Advanced age and modern technology are like two elevators going in opposite directions in headquarters of human behavior. Sadly, most people over 60 today believe ‘sexting’ involves identifying the gender of chickens at a 4-H Club competition.
I used to make fun of my 80-year-old mother Margaret and her ongoing battle with the telephone answering machine, a hi-tech apparatus back in 1996. As a woman who once babysat Alexander Graham Bell and grew up using a party line, Margaret was always skeptical of a little black box that could answer the phone for you.
There was a time when Margaret then came to live with me, and if she was too slow in getting to the phone, the machine would automatically kick in and the caller would begin leaving a message. My mother would then carry on a conversation with the message. Several times she would try to interrupt the message or ask a question, and when the caller ignored her, she would curse mildly and then hang up on ‘em. Then she’d pick up the phone again to silence and she believed it was me on the line, saying nothing just to aggravate her. (Okay, maybe I did that a couple of times but mostly it was the machine. Honest!) And then she’d leave a message of her own even though the machine was not recording: “So you think this is funny, smarty pants! Well, one day you’ll call me for something important and I’ll just stand here and say nothing like a dope and see how you like it! Good-bye.” I could hear her from the other room.
Then we developed a phone call code, almost like Morse Code but more unique … like Margaret Code. I would call home to check in on her and she’d pick up on the fifth ring, the same ring at which the answering machine would activate. I would hear a “click” followed by the crashing of the phone to the floor and then the rattling around of the phone on the hardwood – “Hello? Hello?” – and finally the sound of the receiver being rammed hard into the cradle followed by “Dang phone!” and “Go to blazes!” That was the secret code. That’s how I knew she was alright.
As I said, I used to make fun of my mother for murdering modern technology until … Last Sunday morning I’m in front of the television trying desperately to find an important soccer game between Real Madrid and Barcelona. I’ve got the standard three remotes – the one that turns the set on, the one that changes the channels and the one that does something I’ve forgotten about for years.
I’ve also got my portable phone because I can’t find the game and I keep calling my buddy Robbie who knows everything about the telecasting of European football matches. Somehow I hit a button that disengages the ringer so, although Robbie is returning my calls, I don’t know that and I keep calling, getting a busy signal or leaving a curt message or hanging up and yeah, I was communicating by Margaret Code.
Frustrated, I slammed the phone down, which must have re-engaged the ringer, because all of a sudden, it rings and I lunge for the phone. The phone is still ringing, and I realize that I have one of the remotes to my ear. The one that does nothing I know of. By the time I found the phone, I’d missed the call.
Calm, focus, breathe deep — I went to the kitchen for another cup of coffee and returned for one last shot at finding the big game on TV. I started chanelling through the 400 series of sports networks when—and this hardly ever happens—the TV freezes up on me. I start pushing on the remote harder thinking it was the battery, but no, nothing. And then Robbie called back. The phone rang in my hand, and I realized I’d been trying to change those channels with my portable phone.
Completely deflated and angry, I started pushing all the numbers and all the buttons on all these gadgets and … and I heard a voice. I guess I said “What the hell!?!” because the receptionist at Christian Mingle said, “You must have the wrong number, sir.” And before she hung up, she told me my mother should wash my mouth out with soap! (Something not covered by the code.)
Okay, I made that last part up, but the rest is absolutely true, which is why I don’t make fun of my mother Margaret anymore. When it comes to aging and modern technology, I kinda look up to her these days. You know what’s exasperating about the aging process? “I” as in pad and “E” as in electronics and where are those car keys anyway?
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