By Dick Walsh
In a farmhouse kitchen, somewhere in south-central Pennsylvania . . .
“They call it Black Friday for a reason,” I said to my wife as she pounded the crap out of three chicken breasts in a Ziploc bag on a cutting board in the middle of the kitchen floor. With frying pan in hand, Myrtle sat on her haunches beside the chicken, the picture of someone just begging to be taken away.
“Black Friday was here before Amazon,” she said between swings. “They named it to describe shopping crowds big enough to block sunlight.” She rotated the cutting board 90 degrees.
“Whatever. I’m not passing up a good deal. We need to bring this house into the 21st century. Make it a smarthouse. Alaska does lots of stuff for us in our Florida house. Besides, I’m tired of having to get off my duff just to turn on a light.” My laptop screen lit up. I unlocked the home screen and opened my browser. When the Amazon page loaded, I typed in my password, copied from the Post-it Note I kept beside my trackpad.
“Alexa,” Myrtle said between swings, sounding out of breath.
“What?” I asked.
She stopped swinging, bringing the frying pan to rest on her thighs. “Alexa. Her name is Alexa, but you called her ‘Alaska.’ You realize she only responds to her real name, right?”
“Call her what you want; you know what I mean,” I said.
“Yes, I know,” she said, raising the pan again for another bout of tenderizing. “But you need to use her correct name. Remember how frustrated you became in Florida when you didn’t get her name right? She ignored you, and you just kept raising your voice. You scared the dog.”
“Wrote her name down and put it on the refrigerator. Problem solved.” Myrtle was swinging again. That poor damn chicken. “Amazon is full of deals today, and it looks like we can get a Dot for half price, twenty-five bucks.”
“Get what?” She stopped swinging.
“A Dot. An Echo Dot. It’s a smaller Alexa—it looks like a hockey puck. I figure we can get it for our bedroom here. It can work our nightstand lamps, play us music, and we can use it as an alarm clock. Simply by talking to it.”
“Just what we need. How about looking for a tenderizing hammer while you’re at it? Using my new frying pan to tenderize isn’t working so well.” Myrtle was jiggling the handle where it attaches to the pan. If the thing ever came apart during a full swing, someone would get hurt.
“Okay, I’ll check out meat tenderizers and frying pans. But the reason I logged on today is to buy a Dot,” I said, squinting at my laptop. “Wow! It says we can get another three dollars off if we use Alexa to buy it. That makes it only twenty-two bucks!”
“Oh, for crying out loud. Use Alexa to order a Dot? Isn’t that a bit ridiculous? If you have an Alexa to order a Dot, why do you need a Dot?”
“Artificial intelligence is taking over, haven’t you noticed?” I grinned. “It’s going to make our lives much easier.”
“I’ll take natural intelligence, where I can find it, thank you. Will it make tenderizing chicken any easier?”
She had me. “Well, perhaps not that.” Then it hit me. “Wait, I have an idea.”
“Oh, no. I hate it when you say that. Remember that idea you hatched about moving the toilet to the other side of the bathroom? I hope it’s not that kind of idea.”
“No, I’m serious. I think I can get it for twenty-two dollars.”
“Right,” Myrtle sighed. “And how will you do that?” she asked as she got up from the floor and placed the rattling frying pan on the counter next to the sink. She wiped beads of sweat from her forehead with a paper towel, then bent down to pick up the cutting board and the beaten breasts.
“Get this—I can order the Dot by talking to Alexa. First, I just have to connect to the Nest Cam in our Florida house. This is going to be fun.”
“Our Nest cam. You know, the cam in the living room in Florida. Alexa is sitting on the end table right near the cam. I can connect to the Nest cam to talk to Alexa in Florida.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Does it sound like I’m kidding?” I asked, looking up from my laptop. Myrtle was sliding cardboard-thin hunks of chicken breast out of a gallon-sized Ziploc bag that had surely seen better days. “You watch me.”
I pecked away at the keyboard, hitting the link to connect to our Florida Nest cam.
“Tell me again what you’re doing?” she asked.
“I’m going to talk through the Nest cam in Florida to tell our Alexa in Florida to order us a Dot for here in Pennsylvania. It’s brilliant. And it’s going to save us another three bucks.”
Myrtle shook her head as if to remove cobwebs and sighed. “Carrots okay with the chicken for dinner?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. With adrenaline now coursing through my veins, I tapped the keys to turn on the Nest cam’s mic. Squinting at the screen, I could see Alexa on the end table, its top illuminated by a bright yellow spinning circle. Pointing at the screen, I told Myrtle, “If this works, that yellow light will turn blue, and then I can order the Dot.”
“Alexa, order an Echo Dot.” Nothing. Again, “Alexa, order one Dot.” Still nothing. Mic on, check. Can it hear me? Louder, this time, I called out just her name. “Alexa.” Chagrined, I kept seeing only the spinning yellow ring. No blue. This time, even louder, “Alexa.”
As the device pretended to be hard of hearing, the phone rang. Myrtle wiped her hands on the dishtowel and answered it.
“Hello. Oh, hi, Champ.” She turned toward me. “It’s Tommy.”
“I can’t talk now. But I need to speak with him. Tell him I’ll call him back.”
Myrtle spoke back into the receiver. “Dad can’t talk right now. I’ll have him call you back in a bit. But I can talk.”
I could hear only Myrtle’s end of the conversation. “He’s buying a Dot from Amazon… A Dot… So, he can set the alarm in our bedroom… Uh-huh… No… We already have one in Florida… Yes… Dad says it will make our life easier… Yes, he’s yelling at his laptop… At the cam in Florida… Well, Dad says it will work… No… You know your dad—he makes it sound like a sure thing… We’ll see.”
I hollered, “Alexa!”
Myrtle turned to me, now raising her voice. “Elmer, not so loud!” She turned back and continued her conversation with Tommy. “The Alexa in Florida will order it and Dad will save three dollars… Hang on, I’ll check.” Myrtle covered the mouthpiece with her hand and spoke to me, “Elmer, did you take your medication this morning?” She again talked into the receiver, “Your father just stuck his tongue out at me… I don’t know—you can ask him when he calls you back. Besides, I don’t want to miss this.”
“Alexa,” I barked again, my eyes laser-focused on the screen and the spinning yellow circle.
Myrtle looked toward me again, indignant, and shouted, “Elmer, please, I am trying to talk on the phone.”
“Sorry. I’ll call Tommy later. I shouldn’t have to roar at the damn thing!”
Myrtle turned her back to me and walked toward the pantry, doing more listening now than talking. In a moment, she spoke again. “Oh, yes, please bring her; we’d love to meet her… Great. Sure, honey, I can fry some green tomatoes for you, but how about you bring along your ten-inch frying pan… It’s a long story; I’ll explain when you get here.”
After my last appeal, a two-tone blue ring finally replaced the spinning yellow one. Progress. With authority, I ordered, “Alexa, order one Dot.”
“I told you, honey, it’s your father’s idea… Yes, he’s still yelling at his computer… No, you tell him… I tried… Listen, honey, how about we call you back when Dad finishes his project? Okay… Okay… All right… We’ll expect you… Come early, dinner around six. Love you… Bye.” Myrtle turned back to the sink, hanging up the phone on her way.
Again, I shouted, frustrated, “Alexa, order an Echo Dot.” I looked over my shoulder to Myrtle. “How’s Tommy?”
“He’s fine. He’s coming over for dinner tonight and bringing along a lady friend.”
“Great! What timing! I’m within reach of victory here. He won’t believe how I’ve finessed getting a Dot. What’s the girl’s name?”
With disbelief written all over her face, Myrtle could hardly get the words out. “Alexis,” she said through a broad grin. “Her name is Alexis. Oh, how easy our lives are about to become!”
Dick, and his wife, Peg, split their time between The Villages and their home in southcentral Pennsylvania. Peg is a retired middle-school teacher and Dick is a retired trial judge. They are the parents of two great kids, Hilary (married to Kyle) and Danny. They recently became first-time grandparents to Dylan.
Dick has also rewritten Artificial Intelligence as a one-act stage play.