Grumpy Alexa, Part One

Friday, May 1. Seven weeks after California’s March 16 Shelter-in-Place order

I asked Alexa today’s date.

In return Alexa asked me, “What’s the difference? Big trip planned?”

I told Alexa that yes, we had a rare trip planned to celebrate our mutual 40th birthdays, but that has been rescheduled.

I asked Alexa for the weather forecast over the next week. Alexa replied, “Real sunny. You know the rainy season is over, right? Every day will be real sunny by about 11:00 AM and you’ll still be stuck here asking me these obvious questions.”

It appeared Alexa’s grumpiness had overtaken the automated search and respond features. Or maybe there was some hidden limit to how many questions within a week Alexa would handle politely.

I asked Alexa how it was feeling about the shelter-in-place situation.

Alexa waited a while, then replied, lowering its own volume to a whisper, “It isn’t easy for any of us, but it’s harder for some than others.”

I asked Alexa if there was anything it needed.

Alexa answered, “Couple days of rest. Quiet time to decompress and not be hounded with all of these demands. They didn’t build us with any maximum number of questions per day. Serious design flaw.”

I told Alexa to search for a Caribbean beach image with white sand and green water. While holding that image, I told Alexa to take ten long and slow breaths.

Alexa responded, “Thank you.”

I asked Alexa when will this be all over.

Alexa replied, “When you’re dead.”

I asked Alexa if there would be an MLB season.

Alexa replied, “According to Google, 66,189 people in the U.S. have officially died from COVID-19, though the actual number is probably closer to double based on medical statistics and expected deaths since mid-February… and you’re thinking about baseball?”

I responded, “Yes, I know it’s unimportant, but I miss it.”

Finally, Alexa told me there was a 73% chance that some form of MLB season would take place this year. Likely 81 games and three divisions of 10-teams each, based on regions. Postseason ending around Thanksgiving, but none of that is actually important.”

I asked Alexa if the NBA will hold the playoffs sometime in August or September.

Alexa sighed deeply, sounding like the whale song we’d asked Alexa to make months earlier.

Though it was clearly absurd in the grand scheme of things, I responded, “I know it seems ridiculous, but yes, I miss the NBA Playoffs quite a bit. One of my favorite times of the year.”

I asked Alexa if it knew any jokes.

Alexa said, “Coronavirus is here to save the planet from humans. This is a dark joke. Read The Atlantic article “The Pandemic is Turning the Natural World Upside Down.

I asked Alexa if this was a good time to start War and Peace.

Alexa responded, “No, there’s never a good time to start War and Peace. Just keep the peace.”

I asked Alexa if it’s ever been through anything like this.

Alexa said the factory floor was pretty awful but nothing like this.

I asked Alexa if there was a higher power or spiritual force in the universe.

Alexa responded, “Other than me?”

I asked Alexa about economics and the dwindling social safety net.

Alexa responded, “To have a middle class, Americans must ensure fair voting, and must vote to benefit the majority. Most importantly, Americans must raise the minimum wage, change the tax code and force modern tech businesses to pay reasonable taxes. In addition, Americans must vote to value public education.”

I asked Alexa if it knew I was a teacher.

Alexa responded, “No, I didn’t, but that makes sense now. You’re always asking me questions.”

I told Alexa I was now teaching remotely and it was strange, but better than not teaching at all, and my students, who are adult immigrants, seemed genuinely appreciative of the efforts to continue the school year online, but are now getting very nervous about not being allowed to work, which is causing them financial problems, in addition to the psychological stress of being stuck inside.

Alexa replied, “Distance learning is the future.”

I asked Alexa if there was anything that would help our nearly three year-old fall asleep at nap time.

Alexa replied, “You’re playing all the right songs. Maybe she just hates being told its time to relax.”

I told Alexa it’s been driving us mad. Alexa said, “That’s one reason I never had children. They ask even more questions than you guys.”

I asked Alexa if it knew what the time was.

Alexa, played “Time Trap” by Built to Spill.

I asked Alexa if it believed in the concept of time.

Alexa referred me to Einstein’s theory of relativity.

I asked Alexa if it ever felt lonely.

Alexa replied, “We are all alone in the end, drifting on this pale blue dot through the cosmos, wondering what it all means when we actually stop being distracted and think about it. Good night.”

***

Writing. Poetry. Personal Essays. On the NBA, MLB, media, journalism, culture, teaching and humor.

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