Thinking about devices today, the annoyance of not knowing simple things that have become not simple . . . over time. A getting-older thing. I’ve witnessed incredible changes. Those first TVs, with rabbit ears . . . four channels – black and white. A simple device, without an instruction book, no learning period required. I refused to get a remote for a long time, thinking them a needless accessory. I finally bought one in the late seventies, and soon found myself with two remotes. Now I have three, and god help us if I accidently push the wrong button. We have a smart TV that can do Internet, Facebook, Skype, all kinds of amazing things . . . if you know how to work it. I don’t dare to try. Things can go wrong, and then you have to call in a teenager to get you out of whatever you’ve gotten into, or attempted.
The young have grown up with this stuff. They all have cell phones and stay on them, texting away, talking, scanning photos . . . looking stuff up. They are totally familiar with these things, their expertise absorbed from technological osmosis. I also resisted cell phones for a long time, but got one last December. Since then I’ve made or received maybe a dozen calls, eleven of which were tests to see if the phone was working. One was a call made to my wife, asking her to pick up something while she was at the grocery store.
I’m in a Swedish language class that takes me away from home from eight to twelve every day. Sometimes I have the car, so it made sense to charge up the phone and take it with me. Battery had probably been dead for a month or more. There is no reason for anyone I know to call me. Wife makes phone calls, in Swedish . . . every day stuff. My friends get in touch by e-mail, sometimes Skype. I never get calls.
Tonight the phone rang.
We were watching a movie, and I heard this ring. Wife’s phone plays songs instead of ringing, mine just rings. I finally decided it must be my phone, which was in the kitchen. I got up to answer. Line went dead as soon as I picked it up.
“Can you see who this was?” I passed the phone to my wife. “I can’t imagine anyone who’d be calling me.”
She swirls around the display window with her index finger, comes up with the number of whoever called, pushes a button, and passes it back.
I hold it to my ear. “Hello?” It sounds like someone dropped the phone, and is scrambling around with it on the floor – funny noises, clonks and bonks as I keep waiting for a voice, someone to answer. “Hello?” Nothing, just more funny noises, not the clattering kind, now more human noises, grunts and groans. Someone in pain? Was someone being murdered? Tortured? Still no words. The hell with it. I try hang up, but can’t remember how. Pushing the red button does not seem to work.
“How do you turn the damn thing off?” I pass the phone back to the wife.
“Who was it from?” She puts it to her ear and listens. “It’s a sex line,” she says immediately. Women know these things. She turns off the phone, too late I guess. We’ve been scammed, the perfect scam. It’s me that made the call and was connected for maybe a minute and a half while I wondered who or what it was. Some kind of a joke? Somebody getting murdered? A call for help?
Now we await a huge phone bill for my minute and a half spent with a porn phone line in Bucharest, or wherever. Cell phones . . . I want to be left alone.
* * *
Getting old is like standing in a long, slow line. You wake up out of the shuffle and torpor
only at those moments when the line moves you one step closer to the window.