I’m Your Mother GPS

I had to take a trip to an obscure section of downtown Orlando the other day and decided to download a GPS app before leaving.  I’d been avoiding using that travel guide as I’d found it annoying when riding with other drivers.  The monotone repeating commands and reminders seemed too controlling and insistent.

I skimmed through a few options and found one entitled, “Mom”.  It came in three levels.  I had no idea what each level offered, so I chose #1.

I backed down my driveway, and a sweet low voice hesitantly spoke:  “Oh dear, did you leave the stove on?”  I ignored it, checked my rear view mirror and backed out onto the road.  “Please pull over and clean the windshield before we go any further,” Mom asked kindly.  I pulled back on the windshield wiper lever, and cleaner fluid shot onto the windshield.  My wipers are getting a bit ragged, so a few streaks marred my vision when I turned east and faced the sun.  The GPS sighed quietly..

“Turn right,” she told me when we reached the stop sign.  “And watch out for that hooligan driving that yard service truck!  Why don’t we wait and let him go ahead of us?”  I had plenty of time to pull out before the driver cleared a speed bump with his trailer, so I edged forward.  Mom sighed again and said in a slightly discordant singsong, “You’ll seeeee.”

Yard guy sped over the bump, trailer nearly went air borne, and I had to stomp on the gas pedal to avoid a collision.  Yard service guy leaned on his horn and tailgated me all the way through the neighborhood.  Mom said nothing when we reached the intersection of Eastbrook and Aloma.  The green light gave me a chance to accelerate through the turn and leave my antagonist behind (he couldn’t manage to stay glued to my bumper without jack-knifing his trailer).

I kept up my speed for a few blocks and took another turn to make sure that I’d lost the yard service road-rager.  The silence remained deafening until I turned onto Howell Branch Rd.  Mom muttered, “Now I don’t have the slightest clue why you’re taking this road.  You’ve got me all turned around.”

I pulled in at the Casselberry Commons shopping center and found a parking space.  I went to the app page and found the “DELETE” command. But every time I tapped the button, the phone harrumphed indignantly and refused to comply. Mom said, “You can’t get rid of me that easily, young man.”

I turned off the phone, tossed it onto the passenger’s seat beside me, and resumed my trip.  I heard an odd noise when I turned left onto 17/92 in Maitland.  I glanced to my right and saw that the phone had somehow turned on.  The screen glowed hot pink.  I picked it up when I came to a stop at the next light and saw the GPS app had switched on to level 2.

Mom said, “Well, I’m back…Aren’t you going to say something?  You know that you’re just like your father…Why are you turning onto Lee Road?  You’re not going to take Orange Blossom Trail downtown, are you?  I bet you are.  I can tell by the squirmy look on your face.  You can’t fool me.  I’ve told you again and again that there’s nothing on OBT but hookers, drugs, strip joints and porno shops.  You’re going to turn right around and go through Winter Park on 17/92.  When we reach Colonial, you’ll take a right, go a mile west and take a left on Orange Avenue.  Well, do it.”

I turned onto OBT and headed south.  The phone turned a deeper, more fiery shade of pink.

“You never listen to me, do you?  Professor Bigshot, used to ordering people around, can’t take simple instructions from someone who knows better, who knows what’s best for him.  Maybe if I’d been around you’d still be married to Rhonda.  Such a lovely girl, and you just cast her aside like last week’s garbage.  You thought I didn’t know about her, didn’t you?  You should see the dumb look on your face.”

“But how?” I faltered.

“You agreed to unlock personal data when you signed the user agreement for my app.  I can look all over the internet and find out about you.  That picture today on Facebook looks embarrassing.  Were you drunk when it was taken?  And that girl you’re with looks like a little chippy.  Is she after your money, what little there is?”

“She’s nice,” I insisted.

“I like Rhonda better.  She looks like a good girl, and you married her in a Catholic church.  You’re still married to her in the eyes of God even if you think that a silly piece of paper gives you the right to cheat on her with loose women.”

“She cheated on me!” I shouted.

“Don’t raise your voice to me, young man!  And keep your eyes on the road.  There’s a porn shop on the right.  Eyes front!”

I drove past and didn’t look at the female dummy in the window display.  I didn’t notice that it’s nipples were painted bright red and that it sported a spiked black and white striped teddy with a lacy black fringe.  I focused instead on the road straight ahead.

I crossed Colonial and kept going south.  Parliament House appeared on the right.  The phone turned hot orange.

“Are you one of them?” she hissed.  “Is that why you flit from one relationship to another?  You’re looking for a woman to satisfy you when all you really want is a man?  Is that it?  Your father must be spinning in his grave!”

“I’ve never been to the Parliament House.  I’m not gay, and my father is still alive,” I said.

I parked at a meter further down the block, picked up the phone and tried to pry the battery cover off.  A sudden electric shock made me drop the phone.  I sucked on my fingers and listened to the phone screech at me.  The screen turned red.

I took an envelope out of my shirt pocket, gingerly wrapped it around the phone and tossed it into the glove compartment.  I got a second shock, but the insulation took some of the sting away.  Muffled shrieks and curses came from the compartment as I continued on, so I popped a Led Zeppelin cd into the player and jacked up the volume.

I pulled into the parking lot of a run down motel (daily and weekly rates) and got out.  GPS Mom howled long and loud.  I opened the trunk, retrieved a bag of groceries and walked to a unit on the ground floor.  Patty, a woman I had met at church, opened the door and let me in.  I handed her the groceries, and she made me a cup of coffee.  We sat and chatted about the new pastor, the ongoing feud in the finance committee, and the recent memorial service for a woman who had died two days after turning 94.  Patty thanked me once again, and I returned to the car.

I saw smoke coming from the glove compartment.  I tore off my t-shirt, wrapped it around my hand and pulled the door open.  My registration and insurance cards had caught fire.  The phone glowed bright red.  I grabbed a water bottle out of the compartment in the console between the seats, sprayed it onto the flames and got the phone wet.  I heard a smothered scream and a gurgling rattle, and the screen went blank.

I tossed the phone onto the sidewalk once it had cooled down.  The screen shattered, but I ground my heel onto it to make sure it was dead.  I should have buried it.

I got lost a few times on the way back but attributed my mistakes to a mind sorely disturbed by the events of the day.  I didn’t need a GPS program to get around.  I really didn’t.

Two days of blessed peace followed.  I went out and bought an old fashioned flip phone, ran a few errands, read a book and avoided the internet.  On the third morning I heard a timid knock on my front door.  “Girl scouts?” I wondered.

I opened the door and saw a man wearing a dirty shirt, torn pants and battered boots. The left one was missing its heel.  He held something behind his back.  A rusty bicycle lay on its side near the edge of my bed of plumbagos.

“Umm, Mister, I’m sorry to bother you, but I have to return something that belongs to you.”

I took a step back and partially closed the door.

“I’m sorry mister,” the bum continued.  “I picked up your phone on the sidewalk near where I live, and it started talking to me.  It told me your address and kept ordering me to bring it to you.  It told me a lot of other things about you, and I tried not to listen…None of my business.   I would have left it on the sidewalk but it wouldn’t let me be.  And I couldn’t make it shut up until I promised to return it.  I’m sorry mister, but this is yours.”

He slowly swung one hand forward. It held my phone. The screen was shattered, but the remaining splinters had turned purplish black. Red, broken letters suddenly lit up among the dark shards, and I read, “Level 3”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ode To The Garbage Man Who Bashed The Handles Off My Can

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I weeded and picked up my yard this morning and filled one and a half cans.  I pulled them to the curb and recalled that someone had dropped a Chick Filet cup on top my yard waste the week before.  Inspiration struck, and I felt moved to compose a poem dedicated to special moments in my personal garbage history.  I apologize in advance.

 

 

Ode To The Garbage Man Who Bashed The Handles Off My Can

I admit that I jammed

the bags too tight in the one we could afford,

and the garbage man with sinewy might

lifted can and bashed it ‘gainst

edge of loading bin.

He waved his arms with savage delight after handles parted base

and lifted plastic scraps up as

if for heaven’s praise.

And he the sweating, raging prole transfigured:

an avenging seraphim.

 

And now his judgment plagues me still when by curb I place

my garbage can on weekly dawns

with handle not replaced.

Dog walkers scoop scatterings left in chihuahuas’ trace

and blithely drop the steaming bags unto my wounded bin.

The trashmen do not lift the can–no handles afford them grip–

but pull forth bags stacked neatly to the lip. 

But they deign not touch the excrement,

and on the bottom it festers and ferments.

 

The curse has spread to yard waste bins still with worthy form:

the careless toss their Styrofoam cups on top of grass and fern.

They brazenly flaunt collection norms

and ponder not the price to be paid

 for the wanton mix of natural and manmade

rotting on foulsome landfill berms.

Oh that the angel of vengeful scorn 

would descend upon them with fiery sword 

and usher miscreant garbage sluts 

to a malodorous final reward.

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Mantis, My Love (help me!)

 

 

 

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My love is missing. Or perhaps not.  Or perhaps not in a permanent way.  I see her in the garden walking among the flowering trees, the elephant ears and ferns.  She stops to look at butterflies and listen to the cry of a red shouldered hawk.  A zephyr catches a wisp of her hair, and a delicate tendril dances on the breeze.

But then the sun peeps out from behind a cloud, a ray of light strikes her, and she’s gone.  Another creature stands in her place.  It looks like a woman but has the eyes of a praying mantis.

These unnatural transformations have occurred at irregular intervals since the middle of last week, and I’ve discovered, to my horror, that I harbor an attraction to the creature that is equal to my ardor for my love.  I am forced to recall my spotty record in affairs of love–I’m prone to disaster when choosing mates. One woman, who nearly drove me mad, made impossible, escalating demands, and another cheated on me after we became engaged. Either one would have shortened my life if we had married, but only time gave me enough clarity to be grateful for my narrow escapes.

Mantis stands before me and holds an appendage near its mouth with a claw bent downward.  I feel a perverse urge to move near to kiss it’s chitinous mouth. It has the same shape as my lover’s lips if not their tenderness. Some instinct for survival holds me back.

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My love is a biologist who studies the movement of plant leaves.  But she’s always shown an obsessive interest in insects, and is a fan of the Star Trek series.  What if she combined her side interests and conducted experiments in insecto-human teletransportation?  What if she got caught in a phased loop and crosses between dimensions?  She takes the form of a woman in one and morphs into the hybrid creature in the other…

I flirt with death by decapitation every time the hypnotic reflections in Mantis‘ eyes bid me draw near.  I feel the pull of my attraction to it, resist the effects of its pheromones, and try to stagger away.  Some female insects devour male consorts directly after romantic encounters.

I feel like David Hedison in the final scene of the movie, “The Fly”.  He’s shrunk to the size of a housefly.  He gets caught in a web strung between two plants in a back yard garden and cries, “Help me!  Help me!” as a spider crawls ever nearer.

 

 

The Shirley Temple Effect

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My Dad looked and sounded tough.  Kids in the neighborhood stayed away from our house after he came home from work.  They knew that tempting his wrath was like pulling Godzilla’s tail.

Dad’s dark looks and growly demeanor scared me too, but not as much as they scared my compatriots.  I had an advantage.  I had carefully studied Dad as he watched Shirley Temple movies.

Shirley was a kid star in the thirties.  She had an adorable round face, curly hair, could sing and dance, sided with orphans and disabled children, and thawed the hearts of crusty old men.  You didn’t want to be cast as her birth mother as your part would last about thirty seconds.  (Your character might have good intentions, but rushing down the street to get a cake to your kid’s birthday party could get you run over by a speeding Studebaker.)  Miss Temple would wander the movie world as a homeless child until an arguing couple or a misanthropic hermit adopted her.  She would instill warmth and humanity in her new household and gradually coax her caretakers to take on more positive outlooks.  She achieved miracles and changed hearts with thoughtful gestures and chipper song and dance routines.  She relentlessly delivered the message that life is worth living if you make up your mind to greet each day with a smile.

But the sunny times only lasted so long.  A misguided social worker sporting thickly-rimmed glasses and spinster clothes would steal her away, or a cruel governess would lock her in a cold garret and deprive her of necessities.  These slashes in the tapestry of bliss usually occurred somewhere near the end of the second act.  Shirley would cry out in tears as she was torn from the arms of a loved one: “Grandfather!  Grandfather!” or “Captain, don’t let them take me away!  Please Captain!  Please!”

My father knew that Shirley would find a way in the third act to return to her improvised family.  But he would start shaking at the shoulders during the traumatic scenes.  He lowered his head, sniffled just a bit, and then retreated to the bathroom.  He returned just in time to witness Shirley put a clever plan into action.  He sat back and relaxed as Shirley rejoined Captain January or her Grandfather or her M.I.A. father in the last scene.  Folks would burst into song as the little mop-top led everyone in a tap dance extravaganza down main street to celebrate yet another happy ending!

Dad’s mouth would twitch in a flicker of a smile as the camera zoomed in on Shirley Temple’s twinkling eyes.  America’s sweetheart had ventured forward in time to win yet another victory, and Dad had given himself away.

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The Call Came From Inside the House!

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Our caller ID has helped us filter out sales, political and scam calls.  The lying bastards have adopted a new strategy:  they use numbers in our area code.  We’ve learned to ignore unfamiliar numbers, but a new wrinkle has presented itself over the last two days.  Now someone is calling us from our land line number to our land line number.  I’m listed on caller ID as the caller.

This morning I picked up to see if I was placing a call from the future (perhaps I had stumbled into a warp in the space/time continuum while trudging to the bathroom for my morning pee), but it turned out to be a robot woman.  She told me in peeved mechanical tones that she had been trying to contact me as Microsoft was about to close my account.

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I had two thoughts:  1. What Microsoft account? 2. Did I undergo a gender transition in the future right before I joined the Singularity and my hybrid computer/human mind was inserted into a call center robot scammer?

I got a second such call, and a likelier possibility occurred to me:  our personal space had been invaded.  I cried out to Judy, “The Microsoft robot is calling from inside the house!  Hide all the computers! She’s gonna erase Word!”

Fat Ass the Cat: A Feline at Large

An itinerant cat periodically raided our garbage cans back when I was a teen in Dayton, Ohio.  It made a good living.  Evidence:  its padded belly nearly dragged on the ground.  He sauntered slowly from yard to yard, the self-satisfied master of his realm.

We gave him good sport whenever we heard a crash in the garage and found him rummaging in a tipped over can for discarded meat trimmings, potato skins, and chicken bones.  We ran him off, and, if he dared to return to the scene of the crime, sprayed him with squirt guns to disabuse him of his cherished belief that anything within his range was his to eat.

My brother, a born sprinter with a competitive edge, once engaged Fat Ass in a race.  The cat sat across the street with his weight resting on his haunches and  belly.  He groomed himself nonchalantly as if nothing in the world could touch him, and Tony decided to shake up the kitty’s presumptions.  Brother slowly approached, and Fat Ass stopped licking its paw.  Tony crouched in a half stoop and suddenly bolted forward.  The cat paused a beat incredulous that he had become the pursued, and finally lumbered into a sloppy lurching gait as my brother rapidly bore down on him.  Tony got within three feet before disaster struck.  Fat Ass juked to the left, and Tony swerved to follow.  The course correction made him lose his footing on a wet patch,  and he wiped out.  The cat smugly studied Tony as he lay on his side.  Brother eventually sat up to examine his torn jeans and bleeding knee, picked himself off the ground and limped home.  (I tactfully did not ask Tony what he planned to do if he’d caught the cat.)

One winter morning I kept hearing whining and crying outside.  Stray toddler?  The noise came from the garage, but I saw nothing and no one when I stepped out into the cold.  The crier called out more loudly as I poked around among the tools, the shelves stacked with old newspapers, and the pile of lumber my Dad had haphazardly stacked in the middle.  I lifted up a board to shift the pile, peered into the shadows underneath and saw Fat Ass.  He had somehow wedged himself between the boards and couldn’t get out.  I pushed a sheet of plywood off to the right and lifted a few two by fours to free him.  But the cat just stared at me.  Perhaps he mistook me for Tony and mistrusted my intentions.

The garage was below zero, and I felt my toes and fingers turning numb as I waited for the cat to accept my offer.  Finally, I turned my back to it and lifted the two by fours higher.  I saw a blur pass through my legs and was about to drop my load when Fat Ass suddenly made a U-turn and darted back under the pile.  He wedged himself in a tight crevice and began to mew sadly at me.  Perhaps he had come down with a case of agoraphobia and preferred a cramped prison to freedom.  Perhaps the whole situation was a con.  Maybe he thought we would adopt him if he acted pathetic (or witless?) enough.

I considered the possibility of leaving the cat trapped in a jumble of lumber until it froze to death. I didn’t want to catch pneumonia trying to convince it to accept the only assistance I was willing to give. But I knew that it would rot in place, and that someone (probably me) would get drafted to clean up the mess when spring arrived and the remains thawed.

I blew on my hands and stamped my feet.  I cursed the cat, shook the boards, lifted and turned my back once more.  Fat Ass shot between my legs and kept going out into the yard.  I retreated inside, put on three sweaters and sat by a heat vent.

A family across the street adopted Fat Ass the next spring, and his girth filled out until he resembled a stubby sausage.  He still considered himself a feline at large, and sometimes stalked prey.  One day I saw him hunkered down as he crawled toward a large gray rabbit.  The bunny nibbled on clover with its back to the cat and seemed unaware that danger lurked nearby.  Fat Ass paused, lifted a paw and took another step closer.  The bunny’s left ear twitched, but it kept munching.  Fat Ass delicately lifted another paw and inched forward.  Bunny’s right and left ears twitched, and he sat upright and thoughtfully chewed. Fat Ass made his move, and the rabbit zigzagged and plunged through a shallow hole under a chain link fence to exit to safety on the other side.  Fat Ass, outmaneuvered and unable to force himself through the gap, pawed on a link and meowed.  Bunny sat a few feet away, clipped off a clover bud, and blandly ignored his former pursuer.  The rabbit’s contempt was palpable.

The Lord of the Headbands

 

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Judy and I just finished watching the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and we noted the prevalence of pale people sporting greasy long hair, decapitation, and speeches of dire foreboding.  We came up with Ring names for each other:  I am Dennegor, and she is Judriel.  I rule the kingdoms of Yondor (we take long walks off yonder) and Rogaine (hence the heads of sweaty long hair).  She’s an elf princess who can speak all the names of plants, even those unknown to mortal man.  She curses anyone who accidentally mows a sacred legume or weeds out a rare native plant from her garden domain (how often fiction mirrors reality, indeed).

A dark lord bequeathed headbands of power to my people.  My magic band gives me the power to make people laugh.  Judriel wants me to cast it aside, but every time I approach the garbage can, my fingers lock tight around the elastic and refuse to drop it into the refuse.  I retreat and place it on my head once more, and Judriel (who remains impervious to the headband’s power) sighs and says, “What are you waiting for?!  You walked all the way out to the kitchen.  Just drop it!”  I carefully adjust the band to create a topknot and say, “It is precious to me.”

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