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  • mariokiefer


The alarm went off at 7:00 a.m. jarring me from my slumber. Usually, I do not use an alarm choosing instead to allow the warmth of the sun’s rays to gently arouse me, but as we approached the magic winter solstice the nights have gotten longer and the sun does not caress me until later in the morning. As I reached over and turned off the incessant beeps, a niggling voice from within my head warned me that I should choose to remain in bed a little while longer. But I ignored those warnings and rose anyway. How was I to know?

Naturally, I did the first thing we all do when we rise in the morning and made my way to the bathroom. I did not bother to turn on the light. It had been acting wonky ever since we replaced the bulb with one of those new “smart” ones that could be activated from the internet. I intended to return to the old style one, but had not had opportunity to make the exchange. Besides, I had made this trip on a number of occasions in the wee hours of the morning when all was dark and I knew the path well. But when I heard the splash atop the porcelain bowl, I knew that something was amiss. The new Japanese “smart” toilet had lowered the lid in the middle of the night blocking my shot through the hoop. Thus, began this morning, with me on my knees cleaning up a mess.

I washed my hands then shuffled to the kitchen to make a cup of Joe. I poured the correct measure of sweetener into my cup before adding just a dollop of caramel macchiato flavored cream then placed my cup beneath the spout that that would spurt out the magic elixir. I hit the button for the large cup, then the larger button that beckoned to me with the word “Brew”.

But nothing happened. The screen flashed and returned to the “insert pod” mode. Several times, I opened and closed that repository, but each time I tapped that “Brew” button, it returned to its prior settings. Fifteen minutes of fiddling with the damned machine and swearing an oath that I would replace it with my mother’s old, under-the-counter Mr. Coffee which some forty years later still works as it was designed, I finally was able to bring my nemesis to acquiesce and dispense the coffee.

Instead of standing in front of the the machine screaming, “Hurry!”, I grabbed my cigarettes to step outside for that second stimulant that might awaken me. How was I to know that the robotic pool cleaner had stolen my chair? I swear that I had left that at the side of the pool last night. Why would I put it in the chair? That simply made no sense. I moved the creature and watched it splash into the pool before I pushed the start button that would have it run across the bottom of that pool for the next two hours. Then I watched it scurry around.

As the sun crested the eastern horizon, I drew the cylinder of tobacco from its cellophane wrapped package and drew it to my lips. I raised the lighter and flicked the wheel . . . nothing but sparks emitted. Several times, I spun the wheel and each time it landed on bankrupt until finally, in disgust, I threw the offending item out and returned indoors to fetch a new one from the package of five that teased me as the plastic wrapped around them refused to give way. I grabbed a knife from its sheath and stabbed the plastic wrap while in the back of my head the music from Psycho played on. Having finally ripped the plastic off of my treasure, I took the lighter in my hand, then turned to see that my coffee was ready and waiting. I picked up the cup in my other hand and returned to my outdoor perch where I quietly sat and sipped the elixir while I inhaled Phillip Morris’ death until satisfied. When done, I went inside.

Thirty minutes had passed since I first woke. Thirty minutes it took for me to complete the rituals that usually take but ten. Still, I had another thirty minutes before it was time to cleanse myself for work, so I turned to my computer and surfed the waves of cyberspace until I found a suitable replacement for the offending coffeemaker. This, I placed in my cart, but did not yet order — a shot of warning across the bow of my coffeemaker without actually harming the vessel.

Haha! I thought. See you stupid machine - you are replaceable.

I then turned my attention to my accounts as it was payday and I had (naturally) bills to pay. But wait! There was something wrong. The accounts did not add up. I struggled through my limited maths skills trying to find the error until I threw my hands up in disgust. I promised to return to this drudgery later when, perhaps, my yips had been reset.

I took to the kitchen and prepared another cup of liquid manna. This time the maker poured the coffee without complaint. I surmised he must have heard of my threatened purchase and wanted to make amends. I took my second cup and grabbed another coffin nail as I headed out the back door only to be opposed by the pool cleaner once again. How did this machine get out of the pool? I threw it back in then satisfied my cravings.

It was a little later than usual when I returned to my bathroom to cleanse myself, but still not too late. There was sufficient time to do that which needed doing before I started my workday. But while in the shower and lathered up, without warning the water ceased.

“What fresh new hell is this!” I bellowed.

Having turned the water knobs back and forth and fiddled with the “smart” setting for temperature and pressure still no liquid rained down. I ran a towel across my face to wipe the soap from my eyes, then donned a bathrobe. I left the shower intent to find out what was going on. I discovered the truth when I looked (through soap stained tears) into my phone and saw the text message from the water company advising that the water would be off for a few minutes as they replaced the old water meter with a new “smart” one.

“Without warning!” I cried out, but nobody heard.

I glanced out the window and saw the meter man hop into his truck and drive away.

“Oh no, you did not!” I started to scream certain that he had left me still soaped up with no water to rinse. But when I turned to the spigot and pulled its lever, water came forth, so I returned to the bathroom and completed my shower.

From the stall I went to the sink and picked up my toothbrush. I squeezed the blue gel onto its end then pushed the button to start its sonic magic. The brush slowly whirred demanding a recharge.

Ugh, I thought.

I rinsed the brush and returned it to its holder to allow it to refuel and combed through the drawer for a manual replacement. It took several minutes to find one, buried as it was beneath bricks of Dial soap and spare razors parts. By the time I had completed this ritual, there remained but a short twenty minutes before the appointed hour to begin my workday.

I should have stayed in bed, I thought. It’s not even 9 a.m. What hell will the rest of this day bring?

I picked up the travel cup that I keep next to the computer in my office so that I could fill it with water to fuel my day as I worked, and into the kitchen I returned. The coffee maker sullenly stared at me as I ignored him and turned to the refrigerator pressing the cup into the water dispenser. But the refrigerator had other plans. As if knowning of the earlier indignity I had suffered in front of the porcelain bowl, the dispenser chose to, instead of pouring life into the cup, spray into my face, my chest, and onto the floor — playing my part in the morning’s earlier farce, he pissed on me as if I were a closed porcelain bowl.

“Dammit!” I yelled, but the irony was not lost.

I dried myself as best as I could then took my cup to the sink where I poured water from the faucet. That spigot was not a “smart” machine, so I knew that it would not rebel. Water in hand, I returned to my office and logged into work for the day.

The computer started with a complaint. It would not log me into all of the systems and I had only partial access to what I needed. I reached for the phone to call the not-always-so-helpful help desk, but since the phone is a VOIP one that works only through the computer and internet, it was one of the systems that recoiled from my reach as it refused to dial out.

I should have stayed in bed! I thought again as I reached for my cell phone to try and connect another way.

As my hand reached down and cradled the device, it vibrated and screeched in protest. The alarm went off.

What the . . . I started.

I knew that I had turned the alarm off. Why was it beeping now? I looked at the clock settings and saw that each of the pre-set alarm times were turned on. This made no sense. I tried to turn them off, but they would not acquiesce. Stubbornly, the settings remained the same. I pushed the button on the left while simultaneously holding the one on the right to shut down and reboot the stubborn thing. It took nearly ten minutes for that phone to return to its senses, and in that time, my work computer became more complacent. Access to each of the systems that it had previously denied to me were now available.

“What kind of game are you playing with me?” I asked the wicked thing, but it refused to answer.

For the next three hours, I toiled away at my usual workday tasks with little issue.

Did the large spreadsheet obstinately crash on occasion to protest the complicated formulae I asked it to calculate? Certainly. But this was par for the course. Nary a week went by when I did not struggle with one spreadsheet or another.

Did the communication for which I anxiously awaited get stuck in a spam filter and require retrieval from another website because the computer did not deem me worthy of immediately receiving it? Naturally - but this often happened.

Did the window’s preview pane stubbornly refuse to give me a peek at the document beneath such that I had to open it completely to even know what it was? Of course. This was nothing new.

These were just the minor inconveniences that came along with surrendering many decisions to a thinking (but not so thoughtful) machine.

As the clock chimed once after the noon hour, it was time for my lunch. I considered a sandwich — how simple it would be to slather dressing on bread, slap a slab of meat between those two slices, then add a little lettuce and tomato. But I had a hankering for something hot. Warily, I approached the refrigerator worried that it might spit upon me once again as I reached down to the lower compartment which made up its frozen section. From the drawer I pulled out a Lean Cuisine and carefully closed that drawer behind me. Having retrieved a meal without having endured insult from the refrigerator, I turned the package over to read its instruction — words written in such fine print that the only one under twenty-five years of age might read those words without the aid of a magnifying glass. I retrieved my spectacles from the office that I might read the directions. I did as instructed and removed the inside package from its outer wrapping, then pierced the thin plastic veil that covered the tray. I placed the tray within the microwave intent on setting it to run for 2 minutes, but the oven had different ideas. It insisted that I enter the weight of the item to be cooked as if it knew better than I (or the makers of the package, for that matter) how best to do so. I punched the buttons in seeming futile attempts to coax the oven to come to my way of thinking, but it obstinately refused and continued to ask for measurements in ounces. Disgusted, I punched the “popcorn” button which I knew to be set for two minutes of time and finally the machine acquiesced to my command. I watched as the table within began to turn and the food spun.

I retrieved my cup to refill with water. I chose to avoid the refrigerator which mockingly stared at me and got my water from the spigot once again — knowing that the refrigerator fumed at my ability to avoid his further pranks. From the corner of my eye, I saw the coffee maker watch, but I turned away ignoring his sullen gaze as I sipped at my water. The microwave beeped in what should have been notice that my item was prepared, but as I looked within, the table continued to turn.

“What do you think you are doing?” I asked the machine, but it did not answer. It never does.

I pushed a button to make it stop its spinning, but it refused.

“I do not need your permission,” I reminded the appliance and tugged on the handle that opened its door. Even it could not ignore the safety precautions that had been installed and its cycle ceased.

I removed the food from the oven and placed it on the counter where I let it sit for one minute (as instructed by the fine print I earlier had read) before I peeled back the plastic and emptied its contents onto a plate. I grabbed a fork and sat at the table. The outer portions of the meal were burning hot, but the center remained frozen. It seemed the device, having refused to properly cook my meal, had the last laugh after all. I ate around the edges then tossed the middle away and retrieved a bag of chips from the pantry. The machines would not thwart the filling of my belly, I vowed.

Having completed my lunch, I returned to my work, but the computer refused me entry averring that my password was incorrect. How could that be? I re-entered the magic word that would open the cyber realm, but still the portal refused me access. Knowing that I had done nothing wrong, yet needing to trick the machine, I opened a text file where I once again carefully re-typed the password ensuring that each letter, number, and symbol were correct. I copied the word then pasted it into the magic box. This time, the portal acquiesced and opened the door.

A scant hour later and for no discernible reason, the computer ceased its response. I fiddled with it here and there until realization hit that the modem was no longer connected. I rebooted the modem (not once, but twice) to no avail, before I called the Internet service provider. After twenty minutes of pushing each and every conceivable configuration of numbers in a vain attempt to make my way through this phone tree into a land where answers were plentiful, I spent another ten minutes yelling "representative" into the device. But the machine only made me begin anew the button pushing until I finally gave up and turned the phone off knowing that the only answer that would be forthcoming was "Technicians are aware of the problem and are working on it. We will let you know when the service is back up."

Fortunately, much of my work had been saved to a desktop for upload upon completion of the task at hand. For another four hours, I toiled away at my the appointed tasks now and then arguing with my electronic tormentor as he attempted to impede my progress. But I would not be so easily thwarted. When finally the clock instructed me that it was time to take my leave, I had completed my daily tasks, but their upload into our community would have to wait until the cyber gods deemed me worthy of reconnection to the internet. I powered down my tormentor.

I looked to my kitchen. It was time to make dinner. But weary from earlier battles with the kitchen appliances, I did not have the energy renew the assault. I chose instead to call for delivery, then turned my attention to what mindless fiction might be streamed to my “smart” TV. Of course, without internet and with the cable services unreachable those things that I might want to watch were unavailable. My "smart" TV cannot collect broadcast from the airwaves and I longed for my mother's old antenna. I thought on this and realized how much of my entertainment was provided courtesy of streaming services. Most of what I might want to watch was the property of those services and the machine often reminded me that I needed yet another subscription if I wanted to enter those worlds. I had too many subscriptions already; too many “smart” streaming services were taking my money while offering only mediocre fare in return and I had no desire to so easily give them more.

I chose a book which I read until it was time to retire for the evening knowing that in the morning the battle against the thinking machines would begin anew.

As I drifted off into slumber, I wondered, When I wake in the morning, will I still be master of my domain, or will I have become slave to the machine’s desires?

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