Maybe This Whole ‘Civilization’ Thing Wasn’t Such a Great Idea After All, vol. XIX

by MATT STOKES | FEBRUARY 14, 2011

You can even bring your baby.
-Pulp

In Which I Call For Less Freedom In the Apple Store

I was in the Apple Store the other day ogling the iPhone 4’s that were on display. This is why Apple owns my soul and yours, by the way—I own an iPhone, and while I know objectively that there is no discernible difference between mine and the new iPhone (Cue the guy saying, “Da, the camera on the iPhone 4 is of higher resolution.”), STILL I can’t help but stare lustily at the new model every time I pass by one in a store.

So I was putting the phone back onto its lil loading dock thing when I paused briefly to try figuring out what the background image was on the homescreen. It was hard to make out because the screen was filled with apps, but there was definitely something strange there. What is that? I wondered, A skull and some bones? A large igneous rock formation? Some kind of landscape you’d find on one of those Hawaiian islands where the volcanoes are going off all the time? What.. And then I realized what I was looking at: a vagina.

I let out a Hank Hill “Baahh!” and instinctively dropped the phone like it was, um, a hot potato. I picked it back up and looked again: Yep. The genitals of a lady, on the background of an iPhone at the Apple Store. Who would have done such a thing to an iPhone? I thought. What kind of sick ape of a man would save this picture as the background of a phone easily accessible to children? Think of the children! Their wee fragile souls! My seven-year-old sister was in the store with me, so this was a semi-legitimate concern.

Except that I was more worried about myself. It occurred to me that anybody could have seen me staring at the image on the phone, and if they saw what I was looking at they would have put two and two together and decided that it was I who had set the picture as the background. What if I got ratted out? Arrested on the spot? Declared a sex offender? I thought all about how I’d have to register my name on one of those sex offender registry web sites, and then all the neighbors would know, and they’d talk. The neighbors would talk. They’d know all about my jig: I travel the country, going from Apple Store to Apple Store, setting the backgrounds of iPhones to inappropriate pictures of genitalia for all the world to see. Aha. HAHA. I would’ve gotten away with it too!!

So what was the appropriate move in that spot? I considered for a moment yelling out, so the whole store could hear me, “Your attention please! There’s a vagina picture on this phone! A vagina picture! I could possibly be using the word vagina to mean vulva, I don’t remember exactly which one is which, because I suck. But some brash rapscallion hath saved this lewd picture and committed such a dreaded misdeed on this iPhone 4 but IT WAS NOT I. Not I, I say!”

But I didn’t do that. Instead, I just put down the phone, pulled my sister away from the game of Angry Birds she was playing on one of the iPads, and said to her, “Don’t say anything. Don’t ask any questions. Just stare straight ahead. We’re getting out of here.” And we walked right out.

In Which I Don’t Know My Audience

I was at the Apple Store because I was babysitting my sister that day, and we were killing time in the mall before my mom showed up to pick her up. I made two mistakes that day: Taking her to the mall was one, because as we made our escape from the Apple Store she tried to talk me into buying her an iPad and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t. But the other wrong move I made was agreeing to take her to the movies.

Here’s how kids work: They want shit. She was watching some crappy Disney Channel show about rich kids who live on a cruise ship (They have seven or eight different series about this airing right now, check your local listings.) while I tried to persuade her to watch something I might enjoy, like The Princess and the Frog (I’ve never seen it!), but she wouldn’t hear of it. Then a trailer for some movie called Gnomeo & Juliet came on, and she turned to me and said, with more excitement than I’ve ever seen anybody have for anything, “Can you take me to see that movie please please oh my god please it’s so good Gnomeo and Juliet and they’re gnomes and it’s so funny seeeeeeee?”

Now, on some level you know when an adorable child is manipulating you. I knew it. I knew no movie about garden gnomes is gonna hold her attention unless they’re rich gnome preteens who live on cruise ships. I knew this and still, I gave in and agreed to take her to the movies. Because, for but a fleeting 15 seconds, I was a hero, Neil Armstrong returning from the moon, Michael Jordan after Game 6 of the ’98 Finals in Utah.

So as we were in line to buy tickets to Gnomeo & Juliet (Which is a non-Pixar animated movie that tells the story of Romeo and Juliet, but with gnomes. Gnomeo? Get it? And some dude probably made like three million dollars coming up with that idea.), my sister saw a poster for the new Justin Bieber movie, Justin Bieber. She immediately went batshit crazy asking if we could see that instead, and all I could do was let out an Edna Krabappel “Ha!”

Eight minutes into the movie my sister got bored and asked if she could borrow my phone to play Cut the Rope. I said no and told her to watch the movie. Twelve minutes later she informed me she was tired, and in twenty more minutes was asleep against my arm, drooling on my shirt. I then sat there motionless for a long time trying to figure out how I could maneuver out of the theater without waking her up, and then put her in the car and convince her she’d slept through the end of the movie. To no avail, alas, because she woke up after a while and continued to ask for my phone. So I had to pacify her with an $11 bucket of Blue Icee.

After the movie, as we walked out of the theater I asked what she thought, and she lied and said, “I loved it! It was sooooo funny!”

“Huh,” I said. “You know, in the real Romeo and Juliet, they die at the end.”

She gasped. “They die?”

“That’s right,” I said. “They kill themselves.”

As soon as the words left my mouth I realized this probably isn’t the best conversation to have with a seven-year-old. I could tell by the look of genuine horror on her face that she agreed.

“They… they kill themselves?” she said. “But why?”

“Um. Uh.”

“People can kill themselves?”

“I don’t… Hey! Want my iPhone?”

“Yay! iPhone!”

Swish.

In Which I Have the Same Idea Others Have Had, Later

Speaking of iPhones: I’ve been realizing lately how behind the times I am on so many things. I read this weekend, for example, that Guitar Hero is being discontinued. When I saw that I was shocked, because I was under the impression that Guitar Hero is popular, before realizing my rationale for assuming its popularity is: “I used to play that game with my roommate.” Similarly, when I was a kid the Celebration Station in Metairie went out of business, and when I told my friend about this his response was, “But… We went there, that one time!”

So I was operating under the same kind of logic when I started doing my Auto Correct comedy. I’d been using an old-school flip phone for years before I made the switch to smartphone, so I hadn’t been familiar with this whole world of autocorrect. You know, it turns “shit” into “shot” and “hell” into “he’ll” and such. “Oooh” into “Poplin.” And so I thought that by making jokes about it I was something of a pioneer. A revolutionary, paving the way in a whole new subject of social commentary.

And then I was informed last night of a website called DamnYouAutoCorrect.com. I’m devastated, and not just because I was beaten to this idea by about three years.

I’m devastated because it made me realize what I am. I’m one of those hackey motivational speakers who used to talk to your high school. You know, the ones who, if they were around today, would speak to the assembly of disinterested 16-year-olds and try to connect with them by saying, “You kids ever get on The MySpace?” The guys who peddle their inspirational audio cassettes out of the bed of their pickup truck after the show, and whose message of “Get out there and do something!” somehow fails to move a gymnasium of disinterested teenagers. Those guys.

Man. As the kids are saying these days: FML. SMH. (Are those right?)

In Which I Envy a Dog

My family has this beagle, Molly, and every once in a while when I go home I experience some memory lapse and decide to take her for a walk. It’s a bad idea because the act of walking on a leash causes a series of mild heart attacks for this dog. I knew this, and yet I ignored reason and and hauled her over to the lakefront for an idyllic Sunday afternoon stroll.

She immediately started choking. Loudly. But she chokes in a way that doesn’t slow her down at all; she just chugs along, hacking up her intestines all the way. It’s so loud and bizarre that the joggers and various passersby stop and stare at us. “What are you doing to your dog, you animal abuser you!” they’re thinking.

I know what you’re thinking. Judging me. You can’t judge me! I’m trying to do good. I’m a good person, taking my poor dog for a walk!

I never know how to make this look better, because it’s not like giving her a whack on the back as she chokes will do anything. And I always feel weird about talking to animals, so I don’t comfort her. The best I’ll do is, if somebody else is around and can hear, I’ll occasionally say, “Oh!” or “Whoa now!” or “There there.” This doesn’t help.

Here’s the other thing about this dog though: She is angry. At everybody and everything. Every single person she passes at the lake, she literally wants dead. She leaps up on her hind legs like a sabre-tooth tiger, only to be stopped by the tug of the leash, which makes her freeze midair in kill mode. She does this to every person and animal, and it never gets old for her. She does not get discouraged. She does not tire.

And about the 50th time this happens, I start to get jealous.

For one thing, as I said, the dog does not get discouraged. Life knocks (or pulls) her down, and she gets right back up and tries to bark and growl at and kill the next guy who comes by. I feel like, if life hands me a setback all I can do is get in the fetal position on my bed and take a nap. Not Molly. And her singularity in focus, I mean, that is enviable. As I worry about 85 different things at once, here is Molly’s thought process: Oh, how dare you appear here? Where I’m walking. I am so gonna kill you, I am going to cause your death and you are gonna be DEAD and maggots will eat your corpse and then, hey, HEY! Come back, coward! Come back so I can— Wha-? Who are you? You son of a bitch, I am gonna… Oh fuck, it’s YOU. You got a lot of nerve showing up right where I’m… Wait, wait! — Is that a… It is! A dog! It’s a dog! Come here dog! I will disembowel your ass, you dumb dog, and then… And so on.

Has anybody ever wanted anything as badly as my dog wants to bark and growl at people minding their own business at the lakefront? Can you imagine that kind of desire and focus? You think Molly has time to worry about what’s going on in Egypt? Hell no. She can’t waste time on such nonsense.

And so it follows that, like Voltaire was trying to teach us, I think, the path to true happiness and spiritual enlightenment: Be like Beagle.

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