Screen Time

I blame Apple’s obsession with making their devices so intuitive, with the automatic backups and whatnot. Trust me, there is such a thing as being too user-friendly.

See, awhile back, Quint decided we could do with less interaction with electronics, especially before bed. There were studies involved in this decision. The man reads too many studies, if you ask me. These all said something about sleep quality and circadian rhythms or something. I don’t remember the details of our discussion, but putting away the gadgets an hour ahead of bedtime seemed reasonable, so I didn’t put up a fuss.

Until it was time to actually, you know, put away the gadgets.

Well, I was okay for the first few weeks. Then one night, I had one of my insomnia bouts and started thinking about an email I was expecting for a potential gig, and it probably wouldn’t arrive in the middle of the night but you never know, bar managers keep weird hours, and what if I didn’t respond quickly enough and they gave the spot away?

So I got up and snuck into the office, where my phone’s docking station had been relocated when the new no-electronics-before-bed edict went into effect, and checked it. There wasn’t any email, of course. There was, however, a very displeased Quint when I accidentally woke him up by stubbing my toe on the desk and yelping rather loudly.

He came in while I was hopping up and down clutching my foot, took the phone, and waited, Looking at me, until the pain subsided enough for me to stand still. I tried to explain my reasoning: that it would be better to just check for the email than lay awake worrying about it. He wasn’t buying it. You’d think having one body part throbbing already would elicit some mercy, but he still swatted me several times on the way back to our room, and then informed me I was very lucky not to be getting a full spanking.

The thing is, I’d prefer a spanking over what’s happened now.

What, you may ask, could make a sore rear end seem like not that big a deal? I’ll be happy to tell you.

Yesterday, I made a bet with Mitch, one of my bandmates. The details aren’t important, except to say it involved twenty bucks and the relative Billboard chart rankings of a few different singles, and our debate over it got a bit… heated. In a joking way.

If you’re not a music geek, you may not know that Billboard starts updating their online charts in the early hours of the morning. It takes some time, so the update usually isn’t complete until 10AM-ish, but I was so eager to make Mitch eat his words, I didn’t want to wait.

Yes, you guessed it, I snuck into the office to use my phone again. I know. Shut up.

When I first checked, only a section of the part I needed was updated. I played Candy Crush for a few minutes, refreshing the charts every so often, and finally, there on my screen, was proof of my victory. I took a screenshot and sent it to Mitch with the caption “Pay up, sucker!”

Then, in an abundance of caution and only middling guilt, I deleted both the text and the screenshot from my phone, returned it to the dock, and went back to bed. And that was that, until this afternoon.

Quint worked from home today. The arrangement has been great, now that we have the extra room for the office. I get to see him a lot more and he’s not nearly as stressed.

But occasionally, I would like to have most of the island of Manhattan between us. Such as when he interrupts my perfectly relaxing composing session by walking into the living room and asking, in a very conversational tone, “Theo, did you use your phone at about three o’clock this morning?”

Stupidly, my first impulse was to say, “But I deleted the evidence!”

Yeahhhhhh, that would’ve gone over like a lead balloon.

Instead, I said, “Um… why do you ask?” (Okay, not much better, I admit.)

He did the double-eyebrows and said, “Because there’s a screenshot from your phone that was uploaded to our family sharing album on iCloud at about three o’clock this morning. Was that just a technological glitch?”

Betrayed by cloud computing. Welcome to the future, people.

“…No,” I confessed, and then swiftly added, “But I wasn’t on it long, I swear! Only fifteen minutes at the most, and I went right back to sleep!”

That got an incredulous look and a nod toward the corner. “First of all, I believe you need a reminder of how long fifteen minutes is, young man.”

I sighed. This is one of Quint’s oldest tricks. Back when we first started the discipline, and my entire life was running twenty minutes behind schedule, he would have me stand in the corner for however long I had kept him waiting. It was very effective at getting me to be more punctual. I hate corner time. But knowing protesting would likely only result in more time being tacked on, I went.

Fifteen minutes, it turns out, is an eternity.

When he finally said, “Come here, Theodore,” I was more than ready to get the rest of my punishment over with. Of course, at that point, I still thought it would involve me going over his lap. Instead, I found him with my phone, iPad, and laptop all on the coffee table. He gestured for me to sit down on the couch beside him, and said, “I’d like you to unlock each of these, please.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. “Why?”

Calm as you please, he said, “Because I’m going to change the passcodes on the phone and iPad, and enable time limits on the laptop.”

My jaw dropped. “Quint! You can’t!”

“Pardon me?” he asked, with dangerous politeness.

I backtracked. “I mean, what if I need to use my phone for an emergency?”

“You can still call 911 from the lockscreen,” he replied. “For the next two weeks, you’re going to be grounded from using it otherwise in any case. After that, it will be locked at night with a passcode only I know. Same goes for the iPad.”

“And the laptop?” I asked, suspecting I already knew the answer.

“I’m going to enable the settings limiting you to using it for only three hours a day for the next two weeks, which should be enough time for work purposes,” he said. “And it will also be blocked at night from now on.”

“That’s…” I stopped and swallowed. “Those settings are called parental controls, Quint.”

“I’m aware of that,” he said. “I’m also aware that you’re not a child, but I will use the tools at my disposal to ensure you’re getting a good night’s sleep.” He sounded sympathetic and terribly firm. “Inadequate rest is a health issue, Theodore, and one I take very seriously.”

I can’t honestly remember the last time I blushed as hard as I did while I unlocked everything and watched him set it up. By the time he finished, I was blinking away tears. “I’d rather you just spank me,” I muttered.

“Is that up to you?” he asked. It wasn’t said meanly, just a gentle reminder.

“No, sir,” I said, sniffling. “But I hate that I broke your trust.”

He closed the laptop and reached for me, pulling me close against his side. “Angel, this isn’t about whether I trust you or not. I want to help you avoid the temptation of using them when you shouldn’t.”

“I promise I won’t,” I said. I’ve only ever broken an explicit promise to him once, and it wasn’t something I would ever do again.

I felt him sigh against the top of my head. “I appreciate that,” he said. “We can revisit this in a month, all right?”

A month. If fifteen minutes was an eternity, what was that?

“I’m really, really sorry, Quint. Please?” I begged, burrowing further into his shoulder.

“My decision is final on this, angel,” he said. “Now why don’t we get lunch ready, hmm?”

I shook my head. “I’m not hungry.”

He stood up anyway, and I had no choice but to follow if I wanted to keep clinging to him. I did my limpet act while he made two sandwiches, and then he pulled me into his lap at the table and coaxed me into eating one bite at a time. He even kept me with him for the rest of the afternoon, as he filled out hospital paperwork in his office, and we took Jagger for his walk together.

By the time we got back, I was calm enough to sit on a barstool and just watch him cook supper without following him around the kitchen. After he put a pot of water on the stove to boil, he collected my laptop, unlocked it, and set it in front of me. “Can you find me a recipe for alfredo sauce please, angel?”

I nodded and started typing.

It could be worse, I guess. But I’d still rather have the spanking.

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