Damn, I forgot to mute the volume and just startled several customers, my little dog wet herself, and I am frantically reaching across the desk to the controls (Why did I put the speakers so far away?). Just as my hand is about to kill the volume, the speaker screams:
“You’ve got mail!”
How those four simple, seemingly benign words can so shame a person is still a head-shaker for me. When did one’s email service gain the power to mock and ridicule? But the moment AOL greets me, I have to quickly deflect the snickers that escape the lips of my customers. Even when alone in our shop with my computer, I cringe and unwittingly hold in my stomach while lifting my chin to reduce neck-sagging. Right or wrong, it’s true—only a few of us are left on this planet with AOL, and we are all “of a certain age.”
I would say that my age is revealed with I tell someone I don’t text—but that merely invokes a baffled (at best) or annoyed look (most common) or even an “Are you from this planet?” stare. My reply is an answer to all three: “That’s right, you just try texting from a rotary phone, and don’t even give me that look, and yes, me and my AOL friends (all four of us) are from Planet Earth.”
The use of our modern techno-babble is not embraced solely by the young, nimble, and dexterously gifted. I see many a blue-haired lady whipping out her device like a handgun—armed and ready to take on social media with vigor. But you can be sure these non-millennials remember that once there were rules—phone protocol. The “telephone,” as we once called it, was not an addictive and socially invasive device. It plugged into your wall and was not attached to your hand 24/7. You did not drive and dial. And even if your phone cord could reach, you never took a call at the dinner table, and, of course, you could not text, photograph, or google. Can you imagine bringing your typewriter to dinner? Or hauling your set of Encyclopedia Britannicas to a restaurant? The occasional photo (with a real camera) was taken during a birthday or anniversary celebration, but your meal was something you ate, not a still life you turned into an art project. And only a contortionist could’ve taken a selfie.
Coffee shops these days are often dark and quiet places where folks are bent over a device, faces illuminated in a bluish-white glow, and conversations are replaced by the clicking of tiny keyboards and pings alerting them to their cyber-friends’ comments, likes, and opinions. Of course, there are still those warm and inviting cafés and bars where folks use their voices to communicate. Yet, they are never more than inches away from their devices—ready to draw the moment an incoming “anything” buzzes or beeps. I stand out like a relic with my newspaper.
I never realized how unusual reading a “real” newspaper was until I noticed someone doing it. Of course, I had an immediate need to walk up to her and give a big thumbs-up for knowing how to follow an article to another page without scrolling.
And another dead giveaway of my age (other than the antiquity of my body) is my humor. Oh sure, I can make folks laugh—I am a natural; but too often I forget to take into account the age of my audience. This would explain why my elevator operator impersonation has millennials eyeing me with concern. “Second floor, ladies’ apparel, watch your step, please … Fourth floor, men’s haberdashery, watch your step, please.” So, for the longest time, I thought that my comic timing was off, as no one laughed, and then one day, in a crowded elevator, a lady my age started laughing to beat the band. Damn those young people—they have never ridden an elevator with a uniformed attendant escorting them to their floor. To think how many people must have thought I was off my rocker—just muttering away.
Age-appropriate audiences can make all the difference. Heck, Johnny Carson would have a tough time today (and don’t you even wonder for a second who the hell he is). Now, I hesitate before telling my phone-ordering customers that in return for giving me their credit card information and secret three-digit code, they will receive a decoder ring and instructions for the secret handshake. If they laugh, then I know I can admit to having AOL without judgment.
I have shared with my readers on more than one occasion the near-mortal wound that being “Ma’am(ed)” inflicts upon me. Some accept “Yes, Ma’am” as a lovely bit of good manners—but I am gonna tell you that I age then and there on the spot; every wrinkle deepens, and my muscles atrophy substantially as my ears take in this courtesy. And that “respect” that is now bestowed upon me as an elder means no one ever compliments my legs anymore—like I no longer want or need an admiring glance or nicely worded “Great legs!” Wait until the day a handsome man treats you like his grandmother, when all you wanna say is, “Hello there, you sexy mother**cker.” (Come on, you do know who Prince is, right?)
My city of New Orleans and I share a certain pride in our anachronistic ways, our “old-school” style. We both benefit from progressive advancements and enlightened evolution. But for gawd’s sake, must all our shotgun cottages have granite countertop kitchens in the living room? Are we “fusion cooking” our local dishes into some hybrid cuisine that no longer resembles what we were famous for? Since when do we call hurricanes cyclones? Next thing ya know, it will be kidney beans and rice served with sriracha on Tuesdays. Me and my town ain’t old—we’re classic. Oh well, gotta go—AOL is telling me that I’ve got mail.