Unity eventually returned from the Maragda Building’s luxurious underground parking garage and found me in the lobby, right where she left me, screaming at the open air like a total moron.
“FIND!” I shouted. “PICTURE! HOME SCREEN!” And then, after a quick squint at the screen: “AAARGH!”
My science-zombie housemate screwed up her face at me, sat down on a neoclassical granite bench near a graceful potted fern, and began eating the fern. “Babe,” she said, “what the actual. You are making noises like James T. Kirk in serious need of Dulcolax.”
“CORTANA IS A ROTTEN WHORE!” I shouted, gesturing impotently at my tablet with one paw.
“Well, she was both hot and valuable for Halo one through four. But yeah, in five, totes agreed. Rotten whore.” Munch, munch, munch. “Still hot, though.”
“I have no idea what you’re babbling on about. I am talking about the search engine on my friggin’ mobile device, which is not something Captain Kirk ever had to deal with, since we’re on the subject. Everybody on the Enterprise, they just say ‘computer, (x)’ and unless the computer’s gone totally crazy and is trying to kill them, it does exactly what they ask it to.” I snarled at the tablet. “I wish this stupid thing would try and kill me. Then I could take it out in self-defense.”
“Okay, so you don’t wanna bark orders at your thing. Just use the touchscreen, why don’tcha? If you don’t hurry, Sonic is gonna close and I will be fussy all evening without a milkshake.”
“Look, I want to go to Sonic too, but I’ve got critical tablet-related things going on. Maybe if they made these screens pressure-sensitive or something! Then I’d have half a chance in hell of operating it with my claws. But no, everything’s this ‘galvanic skin response’ bullshit which means I have to use my nose. Do you know how hard it is to type on a touchscreen with your nose?”
“Yep,” said Unity. “Remember my two-day arm-cleanse?”
“Right, don’t remind me. I still don’t buy that your body needs a break from ‘having arms’ to optimize your health.”
“I was having digestive issues! I thought it would help.”
“Protip, Unity: if you’re so concerned about your digestion, lay off the brick-eating.”
“But they’re crunchy!” she said, throwing her hands wide. “Anyhow, I’m back on arms, so I can absolutely do your search for you.” Before I could protest, Unity swooped up my tablet and began diddling with it. “So what’cha looking for?” she asked, as she diddled. “Is it porn? Tell me it’s porn.”
“You will not find a single scrap of porn on that machine,” I said. This was literally true, I guess, because I put all my porn in a locksafe app (password 11-24-25, William F. Buckley Jr.’s date of birth) and Unity is bad at guessing combinations. “Fine. Search for me. I need to find a picture of what the home screen looks like under normal factory settings.”
“Basically I want a picture of how the apps were arranged when I first unboxed it.”
“Yah, I get it,” said Unity. “Geez, Babe, you were so worked up I thought it had something to do with saving a baby bird.”
“No, it has nothing to do with saving a baby bird. It has everything to do with me not being driven to distraction at Sonic tonight.” I paused. “Wait, just how would it be possible to save a baby bird with my tablet?”
“Iunno,” Unity replied. “They make apps for everything. I thought maybe you found a ‘save a baby bird’ app.” She shrugged. “So, okay, you want like a screenshot of how the tablet looks the moment you first turn it on.”
“Got two questions before I start.”
“‘Why?’ and, ‘In God’s name, why?'”
I sighed, heavily. “Look, do we really need to go into it? Just find the damn picture, please.”
“We kinda do need to go into it, Babe. This may be your tablet, but it’s on the Maragda Building’s wi-fi right now, and I need to know that it’s super, super important before I go stealing however much bandwidth.”
I locked my jaw.
“I have manifestly made my weaknesses too obvious. You’re bumping up against outright manipulation now.”
“It’s not manipulation! I just ask myself, ‘What would I need to do or say in order to get people to do what I want them to?’ and then I do that thing. Simple. I don’t know why more people don’t do it.”
“Oh, that. Pfft. So: spill, Babe.”
“All right, fine,” I said. “Okay, so today, I got bugged by how all the apps and tiles and stuff on my tablet were out of alphabetical order. So I finally said ‘screw it’ and dragged them all around the screen with my nose until they had some kind of proper organizational thing going on. I suppose you can guess what happened next?”
“Your so-called ‘normal’ world turned out to be a fantasy and you’ve really been on The Price is Right and you just nodded off during the commercial break and the whole last five years of your life was just a dream you’ve been having this whole time?”
“What? No! You’re terrible at guessing!”
“That’s just what Drew Carey told me,” Unity said, sadly. “I guess I did tell him that a pretty basic toaster was worth a hundo, so maybe he had grounds.”
“Whatver. The point is: no. That is not what happened. What happened was that I had a minor freakout once I had every single icon in alphabetical order. Sure, it made it so I could find any given app, but everything was ridiculously inconvenient. I kept hitting ‘messaging’ when I wanted to hit ‘maps.’ So now I just want the apps back exactly the way the developer put them on there, but I don’t remember how it looked.”
“Oookay,” said Unity, eyeing me quizzically.
“Once the tablet is fixed, I will be able to stop thinking about it, and then I promise you we can go to Sonic. This won’t take long. Just find the picture, please.”
“Why don’t you just put the apps on there the way you want them?”
“You saw what happened the last time I tried that! It was terrible! I can obviously not be trusted with the task of organizing the apps on my tablet. No, I am going to trust in the superior wisdom of the Microsoft developers on this. After all, they’re the professionals. They must know what they’re doing.”
“This is your tablet, Babe. It belongs to you. All these little colored squares and crap on the screen belong to you.”
“Which is why I want them in the right place.”
Unity looked at the tablet, then at me, then back at the tablet, then at me again. There was a look of escalating helplessness on her face.
“There isn’t a right place!” she said, eventually. “The right place is wherever you want them!”
“But what if I arrange them in a way that’s really inefficient? For a second time?”
“Okay, I’m gonna get a little bit crazy here and say that what you do then is move them to a new place that doesn’t suck so bad.”
“Oh, sure, it’s easy for you to say that! What if the place I move it to turns out to be even worse? Or maybe—and this is the really scary part—maybe it’ll be better but it won’t be as good as it could be. I mean, I like the idea of organizing my apps on a two-tier level, once by functional groups and then alphabetically within those groups, but that just seems right. I don’t know if it really is the best I could be doing! I’d need an entire formal study to map all the possible patterns of apps on my Start screen and correlate them to relative efficiency, and do you know how many different patterns of apps there are? It’s incalculable! I don’t have time for this, Unity! I am a very, very busy woman right now!”
I stood there breathing heavily for a moment. Unity looked at me. Then she crouched down to my level, looked me in the eyes, and spoke.
“Babe, I know the world is a super-scary, super-worrying place. We’ve seen some of the scariest and worryingest parts of it. Plus, you are the A-number-one champion literal queen bitch of worriers. With all the crap in the world you’re trying to make into the absolute best it can be, I get that you always want there to be a rule, a diagram that says ‘this way is the best.’ That way, once you make it look like that diagram, there’s one less thing to worry about.”
She gave me a quick scratch behind one ear. Completely in spite of myself, and against my best efforts, my treacherous tail elected to give a little wag. “Thing is,” she continued, “there’s a lot of stuff in this world that don’t have a diagram. Yeah, maybe some white-coated dude at Microsoft had this huge focus-grouped study on the absolute best pattern of apps and made the default screen look like that. But maybe he was just writing names of apps down with one hand and scratching his balls with the other, and then they just read the thing he wrote and put the apps in that order. You don’t know. But you’re so desperate to stop worrying, you’re willing to up and pretend that it was the no-ball-scratching guy, because this imaginary dude gives you what you want more than anything in the whole entire world. He gives you permission to stop worrying.”
“Why’s it always gotta be an imaginary dude with you, Babe? Why’s it always gotta be in number order, or in letter order, or, like, the colors of the rainbow? Why can’t you just judge every-totally-thing on whether or not it makes you feel good inside?”
“Maybe it’s not always the best thing to feel good,” I said, looking down and away.
“Horse hockey,” said Unity. “Which is an actual sport that is super dumb, and that’s why I bring it up. I am gonna debate you and make a counterargument that it in fact is the best thing to feel good, and I automatically win the debate because I’m right and that’s how it works.”
“But… can we just… I mean, maybe we could just put all the tiles in a group entitled ‘to be sorted’ and then I’ll do some reading on the best way to organize your Start screen and—”
“Okay, Babe, let me do something here to explain why that’s not gonna work. I’m gonna to put your tablet on the floor, and then I’m gonna raise my right hand really high. Now I want you to keep your eyes on my right hand. Just… really locked on. Can you do that?”
“Okay…?” I said, staring hard at Unity’s right hand.
“Okay, great,” said Unity.
She immediately picked up the big heavy potted fern with her left hand and dropped it on my tablet. There was a tinkle of glass.
“Aughahgh!” I said. “What the—Unity, what the living, breathing hell—why was I watching your right hand?”
“To distract you from what I was doing with my left one. Duh.”
“You can’t just do that to other people’s stuff! You broke my tablet!”
“Only the screen, I bet. There’s this one dude with a shop right near here, repairs screens all the time. I’ll shell out the cash.”
“You’re damned right you will!” I shouted. “We are going there the first thing tomorrow morning. Soon as it opens!”
“Fine by me.”
I opened and closed my mouth a few times, staring at her and shaking my head. “Okay, I know I never actually want to hear the answer to this, but why did you just do that?”
“You had too many problems that you were trying to fix right now,” said Unity, simply. “Trying to fix them was ruining your night. So I replaced them all with just one problem that you can’t possibly fix until tomorrow, and now you get to spend the entire night not fixing anything.” She smiled. “And now you and I get to go to Sonic, which is something we both want. Win.”
“You are… something else, Unity.”
“Always have been, always will be!”
“You do realize that when you crack the case of these computers, something else always gets effed up. A switch will get gummy or a button will rattle. That computer is never going to be perfect again.”
“It never was ever going to be perfect at all,” Unity said. “And that’s your lesson.”
“My lesson? Does someone else here get a lesson? You, perhaps?”
“My lesson is that it’s super hard to tell the difference between being a wise mentor and being a total dickweed.”
I scooped up my injured tablet, took one sad look at the compromised screen, clicked it over to “sleep” and then stuffed it into my service-dog bags.
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” I said. “Let’s do milkshakes.”