As thick as a Brick

July 3, 2012

In my family’s archives, there is a short video clip that an enterprising junior member has also posted to their Facebook page. There is no sound but the images clearly show my then-teenage daughter using a cellphone while she leans against my Buick Regal.

The video dates from the mid-’90s. I know this for a fact because the cellphone is bigger than my daughter’s head. In fact, it’s almost bigger than the Buick.

Those phones were called Bricks and you need no imagination whatsoever to understand why. They were massive and they were bulky and you could lose an eye to the fixed antenna and they came in any colour you desired just as long as that colour was grey.

But there were advantages to this i-sore, including the fact you could never misplace them because they were the size of a small dog and when was the last time your dog fell between the couch cushions. Plus you never had to worry about pocket-calling Uruguay because, let’s face it, no way was that monster going to fit in your pocket. They were also simplicity itself when it came to use. On, dial, off. No texting, no internet, no camera. Mainly because those gremlins had yet to be invented.

I miss my Brick and never more so than right now when, if I’ve interpreted the Telecom propaganda correctly, my wee Nokia is about to become obsolete. Something about format change or network change or something or other I have no hope of understanding because I’m not 12 years old.

I only bought the phone in the first place in case of an emergency. Except I already know, should I find myself dangling upside down from the seatbelt in an overturned car in a deep ditch, that will be the precise moment the battery will die.

“Just text me,” people tell me. And my first thought is not “good as gold” but, rather, “I have no idea how to do that” and then “I have no idea where my teeny, tiny phone is”.

I don’t want a new phone. I’ve had the Nokia for five years and have yet to figure out how it works, so why would I want a new one with upgraded features. At one time, such gadgets came with manuals which, being a man, I quickly shoved into a drawer and forgot about. Now those manuals are online, making them easier to ignore but adding an extra layer of technology should I actually have a question along the lines of “How do I turn this darn thing on?”.

Face it, this dog is too old for new tricks. I can barely function in this new hi-tech world of ours. I’ve seen youngsters text while riding a bike; a friend reports he once saw someone with a cellphone in each hand, texting on both of them. I used to think being able to chew gum and walk at the same time was an admirable skill. No more.

So how do these kids do it? How do they know to operate all these contrary contraptions? Do they have more time to figure them out because their lives aren’t taken up with such trivial pursuits as, say, working for a living or paying bills or keeping pirates from selling off the country’s assets? Is there something in the beef hormones that make them more tech-savvy? If I eat more burgers will that make me smarter or just fatter?

My guess is they’re born with the knowledge. I imagine little i-babies, tucked up in the womb, clutching a notebook or an i-Pad or a mobile phone. That’s not kicking, that’s an embryo using a Nintendo Wii.

I imagine an expectant mother receiving a text one evening after dinner and turning to her husband, her eyes wide in disbelief.

“It’s from the baby,” she’ll say, holding up her cellphone to show her partner.

“What’s he want now?”

“He says if I don’t stop eating spicy food, he’s going to pop out in middle of the game and teach us both a lesson.”

That scenario would never have happened in the ’90s, of course. Because there isn’t room inside the uterus for both a baby and a Brick.

A version of this blog posting appeared in the July 4, 2012 Napier (New Zealand) Courier.

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I’m a baby boomer and proud of it. Although, truth be told, I actually liked it much better when it was spelled Baby Boomer, before newspaper style gurus and dictionary dorks decided uppercase letters looked too pretentious and we all needed to come down a notch. Or at least a pica.

Today, however, I discovered I’m also a member of Generation Awesome. In fact, as it turns out, I’m the only member.

This new designation came about after I read a story in the Jan. 7 New Zealand Herald (Diss Generation Z? Epic fail, you rental). The story, from the AAP news agency, listed the top 25 “Teenglish” buzzwords for 2009, according to a survey of the worthless little shits valued members of society who make up the so-called Z dread.

At the top of the list? The headline acted as a bit of a spoiler but, yes, it is “diss.”

What does this have to do with a raisin rancher like myself? Well, back in the day, when I was still the Sports dude at the Langley Times, I once confused Lance Peverley, the newspaper’s editor, by using “diss” as a verb in a photo cutline.

Come to think of it, Lance was easily confused by all things sports, but that’s not the point. The thing is, this would have been about, oh, the early ’90s, when the members of Generation Z were still little more than random sperm. A time when the only thing between my future peace and quiet and the thumping bass of a car stereo was a $1 condom.

So, just for the record: I was using “diss” when cellphones were bricks and to use one was to be mistaken for someone calling in an airstrike.

So, yeah, that’s me — Generation of the Totally Awesome.

According to the newspaper, the list also includes “rentals,” meaning parents, which, I assume, is derived from “parental units,” a term belonging to another generation’s wiseasses.

The only other word on the list that I’ve actually used is “meh,” as in “expression of indifference.” Because that pretty much sums up how I feel about Generation Z in general. Come to think of it, I never held out much hope for Generations X or Y either. So far they have yet to prove me wrong.

Most of the other buzzwords are texting shortcuts of the “idk = I don’t know” ilk. I see a lot of those shortcuts used on Facebook — omg, lol, lmao, brb, etc. The whole letters = words thing displays the same amount of creativity and imagination as the book-title jokes I fell off my dinosaur laughing at when I was kid. Rusty Bedsprings by I.P. Nightly is just one classic example that never gets old.

It’s just nice to know I’m so cool and hip as to actually be ahead of the curve for once. It’s gotten to the point where I’m now making up my own texting/Internet language. For instance, when something cracks me up, I simply type “ifodfail.” It stands for “I Fall On De Floor And I Laughing,” which is, I believe, a line from a Simon and Garfunkel song.

I’m pretty sure I’m the only one using that abbreviation, which, you’d have to agree, is the perfect summation of my level of genius. And hipness. Oh, hell, just call me groovy and be done with it.

Although I can’t claim credit for it, my generation has longed used a shortcut that is suitable for just about any occasion, whether it be an angry retort, signing off on a relationship, or simply as a means to the end of a conversation.

It goes something like this: FU.

Compared to that one, you’d have to agree that Generation Z’s buzzwords are kinda, well, meh.

Through some wizardry that I, and everyone else here on Planet Man, cannot possibly comprehend, my computer defaults to msn.nz once I sign out of my Hotmail account. This is a news site for New Zealand and something I only really glance at on my way to check for Facebook messages.

But that glance did reveal msn.nz has a feature where its readers are encouraged to vote Yes or No in answer to a daily question. Usually these queries are fairly innocuous: “Are you sleeping in a cardboard box yet, you unemployed bum?” Or, “Is Auckland the best ever city in the country or what?”

That sort of fluff. But this weekend, the question was, “Have you ever abused a dangerous driver?”

Now, that one did catch my attention.

It also summoned this memory:

We’re in Viking Woman’s car. She’s driving because, well, it’s her car. We’re not yet married and so are (supposedly) on our best behaviour, the idea being to impress the other person before releasing the beast once the wedding vows have been uttered and the wills notarized.

“That knob in the pickup truck behind me is tailgating,” Viking Woman says at one point.

“Just keep driving the speed limit and, if he’s in that much of a hurry, he’ll pass us,” I say.

“I am driving the speed limit,” she says through gritted teeth. “And he’s still right on my bumper. I’m starting to get pissed off.”

“He’s just being a jerk,” I say. “We’ll be OK as long as you don’t do anything stupid.”

“Bugger this!” Viking Woman says, turning sharply into a driveway, which just happens to belong to the local cinema.

And, of course, Mr. Pickup Truck turns in as well. Except, where we swing wide to the right, he drives straight ahead and stops in front of the theatre to read the marquee.

“OK,” I say, ” he’s gone. Now we can . . . ”

Viking Woman slams on the brakes, bolts from the car and trots up to the fellow’s window. She raps sharply on the glass and, when he lowers the window, says something that causes the man to recoil.

And then she’s back in the car and looking at me staring at her.

“What?”

“Jesus, lady, what did you say to him?”

“I simply stated,” she says, “that it was obvious from the way he was driving that he has a small penis.”

I know what you’re thinking:

“Alright! High five! Way to go! And that’s why they call her Viking Woman, sucka!”

This is what I was thinking:

“He’s going to ignore Viking Woman, the person who actually insulted him, and instead come around to my side of the car, rip the door off, grab me by the end of my mullet and hit me so hard my grandchildren will bleed.”

Fortunately for the well-being of future Irelands, the doofus simply sat in his truck, stunned by the verbal onslaught, and then drove off. Very slowly.

I’m guessing he was several blocks away before he thought of a good comeback. By that time, my heartbeat had nearly returned to normal and my defensive posture — frozen in place, eyes bulging — had relaxed enough for me to check my shorts.

Several years have passed now but Viking Woman still does the bulk of the driving. For the most part, I let her go out alone. I think I’ll live longer that way.

I really should have known better. After all, I’m not exactly a rookie when it comes to the game of Life. I’ve lived on Planet Man for a handful of decades now. I’ve got a lot of miles under my belt and, sad to say, more than a few over my belt as well.

I know all about expectations and disappointments. How the things you look forward to so hard it hurts often fall this side of spectacular: the onset of puberty, graduating from high school, finally moving out of the family home, working for a living, sex, growing your hair, winning large in Vegas, sex, your first lap dance, er, I mean stag party (Hi, honey! Love you!).

So much breathless anticipation. So much merciless reality.

All those years. All those lessons learned. All those hopes burned and dreams dashed and promises broken. All those lies believed and deceptions accepted.

And yet, there I was, cursor hovering over the Confirm tab. I was in my Facebook account. I was looking at Lisa Shaver’s Friend Request. And I was holding my breath, sad fool that I am.

You will recall Lisa from an earlier blog. You will also recall my confusion at a youthful, comely lass requesting to be my friend. A youthful, comely lass whom I have never heard of, nor met nor, it appears, share any friends with.

I hesitated for months to allow Lisa to run rampant through my Facebook site — that whole Stranger Danger thing, you understand — and then finally thought, oh what the heck, if someone really wants to run rampant over some aspect of my life, it might as well be a youthful, comely lass.

So I clicked Confirm and sat back to wait for our first communication. Our first communion. Our first contact.

I knew she’d write me because I’d also sent her a heartfelt message, something along the lines of, “Hey, I’ve already blogged you, we might as well be friends now.”

Soon after, I noticed the announcement: “Lisa is now friends with John Wesley Ireland.” Good start. Here we go.

Any day now she will write to me. How about now? OK, now?

That was a week ago. Something — call it, oh I don’t know, a gut feeling — tells me this isn’t working out the way I’d planned. That I’ve once again fallen between the cracks of Life’s floorboards and now reside with the crumbs and the dust and that quarter you dropped and never could find after it rolled away into the darkness.

Lisa has 270 friends and I’m stuck on Page 3, right between someone named Slash Hudson and some guy named Peter Jazi.

There was supposed to be a party on Planet Man, a celebration of a new friend made, a new connection established, of future Notes exchanged, laughter and tears and photos to be shared. That’s how it works with Facebook, right?

But the champagne has gone flat, the balloons have all sagged, the mice have nibbled on the sandwiches.

There is no happiness on Planet Man. Apparently, Lisa Shaver no longer lives here.

Who is Lisa Shaver?

September 4, 2008

Lisa Shaver wants to be my friend. Not in person — I should be so lucky — but via Facebook.

I don’t know Lisa. We have no friends in common. I can see her photo: young, attractive. Two boxes ticked. (Hey, I’m a man. God decreed that we are to perpetuate the human race. It’s in the Bible.)

She’s in a relationship, so I’m guessing marriage is not her reason for making contact.

She’s Catholic, so my parents will like her.

She has 235 friends, so others have obviously accepted her invite and revealed their details like a drunk teenager on grad night.

But why has she contacted me? The only connection I can draw from her profile is she lives in Calgary and I worked for the Calgary Herald for eight months, up to January of this year.

The Facebook rules state I can’t even send her a basic question — “Uh, hello?” — without giving her one month’s free access to run amok amidst my list of friends and basic information.

What if she’s a mole? A spy? An avatar? A fake? Some kind of government agent posing as a pretty blonde in order to ferret out my stats and those of my mates? Hey, pervs pose as other people all the time on the Internet.

It’s not as if “Lisa” is asking to meet me at the bus station or anything, but unsolicited friend requests set the hairs on the back of my neck tingling.

Isn’t Facebook supposed to be fun? Then why am I feeling so paranoid?

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course, Lisa could be looking for another John Ireland entirely, and not the silly git who writes this blog and only wishes young, attractive women actually existed in his world. Sadness, nothing but sadness.)

***

I’m frowning at the wee man who sits on G’s shoulder.

G is my new best mate, the one who kept urging me to start this blog, for crying outloud, while I sat on my hands for three weeks after doing little more than naming the site.

I told G I wasn’t sure if I could think of anything the entire World Wide Web would find remotely interesting. She said to imagine a wee man, sitting on your shoulder, reading your words and whispering this into your ear: “So what?”

The idea being that the wee man acts as a sort of gatekeeper/editor/censor to ensure you’re not adding to the drivel already clogging the Internet Universe like a plugged toilet.

After reading one of my blogs, G told me her wee man only twitched a couple of times. Not bad, but not excellent either. So, while our respective wee men give each other the hairy eyeball, I will make an effort to produce only pearls of wisdom every time I put fingers to keyboard. (EDITOR’S NOTE: He means AFTER he finishes this post.)

G also raised an eyebrow over the un-PC name of my blog, Kiwis being just as prissy-whipped as Canadians, apparently.

So I’m guessing it’s a good thing I didn’t go with my first choice.

Lickmymoko might have caused her wee man to clutch his chest and pretty much fall down dead.

Mates don’t do that to mates.