Friday, February 18, 2011

iLost Her to iPhone

Twenty-two years ago this week, I found the nerve to ask a cute red-head if she’d go out on a date with me. She said yes, and after more than two decades she still hasn’t said no. In a generation in which high school sweethearts are no longer common, Amy and I have managed to stay together from proms to college diplomas to career changes to parenthood. We’ve gone from singing Debbie Gibson songs to each other to crooning Bruno Mars to each other.

We’ve called four different states home, lived together at five different addresses, owned two dogs and begun raising two children. With all that under our belts already, you’d figure we’re a sure thing for one of those golden-anniversary celebrations someday.

You might think so. But you’d be wrong. In the same week that we celebrated our anniversary of being together, Amy made a swift and decisive choice. She’d had enough. My wife has left me – for an iPhone.

She waited impatiently for February to arrive, when Verizon finally began carrying the smartphone of her choice. When the e-mail arrived in her inbox announcing that orders could be taken, she pounced on it like a tiger, and in a few days’ time she held a sleek, black computer in her hands. Amy began making phone calls with it, texting her friends, taking photos, surfing the Internet and downloading applications. She sat up in bed each night this week, transferring her contacts and figuring out how to use this expensive and tantalizing device.

I was in the house during much of this time, but I wasn’t noticed. The card I had bought for her lay on her night table, and the white daisies (her favorite) that I’d bought stood all alone in a vase. But Amy didn’t see these things. She was busy getting the Weather Channel app on her phone, and choosing separate rings for her calls and texts.

In school, my seniors are currently reading Frankenstein, and we’re talking about the ways in which human creations can become “monsters” that end up hurting us in ways we never anticipated. During this past month, we’ve seen computers used to propel revolutions for democracy in the Middle East. We’ve also seen a computer beat the best human contestants on Jeopardy! And we’ve seen computers used to keep baseball fans updated every hour on the St. Louis Cardinals’ contract talks with Albert Pujols. In class, we’ve talked about the ways in which computers and smartphones have been used not only to help, but also to stifle society, creating problems such as texting while driving, cyber-bullying and a dearth of face-to-face communication. At home, I’ve begun reading M.T. Anderson’s gripping novel Feed, a futuristic tale in which computers are inserted inside the heads of human beings. Our technological revolution knows no bounds, and so it’s worth wondering just how Mary Shelley’s novel of nearly 200 years ago intersects with Anderson’s modern-day, cautionary tale.

In my pocket, I carry a simple flip phone, and it allows me to call people when I need to reach them. I’ve started texting a bit, so I wouldn’t mind a little pull-out keyboard. But that’s all. If I need to write someone an e-mail, it can wait until I get home or arrive at work. I think the computer’s got me hooked more than enough as it is.

But as for Amy, she has chosen to embrace the monster. Her phone/camera/radio/video-game player is in a nice yellow case, and she’s showing it to anyone who asks. Her doctor’s visit the other day was extended by several minutes as her doctor and nurse asked her to show them the phone and its features. She has given our girls a chance to play some games on it, and she’s ready to get some music on her new toy this weekend.

She and I remain in the same home, and there are times when she says a brief hello. But for now, my Sharona has found herself a new beau. I asked her if she’d given it a name yet, and she said no. I guess they’re still getting to know each other.

I’ll keep the hope alive, and wait for a quick glance up from the Pac Man app or the photo library. I even used my own technology to make her a little playlist for our anniversary. Instead of a 1989 mix tape with Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes” on it, this was a 2011 MP3 file anchored by Mars’s “Just the Way You Are.” But amidst the sweet love songs, I snuck in a subtle warning. It was another Mars song, the pop hit “Grenade.” In the tune, Mars sings vividly about all the things he’d do for his love – from catching the aforementioned grenade to taking a bullet to jumping in front of a train. The catch, however, is that the narrator’s lover “won’t do the same.”

Bruno doesn’t tell us exactly why his lover won’t return his passion. But after this week, I think I know the answer: She had Verizon, too. And during this winter of Bruno’s discontent, his girl also found a 3G, 16-gigabyte other man. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been with her for 22 days or 22 years – that iPhone is luring her away with ease.

You can buy her daisies, sure. But in a moment’s time, she can call up a crisp photo of a daisy bouquet and use it as her phone’s wallpaper. Here in the confines of Appledom, the petals never die and fall all over your table; they’re always pristine. And she can play Debbie Gibson songs whenever she wants. If she’s bored enough, she might even call up a photo of you. Until, of course, another text arrives.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Alps, Applebee's & Andy

According to Major League Baseball’s schedule, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in just nine days.

No way. This is impossible to envision. Young men in short-sleeve shirts, fielding grounders? Sorry, bud – that’s beyond my ken. Not in this winter of 2011, when everyone from Maine to Mexico is feeling the wrath of Mother Nature. Video from Spring Training seems about as plausible as live footage from Oz.

In much of America and Europe, the onslaught of snow and ice this winter has been as relentless and frightening as the slew of 90-degree days were this past summer. Scientists tell us that climate change brings with it extremes, and so here we are, with several feet of snow blanketing New England and several feet of rain falling in Australia.

Here in Central Jersey, there’s usually no snowstorm that can stand in the way of a good day’s shopping. But even in the malls, you see the haggard looks and hear the groans of frustration. Outside, the snow-plowed parking lots leave mountains of the white stuff. It’s like the Alps, but with Applebee’s.

In the midst of an all-out ice storm Wednesday morning, Punxsutawney Phil had the effrontery to forecast an early spring for us all as he waddled out of his little hole in Pennsylvania. Thanks for the pick-me-up, little guy, but you don’t get the pleasure of my attention this year. You can’t waddle out of a cozy little hibernation hole and tell me I won’t be shoveling for long, while you and your little groundhog friends kick back and cuddle where the snow don’t fall.

We try to follow incredibly important news stories from Egypt, Tunisia and Washington, yet find ourselves constantly clicking over to The Weather Channel, where we find Jim Cantore howling with shock over the sound of thunder in the midst of a Chicago blizzard. Revolutions in the Middle East are world-changers, but it can be hard to focus on that when I’ve got a constant “Winter Storm Warning” box at the top of my page. And when I see a story in The New York Times explaining that this is the second consecutive mild winter up at the Arctic Circle, I am rendered speechless and feel the urge to re-watch An Inconvenient Truth.

Pleasant diversions come at us throughout February – Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day Weekend, the Grammys, the Oscars. We grab hold of these and search for a way to forget about the shovels and rock salt. We rent a movie, stir up some hot chocolate, hop on the treadmill. But then we look out the window again, and the frosted flakes are falling once more.

So yes, February 14th is the first day that teams require pitchers and catchers to report to Florida and Arizona for their first Spring Training workouts. Any ballplayer with fire in his belly has been getting his body ready for several weeks now, but next week the athletes start gathering in the same facility with their old and new teammates. Over in Tampa, the Yankees will start their “spring” without Andy Pettitte, the lefty legend who chose to retire Friday rather than leave his family for another long season. After 240 wins, it’s been a terrific career for Andy. He leaves his team with class and dignity.

I can recall a summer’s day, 13 years ago, when I sat with my brother in the old Yankee Stadium and watched Pettitte strand Florida Marlins baserunners all over the basepaths en route to another crafty victory. It was vintage Pettitte – double-play grounders, clutch strikeouts, fist pumps. As I sat in my shorts and T-shirt and cheered Andy on, all seemed right with the world.

Now, as Andy Pettitte retires, he heads back home to Texas – typically a warm state year-round, yet one that has experienced bitter cold and severe storms this winter. As the Super Bowl is played in Cowboys Stadium tomorrow, we’ll find folks bundling up for the game just a few hundred miles north of Mexico. We’ll shake our heads in disbelief.

Up here in Jersey, we’ll remember Andy Pettitte fondly, and we’ll tune into the big game tomorrow as well. But as much as I’d like to read a reflection on the Yankee pitcher’s career or watch a preview of the Super Bowl, I have a sinking feeling that I’ll be checking in with Jim Cantore and those ceaseless storm warnings. Andy Pettitte always knew how to gut it out through those tough spots; those of us living through this bewildering winter know deep down that we must do the same.