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(Aug. 10, 2005)

          I dared to set foot in an “Apple Store” the other day.
          I have obviously outlived my usefulness as a human being.
          It was, oh, let’s see. . .rather like a kindergarten playground, except the children had fully matured glands and teeming hormones, and the playthings were computers and money. Bare navels everywhere, tattoos, half-exposed breasts, unwashed scruffy male heads, two-day beards, manic gum-chewing jaws beneath panicked-horse eyeballs, T-shirts that said things like “Smut Peddler” and “What part of ‘F--- You’ do you not understand?”
          Brave new world.
          All the adult children were speaking loudly and at once, all with gimmegimme in their voices. “Salespeople” were undistinguishable from buyers. Blue hair, strange eyeglasses, all the hallmarks of corporate-endorsed “individuality” that make one person indistinguishable from another.
          Environment was minimalist---white walls and a few tiny white machines, a shrewd marketing conceit that says product-is-everything. In the back was a serious fellow with a headset mike and a huge video screen, giving serious instructions about how to control the various G-4's and 4-H's and U-2's. Or how to let them control you, I suppose.

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           It was all like something Arthur C. Clarke might have dreamed up. I mean, here was an emporium where, for a few hundred bucks, you could purchase a machine the size of a bedpan that is smarter than you are. That can perform an almost infinite number of strange and magical calculations in almost any imaginable discipline, if you push the right buttons.
          And the shoppers were like something H.G. Wells might have dreamed up---or rather, that he did dream up, in “The Time Machine.” Yes, here were the Eloi---the sociopathic, indolent, profoundly free and frighteningly wealthy USA youth of the future---er, today.
          Instead of blithely lining up like cattle to be eaten by the mutant beastial Morlocks, though, these Eloi were blithely lining up like cattle to be eaten by the mutant beastial corporation.
          Yes, I hear you. Grumpy old bastard. Or better still, that most favored of words used (largely by women) to describe older men who express any disapproval of anything for any reason: “cranky.”
          You bet! Waaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I don’t want my bottle---I want my typewriter! My mechanical one, at that.
          Might as well wish for young and supple glands again.
          I had gone to the Apple Store in order to purchase a lapdog, or notetop, or whatever they are called, with which to finish writing my obsolete and irrelevant novel. I can no longer write at home for long stretches. It causes me to gain weight, despite all the power-walking I do between office area and refrigerator. Using an Apple G-4 for writing purposes, of course, is like buying the space shuttle to drive to the market, but what choice did I have, if I wanted to set up and work in cool coffee houses, with all the cool dudes and dudesses?
          I have this silly and typically neurotic writerly idea, see, that if I work in a populated environment, I will be able to feed off the manic urban hustle-and-bustle around me to fuel my industriousness. And that the theatrical, romantic and intense pose I strike as I type will make my writing more theatrical, romantic and intense. Hell, it worked for me for years in manic, bustling, romantic, theatrical newsrooms. Besides, I think I’ve been too long not i’ the sun, to paraphrase the Bard. I have developed a telecommuting tan.
         So I stood there, surveying the white-walled store, where a dozen or so white computers were being smeared with all manner of staph and strep and viruses by greasy little consumer fingers eagerly trying them out.
I waited my turn, then applied my big technological test to determine the viability of these machines---the standard by which I, recipient of a “D” in high school algebra, would expertly assess these microchip marvels, these veritable brain prostheses. . .
          Is it comfortable to type on?
          I am very finicky about the feel of a keyboard. I insist, for instance, that my home computer keys actually depress and go clat-a-clat-a-clat. Otherwise, I get really depressed and make noises much louder than clat-a-clat-a-clat. The kinds of keys that barely move or sound when you push them confound the hell out of finger muscles developed over 38 years of hunting and pecking.
          And there I was, trying to type on the Apple G-4 bedpan. That is, I would have if I could have figured out how to get a blank page on the screen. Eventually, sometime before my beard turned completely white, a young female with mauve hair, blue glasses, and a nose diamond asked if I needed help. Before I could respond, a young male customer blurted out a question, and she proceeded to answer him at great length instead.
          I always forget to blurt. I spend weeks of my life waiting politely.
          At last Mauve Hair returned to me, poker-faced. I asked how to activate a writing program. She showed me an Apple thingy insidiously called “Pages,” as well as Microsoft Word. Ah, I was familiar with Word, I said, to which she added, “well, if you buy the machine, it doesn’t come with it.”
          Not to worry! It does come with a program that allows one to create living pigs entirely from water and baking soda. I’m sure.
          In time, I got a blank “Pages” screen, somehow, and began typing various Beatles lyrics, as is my wont: “crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess boy you’ve been a naughty girl you let your knickers down.” (I have a ridiculous lefotover teenaged notion that this might outrage someone.) Immediately, strange boxes began appearing--- long, skinny rectangles that jiggled around as I added sentences. I could do nothing to make them vanish. Obviously, to use “Pages,” I would have to go to school for years, get tattoos, and walk around with a bare midriff saying, “cool" into a cell phone.
          Well, I typed anyhow. It was one of those teency-touch keyboards, of course, so I started a mantra in my head: “you’ll get used to it, you’ll get used to it, you’ll. . .” Then I discovered that the quotation mark key and the delete key were one stop over from where they usually are on keyboards(!), and this, well, gee, how can I put it? It made me. . .cranky. I turned to my poor, poor female superior, who puts up with more profanity from me than from a drunken priest.
          “Why the ---- are the ----ing keys in the wrong ----ing place! Jesus ---ing Christ!”
          I gave up, perusing other such Clarke-ian devices designed for everything imaginable except writing. For a moment, I found myself attracted by one that none of the adult children seemed to be looking at, until I was elbowed aside by a clerk---or “sales consultant specialist first class,” or whatever they are called---who was using it to ring up orders.
          That's correct, the store was laid out so playfully, so calculatedly informally, that you couldn’t tell the checkstand from the product.
          I wanted to scream, and wantonly destroy all the machines in the room. I wanted to have all the little adult Apple children line up and stand in an orderly fashion, speaking only when spoken to, and beginning each sentence with “Mr. Rense, how nice it is to see you today.”
          And I really wanted to finish my goddamn book. I have been ready for months now to finish my goddamn book. I wish to accomplish this in hip cool cafes, as I said, or parks, or massage parlors. Anywhere but home.
           Aw hell, just throw me to the Morlocks.

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