Monday, October 1, 2012

What’s a Newspaper?

Someday, I’ll be sitting in a home somewhere telling anyone who’ll listen—probably the maintenance guy adjusting my hover chair— how much I miss the smell and feel of a real newspaper. 

The maintenance guy will look at me like I have two heads—which by then might not be out of the ordinary—and ask, “What’s a newspaper?”

And I’ll answer, waxing poetic, because I’m old and have the time…

            “You know, a newspaper…black ink rubbing off on your fingers, smearing all over your nose…the scent of cheap pulp mixing with the aroma of your morning coffee…a newspaper.”

“Sounds messy,” Maintenance Guy responds.  He’s reattaching the tracking transponder to my hover chair so the house staff will always know where I am…you know, in case I wander off again…like the time I decided to organize a trip to the casino next door, without authorization.

           “Messy…messy?  I guess, if you call getting all the latest news right there at your fingertips messy…then I guess it was…messy.  But it was as natural as brushing your teeth in the morning…I suppose you’d call that messy too?”

A smile lights across Maintenance Guy’s face; a look of recognition as if he’d just figured out the answer to last night’s Final Jeopardy—2054. (Good game shows never die).

“I know about brushing teeth…we studied that in Med-School. Even saw some old toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes in a museum once.

“In a museum, huh?”

“Uh, huh…I have the Virtual Museum Maker 7.6 upgrade app, which is way better than—”

“Ever go to the real thing?”

Maintenance Guy points a laser threader through a minuscule sprocket hole and spins it around in his hand.

“Once…in Law School.  But I didn’t like it as much. They don’t let you pick up the stuff and mess with it, or walk into the painting, like the Museum Maker does. That van Gogh painting with all those stars is freaky when you get in there, man.”

Maintenance guy suddenly stares off into the distance; the personal communicator implanted directly onto some portion of his brain at birth is in receiving mode. The blinking green light in his right eye is a dead giveaway.

            “Sorry…the latest traffic and weather just came in….”

‘Going someplace?”

“I wish…I just like to keep informed…up to date with what’s going on.

“So what’s going on?” I ask.

“Nothing much…just a backup on the cross-town skyway…again.”

“What’s the last thing you read?” I ask, mostly because I’m nosey. Another perk of being old.

Maintenance Guy flips some sort of gizmo over in his hand and slaps it into place.

“The manual on how to fix this old hover chair of yours. Just downloaded it on the way in, actually.

“On the way in to work?” I ask.

“No, through the door.”


“Ever read a novel…you know, one of the classics?” I ask, again, out of curiosity.

“Oh sure…I’ve downloaded the whole Stephen King collection.”

“How about something like Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’…ever actually read that…you know, from a real book?

Maintenance Guy just smiles, “Like I could afford a real book…like I could even afford the admission to walk into a real library club… a little above my pay level, dude.”

“Mine too”, I sigh.   “Over the pay level of 99.999% of us I’m afraid.”

“It’s not like those books grow on trees or anything,” Maintenance Guy says.

“Nope…not any more.”

Maintenance Guy’s right eye begins to blink green again.

“More traffic?” I ask.

“No I just downloaded Moby Dick.  Pretty cool, actually. I liked how Melville employed stylized language, symbolism, and metaphor to explore so many complex themes. The concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God.  Really well done.”

My eyes widened. “You got all that in just a couple of seconds?”

Of course....I also enjoyed the anthropomorphic literary device he employed throughout.  Moby Dick is ruthless in attacking the sailors who attempt to hunt and kill him, but it’s really Ahab who invests Moby Dick's natural instincts with malignant and evil intent. In fact, it is not the whale but the crippled Ahab who alone possesses these characteristic…a lot like my boss, who’s gonna be on my case if I don’t get on to my next work order. Mrs. Patterson’s virtual food metabolizer is on the fritz.  She say’s everything taste like canned beans to her.”

“Hmmmmph,” I say. “I guess that’s appropriate since Mrs. Patterson looks like a canned bean.”

Maintenance Guy chuckles. “You said that…not me.”

He pushes the start button on the hover chair and it immediately bobs up and off the floor.

“There, you go Mr. M, you’re all set to go….”

“But you never really read it, did you?” I say.

“How’s that?”  Maintenance Guy looks bewildered.  “Sure I did, I just told you what it was all about.”

“But you never felt the pages slip between your fingers…smelled the bookshelf dust as you turned the yellowed page, or even felt the heft of it on your lap as you dozed off in front of a fire on a window rattling, winter night.”

Maintenance Guy again looks at me as if I have two heads.

“What’s that got to do with reading?”

A wistful smile spreads across my face. “Nothing, I suppose…anymore.”

“Maybe in the next upgrade,” Maintenance Guy offers.


And with that, I pat the young man on the back, plop down onto my hover chair and order it to take me to the dining room.

It’s synti BLT and fries day….

I never like to be late for synti BLT and fries day.


  1. Truly awesome! You've given us the opportunity to view the future through a funhouse mirror. Unique is what you are. And now you make me want to read Moby Dick again. Maybe. Probably not. Nope.

  2. Well my mom’s been telling me since I was three I was one of a kind, but I never got the sense it was complimentary. Thanks, Joan.

    I would pass on the Melville, myself.


Retort to the Retort -

“Is there anybody alive out there…”