It read like a horror movie: “How smart-phones hijack our minds.” That was the headline of a piece in the Wall Street Journal — an article that immediately got my attention, and caused me to curse my phone: “Aha! It was YOU who caused me to eat all those candy corn pumpkins!!! I TOLD my daughter I had nothing to do with it!”
The article gave some pretty shocking statistics: We pull our phones out 80 times a day … our phones are actually making us less focused and sloppier … their mere presence makes us dumber and we’re willingly letting these devices “commandeer our brains” … if there is anything resembling candy corn in the house, they will force us to eat it. Stuff like that.
Truth is, if aliens wanted to invade Earth, all they need to do is buy a bunch of iPhones and pass them out for a free on a street corner. “Keys to the planet for a free smartphone? Eh … sounds like a fairly good deal! Does it come with unlimited data?”
We are willingly letting ourselves get hijacked.
I think I went to school. I think I learned some things there, but I can’t seem to remember what any of them are … or is it “were” … or maybe “be.” See?!? What has happened to my grasp of knowledge, and smart things.
This all occurred to me while attending the open house at my daughter’s school. We were listening to a presentation by her science teacher. She was discussing videos the kids could watch at home. When she mentioned “Mythbusters,” I tuned in to hear: “… and parents can watch, too, brushing up on things like Newton’s law of conservation of energy.”
Some of the parents chuckled at this. I did, too. But truth is I didn’t know Newton was in to recycling back then. In fact, I didn’t know they had batteries. Did they put them in a separate box from the plastics and the paper?
I mean, I know I must have learned about this in the fancy, expensive private schools I attended. I’m also certain that if my parents read this column, they’ll realize it would have been cheaper and easier to just light all their money on fire.
The phone call came from my mother the night before St. Augustine evacuated for Hurricane Irma: “Brian! I don’t have any dry cat food to leave Missy Daisy and Little Joe! I only bought wet food in cans! What was I thinking?!? They don’t know how to use the can opener yet!”
I’m not sure where the mix-up occurred. The cats weren’t going with my mother when she left for the hotel. The stacks of cat food cans would be worthless. Even worse, when she finally realized this, there was no Friskies to be found anywhere. The kitty food shelves were bare.
These was desperate straits!
Now I was being dispatched on a secret commando mission to find cat food: “CVS HAS SOME! I JUST CALLED! REMEMBER … MISSY DAISY DOESN’T LIKE SEAFOOD … ONLY BEEF!!!” It sounded like something from a war movie. Some frantic soldier on the front line calling in artillery fire to keep the swarming enemy at bay.
I pointed at my daughter: “You’re coming with me. I want sanity on my side.”
“There’s a tree on my house.”
If you ever say these words out loud, your ears will hear them, question what was just said, and spark an internal debate: “A tree on my house? Is that what I just said? No! There can’t be a tree on my house.”
Only, yes. It IS a tree. And it’s leaning on my house. Look!
There it was. A photo in a text from my neighbor. My neighbor, Forest, stays through all the storms. Even better, he sends me texts, photos and videos at all hours. This year during Hurricane Irma he even streamed live video from his upstairs porch.
The news is always good. That’s what I was expecting when the texts came in the morning after the storm. But they showed damage on the street. A transformer dangling from a pole. A massive tree that took out power lines clear over to Riberia Street, two blocks away. Then I saw it. It was agonizingly slow to load, taxing the struggling cel network in the powerless neighborhood where my family had evacuated to. It was of a pink house — boy, that’s similar to mine! — with a big cedar tree parked against an upstairs porch.
GASP! “There’s a TREE on my HOUSE!!!”
So, here’s the thing: I’m supposed to sit down, right now, and write this thing. This column. Which is usually fun, and hopefully funny. Usually, that’s the goal when I sit down to write.
But here’s the thing: It’s Tuesday night. And I’m sitting down, and I’m thinking to myself, “Who cares? This thing comes out Sunday! Hurricane Irma may be here by Sunday. St. Augustine may be up to its eyeballs in water … again. And I’m supposed to sit down and write a COLUMN?!?”
And the phone keeps ringing. Mostly it’s my mother. She’s worried about where she’s going to go in the storm if we have to evacuate.
Actually, she wasn’t worried. Not until I made her worried. Because she had a hotel room booked by the interstate. They would take her dog. Maybe even her two cats, if she snuck them in with a picnic basket. She had it all thought out, and she was pretty proud.
Then she called me. I had to — no pun intended — rain on her parade.
“Tuesday!?!” I said. “You booked your rooms for Tuesday? The storm will be here already!”
How did I know this? I don’t! I didn’t know anything. Because I’m not a meteorologist. I’m just a guy who is supposed to be sitting down to write a column. But instead I’ve been staring at hurricane forecast models on the Internet. Spaghetti models by fancy computers that may or may not have been hacked by Russian hackers. I don’t know.
I don’t know when summer “officially” ends, but I do know it’s September, the days are getting shorter and people keep asking me, “how was your summer?”
No matter what the calendar says, when people start asking you that, you know it’s over.
And how was my summer? Good, I guess. A whirlwind. Over too fast. And I’m not even sure what the answer is.
So, I’ve put together a guide to gauging whether you had a fulfilling, memorable and totally enjoyable summer. If you can answer “yes” to at least half of these questions, then you can officially say yours was a good one, too.
• Did you get a sunburn IN your bellybutton?
I’ve always want to be on the TV show, “Survivor.” I’m a huge fan and pictured myself scrambling over obstacles, organizing blindsides, eating coconuts and pretty much becoming a banquet for mosquitoes.
I would do pretty well, I figured. I’m scrappy. I can rough it. I like a challenge. I would “survive!”
I’ve thought all of this … right up until the other night. The night the dream died.
It was at a youth group meeting at Memorial Presbyterian. A dinner “with games” for kids and parents to kick off the year. I figured it would be board games or goofy get-to-know-you types. But instead they announced it would be a take on the TV show “Fear Factor,” which puts contestants in scary situations to see how they respond.
Close enough to “Survivor” to see what I’m made of!
I volunteered for an “eating” contest. I pictured myself scarfing down a giant bowl of meatballs or gummy bears in front of an adoring crowd screaming, “Bri-an! Eats-like! A-pig!”
Is it wrong as a parent to want a little drama? A little upset-ment? A little kicking and screaming and “Why world?!? Don’t make me go!”
Is it wrong to think that starting 6th grade — this major milestone, this turning point in the lives of the Thompson household, this big new, adventure — shouldn’t be so easy?
Or is that kind of selfish?
Because the first day of school — of middle school! — was pretty anticlimactic. Downright dull, and even un-eventful. It felt a bit like every other day.
And it shouldn’t … BECAUSE I DIED A LITTLE INSIDE!
MY BABY IS GROWING UP, PEOPLE! (And she doesn’t seem to mind.)
It doesn’t matter what you are — Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, left, right, center, North By Northwest, slightly off — chances are you could use a break from politics. We all could. If there’s one thing that can bring us together as a nation, it’s that we collectively need a vacation from ourselves. Or at least our government. Or the shenanigans of our government. Because it’s too much, right? And it would be good to get some time away. To catch our breath. To forget there is such a thing as Washington (aka, Hootenannyville.)
Which is why I decided to get away from it by going cold turkey on politics this week. It would be good for me personally — a cleanse, of sorts — as I’m kind of a political junkie. Only I fear it’s becoming more of an unhealthy addiction. I have an app on my phone called “Flipboard” that lets me quickly flip through the latest stories. It’s become a constant habit!
So, this week I resolved to go without political news completely. I would refrain from anything political, and then write about it in case you want to try it, too. Here’s how it went:
There are some of you who know my mother. See my mother. Talk to her on a regular basis. And because she doesn’t read this column, I ask you for a favor: NEVER mention what I am about to write.
Because that will be it for me. Over. I will be banished. Cast off from the family. Written out of the will. Seated at the uncomfortable corner at Christmas dinner with the chair that could collapse at any minute. Called a “traitor” and someone who disrespects his heritage.
Why? It’s all because I’ve given up on Cuban coffee.
Oh, the horror! The shame! I am truly a bad son.
Yes, it is true. I now brew Starbucks mass-produced grounds in a super-easy 4-cup American-style coffeemaker. It takes mere minutes and can be done in one easy step.
I have traded tradition for simplicity and convenience. And truth is, I really like it!
I realized recently I don’t want to give up a half hour every morning just for proper percolation! To put on the leather apron and gloves and goggles for when the molten caffeine starts to spit sparks. All for an early morning jolt. My new little coffeemaker can do it in a fraction of the time.