Back in 1999, the internet was just getting its mojo going. Amazon was a mere five years old, my preferred search engine was Alta Vista and Facebook hadn’t been invented yet. We all knew that the growing online world potentially could be more hazardous for young people than interning in the Clinton White House, but there was no easy way to talk to preschoolers about something we, as adults, hardly understood.
To come up with a piece of writing that might attempt to address this unmet need, I did what I usually do when stumped – I shamelessly pirated the work of Dr. Seuss.
There were halfhearted discussions in 1999 between myself, my employer and a publishing agent about turning this into an actual children’s book with real illustrations, but the parties quickly agreed that the project could only reach its full potential in the hands of someone who didn’t care about being sued.
When we went around the table asking for a show of hands, no hands showed.
Mother went out. She went out for the day.
She said … “I’ll be shopping and you two can play.
Don’t you kids mess things up.
Don’t you kids knock things down.
And whatever you do, don’t you kids sit around.”
And then she was gone and we stood there alone.
Me and my sister. I’m Robert. She’s Joan.
Joan said “I’m not moving. I’ll sit like a sack
of potatoes and rot until mother comes back.”
I said “You’ll be sorry.” But downward she slid.
And then (I’m ashamed to report what she did)
She stuck out her arm and a hand that was free
and grabbed the remote for our flat screen TV.
The tube came to life and the light hit her eyes
as she watched without seeing and sat mesmerized.
Eyewitness news with commercials galore.
Plus internet access. A virtual store.
In the midst of these products, as if to pop out,
there protruded a muzzle. An animal’s snout.
A furry old snout with a little wet nose
And two eyes one shade shy of the color of rose.
It had teeth that were tidy and sparkling and square
With a yellow bow tie and some wavy brown hair,
A strange kind of face for a TV to get.
It smiled as we watched. It had said nothing yet.
“What’s that thing?” I asked Joan, “Is it fake? Is it real?”
“Is it taped? Is it live? Or some internet deal?”
The face on the screen peered back out of the set
and it quietly said “I’m the Pet on the Net.”
I jumped, for it seemed it had answered direct.
Then I laughed. For I knew that could not be correct.
The screen entertains. It’s obnoxious. It’s fun.
But to answer direct? That, it never has done.
“I can see that you’re lacking for something to do.”
Now I really WAS scared. “Yes, I’m talking to you,”
“Did you know that children can make the decision
to use their computers without supervision?”
“We cannot do that,” I explained to the thing.
“We can’t answer the phone if it’s not mother’s ring.
We cannot talk to anyone. Each other only.
And we’re never to say we’re alone or we’re lonely.”
“But now,” said the Pet, “You’ve a medical crisis.
It’s ‘Nothing-to-do-ness,’ and ‘Stuck-inside-itis!’
The treatment is simple. No pills. Not a drug.
It’s a screen and a cord and a jack and a plug.
Then an internet service of course, and a mouse
a screen name or two, an address for the house
plus a credit card number, any will do …
gets you services, catalogs, purchases too!”
“We can’t,” I explained to the Pet on the Net.
“Because virtual space is a horrible threat.
It is dangerous! Lawless! Prohibited ground,
and we cannot go there when our mom’s not around.”
The Pet shook his head. “There is nothing to fear.
You won’t leave the house, and besides, I am near.
I’ve hacked into banks where there’s credit a plenty!
So let’s borrow some numbers and fake an identity!”
He then gave us our access with new names for each.
I was Robertthedoubter, and Joan was SweetPeach.
“Of course,” said the Pet, “You are both free to go,
but I’d like to show off some fun sites that I know.”
The Pet on the Net gave a sly little wink.
“If our mother were here,” I thought, “what would she think?”
“My mother would NOT like us taking this chance.”
Declared Joan, throwing off her TV induced trance.
“We shouldn’t be surfing the net. Not with you.”
“And NO BUYING,” I added. But what could we do?
He paid us no mind as he pointed and pressed.
In seconds he’d purchased a turkey, all dressed.
A gallon of face cream to overcome time.
A kayak. A band saw. A bushel of limes.
An iron that presses your clothes with a mist.
Fresh trout and a jewel studded watch for your wrist.
Five cases of fruit juice that bubbles and fizzes.
Roosevelt’s sculpture and two of his Mrs.
A car and a boat and some Hollywood posters.
Kitchen Utensils. Computerized toasters.
Municipal Bonds. Two new Roth IRA’s
Porcelain tea sets on Ivory trays.
PJ’s and Beachwear and sandals from Spain.
A sample (they claimed) of Tom Edison’s brain.
A box of hard candy. A bucket of bait.
And dinosaur eggs in a polished oak crate.
“Stop it!” I yelled at the furry old snout.
“It’s too late” he replied. “Now there’s no backing out.”
“All the orders are in. There are trucks on the road!
Now let’s dig for cool data that we can download.”
“No, no, NO!” I protested. “That’s strictly taboo!”
“It’s OK,” said the Pet. “It’s for me, not for you.”
And then out came the info, all into our home.
Fifty five fresh fish recipes tested in Nome.
How to play and win blackjack, and re-grow lost hair.
Starlets and actresses totally bare.
Patterns for building a house out of cheese,
Astronauts, movie plots, catfish, bees,
a twenty step process for blowing your nose
and some singers and waitresses minus their clothes.
History, basketball, wrestling, science,
model trains, paper planes, laws and compliance.
Icky descriptions in detail of passion.
Top fashion models not wearing a fashion.
News from all manner of papers and sources.
Dungarees, recipes, Yo-yos and horses.
Pictures of teenagers dancing at prom.
Tips on behavior from BeBad-dot-com.
All of it came in a sickening torrent
A filthy tsunami, depraved and abhorrent.
Out of the tube and into our home
where my sister and I, were, in theory alone.
Next came the trucks in a steady parade.
Everything ordered. Everything paid.
Wheeled to the house and placed inside the door.
And then pushed down the hall to make room for some more.
And then came a twittering. What did I hear?
Mom on the cell phone! Sounding quite near.
“Robert?” she said, as my heart skipped some pumps.
“Are you and your sister just sitting like lumps?”
“Up,” I said, “Mom, we are up and we’re moving.
We’re thinking, we’re doing, we’re learning, improving.
You needn’t be worried. We’re safely inside.
Not the slightest thing here would concern you.” I lied.
“Good,” said my mother, “My shopping’s complete.”
I’ll be home in mere moments. I’m just down the street.”
“Great!” was my answer, but not my reaction.
I slammed down the phone and I went into action.
I said to the Pet “all this stuff has to go.”
“My mother is coming! She’s going to say NO!”
She won’t understand. She’ll be angry, deluxe!
So go back to those websites. Call back those trucks!”
“I’m sorry times ten that you hate me this way.
I just wanted to help you fill up a drab day.
But I’ll fix what I can,” said the Pet on the Net.
“I know many good tricks. I am not finished yet.”
The surfing that followed was fast beyond measure.
He accessed each site and de-ordered each treasure.
He clicked on “undo”. As we waited and quivered,
every truck reappeared. All the stuff undelivered.
It happened so quickly our heads fairly spun.
“And now I will do something equally fun.”
said the Pet on the Net, and as soon as he said it
the credit cards (all of them) got extra credit.
Secretly entered in every account
to cover each purchase – the perfect amount.
He smiled and he winked, then shut himself down
as the lock and the doorknob began to turn ’round.
And in came our mother as there we both stood.
“I see you’re not sitting,” she said. “That is good.
What else have you done while I followed my bliss?
Or have you been standing all day, just like this?”
I ransacked my mind and found nothing to say.
I looked at my feet for a clue, then away.
“Not that much happened here today, mother.” I fibbed.
“He doesn’t mean that,” my dear sister ad libbed.
“He means no trouble came of it once it was done.”
“That’s correct!” I said softly. My lie had been spun.
“We met this strange creature. Inside the TV.
And he helped us buy oodles of stuff, all for free.”
As Joan kept on talking, the story came out.
The turkey. The kayak. The limes. The trout.
The trucks and the goods. The fun and the scary.
Joan sang like a plea-bargained gangland canary.
“And then when he finished he made it all go.
and that’s why we stand here with nothing to show.”
Said my sister, who smiled, to our mother who frowned,
and said “You and your daydreams when I’m not around!”
So we left it at that. There was so much unspoken.
Our mother believes to this day we were jokin’
But when she goes out and we stay home alone.
We unplug the TV, the PC and the phone.
We close all the curtains. We lock all the doors,
and we keep to a list of non-hazardous chores.
We don’t mess things up. We don’t knock things down.
We don’t watch. We don’t surf. And we don’t sit around.