Oh, for the good of old days

"Bob Hope should be big as life on Vista Vision tonight," I said, reaching for the PressOn button. "Please don't touch that button, Phail!"

I froze, startled at the abrupt vocal intrusion from my PEST (Preprogrammed Electronic Speakout Typemaster).

"The name's Phil, not 'Phail,'" I corrected, regaining my composure. "I'm only going to watch this one-hour Bob Hope Special."

"Not tonight, Phail. Your editorial commitment is due in 48 hours," reminded the PEST.

"I'll start as soon as it's over," I promised.

"Tonight will be Hopeless," insisted the PEST. "You cannot bypass my preprogrammed log. Please begin the composition we discussed earlier."

I disregarded the PEST's adminition, turning the channel selector. "What's the matter with this thing! Everything's scrambled."

"I'm sorry, sir," replied a voice from a small aperture beneath the selector, "but all video transmissions have been temporarily suspended due to an override command. Please depress the PressOff button. Thank you."

"PEST, you have no right to interfere with my -- "

"Please insert sheet of Essay Bond so we may proceed," ordered PEST.

"I can't compose on an empty stomach," I said, bolting for the kitchen.

"Further delays will not be tolerated, Phail," warned the PEST. "Please follow my instructions."

Ignoring the PEST's pleas I pushed in the recessed bar on the Frosti-Free Food Chest door. The bar started pulsating in red. "Good evening, sir. May I remind you that in accordance with my ServoSystems program there can be no consumption of my contents during the hours between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. May I suggest that you ingest some alfalfa sprouts specifically grown in your home for such emergencies. Bon appetit!"m

Disconsolate, I returned to my den. "Welcome back, Phail. You must stop concerning yourself with unrelated matters," chided the PEST. "Now please proceed by typing in the title."

On the PEST's SensiTouch keyboard I typed "The Pangs of hunger."

"That is not what we agreed to write about, Phail. If you recall we discussed the subject of electronic creativity," droned the PESt as I left the den.

I recalled my wife had set aside some slices of stale bread for our backyard's feathered friends. I dropped a slice into one of the half-dozen slots of the Perfek Toast-R, depressing a lever. The PEST's plaintive cries continued from the den, "Please come back. I want to help you. We must not fail, Phail."

"Reject! Reject!" squawked the toaster. "Only fresh goods may be inputed."

As I tossed the bread into the sink I noticed a soiled pan, one which my daughter had used earlier to bake some datenut brownies for a college friend. I could see the foiled-wrapped goods through the oven door window. When I tugged on the door handle, the multicolored digital panel on top of the stove responded with a series of musical beeps followed by the vocal instruction: "To release door lock, press the proper color code sequence." I tried several random sequences to no avail.

"I'm very disappointed with you, Phail," greeted my garrulous ghost-writer on my return to the den. "If I may say so, your work habits are somewhat abominable. May I recommend one of our most successfull Two-Way Dialogue cassettes for the developing writer entitled 'Coping With Procrastination and Other Such Imagined Deterrents,'" prattled the PEST while I was placing a record on my stereo's spindle.

"Due to the lateness of the hours," began a melodious voice from one of the speakers, "it will not be possible for you to hear your selection, the playing of which might disturb those who have already retired. However, should you wish to initiate the playing of your selection tomorrow morning after wakeup call has sounded, please set the PlayTimer. Your cooperation is appreciated. Good night."

I shuffled back to the den, yearning for the good old days of noncommunicative appliances.

"I trust you have exhausted your bag of tricks," scolded the PEST, "and that we may now proceed as planned."

"I'm tempted to pull your plug," I said, picking up my guitar and plucking its strings.

"That would be very foolish, Phail, as I would then require a complete overhaul of all my circuitry amounting to hundreds of dollars at your expense. Now discard that instrument and start typing as I dictate."

As I set down the guitar I spied a pencil on the floor. "Know what I've just found, PEST! A pencil. One of your illustrious predecessors. An unobtrusive mini-transmitter of one's thoughts. Let's see if I've forgotten how to use one. . . ."

"Please put down the pencil, Phail. I am fully programmed to assist you at all levels of creativity."

"Sorry, PEST, but I think our days of collaboration are over," I said, sharpening my pencil.

"Listen, Phail. . . . Can't we be friends? . . . Why don't you watch some Vista Vision. . . . I can wait.. . . Please don't discon -- "

The pencil, I decided, was a useful device for PEST control.

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