ISSUE 55

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 Preparing yourself for that annual Christmas call to the relatives? Desperately pacing the kitchen linoleum and considering whether to stick your hand into the toaster to have an excuse not to? Know that you are not alone.
 Thousands this year are dreading the call, the moment when terrible reception, an overpriced, dying Christmas tree, and severe emotional trauma conspire to wrench your mental sanity and bludgeon it to death with questions about why you’re not doing constructive things with your life.
 Eventually, the call must be made. However, once someone mentions the amazing power of contemporary technology, hang up immediately. Inevitably, this means you will be put on speaker phone or suckered into an app that is supposed to pay your rent but deletes half of your phone contacts instead.
 In an ideal situation, speaker phone means you could—if you so desired—actually be in a room with fifteen people that have varying psychological issues, levels of sobriety, and bizarre opinions about your health. It’s like why even move somewhere if technology is going to strap you in a chair and interrogate you with the same garbled questions repeated over and over again?
 Unfortunately, your family fails to understand the essential problem with speaker phone. Do fifteen people write a letter at once? Does a teacher ask Danny to answer nuanced, personal questions about his romantic relationship with everyone in the class listening? Does a prosecutor query the defendant with a blender and the Patriot’s game at full volume in the background?  
 Even smartphones with enough computational power to get man to Mars are not up to the challenge of your relatives trying to communicate Bernice’s new hip replacement—you know Bernice, she worked at the old grocery and had that nervous twitch. She moved to Seattle when you were three… Well, the surgery has gone terribly wrong, and she’s addicted to opiates, and her husband’s left her for the male receptionist at the dentist, can you believe it?   
 As far as communicating relevant information about your life, it doesn’t matter. Everything will be forgotten immediately. Instead, the designated herald of your family will dispense what is actually going on once the conversation ends. These are the circumstances of your life through the filter of someone with a loose grasp of what Google is and whose cell phone ringer can be heard by everyone but themselves.  
 After events have been distorted to something truly awful, your relatives will discuss at length what should or should not happen going forward. The solution—which will often involve a version of Old Testament justice or finding a spouse of the same ethnicity as you—will be communicated later when you have failed to live up to their expectations.
 Occasionally, you will think you’ve made progress in the conversation. This is called optimism, and it is a treacherous thing. At this high point, either the phone will start acting erratically, your grandfather will die, or the neighbor will stop by and the conversation will devolve like a church sermon when a streaker runs down the center aisle. Half the family will answer the door and the other half will abandon the conversation they were only loosely a part of, and you’ll be passed off to Larry.
 It will take about ten seconds to realize the last conversation you had with Larry was seven years ago and his life is just as miserable as it was then. He’s big into complaining, white nationalism, and bottle caps for some godforsaken reason.
 As anyone who has been in this rat trap of a conversation can attest, you will need an urgent but polite excuse to get off the phone. Something to the effect of, Well, the dog’s latched onto Jeffy’s arm again. I better go beat him off with a shovel. Or MY GOD OSCAR. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT KITCHEN KNIFE? PLEASE. WE CAN TALK THIS OVER.
 Then, you hang up and blessed silence reigns. That’s it. It’s all over now. You have successfully completed the holiday tradition, though whether your emotions have survived is another question entirely. Relax. Have a glass of eggnog. And please, put away the toaster. It’s no longer necessary.
   
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ALSO, SHARE THIS WITH PEOPLE. DESTROY THEIR BRAIN IN A GOOD WAY.
Shove it into their hands and shout, “I LOVE YOU."
Cram it into their Facebook feed.
They need this.