Every now and then my children take mercy on their old dad and configure a technical gadget for me. I was a fair hand at VCR’s and CD players back in the day, but I can’t seem to get the hang of all this new Star Trek junk they foist on us now.
Every time I do finally get the hang of some new doo dad, just like that, it changes on me, and the learning curve starts all over again. I have to ask one of the kids for help. They often roll their eyes over the simplicity of the issue that stymies me but help me they do.
I long for the days before internet routers, home networks and Walmart automated check outs. They were simpler times. I remember when “fixing the tv” meant slapping it on the side until the picture stopped rolling or moving the antenna this way and that while your dad barked orders at you until you got a more or less clear picture. Of course, as soon you did get a clear picture, the cat jumped on top of the set and bumped the antennae. Your dad would threaten to shoot it, but you were never sure whether he was talking about the cat or the set. You were just glad it wasn’t you in the line of fire.
The decision-making process over what channel to watch was a lot easier too, back then, because there were only four of them. One was educational television, so, really, there were only three. And, when you did switch the channel, you had to physically get up, walk a few paces to the set and turn a knob. That is assuming you still had a knob. Most broke. Rather than pay for a new knob, your dad clamped the business end of some vice grips on the little stub sticking out of the TV where the knob used to be and a channel-changing, you did go. Simple fixes for simpler times.
My most hated modern device has to be the cell phone. I can never get it to do what I want it to do. I always have to refer to a consultant, namely one of my kids. When it comes to configurating a cell phone, my kids can accomplish in a few thumb strokes what takes me hours to figure out. And by ‘figure out,’ I mean fail at completely.
“I just want the $*#@0! thing to…” I tell one of them using words I only use when their mother isn’t around.
They can never just tell me how to do whatever it is that needs doing. I must always relinquish the phone and let them do it. The fixer immediately assumes the chin-to-neck position, eyes focused on the little screen of my phone. Thumbs batter the keypad at just past the speed of light. Index fingers swipe forward, backward, up and down. Occasionally, they look up long enough to ask a question. I never know the answer, but they somehow manage to forge on with whatever nonsense I tell them. They hand the phone back then explain at a “See Spot, See Spot Run” remedial level how to work whatever it is they did. I nod my head dumbly, instantly forgetting everything they explain.
Recently, I got a message on my phone informing me it was going to perform a software upgrade. I allowed it. (I didn’t know I allowed it, but my daughter, Kate, assures me I allowed it). Little did I know that part of the upgrade meant evicting the genteel older woman who has given me driving directions ever since I owned a phone. They replaced her with some twenty-something kid.
I can only assume it was an inclusivity type thing. Out with the old guard; in with the new. My phone had gone woke.
“Where’s the lady,” I asked Marianne, my wife, when I first heard the new voice.
“The one on the phone. The one who tells me how to get places. This is some kid.”
“They did mine the same way. Why do you care what voice it is?”
Why do I care? I couldn’t believe she could be that insensitive.
We are old friends, the directions lady and me. We made a great team. I liked her voice. It was a kind, reassuring voice. If I was talking and she started talking, I always politely shut up until she finished. Crazy as it sounds, but I imagined her one day showing up on my doorstep.
“It’s me,” she would tell me, smiling. “The directions lady.”
I would welcome her in. We’d drink coffee and talk about old times.
“Remember that trip to Jacksonville?” she would ask, demurely wiping doughnut crumbs from the crease by her lips.
“Do I remember that trip to Jacksonville? I thought the highway would never unclog after that fool wrecked his car during rush hour.”
Oh, we would laugh, my directions lady and me. Laugh and laugh.
And now she was gone.
I admit the kid seems like the decent well-mannered type – the kind of kid you want your kids to hang out with. But, if you think I’m about to trust my directions to some twenty-something, think again. I have kids that kid’s age. Sure, I’d let them adjust my cell phone, but I wouldn’t trust them to advise me on making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, much less tell me how to get to Kalamazoo, Mississippi by the shortest route.
I thrust the phone into my eldest daughter’s hand the moment I saw her. “Get the lady back for me.”
‘What lady?” Sarah asks.
“The driving directions lady.”
At the end, it could not be done. Sarah mashed any number of buttons. She searched and re-searched the internet. She promised to sacrifice a goat to the gods of circuitry. None of it did any good.
She notified me my old buddy was gone forever.
I have to admit, the kid has not led me astray so far. He doesn’t sigh at me, either, like my kids do when it comes to matters of technology. That’s why the next time I have a stupid cell phone question, I might ask him instead of one of my children. It’s worth a try. At least I can’t see him roll his eyes.