The world has gotten too complicated, and when I say the world of course I mean my washing machine. When I was a kid my mother had a wringer-style washing machine with an On/Off button. She sorted clothes into whites and colored–just like the restaurants and bathrooms did in the South at the time. I wasn’t in favor of sorting people, but it worked out well for the laundry. It kept me from having to wear pink underwear if a red shirt was washed with them. It was a simple system, but it worked—okay, Mom would occasionally get her hand caught in the wringer, but she never lost a finger. Our clothes dryer was a clothesline with no buttons. The washing machine we currently have has seven buttons with five selections on each button plus a dial with five more selections that range from PERMANENT PRESS to FRILLY UNDERWEAR THAT NOBODY WEIGHING OVER A HUNDRED POUNDS WOULD EVER WEAR.
I wondered how many combinations were possible on a washing machine with that many buttons. After less than ten minutes with a pencil and paper I discovered that I stink at math, but I’m sure the number of combinations has to be in the bazillions. And my wife sorts clothes into that many piles when she does the laundry. She does whites, colors, permanent press, delicates, Catholic, Protestant, low-fat, sugar free and smoking and non-smoking. The clothes dryer has just as many buttons as the washing machine and a dial, and each load has to be dried in a different way. I think we were better off with just the On/Off switch.
The first copier I ever used had an On/Off button and a Start button. You put the original document on top of a glass plate, closed the lid and pushed START. The machine whirred and a bright light, like some alien sun, went back and forth under the lid. Pretty soon it spit out an exact copy–although only in black and white–and I was truly amazed. The last copier I used had twelve buttons not counting the Start or On/Off buttons. Each button brought up a menu with at least five choices and each choice had five more choices. Now we’re talking a gazillion or so combinations. I once tried to make a two-sided copy of a form. I studied all the menus, pushed the buttons I thought I needed and after about a half hour, I hit START. I know something happened because the machine whirred and the little sun went back and forth. I might have put a copy in the machine’s memory or faxed a copy somewhere or launched a missile strike on Lichtenstein. What I didn’t do was make a two-sided copy. Nothing came out.
I deal with technology because I have to, but I don’t like it. My wife likes it and can’t deal with it. Last week I threw away a VCR we’d had for fifteen years. In all that time my wife never learned to use it, and I’m not talking the complicated stuff like setting the time. Every time she wanted to record a program I would have to help her.
My wife looking at the remote as if it was a piece of modern art: How do I record on this thing?
ME: Push the RECORD button.
My wife: Which one is that?
Me: The one that says record.
Recently we got satellite TV. The remote has forty-seven buttons! My wife is constantly yelling at me from the other room that the TV won’t work. I go in and what is on the TV screen is something Charlie Sheen would see when he’s smoking the really good stuff.
Me: What did you do?
My wife: I just turned it on.
Me: It only takes one button to turn it on.
My wife: I only pushed one button…at first.
I need a TV remote with an On/Off switch and a wringer. Now that would be progress.
Just an update, I was half finished with the novel I was working on, and I started over. I had been writing it in first-person, and it just wasn’t working. First-person works well for short things like this blog, but I have trouble staying with the voice over the long haul. I’ll let you know how it comes out. By the way, has anybody heard from Lichtenstein lately?
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