I have friends who text one another while sitting in the same room. I am not kidding. Now I admit that I text like a maniac. The texting plague infected me pretty early, considering that I’m an old guy. It happened when I figured out if I didn’t start texting I’d become as irrelevant as a traffic light in Juarez. I haven’t reached my friends’ level of text addiction, but without texting I would have missed a lot of critical messages. Here are some of the ones I’ve received in the recent past:



: – )

Do you need some quick cash for bills and expenses? You can get up to $1500 tomorrow!

That’s awesome!

Just kidding!

Do you feel like you have had a major ass whipping?

We’ll bring pie

Missing any one of those communications might have smashed my life to tragic splinters like a tornado ripping through Santa’s Toyland. Instead, I have been spared idiotic blunders and hollow uncertainty because somebody invented texting and somebody else sold me a phone plan with unlimited texting, because I sure wouldn’t pay a nickel apiece for the damn things.

However, now that we text as habitually as chimps pick lice, the wicked side of texting has manifested. We not only text while cooking, listening to our bosses, and sitting on the toilet, we also text while driving. We look down to be sure our thumbs hit ROTFL instead of EEYOR, and then we’re barreling through the Applebee’s parking lot.

The solution is obvious. No, we should not pass laws banning texting while driving. That would keep us from texting, which is insanity. Instead, I challenge those who invented texting to employ their powerful technical brains and create cell phones that let us just speak into our phones, which would turn the speech into text and then send the text message. That would let us keep one hand on the wheel and one hand on our caramel macchiato. Problem solved.

Or, I guess it’s mostly solved. When we receive a text we have to look at our phone and punch a button or two. That presents a lesser danger, but we still might smack a careless bicyclist or something. We need to apply the same technology in reverse, rendering an incoming text into speech and allowing us to look at the road, the obscene gas prices at 7-11, and the jogger who’s wearing not much more than a string bikini. Problem solved. Again.

But I sense an opportunity here. Since we’ve gone so far as to employ speech on both ends of the message, let’s push it to the logical endpoint. Skip the text altogether and just let us speak at the cell phone, enabling the recipient to hear us as we say the words. We could say, “JSU B4 U CMMT CS,” while dodging SUVs, and our friend could immediately say, “BMOTA U ID10T,” in response. In fact, this could be made to work almost in real time and could approximate live verbal communication. That would of course be the ultimate logical extension of safe texting technology.

Isn’t this a wonderful age in which to be alive?

Too good not to use...

For two days I have been a ghost. I saw the world through a veil, and the world could not see me at all. I think it was less fun than any essay test or surgical procedure or first date I’ve ever experienced. Don’t let anyone fool you about being a ghost and watching people shower or listening in on private conversations, because it’s not like that at all. It’s like being divorced from the spirit of humanity. It’s like being set on an ice flow by your family to freeze or be eaten by the beasts of the sea. It’s like leaving your laptop, iPhone, and iPad behind in Lubbock because you’re a moron.

I can’t blame anyone but myself. I chose to drive to Lubbock to celebrate my niece, Wendy’s seventeenth birthday. We had fun. We ate fried chicken and birthday cake, and we went out to hear her boyfriend’s band, which I’m told was pretty good although I thought they sounded like gears grinding on a ’76 Chevelle. I gave Wendy an iTunes gift card and some earrings she probably didn’t like, although she said she did. I left on Saturday and didn’t realize until I got home that I left my computer bag leaning against the pot of begonias on the front porch. I said quite a few bad words.

I couldn’t do much right away, since it takes about a week and a half to drive from Lubbock to Dallas. That’s an exaggeration. It takes less than a week and a half, but I can’t say for sure how long it does take since half-way home I always fall into a meditative trance fueled by Cheetos and Diet Coke. But I got home at midnight, which was far too late to call my kinfolk in Lubbock unless someone in the family has died. My wife was in Illinois for a brief family reunion, so I crawled into my empty bed, full of disquieting ignorance about what was happening in the world.

The next morning at 6:01 AM I called Lubbock. I don’t think they understood the razor blade of panic in my voice, but they promised to Fed-Ex my bag right away. I began breathing almost normally. I debated just buying a new iPhone. Since it was Sunday the stores would be open by noon, and I thought I could hold out that long. But my Lubbock trip had cost me as much as an electricity bill and a bag of groceries. My cats were out of food, and when I’d woken up they had all been hovering over me like I was a buffet. I decided that buying cat food and more Cheetos was the wisest course.

I needed to attend a rehearsal Sunday afternoon for a show that might be entertaining if we rehearsed a whole lot more. I walked into the theater, which was cold enough to freeze marshmallows solid. Really, Mr. Wizard could do science experiments in there. I looked at my bundled buddies while goose bumps the size of Chicklets rose on my arms, and one said, “The air conditioner’s stuck. Didn’t you get my text?” I felt myself begin to fade out of the chain of human discourse, which was good because it distracted me from my body’s spastic shaking as it battled hypothermia.

After rehearsal I emerged into the grateful 60 degree sunshine. I looked around for my car, which was gone. Well, it might not have been gone. Gnomes might have shrunk it to the size of a June bug, just for fun. Barring that possibility, it was gone. I looked at my buddies, and one said, “We have to park around back today. I posted it on the e-group. You probably got towed.” I borrowed his phone and called the towing company. They gave me their address and told me I could get my car back for approximately the cost of two iPhones. I asked one of my friends to drive me, and I thanked providence that he had a phone with mapping capabilities. I could see myself walking into a gas station to buy a city map, and the clerk looking at me as if I’d asked for a flint knife.

I rescued my poor Accord and drove home. The phone handset in the kitchen was blinking with fervor, and I checked five messages, one from the drug store and four from my wife wondering what the hell was wrong. I called her, and she explained her concerns. Had I been in an accident? Had I dropped my phone in the toilet? Had the refrigerator fallen on me? She’d left three voice mails and then texted five times. She had checked Facebook and sent me a Google chat. Nothing. What was wrong with me? I felt myself drop further out of existence as I explained abandoning my electronic links to the world in Lubbock, as if they were worn out tires. She said she understood, but I could tell that she’d been shaken.

I stayed home the rest of the evening, tethered to my land line as if it were my only link to reality. That security was of course illusionary. Why would anyone else but telemarketers ever think to call me on my home phone? It would be like looking for me under a stone in Thailand.

This morning I drove to work to find that I’d missed an unscheduled 7:00 AM meeting with a new customer. They wanted to give us $10 million to fix something that they’d paid someone else $20 million to screw up. “I sent you an email last night!” my boss said before turning away to find a responsible person to fix this mess. I felt myself falter and slide into complete insubstantiality. I no longer had any significance in the daily lives of other people. I drifted out of the office, not even making excuses, and I let my car bring me home by vague, meandering paths. I spent the rest of the day resisting full entropy by using my land line to call friends, but none of them recognized my home number so they didn’t pick up.

At twilight, as I sprawled on a chair in the lightless den, someone knocked on my front door. After floating uninterested to entryway, I scanned through the peephole and unsurprisingly found no one there. I opened the door anyway, and a shiny FedEx box squatted on the porch like a toad of mercy. Had I been a South Pacific castaway, I’d have watched that box as if it were a parachute bringing me water, SPAM, and M&Ms.

Two minutes later I held my iPhone in my hand. I was about to reenter the great river that is humanity, and I wanted to make it meaningful. With shaking hands (which is easy, because my hands shake anyway), I sent my wife a message, since she was the most important person to tell about my return. I sent, “I text, therefore I am!”

Forty-five seconds later she replied, “Did you scoop the cat litter?”

I have rejoined the human race.

You should have tweeted more, Casper.

Casper the Friendly Ghost owned by Classic Media (http://www.classicmedia.tv/). It sounds kind of like ghost slavery, but I think it’s a lot nicer than that.

I’m almost glad that I’ll be dead relatively soon. By “relatively” I mean a hell of a lot sooner than the kids shrieking through the grocery store, pawing the fruit roll-up boxes and licking apples that I might unknowingly purchase and eat. They walk around with wires stuck in their ears like defective Frankenstein’s Monsters. They text and tweet with astounding virtuosity, yet I could get more articulate speech from a raccoon. If they will inherit the Earth, I want to first vacate the premises.

My thoughts on this topic recently crystallized when I kept my great-nephew Alex for three days. His parents had planned a second honeymoon at the Chocktaw Casino in Oklahoma, and I am a closet romantic. When I told my wife I’d agreed to harbor this eight year old being for the weekend, she looked at me without expression for a dozen heartbeats, smiled, and told me about the business conference in Orlando that she’d completely forgotten to mention. She left for the airport at 3:00 Friday afternoon, and Alex arrived at 3:30.

I looked at Alex and admitted that he appeared to be a pretty good kid. He was clean at least, his sneakers were tied, and his blue jeans covered his underwear. An iPod stuck out of his pocket, and he clutched a Gameboy in his left hand. Yes, he had ear buds jammed into his ears. I wasn’t sure what to do now, although I had a vague urge to make a grilled cheese sandwich and watch the “A-Team.” Instead I asked, “Anything you want to do?”

Alex looked around my living room. He might have looked around his prison cell at Attica precisely the same way. He shrugged at me and said, “Dunno. Watch TV maybe?”

His folks had directed me not to let him watch TV, since he was grounded for some infraction they wouldn’t explain, other than to say they were showering at the neighbors’ for a while. “Sorry, no TV. You know the rule.”

He nodded without ill will. “You got a Wii or X-Box?” I shook my head, wondering why I felt less manly for not having a Wii. “Do you have anything fun on your computer?”

I frowned. “Not unless you really like Excel.”

“Nah. I just track my baseball team’s stats with it.”

We both stopped talking and stood uselessly. He looked at me like I was a gorilla in the zoo and he was wondering what it would do next. I gazed around at various things that weren’t him. It seemed wrong that he was a kid staying in my home yet I felt put on the spot.

The iPod in Alex’s pocket inspired me. “What kind of music do you listen to?”

He straightened a bit and said, “Lady Gaga.”

I had heard of this person, but I didn’t know much about her. “What’s the name of one of her songs that you like?”

He paused. “Highway Unicorn.”

I managed not to say, “You’re kidding, right?” Instead I spoke like a responsible adult. “Don’t you think that the names ‘Lady Gaga’ and ‘Highway Unicorn’ are kind of silly?”

Alex shrugged. “Who’d you like when you were a kid?”

“Meatloaf,” I said.

“What’s one of his good songs?”

Now I saw the trap, but I couldn’t escape. I grimaced. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

Alex raised his eyebrows.

I sighed and wondered if my wife would be going to Magic Kingdom or Epcot first. I said, “So, do you want to watch TV?”

The television and the Gameboy saved me until Saturday afternoon. Alex’s iPod and iPhone were irrelevant to the situation. He listened to music and texted simultaneously with anything else that was going on. They seemed to be some sort of fundamental technology, necessary but not sufficient for entertaining the higher brain functions. But Saturday afternoon we engaged in an analog activity that proved challenging. We made sandwiches.

I could tell Alex had made sandwiches before. He foraged in my refrigerator with efficiency and gusto. He examined every bag of lunch meat and jar of condiment in detail, providing commentary on the merits of each. If he had dropped the mustard or the ketchup then no difficulty would have followed. But he dropped the pickles, which come in a glass jar. That jar plunged to my red tile floor that’s about as hard as the side of a battleship. Then pickles, juice, and glass shards showered my kitchen.

I recognized this as the moment to be an adult. I looked down at the boy and said in stern but calm tones, “You need to be more careful. Pay attention to what you’re doing. If you don’t then accidents will happen, and you might hurt somebody or yourself.”

Alex looked around the kitchen floor. He may have been waiting for the pickles and glass slivers to hurl themselves at us in order to do us harm, but I don’t know that for sure. After a few seconds Alex shrugged.

“Do you understand?” I wanted confirmation that this critical life lesson had been received.

“Sure,” Alex said without looking at me.

“Okay! After we clean up we’ll make sandwiches. I have a spare jar of pickles behind the case of Diet Coke.” I smiled even though he wasn’t looking at me, because I knew I’d done at least one thing right this weekend.

Instead of using the pickles, I made the kid a grilled cheese sandwich, something he’d never before eaten. That convinced me his parents share none of my DNA. He returned to a fairly cheerful state by the time his evening TV and Gameboy marathon started. I even attempted to watch the Cartoon Network with him, and though I lasted only 15 minutes, he seemed to appreciate the gesture.

Alex’s parents were scheduled to fetch him about 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Cartoons and Gameboy ate Sunday morning, and we found a baseball game in the afternoon that we could both enjoy without mortification or brain damage. After the game, Alex asked me to make him another grilled cheese sandwich. I accepted that as evidence that I had performed my duties well.

I pulled the cheese out of the refrigerator, banged the door with my elbow, and watched a jar full of pickles plummet. It seemed to draw away from me with the grace of those space ships in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I willed gravity to cease, but the pickles smashed to the tiles anyway, with the predictable results.

For some unmarked length of time I stared at the floor. That probably lasted just a few seconds, but I wouldn’t sign an affidavit stating that to be the case. Then I looked over at Alex, who looked back at me with no expression. We stared at one another, and since I felt the need to say something I said, “Oops.”

I followed that incisive observation with, “I guess everybody makes mistakes. Sorry I was so hard on you.”

Alex raised his eyebrows. He refrained from saying any of the things that I so obviously deserved to hear. Instead, he fetched my broom and mop, which were unaccustomed to being used two days in a row and must have felt giddy at all the attention.

I spent the rest of the afternoon rather subdued, sitting in the den pretending to write while Alex watched something called “Almost Naked Animals.” His parents arrived on time, and all four of us scrambled around the house for 20 minutes making sure he was taking home everything he’d brought with him. All the time I writhed inside, waiting for him to tell his folks what a dope I’d been, and what I failure I was at something they must take for granted.

Alex and his parents stood at the door with a stuffed backpack and a full arsenal of modern electronic implements. His mom directed him to tell me thanks and goodbye. I waited with what I thought was admirable stoicism.

“Thanks. Bye.” Then he thundered out the door and down the steps like a Pekinese that’s been kept indoors all day. His folks echoed their thanks and extended a dinner invitation unlikely to ever be fulfilled. They mounted their Corolla and drove away. I swung my front door closed and realized I was doomed.

The little weasel can hold this over me for the rest of my life. At the decisive moment, when it will do me the most damage, he can whip out this evidence of my idiocy and stab me in the heart with it. Every kid in the world must be able to do this to any adult with whom they’ve spent a couple of days. And when these kids take over, we’ll have no defense.

I hope I don’t see that day. But just in case, maybe I should become a grilled cheese sandwich virtuoso.

I am facing extinction. Technology-extinction, to be precise. I’m not incapable. I don’t fear computers; computers fear me. I program my VCR and I set up my wireless network at home. After a trip to Fry’s, I fiddle with a screwdriver for a while, and a PC appears on my desk. Yet I’ll soon be exiled to the technology ice floe and thereafter devoured by a killer whale that’s sick of eating seal. This is because I cannot understand, nor be understood by, my fellow men of technology.

My god-daughter Wendy, a sweet 9th grader, drove this realization through my heart yesterday. She sent me a text that vibrated with excitement. I text a lot, but I text in real words. Sometimes I use punctuation. Occasionally I use semicolons. Wendy’s text was:

USBM- c ths gr8 pm

? i cmpr u 2 smmr dy
u r HPOA & kewl
rf wnds FUBAR prtty flwrs f my
smmr O
smtms sn FAH
& smtms sn SITD
& evry CSA smtms gs 2 hll
by SOL or SOP
bt ur a BBW 4evr
u wnt bcm a BUFF
u wnt ESAD
whn u & ths pm r BFFTTE

whl mn LLAP or i’s cn c
whl ths is AAS no AMF 4 u

She really is a sweet girl. So I texted her back, saying, “What is this? Do you have a brain tumor?” She responded:

N! ‘tis shkspr

I pondered this for several hours. Finally I realized that this was supposed to be Shakespeare! Specifically, this should be Sonnet 18, which it resembles in no way. Sonnet 18 is:

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

I sent Wendy another text, saying, “I don’t get it. Help me understand, or I’ll show up at your freshman prom with a video camera and a powder blue tuxedo.” To which Wendy texted in reply:

USBM ur qt

Should I compare you to a summer day?
You are a Hot Piece Of Ass and cool:
Rough winds Fuck Up Beyond All Recognition the pretty flowers of May,
Summer’s Over:
Sometimes the sun is Fucking Ass Hot,
And sometimes the sun is Sitting In The Dark;
And every Cool Sweet Awesome sometimes goes to hell,
By Shit Out of Luck or Standard Operating Procedure:
But you’re a Big Beautiful Woman forever
You won’t become a Big Ugly Fat Fucker;
You won’t Eat Shit And Die,
When you and this poem are Best Friends Forever Til The End:

While men Live Long And Prosper or eyes can see:
While this is Alive And Smiling no Adios Mother Fucker for you.

The fact that I didn’t comprehend her first text tells me that I shall soon be as dead as a diplodocus. But that is merely the third most pathetic fact in this saga. The second most pathetic fact is that I realized USBM means “Uncle Satan Bastard Man.”

And the most pathetic fact of all? Wendy’s revised version, all spelled out, is more understandable than the original.