those all the time. This all happened about a week ago.
One: You Can’t Be Siri-ous
I have a day job. It sucks, but it keeps my liquor cabinet stocked. I’m not going to say where I earn my bi-weekly jingle because they are a paranoid bunch and employ who knows how many secret minions to monitor whether the worker bees are at large on the internet giving voice to company secrets or otherwise mouthing off about things better left in one’s cubicle. I must say this much, however, must give this much of a clue, in order to ensure that the upcoming section makes sense. The company I warm a seat for is a wireless-phone provider, and my daily shekels come to me in return for supplying our customers with the very bestest tech support possible for their stupid fucking iPhones.
The new iPhone, just in case you’ve been living at the bottom of a well (that’s at the bottom of a mine, that’s at the bottom of the Marina Trench), has a voice-activated technology called Siri. Siri lives in your phone. Siri is your friend. Siri will manage every facet of your existence if you but place yourself in her soft digital hands. Later versions of Siri will probably go down on you. When she responds to your questions she does so in a voice that is simultaneously robotic and tinged with kind of snooty arrogance, as if Alex Trebek were transformed into a female chess program.
I was sitting in my cubicle on the morning my weird day began, taking calls. Two or three customers in I got a guy on the other end who had questions about Siri. Specifically, he wanted to know if her voice could be changed to a man’s voice. The guy was, I deduced from his name and his accent, of Middle Eastern descent. Nothing strange about that. But, just out of curiosity, and to kill time while I summoned the answer to his query from my computer, I asked why he wanted to change Siri’s gender.
“I do not like her voice,” he answered.
“OK,” I said, not really giving a shit.
“Or her attitude.”
“’Scuse me?” I don’t particularly like her tone either, but the note of seriousness in the customer’s voice grabbed my attention.
“No. I do not like her attitude. The way she speaks to me. I do not tolerate that tone from my wife, and I certainly will not tolerate it from my telephone.”
My finger came down on my mute button just in time to prevent the guy from hearing my burst of laughter. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to control myself for long, I unmuted the phone, asked the dude to bear with me for a moment, and quickly transferred him to Apple’s tech support line. They designed the emasculating device, I reasoned, let them deal with the fallout.
God damn! I hate to speak ill of another culture, but how fucked up does yours have to be that your masculinity is threatened by even a make-believe woman?
Two: The Rowdy Geese
I only worked a half day that day, and was, after my brief chat with the president of Burkas-R-Us, more than ready to toddle on out of there.
But first I had to get past the phalanx of geese.
Every winter, a flock of better than thirty of the nasty things (Canadian geese, Branta canadensis) take up residence on the building’s front lawn, waddling anywhere they please and leaving their long green turd-tubes on every square centimeter of available dirt. One of the features that attracts these foul fowl, I believe, is the pair of raised flower beds that flank the entrance to the call center. In the summer the beds sprout flowers of a hundred different colors. But come wintertime, they are denuded of colorful loveliness, and mostly show off lots of dead stalks. Dead stalks, however, are just what any right-thinking mama goose is looking for when the desire comes upon her to erect a safe and comfortable address for her eggs. And dead stalks that come with cement retaining walls (in the form of, say, a brace of man-made flower beds) send all female geese into spasms of motherly joie de vivre.
The geese see the lawn and the flower beds as their personal property and take a dim view of human trespassers. They demonstrate their displeasure by directing the full venom of their little black beady eyes at anyone with the gall to use the sidewalk, and warn us with ominous honks that they are watching and we had better mind our manners. That’s what they do most of the time, anyhow.
Today day marked a behavioral departure for the feathered devils. When I exited the building it was into the very midst of Geesedom, as they were steadfastly occupying the lion’s share of the walkway. They seemed more agitated as usual, more willing to aim their avian ire at any representative of the human race who came their way, which at the moment was me.
I nudged one with the toe of my shoe to get it moving. It ruffled its wings, but cleared a path. Turned out, though, I needn’t have worried about geese hindering my access to freedom, since, about that time, a ruckus broke out between two of the birds. They were in one of the flower beds, obviously squaring off over which was going to call it home. Why they were having a rumpus over nesting sites in January is beyond me, but I’m not, nor would I ever pretend to be, a goose, and thus possess no special insights into how they think. Plus, they have brains about the size of chick peas, so who the hell knows what brand of malignant craziness might go on in there under the feathers. In any event, these two birds, their poses and postures would’ve put a professional boxer’s to shame, and they had the full attention of the rest of the flock.
And then, upon some signal understandable only to geese, they attacked, hurling themselves at one another, wings wide and flapping, dust flying, and honking like two drunks trying to tune a trombone. Moments into the melee the rest of the flock started cheering them on. No shit. With their necks extended to full stretch, and honking at a volume that insulted the ears, they followed every nuance of the fight above them in the flower bed, beaks swaying back and forth as if they were watching a particularly rambunctious tennis match.
This, I decided, was just what the ornithologist ordered distraction-wise, and would allow easy, goose-free passage to my car, so I hurried on by.
The geese, however, were having none of it. Not a jot. Not a tittle. No, there was a slobberknocker underway here in Gooseville, and my attention, I was given to understand, was mandatory. Three or four of the wretched things directed their noise and eyeballs at me, as if to say: “Where the fuck do you think yer goin’?,” and I quickened my step. Two birds broke away from the contest and began pursuit. They ran after me with their necks slung low to the ground and their wings in a sort of aggressive half-spread, honking and bleating, and they didn’t give up until I was two aisles deep into the parking lot.
As I drove away I motored past the flower beds, where my feathered assailants had rejoined the throng. The UGFC (Ultimate Goose Fighting Championship) title bout continued with unabated ferocity.
I don’t like birds much.
Three: Heavy Breathing at Barnes & Noble
Hanging out in dive bars is my favorite leisure-time activity, but browsing around a bookstore is a close second. Barnes & Noble will do in a pinch, even though they now seem to sell more toys, puzzles and “kits” than actual books.
After escaping the Goostapo, I drove the short distance to the nearest B&N and proceeded to wander around for about an hour perusing their wares. In the midst of my walkabout I remembered that Tim Dorsey had a new book out. (If you’ve never read Dorsey’s stuff, you’ve missed out on one of the finest comedic fiction writers of the past two decades.) So I took a gander in Mystery, where Dorsey is usually shelved, and then on the New Release tables, but came up bust in both locales. If I didn’t groove on his writing so much I probably would’ve forgone the usual dual-front B&N tedium of first locating the information desk in whatever corner they’ve stashed it to make room for their fucking Nook store, and then, once the desk has been stumbled upon, locating an actual employee who isn’t either a dipshit community college reject or some know-it-all retiree nourishing a hidden lust for Doris Lessing.
As luck would have it, I was able to pinpoint the desk’s location, and there was a clerk in attendance, assisting an elderly woman. I clasped my hand behind my back and waited my turn.
The first thing I noticed about the elderly woman was that she was accompanied by one of those rolling oxygen tanks. The second thing I noticed about her is that the oxygen in the tank didn’t seem to be doing her a whole hell of a lot of good. She was breathing like a bellows and every time she inhaled or exhaled the valve on the tank made a little sssshk sound as it opened and closed.
Then she got my full attention when I realized she was asking about how-to sex manuals.
“Something like…” she breathed. Sssshk. “…a sex for idiots…” Sssshk. “…or dummies…” Sssshk.
“Oh, we have lots of books like that,” chirped the bookseller, typing and staring at her monitor. “A whole section.”
“Let’s see,” continued the clerk, “we do have both Sex for Dummies and the Idiot’s Guide to Sex. If you’ll follow me.”
“Honey…” said the old lady. Sssshk. “I can’t walk all…” Sssshk. “…over the place.” Sssshk.
The bookseller, momentarily flustered, said, “No, no. Of course. Wait here and I’ll bring them back.” And she scurried off into the depths of the store.
After a short, breathy pause—Sssshk. Sssshk—the old woman rotated around and looked at me. She smiled, displaying a lamentable lack of dentition. Sssshk. Sssshk.
“How’re you?” I asked, my mind running around and trying to hide behind itself, freaked out by the image of this bronchial, octogenarian gnome gettin’ jiggy wid it.
“Lookin’ for sex…” Sssshk. “…books,” she said.
“Yes, I heard. Sounds like they have a few.”
“Hope they’re…” Sssshk. “…good ones. With…” Sssshk. “…pictures.”
“Yeah, I hear those are the best kind.”
We then stood in silence for a bit—well, except for the sssshk sound—before the clerk returned with several books in her paws. These the old woman thumbed through for a short while, before settling on Sex for Dummies. She turned and grinned gummily at me, waggling the volume.
“This is just…” Sssshk. “…the one.” Sssshk.
I smiled. What the hell else was I gonna do?
“My grandson…” Sssshk. “…he will love…” Sssshk. “…this.”
“Your…” And that’s all I got out, as the word grandson went off in my head like a pipe bomb.
“He’ll never learn…” Sssshk. “…about sex…” Sssshk. “…otherwise.”
“Oh?” I muttered, in so far as you can mutter a single syllable.
“How will he please…” Sssshk. “….a woman?” Sssshk. “Playing that god…” Sssshk. “…damn computer all…” Sssshk. “…day?” Sssshk.
Curiosity getting the better of me, I asked, “How old is he?”
“Fourteen…” she said. Sssshk.
And away she shuffled to pay for her purchase.
The bookseller and I exchanged a look. So many things went unsaid. But it was probably better that way. With a quick shake of the head I got myself under control, ordered the Tim Dorsey book (it’s called Pineapple Grenade, by the way), and left.
And Then, At The End, This Happened…
I only had one other errand to run before heading home for some peace and relaxation, and that was to hit the video store. It was but a short drive, and I made quick work of selecting a few titles, some chocolate covered pretzels, then paying my bill and heading out. The day had been a little weird, but I was mere minutes from the solitude of my little apartment.
That’s when I found the chicken on my car.
It was a nondescript sort of chicken; white, with a red comb, and big yellow chicken feet, and it was squatting comfortably on the top of my vehicle. It didn’t move as I approached, and soon we were separated by a mere couple of feet, staring eyeball to eyeball.
“Uh,” I said. “You need to get off my car.”
The bird looked at me, tilting its head like a dog.
“For real. You need to move.”
It did not move.
I gingerly poked it in the chest.
It fluffed its feathers, stood, moved the center of my car, and sat back down again.
“Oh, come on. Really? Seriously, bird, move your ass.”
It resumed not moving.
Then a man’s voice came from behind me: “Is that yours?”
I turned. A man and his wife were there. She was videoing the scene with her iPhone.
“The car is mine,” I said. “The chicken is not.”
The man said, “I have a broom,” a comment which, at first, I had difficulty processing, but quickly realized that he was suggesting I broom the bird off my car. He fetched the implement and I gave the chicken a moderate poke with the bristles. It squawked, flapped its wings, waddled to the far side of the roof, and sat back down again.
“Jesus. Stupid bird. I hope you get run over crossing the road.”
The man laughed, and his wife shifted positions for a better angle.
I raised the broom for another jab, this time pulling no punches. Thwack!
The bird took to the air in the ungainly way chickens do, flapped over to the next vehicle, a pickup, and settled comfortably on its roof.
Well, at least it was off mine, right?
The man cleared his throat.
“Can I have my broom back?” he asked. “That’s my truck.”
I handed it over and watched for a moment as he essayed the best way of administering his own bird brooming. Then it hit me that the idiotic beast could very likely fly back to its original perch on my car, so I climbed in, started the engine, and drove the hell away before any such idea could find its way into its obviously warped brain. I was home less than ten minutes later. Ten minutes after that I was eating microwave popcorn and watching Ides of March.
Yeah, so sometimes when you throw open the world’s draperies, you see a nice normal family playing Monopoly. Other times, you get naked nuns playing Twister.