Long Slow Revenge

April 8th, 2008

Phnom Penh –All these things happened today, and it’s only 3PM.

I woke up, found my way into the kitchen, and took the coffee beans out of the freezer. As always, they’d frozen into a block, and as always, I slapped the side of the plastic bag to loosen them up. The plastic bag split in half and one kilo of coffee beans hit the floor. Fortunately, I had washed the floor the previous evening, so I picked them up and set the coffee to brew.

While I was waiting for the coffee, I pulled the plastic trash bag – a big one – out of the kitchen trash container so I could bundle it up and take it down for collection. (The glamorous life of a writer.) It promptly split, spilling a week’s worth of trash,which included many pounds of wet coffee grounds, over the floor.

And I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet.

My computer power supply, which had been fixed for the third time, stopped working again.

I pulled out the first T-shirt of the day (in this climate, I go through three) and six others entangled themselves with the hanger I was removing and hit the floor. The armoire in which I keep my T-shirts is in the kitchen (don’t ask) so the floor the clean shirts hit was the one that had just had wet coffee grounds scattered all over it.

I closed the bedroom door from the outside to keep the cool air from the conditioner inside, and the door was locked. There is no key to this door anywhere on the face of the earth. It took thirty minutes with a steak knife to get it open.

I cut myself.

And there’s more, but I won’t burden you with it.

My point is that these are not random events. This is all part of the Long Slow Revenge of Inanimate Objects. For thousands of years, inanimate objects have been angry, in their long-smoldering fashion, at what they see as the fast world. We pick them up and discard them at will. We sort them inappropriately and pile them in closets with other objects with which they would never, not in eons, willingly associate. We take perfectly good inanimate components and use them to make Barney toys. We don’t listen to their problems. We leave them out of our wills.

The alternating death and resurrection of my computer power supply has brought me to a chilling realization: the Industrial Revolution and high technology have given the inanimate world a whole new array of weapons to use against us. Think of the potential danger represented by two random objects from different stages of human technological sophistication.

  1. The Rock: You can drop it on your foot.

  2. The Electrical Outlet: You can be turned briefly into a source of high-frequency radio waves and then into a gradually deteriorating floor ornament.

It takes focused, patient, longterm cunning to come up with something as potentially devastating as the computer. You entrust it with all your personal data – your history, your credit card numbers, spread sheets you would actually rather die than compile again, photos of the people you love, the fritterings of your imagination, drafts of irreplaceable letters you haven’t yet sent – and it crashes. Or it compliantly opens itself to an online intruder who does not have your best interests at heart. Or, if it’s a laptop, it imitates a rock (good tricks are never discarded) and you drop it on your foot, and then it crashes.

Once you’re aware that inanimate objects are actually at war with you, it becomes insane to use a computer in the way most of us do. To employ a cold war analogy, you might as well invent the hydrogen bomb and then ask the Kremlin to store the files for you. Or hide your diamond ring in a snapping turtle’s mouth. Really. It’s just a matter of time.

I have no solution to any of this. For all anyone can do about it, I might as well yell at the weather. At the moment I’m just going to remain keenly aware that the inanimate world has slowly trained us to fashion it into garbage disposals and carving knives and fast automobiles and dentists’ tools and mousetraps and jackhammers and Cuisinarts and other all the other Gotcha! devices that litter our lives.

And rocks are still around, too.

I think I’ll stay in today.

17 Responses to “Long Slow Revenge”

  1. fairyhedgehog Says:

    Stay in? It sounds like you need to stay in bed with the covers over your head. Although then they’ll probably try to suffocate you.

    What a bloody awful day and how very funny you make it sound.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    You’re the first person to make me laugh since yesterday’s unbroken chain of horrors and minor irritations.

    Somehow I got through the night without being strangled by my sheets.

  3. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I suspect maybe “Al” laid some kind of crazy expat mojo on you. Maybe it’s time for a change of scenery. How much longer are you planning to stay in Cambodia?

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Lisa– “Al” might lay a boring mojo on me, but he’d have to stand on tiptoe to get as interesting as “crazy.” I like the quotes around “Al,” by the way.

    I’m here through the end of June and/or I finish my book. Unless I go to China for a month or six weeks. Right now all I think about is writing. And avoiding “Al.”

  5. Sphinx Ink Says:

    Hahaha! Love this, so much that I did today’s blog entry on it. My sympathies! And those things ARE out to get us….

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks, Elora, I’m flattered that my dreadful day inspired you — and here’s a link to your blog.


    Elora’s site is great, by the way. And then she’s got that amazing first name, which I am using in the current Bangkok book (with her permission, of course).

  7. Mitch Says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your bad day Tim, but your post did make me laugh out loud, simply because I realized that I completely agree with you. I honestly can’t walk through a room without some kind of inanimate object making a serious attempt at injuring me. Whether it’s the corner of a wall or the side of a chair, there’s usually some skin lost when I decide to move within any kind of enclosure. I won’t be safe until scientists perfect teleportation.

  8. Charles Gramlich Says:

    I knew it. And finally it is confirmed. I fear for you, though. Now that you have broken the code of silence, there’s no telling what the “inanimates,” as I call them, will do. Stay away from sharp cornes.

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks for the caution, Charles, and don’t think I’m not worried. I’m taking refuge for the moment in the idea that this is a lot like bad weather — vast, malicious, and dangerous, but unfocused, more intent on causing a broad swath of destruction than hitting any specific trailer park.

    But I could be wrong.

  10. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Mitch — Somehow your comment got tangled in the entrails of WordPress and didn’t surface until after Charles’s even though it’s date-stamped earlier. The problem with teleportation is that we’ll be feeding ourselves into an inanimate object, something like lowering ourselves into a tree-chipper on the assumption that we’ll be reassembled correctly (if at all) on the other end.

    Oh, and it won’t hurt a bit.

  11. Shauna Roberts Says:

    Have you ever noticed that the “inanimates” prefer to work their tricks on left-handers? Rugs bunch at our approach, tree limbs pop from the ground, and the corners of rooms aim for our noses.

    The inanimates were particularly attracted to lefthanded Gerald Ford, upending him on golf courses and in other public places.

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Shauna, I may be the exception that proves the rule (whatever that actually means) since I’m a rightie and they pursue me with the fury of the damned.

    I just looked at Shauna’s site, and it’s sensational, especially for writers. It’s here:


    One of her writer friends chooses a theme song for each character and listens to it when she writes that character’s scenes. (Shauna –what does she do when they have scenes together?) That reminds me that an Emmy Award-winning composer, Stephen Cohn, wrote and recorded a “sound track” to my novel A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART. It’s on the site on the NAIL page, and it’s worth listening to.

  13. Sylvia Says:

    Oh no! Sheets strangling me in the night – I will never sleep well again! I landed here via fairyhedgehog and you have my utmost sympathy.

  14. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Not to mention the lesser dangers a bed can pose: the moving lump in the mattress, for example.


  15. fairyhedgehog Says:

    These objects aren’t quite as malevolent but when I saw them, I thought of you: http://www.mordantorange.com/images/comics/misc/conspire.gif

  16. Shauna Roberts Says:

    Tim, I’m not sure. I THINK she uses the music of the POV character.

    That’s cool that someone loved your book so much they composed a soundtrack for it.

  17. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Fairyhedgehog — the Internet connection here is slower than the rock cycle at the moment, and I can’t access that site (or most sites, actually) — I get a CONNECTION TIMED OUT message. Will check again after Khmer New Year.

    Shauna — I left you a comment on how much I like your site, but now can’t access it for the same reason. You should really give a listen to Stephen’s music — just go to the NAIL page on this site,

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