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