Sunday, April 29, 2012

Let's Go to the Correction Tape

I’ve seen them hanging on store hooks for many years now. But somehow today, I was taken aback or, more aptly, taken back to simpler times. It’s the little things in life that mean so much. I’m truly heartened that liquid paper—correction fluid—still exists in some form in these fast changing and highly technological times we live in. It’s called “BIC Wite-Out” nowadays and on sale at Staples and your favorite office supplies retailer, too, I suppose.

Contemplating this product’s role in my life and times, I recalled that Michael Nesmith of The Monkees fame had some familial connection with its inventor. So, what is one to do in this modern age, but Google. In this instance: “Michael Nesmith Correction Fluid.” Yes, it was his mother and a lowly secretary, Beth Nesmith Graham, who invented what was originally called “Mistake Out.” Mother and son lived happily ever after—financially at least. And this explains, also, why Mike Nesmith had no interest in Monkees reunions and appearances at autograph signings and nerd-populated conventions.

Anyway, this modern day liquid paper sighting of mine had some serious legs. It returned me to Cardinal Spellman High School, thirty plus years ago, and a senior-year typing class. It’s where I learned to type on a manual typewriter. We physically had to push a handle to advance our papers to the next line. We used a product called "correction tape" then—not the fluid—to mask our many errors, which we thought was simultaneously clean, cool, and a major technological advance. From what I’ve recently gleaned, it was indeed that. It covered over our multiple typing miscues, yes, and it could not be used as an inhalant, which liquid paper—evidently—was by some wayward and experimenting youth in those days of yore.

Courtesy of computers and advanced printing capabilities, we can certainly turn out pristine-looking copy these days. The problem is that dummies and dumbness can look really sharp in the new millennium, without any liquid paper or correction tape, which presents a whole new set of problems for educators and entrepreneurs. You can’t judge a book by its cover…most especially in the here and now.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Friday, April 20, 2012

The New Call of the Wild

While sitting in the front passenger seat of my friend’s spanking new set of wheels yesterday, he announced that he needed to call his wife. Simultaneously, he wanted to show me just one example of his vehicle’s incredible technological prowess—an extra perk if you will. He informed me that he could now place the call without punching numbers into anything, or even locating a stored name in his cell phone address book. No, this phone call of his could be made exclusively with voice commands uttered in the general direction of the car’s dashboard.

I listened as my friend said, “Call.” Awaiting a response, he gazed intently at the magical dashboard. The ghost in the machine was, however, uncooperative and, evidently, couldn’t decipher this introductory salvo of his—the one that was supposed to get this hands-off phone call business rolling. It responded all right, but with words to the effect that it was unable to make heads or tails of the command. I don’t know why, but it sort of reminded me of a Marine sergeant chiding his underlings: “I can’t hearrrrr you!”

After a few more unsuccessful attempts, I said to my friend, “Why don’t you just place the call the old fashioned way?” But he would have none of it. “Call,” he said. The obstinate ghost in the machine again told him something just wasn’t kosher. “Call.” “I can’t hearrrrr you!” “Call!” “I can’t hearrrrr you!” “Call!!!” “I can’t hearrrrr you!”

After about half a dozen of these “Call” commands getting louder and louder and leading to dead ends each and every time, I excused myself. My friend, who is pushing eighty, was clearly under the bewitching spell of a computer chip somewhere in his car's dashboard. Were we both in a Twilight Zone episode? As I walked away from the car, I heard yet another “Call” of the wild, and then another one after that. I haven’t spoken to my friend since, but I sure hope that call went through and that he didn’t, in fact, enter the Twilight Zone for real.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Strange Things Are Happening...

It was eighty degrees in the Bronx today. It felt like summer but smelled like spring—and an accelerated spring at that—which is an unnatural fusion that always makes me feel a bit off, even melancholy (although not to the degree of Civil War diarist Mary Chesnut). I don’t exactly know why. I suspect it’s got something to do with body chemistry, or maybe it just reminds me of my schooldays, when fleeting whiffs of summertime were transient reminders of what was in the offing or, worse yet, what had just passed. Perhaps these false summers underscored the hell I felt was experiencing. Looking back, I guess I didn’t like school all that much, although higher education certainly had its moments. But then we were finished with all that college stuff in the middle of May.

As I write these words, the scents of lilacs and some other spring shrubs that I can’t identify are wafting through my open window—again much earlier than they normally would be. A big ash tree just outside is greener than I‘ve ever seen it at this time of year. And, my pansies are already getting that stringy quality—typically a late spring phenomenon and byproduct of the increasingly hotter days of May and June.

Very soon in this most peculiar springtime, the Mister Softee truck will materialize and pull into a nearby driveway. I will then be compelled to listen as the franchisee chums for business with the Mister Softee jingle playing on a loop—way too loudly and for way too long in my opinion. And on top of all that, the fumes from the idling truck will quickly consume the natural spring fragrances in the ether. Yes, even Mister Softee began making his appointed rounds earlier this year.

A couple of years ago, I got on a Mister Softee milkshake kick for $4.50 a pop and, if one is to trust the truck's calorie chart, 450 calories a serving. During that period, the Mister Softee ambiance didn’t bother me in the least. In fact, I welcomed the sight, sounds, and smells as part of the abiding Mister Softee experience. Now that I've sworn off the milkshakes as too rich for my blood, it drives me bananas. Honestly, the Mr. Softee jingle plays in my ears long after the truck pulls away. It's insidious. But I am not Mayor Bloomberg, nor a member of the New York City council, who seem to know what's best for us on a whole host of fronts. I can live with Mister Softee and his music, just as I can with this spring—where strange things are happening.