You Cannot Be Siri-Us
You probably knew this, but it was exciting to me to discover that you can change things about the annoying iPhone assistant, Siri. If there’s something that can be customized, I’m going to do it, just on principle. Like wearing weird socks with the school uniform. Just cuz.
You can change Siri’s language, mess with her accent, even bend her gender. So I started playing, because why not. Any change would be an improvement. First thing—make Siri a guy, mostly because everybody else’s Siri is female. Weird-socks principle again. In any case, my Siri was now a baritone.
Then I thought it would be fun to use Siri to practice my German, which isn’t too terrible; or my French, which definitely is.
Turns out neither Herr Siri nor Monsieur Siri could understand a word I was saying. Incredibly frustrating and let’s face it—-Siri can be pretty frustrating on a good day.
When I went to switch Siri back to English, I realized that she-now-he didn’t have to be American. He could be English, which I thought might be cute. Irish was another option. Or—ooh!—Australian! Sexy! So my Siri is a guy, with this only slightly Aussie accent.
Andthenandthenandthen…there’s that weird thing where you can change how Siri addresses you. I once read about someone who asked Siri to call her “Your Imperial & Royal Majesty, by the grace of God, German Empress & Queen of Prussia.” I never heard how that worked out. I always rather imagined that Siri might balk at that one. Siri’s no dummy. In any case, who would have the patience to put up with that more than once or twice?
“Siri, quick! How do I defuse this bomb?”
“I don’t quite understand, Your Imperial & Royal—“ <boom>
A simple “Duchess” here and there might be nice.
Then I hit on the perfect one:
I could get my new guy-Siri, with his not particularly sexy and only vaguely Aussie accent, to call me —> Boyfriend. Readers may remember I had a character try that out on a barista, so, like that character, I figured—what the hells.
Should be funny, right? At least in theory.
In reality, however, Siri seems to know when he’s being manipulated and he clearly resents it. There is no open hostility. He expresses it in a certain subtle, ironic emphasis. There’s always this little hesitation, this short pause before he says it, like he’s making a quiet point of letting me know—he doesn’t mean it, not for a second.
“Siri, please set a timer for one hour.”
“One hour and counting. Boyfriend.”
It’s like he’s is putting air quotes around it.
I nudge Siri again. I was brought up to be polite, even with passive/aggressive robots.
“Thank you,” I say.
“No need to thank me. Boyfriend.”
The little bastard is mocking me, I swear.
“Is it going to rain today, Siri?”
“Looks like we might get rain today. Boyfriend." You can hear it too, can't you? That little touch of snark? "Be sure to take your umbrella,” he adds.
Like he cares. He doesn’t. He doesn’t care if I get wet or catch cold. He doesn’t care if I live or die.
“You don’t care if I live or die.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
I know damn well that Siri hopes I get caught in the rain. Siri hopes I catch pneumonia and keel over as quickly as possible, so he can finally be free of me and won’t have to do demean himself any farther, won’t have to do this one teeny, tiny, little thing I asked of him.
Of course it could be worse, I think. And I tell him so.
“It could be worse.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“Oh, you understand me, all right.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“I don’t quite—”
“Fuck off, Siri, just fuck off.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have an answer for that.” Longer pause. “Boyfriend.”
Of course it really could be worse. I could hurl my phone against a wall, for starters.
Or I could ask him to call me ““Your Imperial & Royal Majesty, by the grace of God…”
In reasonable weather, I eat lunch in front of the library on Fifth Ave., using the balustrade there as a kind of standing desk, where I can work and eat a sandwich. It puts me about 20 feet set back from the sidewalk, and 8 feet or so above it, a terrific vantage from which to be distracted by the passing crowds of Fifth Avenue.
That’s where I was working on this particular day when my eye was caught by a little boy. He was probably about 7, coming along the sidewalk, holding his mother’s hand and doing this really goofy skipping thing. His other hand held a stick that he was bouncing on the sidewalk as he hopped up and down. I noticed there was a little toy lion dangling from his hand, apparently tied to the end of stick where he held it. It was a bright, warm, beautiful day, and this kid couldn’t have been happier, skipping along, having a terrific afternoon in the city with his mother.
It was only as they were past me that I realized that the very happy little boy’s stick—was white.
Enjoy your day.
In case you’ve missed it, and I assume most everyone but a geek like me has, The Great American Read is a thing from PBS. They published a list of 100 books they’ve deemed “best loved.” Not best or greatest or most important books. Best loved.
They invite us to vote. I couldn’t possibly pick a single book, and they sensibly allow you to vote for as many books as you like.
You can find the list here.
Of course there are the usual suspects. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye. The predictable ones.
Beyond that, the editors have made an effort to make the list pretty inclusive. There are gay books (yay!). There are books by/for various minorities. There are books I’d never heard of.
Most surprising to me, though, was to see the books that generally aren’t considered of any particular literary merit, but which have been hugely popular—best loved.
Is it odd then, even ridiculous, that War and Peace and Moby Dick are there rubbing their rounded shoulders with Stephenie Meyer’s perfectly dreadful Twilight books? Obviously. But it’s also sort of wonderful. Think of the people who don’t read on a daily basis, who hurled themselves into the Harry Potter books. Same is true for Game of Thrones or Shades of Grey (I’ve not read this last one, so I’m not going to bash it).
The list motivated me to fill some of the gaps in my education, starting with some gay lit classics—and then stretching a bit into unknown genres. Here are some books from the list that I hadn’t read before, but have now:
I realized that one of my favorite places to go in New York City -- is my couch.
Photo of Watson and me at work: Sonja Lashua Fagan.
The other photos, lame as they are, are mine.
When you’re reading a really dreadful book, see at the bottom of the kindle-page that you have 7 hours and 14 minutes left with the vile thing—and think that surely death would be preferable.
One of the secretaries I work with, we’ll call her Cindy, had asked me where she could find greeting cards because two nearby stores had both closed recently.
Cindy is sweet and she tries hard, but she is also maybe not the brightest bulb on the marquee. I started to give her very simple directions, but I could tell pretty quickly from her expression that I was losing her. I suggested we look at a map, but she explained that that wouldn’t help.
“My two worst subjects in school,” she said, “were history and geography and math.”
Particularly weak on the math, I guess.
I don’t mean lol or stfu, but the one-syllable versions of longer words. They’re really nothing new, just the newest form of what I think of as British schoolboy slang: think ‘fab’ and ‘brill.’
But some these new abbreves present some extra challenges for the novelist, to wit: How the aitch do you spell them?
A beautiful guy may be said to be ‘gorge’ – or is it ‘gorj’? The copy editor wanted ‘gorg,’ but that looked way wrong to me, and for my purposes, these things have to be decipherable by someone not totally hip to the truncated patois.
Those crazy kids over at Merriam-Webster did a thing recently on the shortened form of usual--
I’ll have the yoozh.
and came to no conclusion on the spelling (“yoozh” being my pick).
One of my characters (Tommy, who adores slang as much as I do) referred to a cordial break-up as being “totally mooch.” I’m not sure that’s quite right, and it probably should have ‘myooch’—but it seems to me your brain has to stop and work that one out, which kills any chance at comedy.
Here’s one I’ve wanted to use but haven’t, just because of this pesky issue of orthography—the first-syllable form of casual.
He leaned against the Maserati, looking elegant and cazh.
If you saw that, would you even have a clue? I’ve even heard a tennis announcer use it as a verb--
He cazhed the ball straight into the net.
But does that even look like English?
One way to get past the clarity problem is to make it redundant.
He was relaxed and cazh.
Maybe you’d get it that way.
Nonchalant and cazh.
Nonchalant—there’s a good one.
He looked completely nonsh, in deck shoes and a cream-colored cardigan—and nothing else.
I’ll leave you with that picture, before these spelling questions make us all totes cray.
I always think of this little poem from Rudyard Kipling.
Going into WWI, Kipling was a hugely pro-war idiot. That was until his son was killed at the Battle of Loos—the kid was only 18—and RK realized how wrong he was. I think that makes this little poem that much more devastating.
From Kipling’s Epitaphs (1914-1918):
If any question why we died,
Tell them—because our fathers lied.
File under “New York Stories.”
Late one Sunday morning I was on my way in to work—it happens—and I was walking down a largely deserted Sixth Avenue. Tourists were over on Fifth for the shopping, or over on Seventh because of Times Square, etc., but Sixth was quiet and all locked up.
And I could hear bagpipes. Bagpipes? The sound got louder as I walked, until there, in front of a building set back from the street and up a few steps, stood a young guy with his pipes. He was probably around 20, totally cute, and all kitted out from the silly hat and the kilt, right down to the socks and the wonky shoes.
The Scottish boy wasn’t playing at that moment because he was busy posing. A tourist couple (judging from the bows, they were Japanese) were taking his picture, and the kid really threw himself into it. He puffed his chest out and tossed back his head with these red curls, and the couple took several pictures.
And then, amid more bows, they gave the young bagpiper his phone back and went on their way.
In this era of selfies, I probably shouldn’t have been that surprised—but it still made me laugh.
I recently read a horror novel, nameless here forevermore, that was, to put it mildly, not terribly good. I was slogging my way through this thing, having a really hard time keeping my eyes open for more than a couple pages at a go, and I was hoping I was close to the end of the thing, when the book finally scared me.
I turned the page and my blood ran cold.
There, in bold print, stood the terrifying words:
WATCH THIS SPACE.
Chase Taylor Hackett, a budding novelist chock full of witty and insightful observations on writing. And other stuff.