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Six Degrees of Marlo Thomas
By Wade Rouse

"Yes, yes, yes -- WHAT! -- you have reached the Rouses -- yes, and we are not physically in our home, sir, at this point in time. Speak -- WHAT! -- into the correct end of your phone, and we will decipher your message when we are able, yes, thank you, sir [extended silence…then my dad's voice yelling, "Hang up the goddamn phone, Geraldine!"… more silence and then my mom saying, "WHAT!" before dropping the phone on the floor and hanging up.]"

The Computer

My parents only recently acquired a computer, a retread my father found, I believe, from a friend of a friend who owns a garbage dump. I am firmly convinced it is one of the very first computers ever made. My dad says he got it "for a steal".

Well, no shit.

The monitor is nearly as big as Sputnik, and the tower looks like a nuclear cooling plant. On the mammoth plastic frame surrounding the screen, it says simply:

The New Computer!
Low Radiation!

This begs many questions, first and foremost: When was "low radiation" ever a big selling point for computers?

"Didn't I see this thing in The China Syndrome?" I asked my dad the first time I saw it.

"It's a damn good 'puter, hon!" my dad exclaimed. "Let me boot'er up for ya."

Ten minutes later, a dim green glow emanated from the center of the screen. When it finally warmed up, my dad began to check his e-mail. As he began to open a forwarded joke from a friend, the computer froze. "Damn viruses!" my dad exclaimed. "Happens all the time. If an e-mail says 1K I can open it, if it says 2K or higher I can't. I guess it's still that Y2K virus. I'll have to get 'er checked out."

I still prefer to write my parents letters.


Remember Pong? It was the very first TV video game. It was like a slow-motion game of ping-pong, and I wanted it more than anything in the world.

"Games on TV?" my father said, when I begged him for Pong. "You have a TV to watch, not to play on. That's why they make Light Brights. This will never catch on. It's like the Edsel."

I spent years running to arcades, to play Frogger and Centipede and Pac-Man. No, it never seemed to catch on, according to my dad, who once said that "John Madden had dug his career grave by putting his name all over those stupid football games."

Fancy Car Gadgets

My father buys his trucks without, what he calls, "any bells or whistles". This means his trucks come without power steering, power windows, and only AM Radio.

"You don't need CD players or FM, or XM, or whatever they call it. You can find everything you need on AM," my dad says. "Sports, news, weather, and Helen Reddy."

"Cars are meant for driving," my dad says. "But nobody looks under the hood anymore. They only care how the car looks to everyone else."

Ironically, my father was right about society's fascination with outward appearances, in a deeper and more meaningful way than he probably even realized. So, as I continued to try and figure out my friend's daughter's iPod, I checked under my own hood. Who did I want to be? Was my mid-life crisis just a sign of my own shallow self-absorption with society? Today's generation is too often focused on what's outside, and not what's inside. We want the coolest and the latest. We want the prettiest and the best. Nothing is ever good enough anymore. I buy iMacs like breath mints. We trade cars more quickly than I used to trade baseball cards.

I pondered all this for just about a second, before asking my friend's daughter to help me set up my first MySpace page -- ASAP. We started by organizing the editorial and design, and then she began showing me how to acquire friends, the secret of MySpace.

As we searched, I was stunned to discover that it wasn't just kids on MySpace. In fact, everything on MySpace, it seemed, involved "Six Degrees of Marlo Thomas." Every single MySpace user seemed connected to her or other stars from my youth, like Morgan Fairchild and Pia Zadora and Raquel Welch. All were blogging and chatting and sending their latest news.

"Who's, like, Marlo Thomas?" my daughter's friend asked me. "And why would you want her as your MySpace friend?"

"Umm, she was kind of the Hilary Duff of my time," I tried to explain.

"Oh…that's cool," she said, staring at an old photo of That Girl. "At least she's like, you know, trying. That's what counts."

And that's when I knew my mid-life crisis had been averted: If you wanna hang with the young people, you at least have to try and play their game, be it Pong or MySpace.

Then Marlo Thomas accepted me as her new MySpace friend. I smiled, knowing neither of us had given up yet, and probably never would.

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