Screaming at Robots

There’s a good chance that if you have left your house, talked on the phone or used the computer in the last twenty-four, you’ve been asked to rate your experience about the experience.

Feedback. It’s a hungry world out there with big brother and big biz walking hand in hand—not for the first time–but in a way that because of the internet and the instantaneous nature of the modern experience here in the developed world, is unique and mind bending, and now, totally pervasive. We take it in with our daily bread, our morning coffee, as we read the newspaper, the newsfeed, or feed our pets. Most chillingly of all, is now the reading of books, which once at least pretended to feed our minds, is now a mercantile experience symbolized by stars on Amazon.


Rate this experience! On a scale of one to five, have the previous two paragraphs given you anything to think about? On a scale of one to ten how would rate what you’ve just read?


Thought provoking?

Somewhat interesting?

Slightly interesting?

Boring in places, but not in others?

Heard that before? Thought that before?



Don’t care?


Won’t you please shut up!

At the same time that we are being watched by cameras doing everything from taking cash from a machine, to standing in a crowded elevator, to entering an office building, standing on a street corner, walking past a school yard—never mind the rigmarole we go through at the airports—we are expected to endorse what’s happening to us. Like us on Facebook. Yelp about us. But whatever you do, even though your opinion matters to us, don’t express individuality. Anything but that.

Customer satisfaction is not a new field. Way before the chain store, merchants were competing for the return customer. But never in such an all-consuming way.

Just as killing Jews wasn’t anything new in eastern Europe, in the mid twentieth century, the technology finally married the ideology and the Final Solution was born. It’s the same with marketing in the twenty-first century. We’re plugged in and on twenty-four hours a day. We have reached the point of no return.

Because I am usually late paying the household bills, I have monthly access to a number of electronic voices (all of which sound scarily the same) urging me to stay on the line and rate the experience of talking to a machine.

Do I like it?

Has it been a positive experience?

How come there is no context in which to express how horrified I am by the extent to which the mechanistic world has taken over? I scream at machines. I want to kick the B Jesus out of these robots. Should I be fortunate enough to get a human voice on the phone to complain to, I can be sure it’s someone working in a remote call center half way across the planet earning two cents a day and consequently has no clout—still less can understand English without the promptings of a script.

Electronic sensors, that’s another one. The near complete disappearance of the parking attendant in lieu of the machine wherein you feed your tired, over-worked credit card. What in the world happened to all those nice parking attendants who smiled so kindly if one merely said hello and thank you? What happened to carrying around cash? Just remember if you pay in cash, there won’t be a record of what you spent, and maybe you can hide from Big Brother for a moment.

I was holding my hand under a flashing red light on a paper towel machine recently and I fully expected it to ask me to rate the experience.

Did I get enough paper? No!

Do I miss the hand crank? Yes!

Why am I writing this?

So someone will notice and read one of my books?|

Yes. And yes again. Why else?

That doesn’t mean I’m not tired of being linked in, networked, marketed to and paying by phone, electronic check, or wishing much of the time, I could simply check my own self out of this madness.

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E Train

A big crowd of us was waiting for the E train in Jamaica a couple of days ago.  They’d opened the doors, unlocked the turnstiles and we poured in diverted from the Long Island Railroad.  Though I have passed through Queens a couple of hundred times or more throughout the years, other than JFK, I have only stood on solid ground in Queens three times that I can remember: two funerals and one bar mitzvah.


People were grumbling. I stood next to a tall handsome middle-aged man with a very expensive haircut who was truly pissed.

“I could have taken a limo,” he said looking around him with contempt.

“An hour!” I heard someone else cry out indignantly.

Jamaica, which is a few stops away from Penn Station if you are riding the railroad, is a long way to the city if you are taking the E Train in.

And here it was… The E. We crammed our way in. I saw the handsome man shove someone out of a seat and sit himself down, scowling. When the door closed, I was standing with a group around a pole, holding on.

Six of us: myself, three younger women, in their twenties all chatting with a boy-man, a little pudgy with baggy jeans and very large feet. He was mostly talking to someone behind me.

The boy had the sweetest face, beatific really. When I looked at him and smiled, he gave me a little windshield wiper wave, as children do. I wondered which of the women was his mother. It looked more likely that they were older sisters.

I turned around. Holding on in back of me was, someone who might have inhabited the sideshows of my childhood in the tent next to Mississippi Flo, the fattest woman in the world.

This woman wasn’t fat. She was about my height, maybe a little shorter, and her hair was normal, straight and brown. It was all I could do not to turn away. Her skin looked like it had been boiled. It was covered in welts and powdered to hide its redness. One eye was permanently shut, yet she was smiling. Her teeth were caved in and there was more than one row of them on top. Her one good eye was buried deep in its socket. I knew in a flash everyday people must look at her in horror. The very opposite of the way people look at a beautiful person, but she had great composure, this woman hanging on to the pole. With such a face, she was used to embarrassment, used to God knows what. I was determined not to turn away.

“Is the boy you are talking to as sweet as he looks?” I asked her.

She smiled. “He’s an angel!” she declared. By now I was getting used to the way she looked.

We counted the stops together, the girls, the boy, the woman and I.  When we were at ten stops still alas, in the heart of Queens, I remembered an incident in my childhood. I was about the angel boy’s age: the awkward stage when childhood and puberty each have something not so attractive to display in the body. Like the little boy, I had endured a pudgy stage. And my father who was fat, used to tell me I was fat.

One day, things began to change; I sort of had a waist. I went to school in a brand new jumper that buttoned up the front. It was a black watch plaid and I had a nice crisp white cotton shirt underneath it. When I looked in the mirror I was certain I was no longer a freak. Or even close to a freak. My sister had even in a rare show of comradeship rolled my dark curly mass into something resembling real hair. Not dark hay.

I was sitting behind a boy named John, JB he called himself, whom I had a crush on. I sat down and he turned around, and I waited expectantly.

I was nine years old. JB looked at me, glanced down and told me he wouldn’t go out with me if I were the last girl in the world. He said it in those words. And to this very moment, I’ll never forget how it felt.

The woman sharing the pole with me had never outgrown her ugly duckling stage. It would take a certain amount of greatness just to come to terms with that. And not be destroyed.

We had reached Manhattan by this point. Civilization! East 50th. I remembered from other lives that I could walk across the platform and get the B train and not even have to go to Penn Station where I’d just be heading uptown once again.

I said goodbye to the happy group discussing where they were going to have dinner before the Billy Joel concert.

I thought then, the pitiful looking woman was the real angel. I can see her in my mind’s eye, her boiled face, her three rows of top teeth, and what shines through is her good spirit, her calm vibration.

In my mind’s eye she’s flapping her puffy angel wings.

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I fell off the sugar wagon in September, after a two-year hiatus. Not in any kind of bing-y way. Yet, to this very minute, I feel the siren call of cane and fructose that doesn’t really happen when you avoid the stuff and limit your consumption to fruit, and not too much dried fruit either, and the natural sort that comes in yoghurt, kefir, milk, and all lactose products. It started at my friend Mae’s wedding in September. A big piece of wedding cake, not ordinary white and gluey, her and John’s was spice cake with raisins and nuts and a beautiful white icing. Months later, I can still recall that cake which was proffered after the ceremony with a cold glass of good champagne (more sugar, alcohol and sugar—whoopee!). Next came a piece of iced gingerbread imported from home by my German friend, Andrea! Eaten with a hot cup of earl grey on a cold afternoon. Paradise! But alas, once you get that sweet taste of cane or fructose, your mind’s pleasure centers want more. And more. Tell me about it. I used to smoke. It was a years long battle to get that monkey off my back. And sugar is the same: dope, a signal to the nervous system and the pleasure centers to go into zing mode. Soothe me! Feed me! Once you get the taste, it’s hell to turn off. I’m guessing it’s like booze if booze is your thing, and thank God it’s not mine. I want to shovel the stuff in my system. And if you’re skinny like I am, everyone looks at you like you are some kind of freak if you don’t stuff it in. If you ask for the cookie without the flour and sugar, I’m labeled a Miz Priss; I’m told a cookie would do me good; I could use a little flab on my bones. What’s wrong with me, I look unhealthy. It’s getting a little ridiculous.


Recently my husband, who has always been able to eat anything he wants and remain relatively slender told me after I gave him the look at a holiday dinner party when he reached for a second slice of cake: “My wife is the reincarnation of Cotton Mather. In her last life, she sentenced people who ate cake to the stake, men, women and children burned!”

“Chill out!” He concluded and everyone at the dinner party in turn gave me the look and nodded their heads.

No I won’t chill out. And neither will gentle (informed) readers whilst perusing the pages of The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes, an eminent science journalist who links the worldwide pandemic of Diabetes to the consumption of sugar, with the US in the lead—both in sick men women and especially children. We started this whole damn thing. We gave the world high fructose corn syrup, soft drinks and Donald Trump who my son told me is a big Oreo freak. Imagine with all he gets to choose from, and he picks Oreos as a treat. It says everything about him. Everything and more.

I was raised in the south on coke cola, pronounced as one word. It was everywhere and consumed hourly by everyone. Babies drank coke cola from their bottles.

Our bodies were not meant to consume the sugar that we feed it. The pancreas can’t take the onslaught. The result of which are epic rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, the lamentable list goes on and on.

Read this remarkable book. The author, I have to say, looks a little stern and gaunt in his author photo.  I bet he never falls off the wagon. I bet he’s way worse than Cotton Mather or me at dinner parties. I don’t even like to think of what a treat around his house might be. Or how he punishes his significant others not to mention his offspring if they are caught using the stuff.

My mother, who was diabetic, and who died of the disease started me on the lifelong fear of sugar. I’m way older than she was when she died. And why? She wasn’t obese, she didn’t look like a wild sugar freak, but her drug of choice (apart from dex, opoids and seconal) was sweets. She ate hamburgers, French fries and washed the whole thing down with milkshakes followed by pie. A fried one if she could get it.

She’d chow down. Shoot herself up with insulin and often as not go into shock. After years of this, her body shut down, she was half blind and had to sit in a wheelchair.  And then she died, poor mother, and never got to meet my darling son.

I fear that fate befalling me, if I eat more than one cookie. Yes, I am a true phobe. An Uberphobe.

But according to The Case Against Sugar, I’m far from nuts. I don’t need biofeedback or a nice slice of pie. What I need is a megaphone, because all these years I was right! Don’t go near the stuff. Avoid it like the plague.

I’m about to get down on my hands and knees and pray for release from the devil’s food: SUGAR.

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