‘Pressing All The Wrong Buttons’ by Patrick Macke

sc june 18

I typically don’t listen to the sound on the TV because I almost exclusively watch sports and dudes like Chris Collinsworth can inspire fits of rage and anger that can lead to health problems. But at one point in this particular game, I wanted to hear a rules explanation so I unmuted the TV. The audio was in Spanish. For the first few seconds, I thought maybe a Mexican dude had made a great play and they had switched to the Mexico City feed so we could all hear how the play sounded south of the border, but when the commercials were also in Spanish I knew there was a situation. So I did what we all do when there is a bilingual mixup or when we just need help finding answers to life’s big question – I stared at the remote.

I was looking for a button that said, Spanish Off. For some reason my remote didn’t have one, but it had at least fifty others that were the perfect size for the finger of a newborn. It’s really not possible for even a skinny guy to hit just one button on the typical remote, he’d need to have the accuracy and hand-eye coordination of an Army Ranger Sharpshooter. So when a normal adult tries to zero in on a single button, he hits two or three others simultaneously which, apparently, results in a TV that only speaks in Spanish or German or sign language.

My remote has a button that says SWAP so I figured that must be it, I wanted to SWAP out the habla and SWAP in the English. I hit it over and over again, nothing happened. There’s also a button with what appears to be an icon of a lightbulb. Okay, I thought, this should do the trick, this is the button that will give me ideas on how to hear the TV in my native tongue. No luck. I pointed the remote at the TV and hit the lightbulb button. I did it again, nothing. Then I did it a third time and I looked down and the lightbulb button was making the remote light up. The “lightbulb” wasn’t about “ideas” at all. Why would I need a light-up-the-remote button? If it was dark, how would I find this button?

My remote also has a button that says LAST. Fascinating. LAST what? Is it the LAST button you should ever press? Is it the button to press right before you get a new remote? I wanted it to take me back to the LAST language I could understand, but it didn’t. There are four buttons on my remote that are labeled A B C D, they are contained in different colored shapes. They remind you of the building blocks you give to toddlers. Maybe they’re language-selection buttons? The letters didn’t seem to have any logical language association, except for I figured the “D” must stand for Deutsch. The letter “C” was in a red colored circle, so using my best racial profiling, I figured this must take you to programming with some sort of Native American dialect. It didn’t really matter because I pressed all of them in hundreds of combinations over the course of twenty-five minutes and nothing seem to happen – no German, no Comanche, no English. I imagined all my button pressing was probably changing the channel at my neighbor’s house.

Remember when TV channels were 2, 4, 5 & 7? Now they’re like 1,876 or 1,054. It defeats the entire concept of the remote control. Not only do you have to remember multi-digit combinations but you need the dexterity of a concert pianist. For example, the station I want is 1-0-1-5. I point the remote over my head at the TV and blindly try to hit those numbers in sequence, but for some reason, only two buttons register and now I’m watching channel 1-0. If I look at the remote to ensure that I press the right button then the signal doesn’t hit the TV and if I make sure the remote is pointed precisely at the TV I can’t type in the right numbers. I type in 1-1-0-5, 1-5-0-1, 1-1-1-5. My hand starts to cramp. I decide to use the UP arrow and toggle to 1-0-1-5 starting from 3. After one hundred UP arrow pushes, I’m suicidal, despondent. I go back to the keypad, 1-0-1-1, 1-0-0-5, 1-5-1-5, 1-5-5-1, 1-0-1-4, 1-0-1-1 … I’m an idiot and the remote control is turning me into a bigger idiot.

People used to change the channel by hand … “Hey, you little bastard, change the channel while you’re up!” My grandpa always had to have the latest technology. He had some of the first TV’s with “remote control.” One big button changed the channel. It actually physically moved the knob and made a loud ka-chunk sound so that you knew you were accomplishing something. The knob only turned one way, so if you got a little trigger happy with the remote you could miss your station and have to go around again. Those were the days – one five-pound remote with five buttons, channels that only went up to the number thirteen and TVs that always spoke your language.

‘All the Songs Are Trapped Inside’ by Patrick Macke

soft cartel april 2018

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about music, about the arrangements, the interplay between instruments and the human voice, the melodic genius that makes a song classic. I think about the dozens of individual performances and the vision of the songwriters that need to be magically synchronized in order to complete what used to be known as a long player. I wonder about the pictures on the cover and the liner notes and the storytelling that was intended in the naming of the songs and the thought that went into ordering the eleven tracks. And as I consider the ways in which music can enrich life and how one killer rock show can change the world, I think mostly about the reasons why there’s a clandestine conspiracy to prevent me from hearing the songs on the CD.

I still purchase a lot of music. I buy CDs. I have way over a thousand of them sitting alphabetically on a shelf where I can see them. There’s comfort in knowing they’re there. Music is a sonic trip but you also need to be able to touch something, so my CDs wait patiently, they all know that at any time they may be called upon to spin-up and provide the supernatural elixir that soothes man’s soul. Some days I hold themed concerts so that a bunch of my CDs get the chance to participate. So it’s a great day to come home to a new package that contains a new CD or two, if only I could get at the music.

Human beings typically like to work and solve problems with their hands, without the use of some special tool and without having to get up out of the chair in search of assistance … no, no I can get it! So here you sit with the box that has arrived containing your new CDs. The box can usually be opened without having to resort to a pocket knife, but the CDs themselves present an “opening” problem that can only be solved with a degree in mechanical engineering from Dartmouth. The entire CD is wrapped in plastic and it’s as tight as that high school skirt ladies try to squeeze into for their ten-year reunion. It’s hermetically sealed, not a molecule of air between the tight plastic covering and the hard plastic CD case. If you have fingernails, the first thing to try is to run that nail along the hard edge hoping to puncture the plastic coating, therefore gaining a toehold that will allow you to peel back the plastic. You run your nail along this hard edge with increasing vigor and the friction starts to cause heat and you could swear that you see a little plume of smoke the way you do when a Cub Scout rubs two sticks together. When at last you are able to puncture the plastic, you’ll find that you have a little cut under your fingernail that will produce not a drop of blood but will sting for the next seventy-five days.

You now have the super-bionic shrinkwrap off and you’ve kinda worked up a body sweat and now the real work begins. There’s tape across the entire top rail of the CD that extends down about a quarter of an inch onto the front and the back of the CD. This is military-grade tape and should you ever get it off, the CD surface it was on will remain sticky for the rest of time. I pulled out Frampton Comes Alive last week, a disc I bought when I was twelve, and moths flying by are sticking to the plastic surface where the tape was removed during the Carter administration. Anyway, I’ve opened thousands of CDs and every time I have to open a new one it’s like being handed a completely unsolvable puzzle. Where do you start? I pick it up, flip it around, examine it from every possible angle. I pick up a knife, then a hammer, a blowtorch. Finally, you begin picking at the edges with your fingernail, but you can’t really see the edges because the tape is clear and the CD case is clear. You start holding it up to the light, you get out a flashlight, you walk out into the sun, you start tilting your head at weird angles like a Beagle that hears a siren no one else can hear … no, no I can get it! Your scratching and picking finally produce a microscopic upturn in the tape and you start to roll it back and pull it and then it rips at an impossible angle and you’re left holding an inch-long sliver of the stickiest tape in the world. You can’t get the tape off your finger and when you do it just sticks to the other finger, and when you walk into the house people say, “Is that tape on your ass?”

They want to sell me the music but they don’t seem to want me to listen to it.

The same problem I have in the music room I have in the bathroom. I have a sore throat and a sinus headache. I grab something like Mucinex. In the box is an aluminum and plastic sheet holding little encapsulated pods of two, it’s like Noah’s Arc for pills. There seems to be a perforated dotted line running between the pill pods so that you can conveniently tear off just the two you need. Samson couldn’t tear these pills apart. You look for scissors but you’re in the bathroom, you grab a towel, maybe a better grip will help. You decide against separating your pills from the sheet and now you just try to push your two pills out the back of the packaging. It looks like that’s what you’re supposed to do, but they don’t push out. There’s a trick but only the pill maker knows what it is. You start poking at the packaging with your toothbrush, maybe you can make a hole in the Teflon surface and liberate the pills. Now the pills are all broken into pieces, oh well, if you ever get the pills out you can snort them.

Screw it, I’ll get a shave instead and get on with my day. Holy crap! I just bought new razor blades! They’re in a clamshell plastic package. It’s impregnable. What tools could there possibly be in the bathroom to get at the razor blades? The makers of the blades have to know that the only way the customer will ever encounter their product will be upstairs in their underwear, but to get the packaging open he will need to go downstairs and use a drill press. To get a close shave you need a sharp blade and to get the sharp blade you need a sharp blade. There will surely be bloodshed here today.

When they found me I was asleep on the couch, unshaven, three partially open CDs on the carpet and eight red pills in mutilated plastic bubbles in my hand. It looks like he tried to take his life, Fred.

Patrick Macke has been employed as a writer for over thirty years, mostly writing corporate and advertising propaganda. He recently wrote a memoir about writing in this obscure and funny alternate universe and has a blog at thewritemacke.com.