March 26, 2021
A notification appears in a small box at the upper right corner of my computer screen
I am informed my daily average screen time — the time my computer is linked with the Internet — is nine hours, twenty-seven minutes.
I close the box.
The Covid situation continues to weigh heavy on Kathy and me.
We’re old, flawed, and fearful; though we’ve been vaccinated, we remain isolated. This promotes frequent exchanges of obscenities, heightened neuroses, and greater nonsense each new day.
I haven’t changed my socks in two weeks. If I recall correctly, I brushed my teeth a while back. I have hair sprouting in new places on my increasingly tubby body. I’ve begun to communicate with the birds that visit our deck.
Thankfully, there’s a bit of entertainment available. Without television and the Internet all would be lost.
Since I ended the eight-month ban on Denver television news broadcasts, Kathy and I tune nightly to a couple of channels before we veer off to Slumberville.
We’re eager to know what’s happening in the city of our births. We are more than thirty-five years from the day we vacated the Queen City of the Plains, but we remain attached to this place 300 miles distant.
It makes no difference in Siberia With a View, but if there’s a demonstration of some sort or a water main break in Denver, we need to know about it. An escaped zoo animal? Alarming graffiti at a nearly deserted mall? Tell us everything.
We are either sympathetic or agitated, depending on what we had for dinner.
A drive-by at an intersection on Colfax? The incident occurs 300 miles away, but I dash to our front door to check the deadbolt. Crime and violence are like the Covid 19 virus: pervasive, hard to control, mutating by the minute. It’s not safe out there, in the cul de sac, and beyond.
The weather segment keeps us glued to the screen. It can be 80 degrees at noon in Denver and snowing here in Siberia With a View, but the Denver weather is important. Tell us about it, now! A flood, you say? A tornado near the airport? What’s the monthly precip reading? The current temp and humidity? Road conditions? Anything about road conditions? How are the roads?
HER: “When the weather gal with the childbearing hips and gaudy necklace tells us it’s raining in Denver, I get emotional. I remember the smell of the sidewalks and pavement in the city just after a storm. I miss sidewalks, and the smell of wet dirt in my mom and dad’s garden, the sound of rain on the roof above my little bedroom.” (Kathy begins to snorf and sniffle.)
ME: “When she shows us the lightning strike map during a thunderstorm, I recall hiding in a closet until storms passed. I was twenty at the time, smoking a lot of weed and taking quite a bit of mescaline. I thought I was a poet, so I was obliged to be hypersensitive. Lightning still scares the shit out of me. There are times when the sound of thunder provokes a flashback and I find myself in a kaleidoscopic wonderland, tussling with Butch, the Boston terrier my family had when I was a kid. What a dog.”
With each report of rain, Kathy waxes poetic about wet garden soil, and she snorfs. I recall standing as a lad under one of the three apple trees next to a walkway in our back yard in South Denver, everything a blur as wet droplets fall from the leaves and branches on to the thick lenses of my eyeglasses. I remember the smell and feel of rotten fruit as it connects with my face during one of our neighborhood apple wars, and the quarts of apple sauce my mother put up each fall that no one ate, the brown sludge discarded in May in order for mom to have jars ready for the next unwanted batch.
Kathy and I zero in on two commercials shown during the nightly Denver news broadcasts.
The first is an ad for a law firm specializing in personal injury suits. I believe “ambulance chaser” was once a common characterization, but its use is now off limits given it might trigger a tender paramedic or offend a self-conscious attorney.
The blurb features the firm’s head honcho who lists the many injuries a viewer might suffer in an accident, then notes that unscrupulous insurance providers prey on an injured party who does not have the benefit of skilled legal representation. Back or neck injuries? Broken bones and severed arteries? If this is you, get everything you can! Squeeze the fuckers dry! Fees? We’ll discuss that later.
Kathy went to high school with the guy we see on the screen. The firm bears his name. He looks like Nosferatu, as played by Max Schreck.
HER: “Oh, there’s Michael again. He doesn’t look at all well, and that Burgundy shirt doesn’t flatter him. He got an A in Latin, you know. Three years running. Teacher loved him, hated me. Look at the color of his skin. Do you think he has liver problems?”
We are obsessed with a jingle played during the second commercial, a simple production touting a northern Colorado business named “The Tree Farm.”
Fairly obvious re. product. Trees.
We can’t rid our minds of the damned seven-bar jingle. Ear worms proliferate and fatten during a quarantine.
At any time of day, in any room of the house, we see each other and Kathy and I break into song.
ME: “You take I-25…”
HER: “To Exit 235…”
ME/HER: “Then five miles west to The Tree Farm!”
The combo of snappy lyric and minimal tune grips us. We can remember both lyric and tune and, at our ages, remembering things is a comfort.
Kathy revives a jazz square routine she performed years ago in her role as Sister Mary Hubert in “Nunsense,” “Nunsense 2,” and “Nuncrackers,” and she creates an array of gestures symbolizing car travel, turns, and trees. We sing the jingle, Kathy dances, and we make the gestures in unison.
This quarantine is brutal, the damage profound.
Now, it’s morning. Following an A.M. performance of Tree Farm-The Musical, I flee to the basement.
I light the screen and Algo takes me where he/she/it/they will. I don’t want to make a gender error with Algo, so I include all the pronoun options. It’s not wise to irritate an algorithm. If an algorithm cancels you, you are finished; there will be no career as an influencer.
He/she/it/they assesses my web history and selects content to keep me fixed in place for five minutes, ten minutes, eight hours or longer.
The content is abused. The assholes at You Tube insert commercials into the middle of videos, trusting a viewer will endure an irritating interlude in order to find closure.
Corporate piranhas used to place the ad at the start of a video, and they gave the viewer an option to terminate the ad after a few seconds. It took these profit hungry microcephalics a year or so to figure out that nearly every ad went largely unseen. Once enlightened, it took little time for them to have a meeting that they organized via a series of poorly worded texts.
I have it on good authority that tech/info industry geeks no longer converse in primitive fashion. All business in their domain is conducted via texts.
At the meeting, the You Tube “team leader” texts his cohorts who are seated near him: “Hey, what if we put the ad in the middle of the video? That’ll work, won’t it? Who wants to see only half of a five-minute Jim Gaffigan stand-up routine?”
He receives a text from the woman perched to his right: “Not me, that’s for sure.”
Another text sent from the fellow at the end of the table follows: “Can you believe the guy never uses a dirty word?”
Then, a text arrives from the guy seated to the leader’s left: “I’ll watch an ad to find out what Jim’s going to say next, won’t you?”
Finally, the team leader texts: “ He’s great, right?” (Smiley Face emoji.)
The other droids at the meeting text one-word positive reactions to the leader’s opinion of Jim Gaffigan, accompanied by Smiley Face emoji’s. They then each employ a variety of emojis to convey their thoughts and feelings about mid-video ad insertion. They heartily agree with the idea.
“But,” texts the leader, “that’s not all. We don’t let the viewer cut the ad short; they have to watch the whole ad, all fifteen seconds! Isn’t that great? Think of how much money we’ll make when advertisers know that people have to watch the entire ad.”
A flood of emojis signals fevered, teamwide enthusiasm.
The meeting ends, but one more great idea follows as a result of an exchange of follow-up texts.
If viewers wish, they can pay You Tube more than a hundred bucks a year in order to avoid the ads. What a deal for You Tube: advertisers pay to insert the ads, the viewer endures the ads or ponies up to avoid them. In each instance, You Tube profits. Yahtzee! Corporate capitalism at its best! The Silicon Valley cash sharks have it dialed in.
But, they don’t have Karl dialed in. Not me.
I hereby release to the Internet this pledge:
“I resolve to never purchase a product advertised in the middle of a You Tube video. In addition, in response to a Colorado Department of Transportation mid-video ad warning about driving while loaded on weed, I plan to take in enough THC to stun an elephant prior to firing up my truck and driving to the dump. Furthermore, I will never visit Rapid City, South Dakota, or purchase a Nissan vehicle.”
I encourage others to follow suit in their own fashion on their Facebook and Instagram pages, on Twitter, in emoji-rich texts sent to friends and strangers, in notices posted for all in the digi-world to see, ponder, and imitate.
This should put a scare into You Tube advertisers — one that will radiate via texts and emojis all the way to Silicon Valley, or wherever the You Tube jerkoffs reside and work.
Things will change.
In the meantime, Algo churns away this morning, pulverizing my consciousness, draining me dry in order that my cyber substance can feed my economic and political masters.
I am a resource. Just as you are a resource.
I am a resource that exists to be mined by the tech machine. Algo identifies my interest in clips from gangster interviews and mob films, with odd historical facts, and with food, and makes the moves du jour.
Algo watches. Algo calculates.
Algo transmits my latest info to the NSA, the CIA, Space Force Command, Jewish Laser Central Control, Joel Osteen, etc. then sends me commercial-polluted segments of Godfather I and II, the Sopranos, and Goodfellas; commercial-marred videos featuring the “Ten Most Interesting Facts About…” (medieval sanitation, Roman legions, the evacuation at Dunkirk, Marie Curie’s sex life, Civil War surgeries, penile implants, etc); and commercial-tainted cooking videos, most around five minutes in length, featuring “celebrity chefs,” internet foodies, recipes, and techniques.
I watch all of it. As a cyber resource I’m helpless, a fat lab rat waddling through a maze with no exit.
A rat forced to watch Nissan commercials.
I refuse to pay You Tube. Not even for uninterrupted video visits with Gordon Ramsey or the Australian woman with fantastic teeth — the one who wears huge eyeglasses and cooks tempting, semi-Thai goodies. I gotta see what they cook, so I watch the damned commercials. I don’t have to buy the products, but I’m obliged to know about them if I want to get to the money shot.
This morning, the best of the foodie videos Algo shoves to the screen features one of my favorite You Tube food stars: an distressingly peppy woman of eastern European origin, a naturalized citizen who now lives in Idaho with husband and tots, goes to a Happy Church, and rakes in mucho dinero with a slick show produced by her hubby, also an eastern European immigrant. You can’t throw a stone these days without hitting a Czech.
I know I’ll have to endure a 15-second ad in the middle of the video, but I stay glued to the screen. I’m terribly vulnerable when it comes to evangelical Czechs with top-of-the-line cookware.
This woman is relentlessly enthusiastic. It’s obvious to me that she and her hubby operate a meth lab in the garage (and, I suspect, a Cesky Fousek puppy mill), the cooking videos being their front. The woman is a tweaker, for sure. A tweaker for the lord. With a well-lit kitchen crammed with stainless steel appliances and Hestan NanoBond cookwear, granite countertops throughout. And she has incredibly well defined clavicles.
I check out a video in which she shows me how to prepare pierogi, figuring that her eastern European origin will serve me well.
The woman — Maja, Alicja, whatever — smiles incessantly and speaks in a high, chirpy tone. She never stops moving, small jerky movements, meth movements. If you’re not familiar with meth movements, go to Wal Mart and pay close attention to your fellow shoppers, in particular the ones wearing pajamas and flip flops.
Maja/Alicja sports an apron emblazoned with a high-chroma forest scene in which an adorable fawn peeks between awkwardly rendered pthalo green pine boughs. Maja/Alicja’s pot holders appear to be handcrafted, perhaps a gift from an Old Country relative who, lacking access to standard fibers, fashions items with hair removed from elderly residents of the village.
As I watch Maja/Alicja prepare the potato filling for pierogi the video is interrupted by a Nissan commercial. I use the fifteen seconds to imagine Maja/Alicja nude, secured with duct tape to a 4×8 piece of marine plywood, gag ball jammed in her mouth, her deep belly button filled to overflowing with Realm Concept Market Bourbon Vanilla Argan Oil.
Before you judge me, understand that this fantasy is a nod to a longstanding eastern European tradition, one noble in a few of its aspects, suspect in others. Do some research and you’ll find the marine plywood/tape/bondage ball/massage oil arrangement has powerful sexual/gender/political meaning in places like Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and parts of southern Poland. In that part of the world, this is an arrangement eagerly anticipated by dom and sub alike. It’s a holdover from the Cold War days.
Before you touchy woke types freak out, know that anyone can be a sub, anyone a dom. Even members of the non-binary crew. The oil flows on the willing.
I imagine this is Maja/Alicja’s preferred post-kitchen activity. She and Kacper/Franciszek likely spend a significant amount of their absurdly bloated speed, puppy, and internet ad income on BDSM toys and tools.
Once in “The Room,” Kacper/Franciszek pretends he is an Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (UB) interrogator tasked with prying secrets from Maja/Alicja, using any means necessary.
According to the script — a script is required for all eastern European bondage scenarios, since the ability to improvise was lost in the years when the Soviets reigned supreme — Kacper/Franciszek becomes enamored of Maja/Alicja and lusty activity (often accompanied by an after-fuck feast that includes stuffed cabbage) replaces what would ordinarily be a brutish process involving electricity and injections of various serums produced by the Stasi and loaned to the UB with the understanding that information obtained as a result of their use is forwarded to the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit for analysis.
That’s the way things go in eastern Europe. Leaders arrive and depart, as do governments, but a few things remain the same. Tradition means a lot to these folks. It is the bedrock on which the fantasies of disappointed commies are built.
I zero in on the newest cooking video when it returns. I am riveted by a deft manipulation of dough when another Nissan commercial appears. Two commercials in a seven minute video! It’s fucking outrageous! Maja/Alicja and Kacper/Franciszek must be rolling in ad dollars. I endure the commercial, but remind myself I will never ride in one of the vehicles, much less own one, regardless of make, model, or miles per gallon.
“Well, friends,” she chirps, arms extended to her sides, palms up, shoulders high, clavicles prominent, bulky cross on a gold chain dangling in her cleavage, smile excessive and strained, “now I’m going to finish the pierogi.” She twitches. The skin on her upper chest is flushed, as if she had an orgasm or two during the commercial break. Though it seems impossible, she amplifies her smile, her cheeks ready to explode. That’s meth for you.
Maja/Alicja finishes and shoves a platter stacked with doughy treats to the front of the granite counter top. Given the load of meth in her system, she isn’t going to eat the pierogi, but she is going to get worked up while displaying them.
“Come on, hey, come on, hey…join me! Hey!”
She makes a dramatic gesture, arm raised, hand moving quickly from left to right (her left to right, the viewer’s right to left). Kacper/Franciszek orchestrates video magic with expensive tech gear, and it appears as if Maja/Alicja pushes aside the set, replacing it with an entirely new kitchen, complete with fork-ready pierogi and Maja/Alicja in a different outfit! Her apron now features a high-chroma depiction of the Sedlec Ossuary framed by two cartoon kittens, each one of the cuddly felines waving the flag of the Czech Republic. The flag is identical to that of the former Czechoslovakia. Tradition means a lot to these people.
Despite the quality info, the video leaves me with an empty feeling. I realize I lack deep, vital roots. I am without the bedrock of Old Country tradition.
I ponder my sad, withered state. I wish I, too, were a Czech refugee, kin to Kafka and Alphonse Mucha, secure in a life anchored by longstanding tradition, Sunday School, bondage, drugs, flag-waving kitties, cruciferous veggies, and dumplings galore. Life could sparkle for me. There would be no need for weather reports and Tree Farm jingles. The weight of the quarantine would lift. I could inherit a set of potholders fashioned from gray human hair.
I make a note reminding me to purchase what I need in order to whip up a batch of pierogi, and to find a ready source fora Cesky Fousek puppy. Nothing peps a person up better than a lively, little water dog.
The video ends with Maja/Alicja waving wildly, like an unmedicated patient at a state mental hospital, bidding farewell to imaginary visitors from behind a thick slab of cloudy safety glass.
I can’t tolerate another Nissan commercial.
I put the computer to sleep.
With depression looming, I throw the mood bus into reverse by remembering this: Cyberlife is but a flam, the subtlety of which goes unnoticed by all but a few.
If things go really well, it is a flamacue, played for five minutes, with a commercial break.
You need a dictionary, don’t you?