Monday, January 16, 2017

                                                            AMERICA’S LAST FLIP PHONE

But I’m writing this on a computer, so I’m not that behind the times.  And my abacus has 10 beads!

I live in Northern California…just a stone’s throw, (and about two and a half hours by car) from Silicon Valley, Hi Tech Capital of the World.

This makes my lack of appetite for every new gadget that comes down the pike a little more striking than it might be if I lived in, say, Vladivostok, Russia.  When I want to make a call, or receive a call, I pull out my flip phone, (Lovingly referred to my ‘dumb phone.’)  This, opposed to what, seemingly every native Californian over the age of six seemingly has, a ‘smart phone.’

Lately, to cover my shame, I have taken to seeking solitude away from prying eyes when making a call.  But one doesn’t have that option when the phone chimes an incoming call in a public setting..  A choice arises; should I answer it and subject myself to looks of derision,  sneers, or worse, pity?  Or would it be preferable to let it ring until the caller either hangs up or leaves a message. I can retrieve it later, away from all those superior humans?

Everyone I know not only has a smart phone, but feels it a moral imperative that I, too, must join the twenty first century, and that is their duty as compassionate humans, to cajole, force, or shame me into having a smart phone.  After all, if one doesn’t own a smart phone, the reasoning goes, it follows that one is not smart.

Not only is it their messianic responsibility to save my silicon based soul, I must not only acquire a smart phone, I must replace it at minimum, once a year with the latest more, sophisticated, and more expensive super model.

I will admit, it is miraculous to watch as my friends put their phones thru their many paces.  The vocal commands are, to me the stuff of science fiction.  “Smart phone, what did Babe Ruth have for breakfast the day he hit his sixtieth home run?”  Within three seconds, the answer to this and many other crucial bits of information are related back to questioner.  “Smart phone, set a route from my home to a Seven Eleven in Biloxi, Mississippi.”  Forget the fact that there are other ways to get that done.  If one own a properly modern smart phone, no other gadgets are needed, although I have yet to see one with a built in electric toothbrush, or lawn mower But I’ve learned not to rule out anything, and the manufacturers must keep adding features lest risking that people might become complacent with the units they already own.  Bad for business.

The list of possible applications for today’s smart phone seems endless.  Games of all sorts; live television streaming from home; applications to lock and unlock your car or home from any place on earth. not to speak of controlling the lights, heat, appliances and pet monitoring.  All in that little rectangular miracle.  It can take photographs superior to all but the most sophisticated professional cameras.  I have heard it said that one can even make and receive telephone calls.

So here’s a partial justification for my little flip ‘dumb phone.’  I am not making an anti technology statement.  If I were, I would probably not own any type of mobile phone.  I like the idea of being able to call the cops if I wreck my car or get a flat tire out in the boondocks.  Staying in touch to a certain degree is reassuring, especially as the pitfalls of age encroach on my physical self reliance.  Although, with all that, there are times when I just want my phone on it’s silent mode, and to be away from everything and everyone.

So, I can make phone calls with my phone.  I am able to receive calls with my phone,  I can take photos, but they probably can’t be blown up to mural size.  I can even send and receive text messages.  I actually have done this on a couple of occasions, but choose not to.  I don’t think I can make my dumb phone retrieve my emails, however.  It’s OK!  To prove I am not an anti civilization luddite, I DO have a computer, and I DO send and get emails.  It’s just that I don’t feel it pressing to read each one within milliseconds of  it’s reception.  And I use the computer almost every day.  (If I didn’t there would be even more misspelled words in this piece!)

So, facing the daily onslaught of derision, I still have no intention of getting a smart phone.  Yet, I know that if I did, I would in all likelihood wonder how I ever existed without it.  And I’d want a new one to better enable me to carry on translated communications with beings from distant planets.

As more and more people go higher and higher up the tech ladder, I’m happy to be here on my comfortable rung.  But there are a few benefits, aside from those already mentioned;  My current plan costs me a little over $100 a YEAR!  And even with that, I never use all the minutes I have purchased.  I just roll them over.  Currently I have well over three thousand unused minutes; my dumb flip phone fits in my shirt pocket, and the screen is protected when the phone is closed; Finally, and this is of supreme, (if irrational) importance.  Flip phones are becoming rarer and rarer just like antique automobiles, they will likely prove to be wonderful investments.  If you too have a flip phone, I encourage you to smash it.  This will hasten the day I can sell the last dumb phone on earth, mine, to the Smithsonian , Btitish Museum or an eccentric millionaire for an exorbitant sum. 

I don’t know how long it will take to achieve these dreams of riches.  It may be my heirs will see the benefit.  How long?  I wish I knew.  Perhaps if you have an up to date smart phone, you could calculate the date for me.

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Well, I don’t want to get maudlin about this.  I’ve already lived longer than anyone in my immediate family ever had.  And, I’m told that for a person of my age I’m in pretty good shape.  That’s nice, but….since the only measure of comparison I have is for the person I was all those years ago, all I can say is, “thanks, but no thanks!....... Pretty good shape?”  How come I hurt so much?  What is the measure of ‘pretty good?’

O.K., of course I recognize that statistically, the very fact that I’m still vertical and (usually) somewhat cognizant of my surroundings, and that a goodly number of my vintage are either no longer with us, or if they are, many can no longer walk unaided, or live from day to day without assistance.  Worse, (and I see this with some of my daily human contacts,)  don’t remember who they are or where they live.  That’s the scariest scenario I can think of, and I do think of it every time I have a momentary memory lapse for names of friends and everyday objects.

There are so many things that I can no longer do, or do only with extreme effort.  Many of those things I am able to simply shrug off.  Some were fragments of this stew we call life…the salt or other seasoning which, while an enhancement to that stew, their removal still leaves one with a pretty good meal.

Learning to live with the aches and pains of age, while difficult, is easiest accomplished in familiar surroundings.  One learns to adapt and accommodate in ones own home, where every room, every corner, every nook and cranny have been permanently imbedded into the person’s brain.  If I wind up kneeling or sitting on the floor in my own home, I pre plan it so that I will be near some chair or other appurtenance to grab onto to help arise.

Recently my wife and I spent 12 days on the big island of Hawaii.  In these totally unfamiliar environs, all the physical and mental aches, pains and assorted and sundry vicissitudes of what are associated with what (and I find this description laughable!) “The Golden Years.”

Hawaii Island is a glorious place, and I found it so.  But I also found myself quite unsteady walking across solidified lava beds…especially when warned, “Don’t fall…that rock is like a vegetable grater. 

And I learned that I am done trying to swim in the ocean.  Trying to regain my feet after being swept off my feet by undertow is something I used to do without thinking.  This time I felt like a turtle being placed on it’s back.  Where is the chair I use to raise myself up from a seated position?  By the way, anyone want to buy a professional grade swim mask?  Hardly used.  Will sell at sacrifice.

The botanical gardens in Hilo are magnificent, with plants from every corner of this planet. And I recommend them to everyone.  The paths are well paved.  But they are very hilly.  Some have handrails.  But the ones I remember don’t have handrails.  In what I perceive to be a nod to senior citizens (another term I despise!) there are strategically placed benches throughout the gardens.

The signs are unmistakable;  That span of what we call life, from birth to
death is, inexorably winding down.  I once was the youngest kid in class.  That was a blink of an eye ago.

This is not a cry for pity!  The only way to avoid the challenges of being old is to not becoming old.  So I’m OK with it.  I wish I had some stronger religious beliefs regarding immortality.  I often think how I’d be so happy to become reanimated into what I was.  Yet I’d want to retain the knowledge and experiences.  Can I have it both ways?  Regarding that subject of immortality, I’m open to the surprise of learning I was permanent.

This is my initial attempt to explain the inevitable ‘goodbye.’  But I realize each chapter must stand on it’s own.  I don’t know if there will be more.       

A Day at the Beach

The Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii is beautiful, as are most areas of our fiftieth state.  But unlike most of the beaches on the other islands, those on that west coast of Hawaii are more rugged.  There is, of course, plenty of white sand on most of the ocean front strips, but many of the beaches have boulder sized sharp, jagged remnants of long past volcanic eruptions.  One needs to look before stepping.

On our last full day of vacation, tired of planned activity we found a small piece of beach upon which to relax.  We planted ourselves about midway between the sandy entrance and the Pacific. 

I had just come out of the water, and was headed back to our blanket, when I saw a young woman negotiating her way down the fairly steep slope towards the ocean, pushing a wheelchair with a man of about her age in it.  The young man was strapped into the chair, and was obviously almost totally disabled.  Probably quadriplegic.

As she carefully made her way to the shore, I sensed she could use a little help, and offered assistance.  “Oh, thanks, but I’ve got it.”  And she did.  When she was near the spot on the beach she wanted, she untied the wheelchair bound man, faced him, and lifted him onto his feet.  As she supported his full weight with one arm around his waist, she positioned and locked the wheels of the chair, then gently, ever so gently, placed the young man into it and secured him.

I began to wonder about these two young people.  The woman reminded me of my high school cheerleaders.  Petite, blond, and full of energy…the type, I recalled, who would only date star athletes and generally walked around just looking cute. 

My first thought was that she must have been a care giver.  Certainly she knew how to deal with a wheelchair, lift someone a foot taller than herself, and do all the physical things required.

In a few minutes, the woman left the side of the chair, and ran out into the surf, diving, jumping, swimming and splashing.

She remained in the water for only a few minutes, and returned to the wheelchair.  She then put her arms around the “patient,” hugged and then kissed him several times.  This was more than a professional relationship.  This was a couple.  My mind began a race with my preconceptions.  Maybe he was injured after they met…possibly a war veteran.  And she was sticking by him out of loyalty.  But their silent interplay indicated far more than loyalty.  It was apparent that there was devotion and love between the two.  “Cheerleader, where is the football captain?  Why is not my stereotype of your superficiality in this scene?  Or is he a wealthy soon to be deceased man whose family has promised you a fortune?”

None of that rang true, and I finally realized I was tuning into some very unpleasant and bigoted thoughts.  Maybe, just maybe, what I was witnessing was what it appeared to be.  A bit of shame hit me.

In an hour or so, the young couple was preparing to leave.  The exit would be up hill.  She lifted him, and was having a little difficulty in repositioning the wheelchair.  This time she allowed me to help.  When he was again in the chair, he looked up.  “Thanks.”  She smiled and they were gone.  I have mulled that afternoon many times.  I still wonder about those two.  And I think some self examination is in order as well.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

                                          UNFORGETTABLE, Part 2

Another look way, way back, and another person I can never forget…this one is tinged with regret…the things I would love to say to her.

I was probably as unprepared to cope with high school as anyone in my class.  I had barely made it through eighth grade, most likely because the principal and my teachers were tired of putting up with my scholastic underachieving, often misconstrued humor, (coupled surprisingly with an extremely introverted personality,) and general social ineptitude.

To make this particularly frustrating, it was coupled with upon receipt of the standard I.Q. test results, the highest scores in the class.  The verdict of the school professional staff was: Unmotivated and lazy. 

So my goal in high school was to simply try, as I had in grammar school, to ‘get by’ with the least possible amount of effort.

My homeroom class, my Freshman Algebra Teacher, and my personal contact with the school guidance department was Ruth Boyle.  Mrs. Boyle had the reputation as a ‘tough but fair’ teacher, homeroom disciplinarian, and ‘no nonsense’ member of the guidance department.

So I did learn to behave myself in the homeroom.  That was easy since that was always first thing in the school day and lasted for about half an hour.

Not so when I returned to Mrs. Boyle’s room in her roll as algebra teacher.  By the third week of my freshman year, I had decided I would likely fail algebra, and thus should not waste brain power in an attempt to interfere with the inevitable.  This was a behavioral pattern I had perfected in grammar school, and it was both self fulfilling, and some sort of psychological crutch which had served me well.  But when my various test scores belied my performance in algebra (and to a lesser extent most of my other subjects) I was referred to the school’s guidance department.  That’s when I found out that my homeroom/algebra teacher would now further torment me with the echo of those prior educators who had shown frustration…I was really sick of hearing that I was not living up to my potential…I was a chronic underachiever.  One nice thing about Mrs. Boyle in her role as guidance professional was that we did not meet in the wide open space of a classroom.  She sat on one side of a desk, and I on the other.  No one else was there.

“Bobby, you’re on the track team, but you know you have to keep up a certain academic standard to compete.  You’re on the verge of losing that…do you understand that?”
“Yes, I do.” 
“You know, your test scores on the general tests indicate you should be doing much better academically.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that before.”
“But, the fact that you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
It went on for about half an hour. Instead of welcoming her attempts to reach me, I parried every reasoned approach with a combination of lack of interest with a level of resentment that she was probing me, and I found it uncomfortable.

As to my classmates, I was sort of “Just There.”  It was a very large high school, and you really didn’t know everyone.  I was just below the radar as an athlete…anonymous second stringer at best.  I rarely had a date…when one was needed for some special event, I would revert to a female grammar school classmate who, too, was usually ‘dateless,’ and the two of us would show up together, although never really having any romantic interest in each other.  There was a certain non threatening familiarity between us.  It would be at least three months between ‘dates,’ and there were no expectations. 

I need to mention now that Ruth Boyle, aged 35, was an outstandingly attractive young (35…YOUNG?  It took me years to recognize that was not an oxymoron!)  Nevertheless, this ‘ancient’ educator was the subject of many an adolescent boys hormonally inspired fantasies and dreams.

My school would have monthly dances in the gymnasium…usually on a Saturday night.  The professional staff always had one of their own assigned to chaperone these events.  This time it was Ruth Boyle.

A lot of us, both boys and girls, attended these dances ‘stag.’  There was always the chance one of us might get up enough courage to ask someone to dance.  Usually, though, the boys were on one side of the gym, girls on the other.  And so it was that night.  We were not the athletic or academic superstars.  We definitely were not the socially adept uber class.  We were sort of …just…there.

From her perch on a chair, monitoring the events, Mrs. Boyle rose and slowly walked over to the boys side.  “Bobby, will you dance with me?”
There were many Roberts in my class, and I looked around to see who was being addressed.  Most assuredly she was talking to me. “Really? Are you serious?” I asked. There was a soft tug at my shoulder, and, probably red faced, I was holding my teacher/would be mentor in the mode of that generation, (touching while dancing.)  The music stopped and I was escorted back to the ‘male wallflower’ section.  But that dance put me on the map as a ‘someone’ in my High School. A tiny, but needed, reversal to my lack of self esteem.

I’d like to say that dance single handedly awoke my academic and social self awareness.  Sadly, that didn’t happen.

Through my entire uninspiring high school years, I was still the one who ‘got by’ with the minimum of effort.  But Ruth Boyle frequently called me into her office to try to instill some feelings of self worth.  And in spite of that one two minute dance, I still greeted her efforts with parries of humor, coupled with resentment that someone was ‘pushing’ me.

By the time I graduated, Mrs. Boyle had moved on to other schools, and was never to be heard of again, at least by me.

The years went by, and others succeeded where she had failed…although the failure was certainly not hers…it was my lack of understanding…that instead of appreciation, I hurled resentment.  And yet she had tried.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about Ruth Boyle.  I know she’d be well into her second century by now, and most likely gone.  But how I would love to spend a few minutes with her. To thank her for how she went out of her way to try to do something to benefit this unappreciative teenager.  To apologize for my consistent and somewhat successful to parry and disarm her sincere efforts to reach me.  But mostly, to tell her…”Ruth, it DID work.  It took a few more years and the efforts of a few others.  I didn’t appreciate how much time you put in to install a feeling of self worth in me.  From taking your free time to cheering me on in the track meets, to hiding what must’ve been hurtful pain to my lack of heeding your advice, and yes, to that short dance at the gym.  (I found out later that chaperones weren’t supposed to do that at risk of their employment,)

But it’s too late now.  I can’t go back and spend a few moments with her.  I just want to send my ‘thanks’ out to the cosmos.  I’d like to think that she somehow knew that I’d come to this someday. .  I hope so.   It took many years and  a lot of unlearning old habits and several other mentors on my life’s journey to establish some feelings of self worth in me.  All played a part in me becoming who I am.

But if, just IF I could, I think it would go something like this:  “Ruth Boyle, you pushed me.  You tried so hard to make this work in progress come to fruition.  But it wasn’t ready yet.  It had to ripen at it’s own pace.  As the years went on, I had other mentors who were more successful in the task.  But it wasn’t due to any superior skills or more importantly more CARING.  I had to be ready.  Looking back, you were the first to test these waters.  Is it any wonder it needed to be nurtured and aged to ripen?  But you were, in fact, the first.  I can’t show you my appreciation now, and to tell you that those sessions of your cajoling (or as I perceived it at the time, ‘pestering,’)  ultimately were successful.

“What a patient and caring soul you were.  How much potential rejection you risked by trying to shock me into self awareness.  The one or two minute dance at the gym was, of course, designed to do that…and for about an hour, it did.  But I wasn’t ready.  Self esteem would have to wait.  I turned out OK, Ruth.  Not rich or famous or especially talented, but OKAY!  I want you to know that.  It took me so long, TOO LONG!  To love and appreciate you.  Please KNOW that!”