28 Jun

Small Talk: A Play in One Act

MAN

How was your day?

GIRL

Good.

MAN

Now was it a good day or a great day?

GIRL

Great.

MAN

                    (MAN scoops GIRL up and holds her in his arms.)

When someone asks you how your day was – and it was a great day – tell them that. Okay?

GIRL

Okay.

MAN

All right, then. Let’s try it again. . .

So how was your day?

GIRL

AWESOME!

27 Jun

My Life is Password Protected

“Identity Crisis” in Main Line Today (July, 2011).

I tried to tackle my to-do list today, but things haven’t worked out as planned.

1. Pay mortgage.

I went to pay my mortgage but couldn’t remember my password. After asking for help, I was told I first needed to answer the following:

“What is your favorite food?”

My first thought was pizza. Then again, I really like tacos. I took a guess:

“Cheeseburger, medium-well.”

Apparently not. Seems the computer knows my taste buds better than I do, and I’ll probably end up in foreclosure.

2. Buy a gift for Aunt Foo-Foo’s 90th birthday.

I searched high and low, hour after hour, looking for the perfect gift for my aunt. When I finally found it—a water-balloon slingshot—I passed along my credit card number and my address.

Seems that wasn’t good enough, though. I was told I must first establish an account. In order to do that, I had to disclose the color of my best friend’s sister’s eyes. Failure to do so, I was warned, would prevent me from easily purchasing water-balloon slingshots in the future.

I grappled over which best friend they were referring to, as there were several over the years. Finally, I had a hunch they were referring to Chris. He had five sisters, though, so I couldn’t be sure whose eye color they wanted. Too stressed to continue, I gave up. So much for water games at the nursing home.

3. Renew library books.

I wasn’t quite finished reading my loaned copy of Pride and Prejudice, so I went to renew it. They needed my library card number, which seemed reasonable enough. Then I needed to create a password that adhered to the following guidelines: 43 characters, including two numbers, one capital letter, an ampersand and an obscenity.

I spent an hour thinking up something I could remember. I was told to enter it again, at which point I forgot my password. Pride and Prejudice wasn’t all that interesting anyway, so I gave up on renewing it.

4. Order photos.

After spending a few hours whittling 537 photos down to 24, then removing the red-eye from each, I was ready to order some 4-by-6 prints for the first time in five years.

Before I could continue, I needed a user name. I tried the usual variations, but they were all taken.

I spent a good hour in deep reflection, trying to come up with something that captured my inner nature, my passions, my purpose in life.

Alas, it was already taken. I began to question who I really was.

5. Make an eye doctor appointment.

I was in dire need of new glasses. On a giant computer screen across the examining room was one of those reCAPTCHA windows you’re often confronted with when entering a password. Apparently, my doctor wanted to make sure I was still human.

“Read the first line,” he directed.

I fumbled to decipher the jumbled, wavy, crooked text, failing miserably. I explained that I was being held hostage by technology, all to protect whatever identity I had left.

“My life is password protected,” I pleaded.

He would hear none of it.

“No,” he replied. “You’re going blind.”

24 Jun

I Google Myself, Therefore I Am

“I Google myself, therefore I am” in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Under cover of darkness, with the shades drawn and the neighborhood fast asleep – save for a red fox making its rounds in search of prey – I went in search of myself.

The Google home page stood starkly before me and, like an addict unable to resist the urge, I Googled myself. I was afraid of what I might find. But I was even more afraid of finding nothing. After all, my life was at stake. If Google couldn’t find me, then my soul, my memories – even my very existence – were in doubt.

Googlo ergo sum? I was about to find out. My right pinkie hit “Enter.”

And there it was: my curriculum vitae spelled out before me in a list of some seven million blue links. Move over, Ralph Edwards. We’ve swapped the sentimentality of This Is Your Life for the narcissism of the Web. This is the 21st century, after all, and our egos have advanced greatly in the last 50 years. So, too, has the platform for sustaining that insecure little beast inside us. Today, the Internet and reality television alike proclaim, “This is my life!”

According to Google, then, here was mine:

I sell high-end homes in beautiful Big Bear Lake, in Southern California, and apparently I know what it takes to sell in any market.

When I’m not selling homes, Google says, I’m busy auditioning for movies in Hollywood. I even had a part in Biloxi Blues alongside Matthew Broderick. Now here was some digital validation: Since Broderick had a cameo in She’s Having a Baby, starring Kevin Bacon, that puts me just two degrees away from Kevin Bacon (according to the well-known rules of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”). Being so closely connected to the Footloose star is enough to make anyone feel better about his existence, but I continued the search.

It seems I also make custom guitars in Sonoma, Calif. That sounds like a pretty hip gig, which probably explains the cool mustache Google shows me sporting while showing off a sweet-looking electric bass.

Perhaps most intriguing of all, I’m a University of Massachusetts research professor who specializes in the taxonomy of the hindguts of wood-feeding termites and cockroaches. Kevin Bacon may be able to dance, but can he dissect hindguts?

The list of my accomplishments, careers, hobbies, and interests went on and on. I’m an insurance agent, an optometrist, a surgeon, an illustrator, the director of the Ohio Lottery Commission, and a politician to boot! I’m a modern-day Renaissance man.

But Google searches return the bad with the good. Evidently, I’m also a sex offender, an identity thief, and a personal-injury lawyer.

I suppose there’s no such thing as a skeleton in one’s closet anymore. The Internet sure took care of that, and any dirty laundry is hanging out there for the world to see, too. But at least it’s proof of my existence.

Except that none of the above really described me. Rather, these were the lives and adventures of many other Michael Dolans throughout the world. Without my own digital presence, I was forced to play Walter Mitty, imagining lives spent walking in my namesakes’ shoes.

Google had failed me. Or perhaps I had failed Google. Either way, eGo (the act of googling oneself) had dealt a permanent blow to my ego, and my entire existence was in question. Perhaps I was in need of a search-engine optimizer to assuage my digital anonymity.

Then I heard a harrowing screech outside the window, pulling my attention away from the screen. It seemed the fox had found its sustenance for the night.

I was still searching for mine.