My pipe sits by as I write this, combusted about halfway. I need to write about this infernal machine before I continue my well-deserved leisure.
As the reader might imagine, the calculator finds itself anachronistic in an age of pocket microprocessing. Calculators are the slide rule of my generation. My youth involved achingly beautiful spring days spent inside, listening to the arithmetic teacher prophesying situations where no calculator could be found: “Tuck, you won’t always have a calculator in your pocket!” These pedagogues were wrong. I have that and more! I can alienate my family in a few swift clicks!
Forced to ask a clerk where I could find one, I delved into a forgotten corner of the store. “Staples Slide Calculator,” the packaging said, boasting an alarm clock feature above and beyond its use as a calculating device. Cool, right? Sporting the lowest price among the five or six options geared toward accountants and number-crunches, my choice cost me roughly four dollars. A bargain, I thought.
The adhesive on the package was weak, like the device sat on the shelf until the glue broke down to its component parts. How long? Years, likely. Pleasantly, the battery, of the sort powering watches, was still live.
At home, I reclined in my office chair, unfolding the directions. Wait, directions? Really? Most alarm clocks are fairly intuitive. Calculators are self explanatory. Yet as I fiddled with the device, I realized why the directions were necessary. I learned design from the best, and this device was badly designed.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
keystroke on the calculator emits a piercing cry. Gritting my teeth, I checked the directions for an option to mute.
“Setting the Alarm and Sounds: To turn off/on the keypad beep sound, press the (Music) button.”
Pressing the Music button fixed nothing. Furthermore, when I pressed it, “EU” appeared in the corner. I remember running my hands through my hair, feeling stressed. Taxes were due soon, and I was itemizing deductions. I needed a blasted calculator.
EU apparently meant “Euro”. Yes, you too can have a loud calculator alarm clock with the ability to set a customized exchange rate with Euros. It does the ratio legwork to help you navigate a foreign economy, or engage in loud a rather loud sort of arbitrage.
I assumed I could get used to the noises. Not really. Taxes requires relative peace and quiet. The government’s due must be added up in silence. Furthermore, every beep reminded me of my middle school alarm clock, a klaxon of pubescent misery beginning at 5:45AM sharp.
Quietly enraged, I set aside my taxes. I fiddled with the calculator, trying to disarm it. The sliding action advertised had no function other than to shorten the device. It did not change the display. In fact, one could be within calculator-mode without having the number keyboard open. Strange.
Shortly thereafter, my fiddling got me into the alarm clock menu. Interestingly enough, I discovered one can set the alarm clock to a fun tune. And by fun, I mean terrible. Learn to love these MIDI ditties.
- 6 on the keypad plays a devilishly crafty version of London Bridge is Falling Down. The devilry is in the melody, which changes just before the phrase becomes copyrighted;
- Number 2 made me shudder, the pitch achingly high. Its tune is something familiar, yet not easily placed;
- Number 1 is a pleasant rendition of Fur Elise;
- Number 8 is a happy jingle that reminded me of better times. Like when I wasn’t doing my taxes;
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is on Key 3, in case you were wondering. You aren’t going to sleep a lick, sucker.
My wife interrupted me playing with the alarm clock sounds. She thought they were annoying. Go figure. I grudgingly agreed, throwing the calculator aside. Tomorrow, I’d resume my tax adventure. I’d use my laptop calculator, capitulating to the new, casting aside the old fashioned.
In the witching hour, I awoke to the incomplete version of London Bridge.
My wife was not pleased. “What the hell…” she grumbled. “Tuck… didn’t you disable the audio?”
“I couldn’t figure out how.”
“Well turn it off! We have work in the morning. It’s… it’s 2AM Tucker!”
I staggered into the office. While it is supposed to act as an alarm clock, the lunatics that designed the Slide Calculator conserved battery by skimping on a backlit screen. It is difficult to see in the darkness. Fumbling for the lamp switch, I accidentally sent the contents of this year’s return to the floor. Growling and cursing, I finally found the lamp switch. I silenced the blaring alarm clock. I went to turn it off. Fiddling with it, I realized a bitter truth.
Buyer beware for this alarm clock calculator: there is no off switch. Alarm clocks do not function if they are turned off. Everyone knows that. The calculator has an “On/C”, the clear button. But that function doesn’t control the power. It has nothing to do with power. Also, after checking, I found the directions don’t specify how to turn it off.
I rubbed my bleary eyes and stumbled back to bed.
The next morning, I meant to reprogram the clock in the morning before work. I made no progress, and our struggles with the device continued. When we returned home from work, the demented version of London Bridge came from the office.
I’m a thrifty person. I don’t throw my chotchkies away. So I continued to try and make it work.
Let me pause to tell you about the time display.
The date is listed fairly normally.
1/20 2006, it might say.
The time, however, will display strangely.
When I first turned on the calculator,I thought the time display was the date, but the last double digit is actually the “second hand”, counting quickly.
But why would the time be listed with a minus sign? I realized the colon does not exist on a calculator display. Instead, the minus sign was a workaround for an inadequate display.
A cruel joke, I thought. Time is not subject to the vagaries of man. Time marches on, indomitable, a certainty beyond any other certainty. Three dimensions are manipulated, but the fourth? The fourth is stubbornly static. Staples, however, had the gall to hint that time may be calculable. If minutes could be subtracted from hours at a whim, lives would be saved, mistakes could be undone. A moment could be lived over and over again.
Disgusted with the device and its ridiculous features, I put it atop my disaster of a tax return. Irked, my wife made her first request for me to get rid of it over dinner. I assured her I’d dispose of the calculator later on.
That night, the alarm went off. Again.
Her presentation to the board began at 8AM, and I could feel her rage as she tossed and turned, unable to go back to sleep. I slept fitfully as well, the creaking of the house making me listless.
The next morning, after my wife left for her meeting, I resolved myself to fix the device before it ruined my marriage. Cycling through the menus, I activated the clock setting. Adjusting the clock’s readout accurately, I hit the SET button. I thought I was getting the hang of it. In the moment, I thought myself smart, the kind of person that can figure out problems without the manual.
Fiddling again with the sound, I brushed the Minus button as I thought through the twisted logic of the calculator.
The time flashed. I was surprised. Why, after the clock was set, was I adjusting the time with the Minus sign?
I hit the Minus button again. The clock read a second previous. I hit it again. Another second previous. I kept going, subtracting further and further. The display sped up until I was three hours prior, at 4:37AM.
I hit SET.
Cerulean marine light enveloped me, consumed me. I caught a whiff of moldering garbage. Something like London Bridge played in the aether.
When I blinked, I was someplace else. The sun was no longer shining through the window. Alarmed, I held my breath tight. The calculator sat in my hand, unreadable in the dark.
The house was silent. No, I thought, not silent. Something stirred.
I distinctly heard someone snoring in the next room. Although, not just anyone. I heard myself.
My heart leapt into my throat. It’s a strange thing, to recognize yourself the next room over. I dropped the stupid Staples Slide alarm-clock/calculator. The snores stopped, and I froze. Wind whistled through the black gum tree. A whippoorwill called, anticipating the dawn. Snores resumed a moment later.
As I leaned down to pick up the calculator, I found it busted open. The battery was somewhere on my office floor!
Fumbling in the darkness, sweat beaded on my forehead. This could not be happening, but I knew I lay in the next room. Another sound joined my ripsaw snores, making my blood run cold. The light footfalls of my wife’s evening journey creaked the floorboards. On all fours, I moved as quietly as I could behind the desk chair.
My wife is a heavy sleeper, never the morning person. She padded by, visiting the bathroom, a lumbering zombie. From this angle, looking through the office door, I could see into the bedroom, glimpse my own hand hanging off the bed. The tinkle of urine in the toilet, the tear of toilet paper. My wife concluded her business in the bathroom, and made her way back.
I put my hand over my mouth. I felt deathly afraid of being caught. Something about the entire experience disturbed my sense of well being. I needed to remain hidden, I knew. Whether I’d explode into a cloud of metaphysical goop, or my other self attempted to murder me, I knew nothing good came of time travel paradoxes.
I waited a half hour to be sure my wife and myself were asleep. I needed to figure out what was going on. In a short time, we’d be awake, and I’d be at risk.
After a frantic search, I found the battery under the desk. Breathing a sigh of relief, I loaded it into the device, and only then remembered that I couldn’t see the screen. The terrible machine sat in my hands, utterly unilluminated. And when I looked out the office window, I saw the first blush of the sun marking the horizon.
Going outside meant disabling the house’s alarm system, an affair as beepy as the calculator itself. I was doomed.
No! I could hide! I knew this house as well as I knew it. Every hiding place was intimately familiar. I recalled that I hadn’t worked out this morning, so I could conceivably hide downstairs until everyone was gone for the day. As quietly as I could, I ventured to the basement, hiding in the crawlspace under the oil tank. The dust made me want to sneeze, but I quashed the reflex.
I’d wait until everyone was gone from the house, and then I’d figure out what to do.
But then I remembered that I’d time traveled. This me, the me upstairs, took the plunge into time bending exercises of a bland, calculating flavor, right after breakfast.
I needed to stop myself. I had no idea whether I could actually return to my life as it was before, or whether I’d harmed reality with the stupid calculator. If the calculator created another me, we couldn’t both fit under the oil tank. Could I reason with myself? Cooperate? Would I lose my mind, encountering someone whose memories and demeanor were exactly the same as mine?
That’s when I saw Carol standing in her underwear, squinting at my hiding spot. She always did yoga in the basement, ever since we saw the neighbors rooting through the mint on the edge of our property, directly under the living room window.
“Tuck…?” she said.
“Carol, shhhhhh!” I hissed. “He’ll hear you!”
“Tucker, what are you doing?”
“Carol, stop! Please! Come… come here!”
Carol walked over, looking dissatisfied. “I’ve got to go to work, what are you doing?” Then, a cough, my cough, came from upstairs, and her sleepy eyes went wide.
Before she could say anything, I hissed out, “Carol, it’s the calculator, just come here.” Backing away, Carol looked ready to bolt.
I knew the next few seconds were important. I had to convince my wife or risk a paradox. This wasn’t one of those fantastical doppelganger situations. I wasn’t William Wilson at boarding school. Both versions of me were me, right?
Then I knew. She didn’t have to choose, just trust. Hopefully.
A strangely perverse fantasy occurred to me in that moment. Could Carol handle two of me? Feeling unhinged, I almost laughed out loud. She saw me smirk, and began to back away.
“No no no! Carol, no, you need to listen to me. It’s me, okay? Your honey bear?” She stopped backing away, and I slowly got myself out from under the oil tank. “Look, just…” I drew a blank. She looked at me expectantly. “Look, I need to fix this. Something got fucked up,” I said, trying to sound sane.
“Tuck, what is going on here!?” Carol looked terrified.
“I’m going to fix this,” I reassured her.
Her face changed to that sarcastic look I fell in love with years past. “Like you fixed the chainsaw? You almost got yourself killed, Tuck.”
I couldn’t believe she brought that up again. “No! Yes, okay! But look, forget it. I can fix this. Not like the chainsaw. Like, the time I fixed the dryer. But I need you to shut off the alarm system and distract me upstairs.”
Her face was starkly white. She nodded, understanding the implications of the paradox. I thanked the universe that I’d married up. Intelligence and looks never seemed my strong points. She crossed her arms. “Okay, but you have to promise me you won’t jack this up, okay?”
Nodding, I drew her into a kiss. She clutched me closer. “I love you,” I said. She looked on the verge of tears.
What had Carol said to me this morning? I couldn’t remember in the moment. Had she said something to distract me over breakfast? Or was this a new reality, separate and distinct from my old reality?
And what kind of a demonic calculator did Staples sell me?
Carol went upstairs. I sat, waiting, hoping. I heard her move around, heard her make breakfast with me, heard her laugh. Beeps of the alarm system told me it was turned off. I heard myself wish her good luck on her presentation, heard the smack of her lips on my cheek. Something about that sound made my stomach churn, I recall. She wasn’t cheating on me, but for some reason, it felt like it. Crouching in the basement, creeping and hiding from paradox, I felt deranged, a bedlamite time traveler. I listened for Carol to get to the garage. As she opened the garage bay with a loud set of mechanical whirrs, I was out of the basement door into the cold morning air.
Reprogramming myself for the same morning, my time, seemed easy. After all, the exact time was emblazoned on my brain, seared there by a hot iron of memory. Carol pulled out of the driveway, stopping in the road and staring at me.
Again, a flash of light and the smell of garbage. London Bridge slept in the river.
I was in my office chair again. The house didn’t echo with my footsteps.
My phone rang. “Tuck?” she asked, hesitant. “Is that you?”
“Yeah baby, I’m here. And it’s just me.”
She was silent on the other end.
“I’ll throw it out,” I told her.
“Yes, please. I think I asked you to the other night, Tucker, and I–”
“Alright, alright, yes. I hear you.” Wives know exactly how to remind you of the dumb shit you didn’t do that they told you that you needed to do, but you inevitably didn’t do it, because it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. She was right, though.
Destroying the device seemed anticlimactic. The fourth dimension didn’t groan in protest. No boom of time’s destruction crashed through being. I didn’t hear the voice of God in my ears, commanding me to stand down. As my boot came down on the calculator, it smashed into a million pieces. I buried the pieces in the gutter.
Instead of proceeding to work, I went online, looking for reviews.
Average Rating: 3.9
Number of Reviews: 18
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I mumbled. My book had all of five reviews, and it didn’t try to destroy time itself.
I packed a fat bowl as I read. I’m going to entertain you with some of the reviews as I recovered from my near brush with cosmic disaster.
Gina K: I wanted a small, pocket-size calculator which I can carry in my server apron and/or purse. This one was a great find, and it has the date and time display which is an extra plus. I like the sliding feature which makes it the compact size I was looking for. The price was right too, with a choice of colors. I would gladly recommend this to anyone to anyone who also needs a handy calculator! These would also make great stocking stuffers, which I will definitely keep in mind for the holidays.
Gina truly bought this? And for work? What restaurant would let someone make bleeping noise all day? I felt incredulous. Her review was dated 1/29/15. I scoffed. The idea that she bought this a little over a month ago and felt the need to review it seemed absurd.
A verified buyer said: I purchased the calculator to use while shopping. I really enjoy having a calendar, date and time on calculator. Most used is the alarm, which plays a nice tune.
Are these people out of their fucking minds?
Jessie said: I will still keep this on my desk at work because it does look very stylish.
That brings me to another complaint. In the picture, the calculator is a bright blue. My was a flat black. False advertising, I’d say!
flea wrote poetry: I’ve needed a calculator for awhile
I kept forgetting to purchase one
Saw this one and it also had a clock and an alarm
Perfect for traveling
I used it this weekend and worked perfect
Like poetry. How many of these people actually bought this? I didn’t understand how an absurdly crafted calculator could be so well reviewed.
ok said: Very little buttons. I wish it had more options.
If anything, this calculator has too many options. A calendar, a currency converter, an alarm clock, and a calculator adds up to far too many menu options. And the time breaking feature is not well documented. So, translated into the twisted Staples review language,, “I love how much time I save with this! I carry it up my arse everywhere I go.”
Dixie Dawg wrote one of the only reviews I could trust: alarm goes off at all kinds of hours have tried to turn it off so it wouldn’t alarm and will not reset. thought it would be handy to carry in purse for shopping. threw it in the trash.
Thank god for that.
So in conclusion, I implore you, do not buy this badly designed, time breaking calculator. No matter how convenient it is to have a currency converter and calendar in one, it is not worth it. It will try to destroy your marriage and maybe the fourth dimension.
One star out of five. One out of ten. Utter schwag, avoid.
I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. This has been a FREE story, produced for the amusement of you and me. If you enjoyed it and want to support me in my hobby, please head on over to Amazon.com and purchase the first in my horror series, HIGH WATER. Also stay tuned to www.potfiction.com for more of my fiction.