Sunday, August 16, 2015


Kay doesn't use her cell phone often but brings it along to avert or control mishaps and misunderstandings when she and Bob and Chris converge on Alewife Station on Monday afternoons.

One Monday, with everyone safely in Chris's small car, Kay undertook to call her home phone number and listen to messages. She couldn't figure out how to do it: escalating mutters over five minutes or so culminated in an admission that she had tried so many things that she had confused herself and the phone and wasn't sure it was on, or functioning.

"Bob," to him in the back seat, "Will you call my phone so I can be sure it's working?"

"Sure." Bob fell to searching his pockets and the bag he was carrying, grumbling about how many different cell phones he has owned and why none of them to date suit him, interrupting himself from time to time with remarks like "Well, now, what did I do with that thing?"

Chris, meanwhile, had whipped out her phone and flipped it open. Somewhere between the Contacts menu and Kay's number, a near miss with a parked car reminded her that her first priority was to drive. Bob found his phone and got through, and all was well.

On another Monday, Kay wondered with annoyance why she had received a message within the last half hour but hadn't heard the phone ring.

"Bob, would you call my phone? I want to hear what this thing does when it rings."

Again, Chris whipped out her phone, this time handing it to Kay: "Here -- call yourself."

By the time Kay had begun to figure out the Contacts menu, Bob had produced his phone and elicited an appropriate jingle from Kay's -- accompanying himself again with a disquisition on the inadequacy and mendacity of cell phones and phone companies.

All these people are over seventy. They grew up on big, heavy black telephones that stayed in one spot and announced a call with the brrrrrring brrrrrring that you hear in old movies. They knew about party lines and long-distance operators ("number, please"). In their day you couldn't buy a telephone but had to rent it from the phone company -- a monopoly that everybody hated. They remember pastel princess phones, and paying extra for any color but black. They have dealt with pay phones and cordless phones and extension telephones all over the house.

Fortunately, they have a collective sense of humor about it all. Both of the above episodes ended with gales of laughter as they pictured their three elderly selves in Chris's little car, trying to assert control of their technology.