Thursday, June 3, 2010

Of technology..and mice

I admit it—I’m a technology slut, as much as I can afford to be. I live at the end of a long gravel driveway that winds uphill from a dirt road in a small town surrounded by national forest. But I’ve got DSL and cell phone recep and satellite HDTV and a Bose radio-CD player and a desktop, a laptop and a netbook. I Skype and facebook and tweet, all in the shadow of the majestic Mount Abraham. But until Chris brought his sweetheart Megan to Fern Forest, I didn’t know what I was missing.

Chris works for a gaming startup that designs scavenger hunts for iPhone and iPad. Cool idea for museum crawls, corporate employee bonding, city tours, education, and individual fun. After he graduated from Andover Academy, he did his undergrad work at St. Andrews College in Scotland studying international relations and drama. He’d like to be an actor but the scavenger gig pays real money, so he’s biding his time until he gets his Hollywood break. Megan recently returned from a year of teaching English at an elementary school just north of Paris, where she honed her French language skills. She’s a poet and is settling down back in the States to look for work.

I was in Louisville teaching at Spalding University’s MFA in Writing residency when they arrived, and H took care of them for the first few days of their stay. He Skyped me while I was working and said, “Chris has an iPad.”

“He does? Can he show me?”

“He’s sleeping,” H said. “He’ll show you when you get home.”

I could barely focus on leading my workshop at the thought of getting my hands on the new techno toy. I’ve heard they’re a joy for surfing the net but even better than the e-readers for book downloads. The potential for children’s books—I’ve published a few myself—is huge. A word can be hyperlinked to its meaning or to a website. Imagine a book like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, with scenes hyperlinked to songs and dancing oompah-loompahs.

The MFA residency ended, and I caught the first flight out of Louisville. When I arrived at Fern Forest, Megan had left for a ten-mile run. I should have warned her about the Lincoln terrain. A runner either goes uphill and cruises downhill, crunching the knees on the way back, or vice versa. Running on flat road requires a five-mile drive to Bristol. But Megan followed the path of least resistance and headed down along the New Haven River to Route 116, took a right and fell into a rhythm along the level highway. By the time it occurred to her to turn around, she’d already gone six miles and realized she’d forgotten to put on sunscreen. I greeted her when she came into the house, pink and dripping with sweat, having clocked a dozen miles of up and down jogging. I could see that her technology was in the pricey running shoes on her feet. Nothing wrong with that.

I’d gotten up at 4:00 a.m. that morning to catch my flight from Louisville and went upstairs for a rest while Megan showered. Chris had been reading in the treehouse, and I hadn’t met him yet. In a little while, I heard him come in and speak with H.

“There’s a mouse in the treehouse,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” H replied.

“I caught a movement and saw him come in through the ceiling and skitter down the tree that goes through the middle of the treehouse. He was pretty big. Or maybe he was stretching himself out. I couldn’t tell. He disappeared through the floor.”

“You’re in the woods,” H said. “There are mice.”

“No big deal,” Chris said. “I just thought you’d like to know.”

“Thanks,” H said.

H knows about mice. They live in the motor of his truck where it’s warm. He just spent a grand getting the fuse box replaced because the rodents find it amusing to urinate on the fuses and short them out so that his check engine light is always on. He’s using fabric softener sheets in the engine now, hoping that the smell will keep them away, but riding in his car is like having my head in a clothes dryer. I prefer to dry my clothes outside on the line. The mice got into his VW bug, too, but it’s an old car and rather than spending the money for the repair, he put a square of black electrical tape over the check engine light so it doesn’t distract him while he’s driving.

I discovered that mice were nesting in my old Outback when one winter I started the car, turned the heater fan on high and pieces of paper and straw shot out like confetti. I chased the mice away, but the heater fan clicked and clacked the rest of the winter. A neighbor had a nest in her Impreza, and the fan sliced up a couple mice. The mutilated corpses stank up her car for months. I now trade in my car every few years—I don’t think mice like the new car smell.

I hoped Chris’s old Volvo had not been parked by the house long enough to entice the little pests. Anyway, his air conditioner is broken and so he and Megan ride with the windows down—no worries about the fan blowing in mouse nests or gory mouse parts.

While I was napping, Chris and Megan left for dinner in Burlington. H and I were in bed when they returned, and I didn’t get to meet Chris until the next morning. They’d been up late, and I’d risen early to make buttermilk pancakes and sautéed apples, which I kept warm in the oven. They didn’t come in from the treehouse until nearly lunch time, and by then the apples were dried out and the pancakes were like hardtack.

“A little maple syrup will soften them up,” I told them, and I tried to ignore Megan attempting to saw off a chunk of pancake with a knife. But they were good natured and grateful for a few days in the countryside away from Boston. I discovered that Megan had gone to the public high school in Andover her freshman year, found it unchallenging, and enrolled as a day student at the prestigious and private Andover Academy. Chris was a boarding student escaping arguments with his parents. She’s a feather of a girl with pretty pouty lips and big eyes. He’s substantial and worried that he wouldn’t fit in the queen-size sleeping loft. He did fit, but just barely, with an inch to spare between head and foot walls.

After breakfast Chris gave me a demo on the iPad. He has several books on his shelf, which looks like a real bookshelf, and the pages turn as if I’m actually turning pages. I was worried about not being able to write in the margins, but he showed me how I can highlight sections and make notations about them. Magazines are downloaded for a buck, and some articles have videos that can be activated to illustrate the stories. Some of the photographs are interactive, like the model for a futuristic movie costume I can rotate for a 3-D effect. The keyboard appears on the screen when necessary, as when I click in the search box, and the keypad works more efficiently than the one I’m using now on my netbook and is absolutely silent—unless I choose to turn on a key clicking sound. I especially liked the way the image followed me however I turned the machine and how I could zoom in or out on a picture.

To avoid sounding like an iPad commercial, suffice it to say that I was in love. In a matter of minutes I was navigating the iPad like a pro, showing Chris my personal website and some of its pages. He was patient with me, but I could tell he was itching to have me hand over his baby.

When they left to head back to Boston, Megan gifted us half a bottle of Sauterne, half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and her running shoes, exactly my size. She called H later and asked him to send the shoes. Too bad—I’d like to have slipped them on to see if they’d carry me a dozen miles. I checked the treehouse, the guest room, the dining room, hoping Chris had forgotten the iPad, but no such luck. But there’s one out there somewhere no doubt with my name on it.


Grace Adams said...

I'm in a virtual line for an iPad, waiting patiently for the email telling me I have 24 hours to show up at the store where I put in my order to pick it up. Can't wait!

Ellie said...

Thanks for the comment, Grace. Let me know how you like the iPad. I'm saving up to take the plunge. Here's to cheerful techies! ~ Ellie