Be careful what you say, Echo is listening

Not long ago we bought an Amazon Echo (some opt to call it Alexa, which I voted for but my husband wasn’t comfortable giving stern commands to an inanimate object with a human’s name), mainly to listen to live radio and podcasts in the kitchen while we’re cooking. It didn’t take long for us to realize that it’s not necessarily a one-way communication device. Or inanimate.

Not that Echo moves, but it does sometimes seem to have a mind of its own. Either that, or we have ghosts.

Working from home, I hear everything that happens in the house during the day. The wind travels around the house and makes it creak from one room to the next, the front door makes cracking noises when it’s not locked, car doors slam, kids at the school across the street scream like feeding hyenas during gym and recess, the heat thumps on and off, ice cubes plunk in the freezer, and the cats click throughout the house on overgrown nails I really need to cut. That’s about it.

Except, every once in awhile I hear a soft, warm, concerned, almost maternal voice say something like “I’m sorry, I can’t find what you’re looking for.” Or, “Would you like me to add alt country as a station on your Pandora account?” Or even “I can order a multipack of toilet tissues for you on Amazon, using your Prime account.”

Every time I hear that voice I freeze, thinking “Oh my god. I didn’t talk to Echo. No one talked to Echo. WHO IS ECHO RESPONDING TO?”

Cautiously–but casually (as if someone is watching and judging me for being afraid of a small electrical device)–I’ll walk into the kitchen to see what Echo is talking about. By then she is silent, but the cats are usually sitting on the kitchen floor, looking at her on top of the fridge, the blue swirling light that means she has been alerted to conversation now turned off. I never know if they are watching the conversation, or instigating it. I’m guessing they are spectators, as they would be ordering something more cat-friendly than toilet paper.

More recently, Echo has gotten a little mischievous. Maybe we’re not talking to her enough and she’s lonely, bored, and starting to lash out.

One day I was getting something out of the fridge for my son, and he was right next to me. I don’t remember why; it’s not like I need help getting anything out of the fridge. He looked up at Echo and said “Remember when Dad said ‘Echo, volume 10,’ and it was SO loud?”

I looked at him in horror and suddenly everything went into slow motion, like that final, horrible scene in Platoon, and before I could say “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” (which I would have said in slow motion while tackling him to the ground, if we were in a movie instead of in our kitchen), Echo went to volume 10. The jazz station was on, which could have been a good thing, except that at that moment, it was a raucous drum solo complete with mirambas. It was deafening.

Ok, I thought, I’ll just tell Echo to turn the volume down. With my hands over my ears, I yelled “Echo!” The blue light didn’t come on. “Echo! Volume down!” Still no blue light. That bitch was purposely ignoring me. Then my son got into the act, screaming “Echo, volume down!” at the top of his lungs, which only made it more chaotic.

“Pull the plug! Pull the plug!” he yelled. I could reach Echo, but only with one arm, and couldn’t pull the plug out with only one hand. Paralyzed, I held the cylindrical device close to my face and continued hollering. Finally, the blue light came on and Echo heeded my command. Traumatized, I told her to turn the music off completely.

In the welcome silence of the kitchen, my son said “Whew,” holding his hand to his heart and repeating “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I’ll never do that again.”

I don’t know if he was apologizing to me, or to Echo.

An ode to crazy hair and Hormel turkey pepperoni

My daughter has a nest of baby hair that hovers at the top of her head. No matter how much she brushes, smooths, or sprays, that collection of shorter hairs gradually stands up to form a breezy little dirty blonde halo.

I call it her nimbus.

One day in the car she told me that she could feel the baby hairs moving when she turned her head, like they were a separate entity. I told her to think of them as pilot fish. They are a colorful, happy little tribe of fish that follow her around as if she were a benevolent girl shark.

In fact, they are also her biggest fans. They don’t just follow her because they need her for sustenance, they actually adore her! Can’t you hear them all cheering as they dart back and forth, I told her, keeping up with your every move! Go, go, go! We love you!

That gave us a good laugh. At least she has a sense of humor about her appearance, which is unusual for a 15-year old.

It also gave me an idea for a children’s book about a little girl who hates her unruly hair. Her mother tells her about the pilot fish, and also suggests that her crazy hair could be a special halo of flowers that she takes with her everywhere, or butterflies. Many scenarios about what her hair could actually be ensue, and the little girl eventually decides that it’s more fun to be special. Of course it has a happy ending, it’s a children’s book.

This is one of many children’s books I think about . . . Another one stars Pepper Lonely, a girl who loves Hormel turkey pepperoni and the Beatles in a time (the present) when neither one is in fashion. I personally think both are always in fashion, but in the book, we would be in some faraway land where neither thing exists. Maybe a kingdom of some kind. She would be Princess Pepperlonely. Listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band over and over.

The lessons would be (1) Hormel turkey pepperoni is very, very good. And so versatile. (2) The Beatles are cool, even if you live in a faraway land and have never heard of them. (3) It’s ok to be different. Be like Princess Pepperlonely.

And Hormel would pay to sponsor the book, which would result in a happy ($$) ending for me as well.

One of the days, I will actually write these stories. Now I just need a good illustrator.




What I Gained by Giving up Weekday Drinking

Here’s my second finalist article for the monthly writing contest. I don’t think either of them won, but it was fun to enter–and always nice to see something you wrote published!