Life in Omaha (in Scottsdale)

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Describe the Ordinary

I've been fooling around with some writing exercises in the vain hope that I might actually switch teams from the critics to the artists. One exercise was to describe the ordinary. I thought they turned out rather interesting--as exercises go.

The big chair
The arms gracefully sweep in arches, bending from the flat plane, both enclosing and projecting from the chair. At the center, the cushions wrinkle, caving into a depression, a well-worn plushness. The pillow, always studiously propped in a casual angle, suggests an excess of comfort, and indeed, that is exactly what it offers, excess. People sitting in the chair regularly toss the pillow aside, finding nowhere to comfortably place it once they have occupied the seat. Large, overstuffed and eschewing any formality, the chair aptly represents the growing size and casualness of the populace. It is the anti-antique. It will never command attention, garner awards, be praised in magazines for its elegant lines or its austere appearance. It serves to assure people that it is permissible to relax, to lounge, to do nothing because they have earned the right to be lazy in their own homes.

The cordless phone
A phone once, like many of the earlier electronic devices, attempted to hide its machinery under a skein that reflected old craftsmanship, handmade items. Indeed, the earlier phones were as much the product of cobbling together boxes and horns and cables from existing materials rather than flaunting a design of the future. The crank, the hand held earpiece, the arcane but linguistic telephone numbers were linked to humans and places, not distant factories. The princess phone exemplified this. Smooth, unassuming, designed to be an object d’art, sculpturally reclining on the surface of the glass end table, the black lacquered night table.

The cordless phone revels in its technology, making a fetish of the buttons, the chrome, the lights, the whistles, the constant evocation of black as the palette of high-tech. This particular one tattoos itself with icons of direction, indications of forward, reverse, play and stop. Each icon accompanied by tasteful labels indicating their function—redundancy necessitated by either the obscurity of the images or the imbecility of the user. The keypad continues to include both numbers and letters: the archaic phone designations of “Butterfield 8” and “Lawndale 12” however, now transformed into the trite marketing of 1-800 4 HOT SEX.

At the top of the handset, the phone insists on marketing itself by proclaiming it has “2.4 Ghz”—of memory, one presumes, I cannot recall the packaging nor the instructions. But do people seriously worry about the capacity of their answering machines? Perhaps those more in demand socially or politically than myself. Taking its cue from the hawkers of computers and their peripherals, the cordless phone participates in that common desire for more: more memory, more speed, more functions. Beneath the keypad are three more buttons offering “chan, mem and flash” (perhaps an Asian law firm of the 25th Century?). Even each of these buttons also do dual duty: “ring,” “del,” and “prog” (a jaunty name for a Spanish musician: Ring del Prog). Above the keypad, “redial” and “format” are inset gracefully in the curve of the chrome ear piece. Redial I can deduce, but format’s function has to this day escaped me. Ciela has occasionally pushed it, and eventually I have to unplug the phone in order to get it to work again. I have no idea what she formats, but the phone (and all other objects in the apartment) seem to remain in their original format, save for the phone itself no longer working. Perhaps there are two formats for the phone: format one, a sophisticated telecommunications device that can both transmit and receive messages as well as receive and record messages in the absence of a human operator; and format two, a paper weight.

(On reading these again, I'm afraid I come off as a sarcastic, poor man's version of Roland Barthes. The deleted scenes from Mythologies.)


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