Sir Winston Churchill, Meet Siri

I have been thinking about Sir Winston Churchill and The National Lampoon recently.

I think of the two simultaneously because one of the best pieces the NL ever did was on Churchill. It took all the stories about him that featured witty ripostes and exchanged the witticisms for vulgarities.

So, for example, the famous story about Churchill and Lady Astor, in which she says if he were her husband, she’d poison his coffee, and he replies if she were his wife, he’d drink it. In the NL version, he responds, “If you were my wife, I’d beat the shit out of you.”

Similarly, the famous hand gesture of V for victory becomes a one-finger salute. And Churchill’s correspondence with George Bernard Shaw (“Here are two tickets to my play. Bring a friend if you have one,” then, “Coming to your second performance, if you have one”) ends differently. “You and your play can go fuck yourselves,” the NL Churchill replies.

Well, you get the picture. The point is, I have days — many, many days, to be precise — when I realize my dreams of Churchillian wit inevitably plummet into my real-life behavior that resembles only the NL version of Churchill.

It happened again recently. Here was the problem. I got a new iPhone, but my husband didn’t.

That was because he’d gotten a new one several months ago and I hadn’t. So I was overdue, my iPhone repeatedly died on me, it was Christmas, what the heck.

I liked the new phone and all that. I mean, it was fine. It worked. Big deal. When it comes to technology, I am not an emotional person.

But my husband kept hanging over me and my new phone, like metal filings over a magnet.

“Do you know about Siri?” he asked.

Of course I knew about Siri. Everybody in the universe knows about Siri, that disembodied iPhone voice with the highest IQ in history who can tell you anything you need to know. Ho-hum, wake me up when you say something interesting.

“Yeah,” I said.

So, he grabbed my phone and started asking Siri all kinds of questions about the weather, even though all you had to do was open the door and walk outside to find out.

“This is just unbelievable,” he said.

I nodded noncommittally and we exchanged one of those you’re crazy and I’ll never understand you glances that pass occasionally between men and women, usually after a dramatic new haircut has gone unnoticed or a Three Stooges movie doesn’t elicit wild laughter. You know, one of those over-the-insurmountable chasm looks.

“Maybe it’s a chick thing,” I said, “but I don’t like machines talking to me.”

“That’s sad,” he said.

A few weeks passed and I forgot all about Siri and didn’t miss her at all. I had lots of other important things going on, even if I can’t remember what they were. Important!

As usual, my husband and I ended up on a Saturday morning careening toward starvation, with an empty refrigerator staring back at us and no restaurant prospects in mind. I grabbed my iPhone and went to Yelp.

“Why don’t you ask Siri?” my husband said, going into his high-tech heebie-jeebies.

Jesus. Like I needed a technology coach. I grudgingly put my phone to my ear and asked about restaurants. Siri didn’t say a thing. Bitch.

“You’re doing it wrong,” my husband said.

He grabbed my phone and I started screaming. Leave me alone! Stop hanging over me and my fucking iPhone! I hate Siri! I have low-blood sugar! If I don’t eat soon, I’m going to be dangerous!

“Siri, why is Ruth so angry?” my husband asked.

“Shut up, Siri! It’s none of your goddamned business!”

Later, after we’d eaten lunch, he told me Siri had referred him to a number of websites about a person named Ruth being angry, but she hadn’t really been terribly helpful. This was because, I pointed out, Siri had been the problem in the first place.

After that, I realized that I wasn’t doomed to be the National Lampoon version of Winston Churchill; I was doomed to be the National Lampoon version of myself. Truth is, I don’t have another version — and, by the way, Siri can go fuck herself.

(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts on going all power-to-the-people every time I fly coach

17 comments… add one
  • You always bring a smile to my face with these posts on life. You should add the word “married” methinks, before men and women. This glance only comes once people have been married for a while. (I’m still resisting an iPhone.)

  • Sheryl

    You are so funny, Ruth. That’s just the way I feel…only I couldn’t put it into words quite the same way you do.

  • Sandra Wilkie

    I think siri is eerie too

  • Cindy

    “Nothing in the world is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”
    – Sir Winston Churchill –

  • My phone doesn’t understand me when I talk to it, because it’s British.

  • I have an old, dumb phone. I’m good with that. I don’t need a phone that knows more than I do.

  • Tee hee. I’m so jealous of your new phone and Siri. Sorry you don’t like her!!!!! It’s the low blood sugar. Honest!

  • My phone (not an iPhone) is up for renewal and, like you, I’m a little leery of Siri. Maybe it’s best to stick with what you know.

  • I keep hearing funny things about Siri. Is she anything like the GPS systems in the car…you know, how easy it is to talk back to them. My husband’s friend told him they have one that features Ozzy Osbourne’s voice, swearing at you to get off the #$%^ing exit! What will be next??!!

  • Craig

    God save me from a phone that would just compound my dementia.I’m still trying to find a phone I can see the numbers on.

  • Steve

    A “smile to my face”? I laughed out loud. Likely for three reasons: 1. I am male. 2. I have the iPhone 4S. 3. I subscribed to NL for many years, much to my spouse’s embarrasment.

  • If it makes you feel any better, Siri doesn’t seem to like me either. Sure, she’ll give my husband great directions and restaurant recommendations while she won’t even budge to tell me where the nearest pizza joint is.

  • A good friend of mine, loves to speak commands and questions into his phone and wiggles like a pig when it obeys him. I just roll my eyes. I dread even speaking to a real, live phone caller. I am NOT going to stoop to conversing with the phone itself! No, thank you! I’ll TYPE any questions or requests I may have. I think it’s just saner, quieter and so much more clings to respectable behavior.

    Love that line, “high-tech heebie-jeebies.” I must borrow that one!

    I was recently introduced to a young man who quickly linked my name to Churchill. I was shocked! And quickly praised his historical knowledge. Sadly, so few people, under 35, even know of Winston Churchill.

  • Only you, Ruth, would be able to get Siri, Sir Winston Churchill, and Saturday Night Live into one very funny story. (I think I’d start swearing at the bitch too:)

  • What a chuckle. This story brought some much needed humor into my day. Thanks.

  • Wow, I’ve had an iPhone for a while now and I’ve never even heard of Siri. Sounds like I should just let that sleeping dog lie. I’d insert another word in there or change “dog” to something else, but I have a family entertainment writer reputation to uphold.

  • Bob

    One of the funniest pieces I’ve read in a long time. Your humor rocks. I just read it for the 3rd time, and again laughed myself to tears. I’m subscribing to your feed without even asking Siri for guidance. Siri might mistakenly tell me to avoid associating with an angry woman.

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