Remember when people couldn’t instantly settle arguments on the Internet?
Sometime during the 90s, when my friends and I had started to resemble adults, I got into a disagreement with a close associate of mine, whom I will call X. The nature of my disagreement with X related to Jambi, a character on the award-winning television program Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Jambi was a disembodied head floating inside a bejeweled box in the corner of the Playhouse. X and I disagreed over the color of Jambi’s skin.
I said, “Jambi is blue.”
X said, “Jambi is green.”
Thus we disagreed, even wagering $5 on the outcome. Had our dispute arisen just five years later we could have resolved it instantly with a search on Google, the same way we would later resolve disputes over song lyrics or whether whales have penises. But at the time we had no way of quickly resolving the issue. Pee Wee’s Playhouse had been canceled a few years earlier, and I had not thought of taping it. Not that I would have known how to work the VCR anyway.
Although X and I remained cordial to each other, the disagreement simmered. Our mutual friends were compelled to take sides. After a while I would get invited to things only after it was assured that X would not be there. Sometimes one of us would be arriving while the other was leaving and it would be awkward. People begged us to reconcile. But I was adamant. I knew Jambi was blue, just as Neo from The Matrix knew he was the One. I just knew.
And then one day X invited me to his house. I figured he wanted to make up and serve up some of his famous iced tea – an old family recipe that called for six times the legal limit of iced tea mix. I walked in his door and he greeted me not with iced tea but with a remote control and a smirk. He pressed a button and Jambi appeared on the TV. And the Jambi on the screen was undisputedly green.
X was triumphant. “See? Jambi is green. Now pay up.”
I handed over a five-spot and began the long walk home. I thought that there was something very unsettling about what I’d seen. The show on the screen was definitely Pee Wee’s Playhouse, but it seemed just a little different from the one on TV that I’d watched every Saturday morning for a year. Perhaps I was just sore from losing money. I would have to accept defeat gracefully.
Years passed. I went to college and forgot about the Jambi wager. Then I graduated and went to work. By this time Google had been invented and I had gotten into the habit of searching for random things on the Internet when no one was looking. Finally it occurred to me to search for Jambi. And lo and behold, the Jambi that Google revealed was blue. Blue! And as I scrolled down to find less common results I discovered why I had lost that bet. The tape that X had showed me was of the HBO special, done live on a stage, where Jambi was green. But on the TV show, Jambi was blue. I was right. Well, maybe we were both right. But I was more right. I wanted to call up X and tell him. I wanted to gloat and feel vindicated. I wanted my five dollars back with interest compounded monthly.
But when I did see X and told him my big news, he just shrugged his shoulders. He would not give me any satisfaction. There would be no gloating, no vindication. Just lost years and a lost five-spot.
All because there had been no Internet to instantly settle our dispute.