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The Magic Direction Box MAG
There's a real otherworldly quality to Fry's Electronics. I wouldn't even call it the middle of nowhere; it's the middle of no-way-am-I-going-there, and it's the size of three high schools and dormitories to boot. You go in for a flashdrive, but by the time you get past the telephones and Geiger counters, you're not sure what city you're in and flashdrives are a distant relic of some forgotten past. They have more sales associates than the whole of West Sacramento, and they'll each point you in a different direction; I've always wondered if they aren't paid at all but merely the lost and bewildered wandering in search of some electronics promised land, trapped in aisles of telescopes and film cameras hungry for the souls of the moneyed and technological.
I needed a GPS.
I refuse to call myself lost and bewildered. I always know where to find my car in the parking lot and my room in the hotel; it's finding the hotel in this figure-eight checkerboard we call a city I've never quite figured out. I'd tried to get to Carmichael the week before and manifested “Go down Fair Oaks and turn left on San Juan” into four hours of agonized confusion and one false police report.
“I thought you were dead,” my mother stated flatly when I made it home.
“Fair Oaks could pass for the River Styx,” I countered.
“This is ridiculous,” she said.
“I need a smart phone,” I said.
Instead, she gave me a hundred dollars and told me to go get a magic direction box. I wasn't totally sure what that meant, but I figured Fry's would have one.
I was only three steps inside before one of the vultures was upon me; he was six-foot-nine with a smile that looked like it had been etched with an X-acto knife. “Do you need help finding anything?”
“I need a magic direction box.”
I could tell he wasn't totally sure what that meant either, but he pointed toward the back, because dangit, there had to be one somewhere.
Central Fry's hallway was twenty feet across but hardly gave you the space; bins of headphones and keyboards and USB hubs wobbled across the tiles and remote-controlled helicopters flittered about DVD displays, buckets, guiding you toward the telephones. They'd expanded the telephones since I'd last been there. Aisles and aisles, swallowing the cameras, nibbling at TVs, grinding steadfastly against headphones and speakers and headphones again. I couldn't help but pause for their little LG square, give minute glances toward the LG Motion. Touch it. Gently. Languidly. Sensually.
I had six dead LG Motions in a box under my bed.
Another associate draped himself against the display; his nametag said John Meetcher but his eyes were all Galaxy, jammed somewhere in the dark regions of a soul he'd never really understood. His heart cracked a little deeper each time he set it down.
“Are you looking for a phone today?” he asked me.
“I need a GPS,” I said.
“Phones have GPSes.”
“I don't need a phone,” I said. “I need a GPS.”
He shrugged. He didn't know where they were. No one knew where they were. It was a dark and lonely corner of the store, crammed behind the stereo testing lair, masquerading as storerooms. I'd never seen customers there, only the terrified eyes and sharp plastic nametags of the damned. I only knew it existed because I'd spent half my childhood on a quest for a piano keyboard, willing to traverse even the darkest pits of Fry's Electronics.
The corner was decrepit. One piano keyboard and a disoriented brunette so overwhelmed her name had escaped her, chipped and crumpled on the carpet. Snezhana. No last name.
“Where are the GPSes?” I asked.
She stared at me.
“GPS?” I repeated.
“G … P … S …?” she said, tasting each letter against yellow teeth.
“Global Positioning System?” I tried.
“Aren't they … I thought … the thing on the phones?”
Her eyes were blank as my LG Motion's screen.
“No,” I said. “They're little boxes you stick in your car and they tell you where to go.”
“Can't your phone do that?”
Oh my Lord and all that is holy. “You work for an electronics warehouse,” I enunciated carefully. “Give me a magic direction box.”
Something sparked, just barely; some phantom of the ancient past she'd known before Blackberry claimed her existence. “Magic direction box?” she whispered.
“Can I buy a GPS here or not?”
“We have lots of magic direction boxes,” she said. “They're just not on display.”
I was not expecting that reaction. “You have magic direction boxes?”
“All the newest models,” she said. She gestured to the tower of plain black boxes looming before the keyboards. “Terrifically innovative. I think it's a better conversationalist than my sister.”
I regretted ever trying to be facetious with this woman. “Are you joking or something? I need a GPS. Do you have GPSes or not?”
“I've never heard of a stand-alone GPS,” she said. “You need a magic direction box.”
“There's no such thing as a magic direction box.”
“But you just said you wanted one. What do you need it to do? Maybe you're really looking for a smart phone.”
“I need a GPS.”
“So you're looking for a smart phone.”
“Oh my … no. I need a box that will tell me which Highway 80 goes to Carmichael and which one goes to Montana. Do you have one of those?”
“I can assure you there's no Highway 80 that will take you to Montana.”
“Do you have a box that can keep me from driving to Montana?”
“The straitjackets are over by the Chromebooks. On the way back to the registers.”
“I don't need a straitjacket! I need a GPS!”
“Do you have a smart phone?”
I glanced into her eyes: blank and earnest, blue and Blackberry. I could smack her with a magic direction box, but what would I have gained? She was lost to us all, drowned in Fry's ocean, choked by telephone's tendrils, and just critically undertrained.
I took a very deep breath.
“Do the magic direction boxes tell you where you are and how to get where you need to go?”
“Fine. Give me a f---ing magic direction box.”