Friday, July 25, 2014

How Siri Saved my Marriage

Road trips aren’t as much fun as they used to be.

Oh, sure, I still get a kick out of Interstate rest stops. I mean, where else can you wash your hands alongside biker chicks and a brigade of old ladies who just stepped single file off a tour bus wearing their moon-boot-sized Easy Spirits and their polyester slacks with elastic waist bands and their “I Lost Mine in Las Vegas” sweatshirts?

And, who doesn’t love road trip food? A car ride gives me an excuse to eat a Big Mac and fries because that mythical mom and pop home-cookin’ kind of place where they make the best food this side of the Mississippi eludes us every time. We’ve tried to find those places. Sometimes we pull into an eatery off some exit ramp that advertises family style dining and walk into a café where the menu is printed on laminated placemats and five varieties of pie revolve in a twirling glass cabinet and waitresses wear aprons and their names embroidered onto their blouse pockets and we get served by a gal named Charlene or Flo who carries a Pyrex coffee pot at a dangerous angle and calls us “Honey” and we’ll be sitting across from someone sipping a milk shake through a straw because their tracheotomy makes it difficult for them to swallow solid food and we’ll look at each other thinking the same thing, “I’m not hungry anymore.” Better the anonymity of the Micky D’s drive-through.

However, a particular brand of fun that we used to have on our driving adventures has been taken away from us. Siri has come into our lives. In case you don’t know her, Siri lives in the iPhone and narrates our triptiks via the car radio. “In two miles, take Exit 16A left for Interstate 70 to Indianapolis.” She is very calm. Her diction is perfect. We hate her. She is buzz kill. With Siri along, we’ve lost all the drama from our former car trips. Prior to Siri, we didn’t so much embark on a vacation as an adventure in contemplating divorce court.

“Take 16A.”  

“Oh, crap! I have to get over to the LEFT lane?!?  Why don’t they give you more warning!”

“Put your signal on!”

“OK. OK. Don’t yell at me!”

“You’re going to have to change lanes!”

“I KNOW! But I can’t get over there! The idiot beside us is right in my blind spot! ”

“We gotta get over!”

“Can’t do it!”

“OH. Great. Now we’ve missed our exit.”

“You’re yelling.”


“FINE! Now where do we go?”

Siri doesn’t yell. She recalibrates. We could all learn a lot from Siri.

Mind you, she isn’t perfect. She gets anxious if we stop to get gas. “Take a U-turn at the next intersection and proceed to the route.” Her instructions become more insistent. She repeats herself in case you missed it the first time. “Take a U-turn at the next intersection and proceed to the route.” If we insist on parking, she gets really annoyed. “Proceed to the route.” (pause) “Proceed to the route.” (pause) “Proceed to the route!

“Siri, sweetie! Calm down!” The only way to stop her nagging is to shut the engine off. But she doesn’t hold it against us and never gives us the silent treatment. When we are once again pointed in the right direction, she’ll be back with a cheery, “In ten miles, make a right turn onto State Route 95.” Peace is restored.

Very seldom is Siri wrong. But it can happen. Just this past week, we were headed to a resort in southern Indiana. We had given her our destination coordinates. As we got closer, we could see the sign pointing the way to our inn. But Siri told us, “In 800 feet turn left onto Ballard Street.

“What? No, we turn right, Siri! Onto West Baden Drive!”

 Turn left onto Ballard Street.

“Why are you telling us to go left?”

Turn left onto Ballard Street.

“Oh, pipe down, Siri.”

“Yeah! Shut up, Siri! Ha! Ha! Silly cow!”

You see, I’ve been thinking that maybe Siri has saved our marriage. She’s given us someone upon whom we can deflect exit ramp angst.

Part of me misses the old days. But we don’t get lost nearly as often.



Sunday, July 13, 2014


Each weekend in July and August, the classic film series at our Victoria Theatre here in Dayton recreates the movie-going experience of our youth —“our” referring to those of us old enough to have gone to the movies on Saturday afternoons in old converted Vaudeville stage houses such as the Victoria. Velvety seats, ornate décor, popcorn and a cartoon before the main feature all add up to that authentic movie zeitgeist of long ago.  

The fans are especially enamored of the 35 mm format that is a hallmark of such classic series. These folks like the graininess of the old celluloid, the sprocket noise and the slight color change noticeable when the reels are changed. Switching to digital or even DVD is unthinkable for these diehards who have staged uprisings in the past when 35mm versions were unavailable for scheduled movies.

The sad and sudden passing recently of the Victoria Theatre projectionist threw the series into jeopardy until someone adept at this lost art could be found to replace him. There are not many people around who possess the knack and timing to get the reel change-over just right.

So, long preamble to get to my question to Ken, which was, “Nobody at your place was in AV Club in high school?”

He informed me that projectionists are trained professionals who, although they may have started in AV Club, are a lot more proficient than your average high school kid who ran the health and guidance class films when we were in school.

And of course that led to a conversation about watching movies in class. Those were the best days at school. Who didn’t love it when the teacher announced in History, or Science or Guidance that we’d be getting a film that day. Yahoo! A chance to goof off, to sleep, or to pass notes in the dark. And I loved the movies. They all had narrators in lab coats with voices that sounded like their ties were too tight. And I loved it when the film snapped away at the end and went “SLAP-lap-lap-lap-lap-lap” winding onto the take-up reel. The big fluorescent lights would come back on again in the room and we’d all blink as our pupils dilated.

I always hoped that some cute boy from Grade 12 would come in with the trolley to load up the projector and sit at the back of the room while we watched a program on the reproductive life of the common fruit fly or how lava is formed in volcanos. Who needed sex ed?

“I was in AV Club and rolled the projector cart to classrooms,” Ken tells me.

“I can see that,” I said, because I totally could. “You were one of those cute boys from twelfth grade.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but it got me out of class more than a few times.”

“Bonus!” I said, “I remember one kid had to bring ‘the special film’ we girls got to watch. The teacher made him wait out in the hall.”

“Yeah, I had to do that once. I always wondered what that one was all about.”

“It was about ‘the wonderful time in a girl's life.' The stupid part was that the film never told us what IT was.”

“You’re kidding. It never told you what would happen?”

“NO! Maybe the other girls got it, but I was just, like, ‘What? What’s the wonderful thing?’ It said we shouldn’t shower in too hot water. And we would have to skip gym class. I had no clue why.  I was thinking, ‘What’s so wonderful? What are they trying to tell us?’”

“So did your mother explain it to you?”

“NO! The first time, I went all day thinking something was TERRIBLY, terribly wrong. By dinner time, I was panicked. I thought I was going to die! I finally went to my mother in tears.”

“What did she do?”

“Oh, she was pretty calm. 'I’ve been expecting this,’ she said and went to get a ‘pad’ which by the way came in plain brown wrappers at the drug store, like our mothers were doing drug deals at the pharmacy. And I was thinking, ‘What? What were you expecting? That I’d be dead at age 12?’ Some information here, please, people!”

By this time, we were both laughing. “I think the film was by Kotex. Kotex and Disney, if I remember right. It was a cartoon.” I said. “Anyway, don’t feel bad that the teacher booted you out to the hall. You wouldn’t have gotten it either.”



Friday, July 4, 2014

How Much?

I’m so excited that my blog finally hit an awe-inspiring 20 subscribers. I expect I’ll soon be hearing from NPR to interview me for one of their radio talk shows. I’ve been binge-listening to our public broadcaster to study the tone and timbre of a typical NPR conversation – you know, just to get ready. I think I’ve got it nailed. Oh, how I have imagined that call from my favorite on-air personality. I just know that call is bound to come any day now. I can hear it all now:

TG: Welcome back to “Fresh Fair” on NPR. I’m your host, Terry Grass. Today we’re talking with the writer of that wildly popular blog, “Brave Neuf World,” from Dayton, Ohio, birthplace of the original humor writer, Erma Bombeck. Here’s Lesley Neufeld. Welcome, Lesley.

Me:  Thanks very much, Terry. I’m very much pleased to be here.

TG: Hm. Yes. Well, tell us what your blog is all about.

Me: Well, Terry, it’s very much all about the odd, (pause) goofy things that go on (pause) day to day.  Very much about the quirky way (pause) that I (pause) view the (pause) world.

TG: So, would you say there is a fair amount of irony in your writing?

Me: Oh! Oh, yes, very much so, yes! It’s very much about the sardonic and the satiric, and (pause) sometimes (pause) very much about satire. Also very much about a touch of historic (pause)because I very much like to dig into Wikipedia to find out (pause) about the origins of things. My blog is very much about, mmm (pause) paradoxes and (pause) incongruities between how things are (pause) and very much about (pause) how things very much got started and where they very much went off the rails.

TG: OK. So, do you do very much, uh, I meant to say, a lot of research?

Me: Yes, very much.

TG: Uh huh. And how did you get started? Was there someone who was influential?

Me: Oh, very much so! Yes. I was very much influenced by a very good friend who very much enjoyed the emails I wrote to her when I moved away from the city we both (pause) very much lived in. Then I very much started reading blog posts by someone here in Dayton who very much wrote (pause) very funny, very much humorous material. I thought, “Wow! I very much want to try that very much!”

TG: Right! Well, then. Tell us how you got the name for your blog, “Brave Neuf World.”

Me: Well, Terry, that was very much about me being all (pause) “Am I brave enough to put my writing very much out there in the public eye?” and saying, (pause) “Hey, (pause) how about very much using the title “Brave New World” but very much switching out “Neuf” for “new”, because it is very much about my last name and the English translation of the German “neuf. ”

TG: Very, uh, yeah….good.  Alright. Let’s talk about Erma Bombeck.

Me: Oh, yes! It is all VERY much about Erma Bombeck, because you know she was very much about the day to day conundrums and so we humor writers are oh, so, so VERY much about honoring Erma, very much so, yes, oh, yes, very much. Because, you know, she was very much all about being the first woman to very much give a voice to housewives to say, “Hey, housework is not very much what it has very much been cracked up to be,” and she was very much funny about it. We humor writers very, very much are in her debt for very much breaking ground.

TG: OK. That’s it. Have you noticed that you’re saying “very much” a lot? And in all the wrong places? And why aren’t you pausing anymore?

Me: Well, Terry, I am very much not pausing because I’m very much warmed up by now.

TG: Could you please stop saying, “very much”?

Me: I very much doubt it, Terry.

TG: Agh! Why are you saying, “very much” all the time?

Me: Everyone interviewed on NPR very much does it, Terry. It’s always, “very much about” something or other.

TG: No, it very much isn’t! Aaaaghh! Now you’ve got me doing it!

Me: See?

TG: OK. We have to go to news now. Thanks for being here. I guess.

Me: Very much my pleasure, Terry. Thank you. Thank you, very much.


I’ll let you know when I’m on the radio. You’ll very much want to catch it.