|A Magazine that Really Speaks to Me
Ah, there's nothing quite like curling up on the sofa on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a stack of freshly minted magazines. Let's see. We have the new Advocate, the current Out, and the latest issue of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. I can hardly wait to turn to the CAMPshots pages to see how much older everyone looks after another winterexcept, of course, for you, loyal reader.
But even before launching into Letters, I am enticed by the cover of Out, which promises me "22 Pages of Guy Candy" in its annual Swimsuit Special. That's about the only thing Letters is missing, I tell myself: color photographs of scantily clad beach boys (and girls for the ladies).
But I am about to discover something else in Out that I've never found in Letters, or any other print publication for that matterat least not yet.
As I flip through the pages in search of swimwear, I am almost immediately distracted by the unmistakable ring-tone of a cell phone. To my sense of well-being, the discordant electronic tinkling of such a device is comparable to chalk being sadistically screeched across a blackboard.
"John, that must be your phone," I holler into the kitchen. "No, mine's in the car. It has to be yours." "No, mine is set to play 'Beat It.'" "Maybe it's just on TV." "The TV's not on." I slap the magazine shut to investigate the source of the racket. "It's not the land line is it?" John suggests. "No, the real phone is connected to the Internet." "Well, maybe the Web is calling you." "Never mind; it stopped."
I take a deep breath and return my attention to the magazine. Automatically, it chooses to open to a thick, two-page advertising spread featuring a large picture of a cell phone and a smaller one of two guys playing backgammon on a sandy dune. There are a lot of words in the ad, but I never get around to reading them because I am again jarred by the sound of br...ring... br...ring...
The racket seems to be coming from my lap, but my pockets are empty.
"Hey, we're at the beach," a laughing voice booms. "Catch ya later."
"You talkin' to me?" I want to ask. "Don't you know I'm on the national do-not-call list?"
I finally realize that my magazine has its own cell phoneand I'm being forced to eavesdrop on someone else's business. The moment reminds me of my childhood when our family shared a party line with our neighbors, and I learned way too much about why poor Mrs. Benton would soon give birth for the 11th time.
Still, as in the days of party lines, I am intrigued. The caller has a friendly, sexy voice and he seems eager to engage me. I wonder what beach he is calling from; perhaps he wants to invite me to join him on an all-expenses-paid RSVP cruise to the Caribbean. (I have a vivid
imagination.) Drat, the connection has been lost. Maybe I can redial. I punch at the buttons and poke the thickest part of the page, but my magazine's cell phone is dead, and it doesn't seem to come with a charger.
Oh, well. At least I still have all that "guy candy" to look forward to. I resume thumbing through the pages trying to find the fashion spread, when once again: br...ring... br...ring...
He's calling me back. "Hello, hello," I bellow, urging the magazine to flip back to the picture of the phone. "Hey, we're at the beach," a now familiar voice reminds me. "Catch ya later." "But wait a minute... where are you?" I shake the magazine hard. "Br...ring... br...ing. Hey, we're at the beach. Catch ya later."
This guy's got a very limited repertoire. I am disappointed. He would be more persuasive if he declared something different each time I activated the tab on the speaker-box. You know, like those talking Trump dolls that keep you guessing what the Don's going to say next; one minute you're told what a great job you're doing, the next, "You're fired."
More language would also allow the caller's sponsor a greater opportunity to chat up its product. I'm sure we'll see such sophisticated devices in magazines soonas well as personalized messages directed to individual subscribers:
"Hey, Bill, over here on page 12. I've got such a deal for you on an iPod."
With nuisance technology progressing as fast and furiously as it is, I also have no doubt that we can look forward to the day when publications attempt to lure us into their ads (and perhaps their editorial content) with interactive, two-way conversations. And lots of them. A cacophony of digitized messages inserted into scores of advertising pages will make even the slimmest issue of most magazines thicker than the Fourth of July edition of Letters.
"Good day, Mr. Sievert; it looks like you need a little relaxation. I'd like to speak with you about timeshares. For Costa Rica, press one. If you prefer Aruba, press two."
"Psst! William! Aren't you enjoying the swimsuit issue as much as you used to? Please punch in the subscriber number on your mailing label, and we'll ship your Viagra overnight."
"If you'd like to extend your subscription for another three years, just speak the word renew."
When I receive that message, I'll keep mum. I have seen the future, and it makes me all the more determined to cling to the past. The only voices I want to hear from my reading material are the ones a writer rouses in my head.
Bill Sievert is several chapters into the writing of a noir mystery novel set in a gay and lesbian trailer camp. He promises that it will include no sound effects. He can be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 2March 11, 2005