Tuesday, May 29, 2007

danger will robinson

brace yourselves. my family recently obtained, through means we need not address, a roomba, and my mother is already referring to it by gender-specific pronouns.

do you know what a roomba is? those of you who are familiar with the syrius cybernetics corporation no doubt have a clue. like the high-functioning and mildly depressed android of lore, the roomba (which is shaped kind of like a sting-ray) is supposed to be a cute, perky little machine that performs menial chores you don't want to do with a skip in its step and a song its 8-bit processor. from what i understand, the roomba's specific function is to vaccuum and polish your floors.

and the idea is that you just put it on the floor and it wanders around your house, cheerfully scanning for dirt (it has a little blue light that flashes when it's onto something), tidying up, until its batteries wear out and it has to go charge itself, at which point it shimmies merrily back to its charger. it does not purr 'a pleasure to be of service' or anything, but it does sing a little chipper song, kind of like your old nintendo did when it booted up. (when the batteries die, it plays another song, which i think is one of mozart's sadder symphonies.)

of course, this means that unlike your everyday vaccuum cleaner, the roomba is a semi-autonomous force to be reckoned with. it certainly seems to have a stranglehold on my family. let's go to the videotape:

yonina (standing on two stacked chairs behind the closed dining room door and peering through the door's little window): INCOMING!

mom: gah! perel, it's coming right at you! get out of the way!

me (dodging hastily in the other direction): IT'S FOLLOWING ME!

yonina: OH NO! IT'S A MONSTER!

mom: perel! quick! go find some d cells so we can set up the 'no-pass' thingies!

me (trying to mislead the roomba by climbing onto the counter): no-pass?! how's that going to help me?

yonina: is it safe to come down yet?

mom: i think it's still trying to get at perel...run yonina! run quick! go get the d cells!

me (shouting): abba, we need d-cells! the roomba's out of control!

mom: oh no! it's coming at me! aiiee!

yonina: errrrrr i think i'm just going to stay right here on the dining room table.

(i run down the stairs and bring up some d-cells. my father follows me up)

me: here mom! hurry! before it finds the pantry!

abba (looking at all of us briefly): you're all morons.

yonina: is it safe to come down yet?

(the roomba sings a song)

mom: perel, get out of the way! it's docking!

shua: it's like its own little starship.

mom (brightly): hey look! she cleaned up the pringles!

me: she?

mom (defensive): uh...yes. she.

the roomba: your plastic pal that's fun to beeee wiiiith!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

we have lift-off

as most of you know, i am not the warmest of stern students. by this i mean that i have extinguished many 3 am pillowfights and 2 am dance-a-thons; that i secretly rejoice when the roommates are away for shabbos (even the ones i like!); that when people come running at me with open arms (believe it or not, it sometimes happens), my first instinct is to panic. unless they are immediate family. not that i ever have to worry about that.

basically, though, i am the wicked witch of the west. flying monkeys sold separately. my idea of a really good time is finding creative ways to destroy other people's deserts.

nevertheless, when i was ambushed by a group of girls that i liked late last night, i did not duck.

i was dragging my suitcase through the front doors, after a prolonged and guilty negotiation with my aunt. 'you never stay over till sunday,' she argued. 'what's so important that you have to rush back to school all the time?' the truth is that i never stay anywhere saturday night; it's a good worknight for me, because i know none of my roomates will be around, and i can't exercise at other people's houses either, so by saturday night i start getting antsy. that's the truth- but it strikes me as rude, so when people face me with the sunday question, i bluff. 'oh, you know, there's so many books - it's easier to just leave them and go back saturday night.' 'i would, but we have this computer course where you can only do the homework at the lab, and i need to get some work done tonight.' sometimes they have rebuttals and it starts to get ugly. but so far, i've always managed to finagle an out, and i end up on that same bus or subway week after week, cursing my inflexibility, relieved that i dodged another one.

last night i was already scheming and planning as i rolled through the door. '10:30 - perfect,' i thought. 'i can air out my wet laundry, pack up some of my things, make an outline for the china final, do aerobics, and if i'm really good i'll still get to read a little bit before i go to sleep. wonderful. i just have to stay on the--'

'FUDGE!' somebody shouted, and before i knew it, i was surrounded. eager faces, shining eyes, shabbos clothes. they were girls that i didn't know very well; i'd met them this semester in a few scattered classes, hung out with them once or twice more as a happy accident than anything else. i liked them; a few of them worked with me in the writing center, which meant they liked to think about stories and characters and other grisly literary stuff like i do - but i also knew that they were equally earnest about judaism and israel - traits of which i have become wary.

honestly, i think i am a little suspicious of anyone who's outwardly passionate about things these days. it's funny. i recognize that the ideal is for all of us to be enchanted with our religion and to be moved by feelings of pure love for each other and for G-d and for our land, and so on - but I find that when I encounter people who are that energetic in real life, it unsettles me. i grew up in a household of praticalities, not ideology, and my religious experiences come in teaspoons of baking powder and sticks of fleishmanns' margerine. i dance on yom ha'atzmaut and rosh chodesh chagigas, but i do it because i feel like i'm supposed to. rarely am i so moved by joy and excitement for the chag that i just have to dance.

but that is exactly what had posessed these girls.

'it's lag b'omer!' one of them cried. 'we can't just sit and study! how boring is that? we're all going to go to the park, and leah's bringing her violin, and you can bring your guitar, and we'll make it FEEL like lag b'omer!'

i looked from face to face uneasily. i am also haunted by a dumbfounding inability to remember jewish tunes on the guitar. i end up strumming A minor the whole time and hoping no one notices.

'you know you want to come,' one girl pleaded. 'what are you going to do, sit in your room all by yourself memorizing things?'

yes, a part of me answered, with surprising clarity. actually, that is exactly what i was going to do.

'erm....' i said. 'erm....'

'we need your musical energy!' she added.

honey, if you knew what my musical energy sounded like, you would be sprinting hastily in the other direction.

she took my hand and said, 'just come. it's going to be a lot of fun and i know you'll have a good time.'

i started to say 'erm' again, which is my standard stalling mechanism, when instead i said, 'ok, i'm getting my guitar - i'll be down in two seconds!'

she definitely looked surprised, but she could not possibly have been more surprised than i was, going up the elevator. 'you just said yes,' part of me pointed out. 'you committed to going to a kumzitz thirty-six hours before your biggest final. and you deliberately left yourself no time to change your mind.'

'oh, shut up,' the other part of me snapped. 'you're only going to be in school five more days. you're always worried that your antisocial tendencies are alienating everybody you could be friends with. don't just whine. do something about it!'

so i dropped my suitcase, unwedged my guitar from its precarious perch between my bed and every cardboard box i have ever utilized, and followed them down madison avenue.

they were skipping as they walked. sometimes a few of them would start singing randomly - usually israeli songs that i'd never heard before, or to be more accurate, isreali shlock that i'd never heard before, like a jewicized version of 50 cent's 'in da club.' somebody was always walking next to me, even though my guitar case weighs about thirty-five pounds and impeded my speed considerably; somebody was always talking with me, even though i frankly still don't remember all their names. one girl hugged me for no reason at all. and i did not flinch. the conversation, the singing, the random dancing - it was a little weird for me, but i could tell that it wasn't forced at all for the girls around me. they were just doing their thing.

eventually we came to a park. the girls were dismayed because the grass was all fenced in, with a very big sign that read, 'DO NOT SIT HERE.' but eventually we found a circle of concrete around a fountain that was reasonably pretty and not too uncomfortable. the violin player, who is phenomonal (read: lightyears better than me), proceeded to play, skipping and twirling around like the rabbi of my shul in milwaukee does on simchas torah. and i did what i usually do in these circumstances: chiefly, i strummed A minor a lot and shrugged everytime the violinist caught my eye.

but you know what? it wasn't like every other kumzitz i've flailed through. the violinist knew some of the songs they wanted, but for the most part, she was making it up as they sang, and at some point i started figuring out where she was going before she got there. i couldn't skip and twirl like she could, but it was enough just to watch her face as she veered off in all kinds of new directions, and it was enough to watch the other girls, shouting and jumping and chasing the circle around looking for their missing shoes. they were all laughing and all overtired. one girl started doing interpretive dancing. eventually the sound attracted some hip indie couples, dressed in black button-down oxfords, skinny jeans and skinny ties, who sat on a park bench not far from us and smirked ironically at the violinist's every bend and bow. 'sweet,' i could hear them thinking. 'just like the travel agent said!'

they couldn't see what i saw, which was the violinist raising her eyebrows at them and laughing.

it went on for awhile, but it didn't feel so long. i was surprised when one girl said, 'man, i'm getting tired; one more song and we'll go?' after about an hour, and the others bobbed their heads, respecting her comfort. we played one more song- one that i knew well enough to sing to! - and the violinist and i put our instruments away.

but then, as the other girls rose, the violinist turned to me, a twinkle in her eye, and said, 'but fudge, you and i haven't done any dancing!'

she's right, i realized. we haven't.

and the other girls gathered around into a circle again and they all started singing, and the violinist grabbed my hands and we started to dance. and i was glad.

because i really wanted to.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

look, fwghdwqs

i am as big a science-fiction fan as anyone else. to be more specific, i am at the healthiest point on the charts. on the one hand are the people like my father, who own little cardboard replicas of the original enterprise bridge; on the other hand are the people who watch 'pussycat dolls: making the band' in back to back episodes. you know which you are. me, i am right in the middle. i like to browse through the library's sci-fi shelves, but i still don't know what the little furry moppets that infiltrated the enterprise are called, and i am not overly concerned about it, either.

no. i'll tell you what i'm concerned about. this morning, as i was flipping through paperbacks, i spotted several alarmingly titled-- seriously titled!-- sci-fi books. for example:

why even bother publishing? has setting your money on fire gone out of fashion? i was both repusled and fascinated by the tastelessness of this title, so, looking both ways first, i snatched it up to read its back description. here it is, in all its inexcusability:
"This sequel to the wildly successful Sir Apropos of Nothing starts off with a bawdy send-up of Lord of the Rings, but quickly segues into its own territory with the appearance of a mysterious Visionary at Apropos's bar, Bugger Hall. The man tells our antihero, 'You will become a shadow of your former self while escaping to the Tragic Waste on the Road to Ruin,' (or is that 'Woad to Wuin'?), just as Sharee, Apropos's weaver companion from the first volume, bursts in and begs for his help in escaping Lord Beliquose. The very loud lord wants a powerful gem, the Eye of the Beholder, which the virtually powerless Sharee possesses and which Apropos promptly steals....The wisecracking wordplay that fans have come to expect skips smoothly off the page, lifting this satirical fantasy into a class all its own...goofy entertainment with gritty philosophical musing.
-- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
that's what you think, publishers weekly. i give it an f - -.
and lest you think this is a local incident, the next book i passed was:
Metallic Love
what is WRONG with you authors today? the cardboard-figurine crowd is gaining on you!