Sunday, October 23, 2011

Time to reset relations

I don’t play many tricks on my wife, but this one was a doozy. In the early days of PCs (and our marriage), we owned a Leading Edge computer that I apparently spent a little too much time using for Elena. “Leda,” as Elena dubbed her, was her competition, the “other woman.” And one day, Leda spoke her mind.

These pre-Windows machines ran a text-based operating system that fogies-in-training will recall as DOS, and when the computer was done booting up it would say so by displaying what was called a prompt; “C/:>” was the usual one. But geeks like me knew you could change the prompt to whatever you wanted. So one morning I asked Elena to turn on the computer while I was shaving, and—to keep her at the screen—to launch a certain program. This time the prompt read: “GET AWAY FROM ME I WANT MY EDDIE:>”

That behavior could be explained. Today, we’re ready to call in an exorcist.

The letters “O” and “X” stand for hug and kiss, so I guess her name is Hug Kiss Hug. In retrospect, that alone should have raised a flag for Elena, but it’s not like a kitchen timer could name itself. It was electronic and could time three events at once, with a different alarm for each timer. And we found the five-ounce doodad (here’s a picture) at Williams-Sonoma, Elena’s fantasyland. What could go wrong?

Plenty, we were to learn. It wasn’t that it was complicated to set up or use. Once its clock was set, once whenever we replaced the battery, all we needed was to press a button for which timer we wanted to set, use the numerical keypad to set the duration and press stop/start. It seemed simple enough.

One day, though, we noticed something peculiar—the timer’s clock had reset. No big deal, we thought. You didn’t even need the clock at the right time in order to use the timers. But OXO seemed to notice one certain geek who couldn’t stand to have a digital clock suddenly displaying “12:00.”

Things at home were never quite the same. OXO began resetting her clock several times a day, each time with a four-beep announcement we took to mean “Me! Me! Me! Me!” It would often happen when we set something too close by on the counter. But over time we could be on the other side of the house, several steps from the kitchen, when we’d get the call: “Me! Me! Me! Me!” She knew, after all, that I’d soon appear to reset her clock. To make things worse, OXO would not reset if Elena was out of the house or in another room while I was alone (with her) in the kitchen.

Eventually, we couldn’t even set the timers for anything whatsoever. Whether I noticed her clock wrong and tried to reset the clock, she would cry out with all three timer frequencies simultaneously, show unfamiliar symbols (Babylonian pictograms, maybe?) on her little LCD screen, and screech multiple sets of her four-tone cry. Elena has stopped asking why I use the pronoun “she,” for she knows I will keep resetting the clock, over and over, giving her the attention she demands until I can walk away quietly.

This very moment, in fact, I have her sitting quite complacently beside me as I write. No clock-resetting, no shrieking. She has what she wants. For now.

Okay, a little correction. That day everything began…it wasn’t quite an accident. Daughter Katie was over, and it seems she’s inherited a smidgen of my geekdom. At the same instant, we wondered aloud: “What would happen if we set all three timers to go off at exactly the same time?” Apparently it was too existential a question for OXO’s little Chinese-made processor.

Her time may be coming. Resetting her clock and distorting her display, we can deal with. Polyphonic screeching, okay during daytime. But the night she starts levitating or speaking in tongues other than tones, out she goes.

Unless Elena gets her with the sledgehammer first.