Thoughts of an Author in Training
I liked my phone being a brick, a flip phone that worked as just a phone- making calls, texts, and an alarm clock. But when my phone notoriously feel out of my pocket on the way out of the library and brother nature decided to rain, I had to get a new phone, the old one was fried and crunched from enduring the weight of a car.
I deciphered the possibilities of a smart phone vs. a standard cell phone. I wanted entirely to continue with a simplified phone. I liked being somewhat disconnected with the world, it gives me a sense of freedom from the obligation of communication. But ultimately the price according to Verizon was the same for a smart phone and a basic phone- I opted for the handheld Google machine.
Verizon’s wait time, as usual, was forty-five minutes when I arrived at the store. So I seated myself cozily on a cushion next to a gentleman that easily could have been my great grandfather and I began to write. The attendant soon came around offering their patrons water, the man next to me received a bottle right after myself.
His hands cramped around the lid as his elbow extended in to my space. I could see the ring around his finger was golden and thick, stuck in a position off to the left of center on his hand. He grunted a little. The lid didn’t budge.
“Do you mind if I help?” I said to the man.
He handed over the bottle almost expectantly and allowed me to easily release the cap. “You definitely loosened it up for me,” I said handing it back.
“These golden years aren’t all they’re cracked out to be,” the man next to me said.
Though a cliché term, in this context it seemed in fact very likely that he could have invented the term. “Oh yeah, and what are they cracked up to be?” I said entertaining the effort of a conversation.
“Well, you get weaker. It’s harder to do things, you always have to have other people do things for you,” he said. “I’m always falling all over the place.”
This last part was frightening to image him falling over and trying to get up. “Well, it looks like you probably have a good family to take care of you,” I said indicating to his ring. “How long have you been married?”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“My first marriage was for over fifty years and I guess this one will be coming up on twenty,” he said.
There was something so intriguing about how these serious chunks of time were divided up so casually. As the conversation continued, I categorized his topics in to war, wife number one, and wife number two. He had no children, only a niece.
His khaki pants stretched around the knees and exposed his high argyle socks tucked in to some comfortable dress shoes. This pattern for presentation was continued through his button up shirt and corduroy jacket. He was well dressed for a cell phone store and upon discovery he had no other errands that day. This is just how he dressed.
This style suited him. Not only for his demeanor, but I just imagine that old people dress nice. They carry themselves differently, clearly distinguishing between being in public and a hot mess at home. I don’t recall seeing many folks over the age of seventy wearing yoga pants, UGGs, or a skin tight track suit. There’s an obligation to presentation purely from the habit. Living through the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, and June Cleaver doesn’t permit one to attend the supermarket in pajamas.
With cancer being the last breath of conversation I didn’t know if I had crossed my bounds in inquiring into his business. I asked him where he was from. He told me Nebraska and in 1926 he moved to Greeley Colorado. I would hardly count the two years of infancy in Nebraska as where he was from when the other eighty-eight years he called Colorado home, but his choice to include Nebraska tells me he believed differently- clearly distinguishing between where you’re from and where you call home.
“Do you go to College up here?”
“I did. I just graduated from UNC with my Bachelors in Liberal Arts.”
“And what do you want to do when you grow up?” he said.
I admired that this question made me feel hopefully and excited, like I had an infinite amount of choices in my life still to be made. “I want to be a writer.”
I couldn’t really tell whether this was an applicable profession according to the backgrounds of careers he was used to. I felt that he didn’t know either.
“I didn’t finish College,” he said. “I dropped out because of the army.”
His age put in perspective a whole new meaning of the army. The military he referred to was WWII and Vietnam, a destruction I only realized from history books and recognized from museums when I travelled- an identity of military whose Veterans are dwindling. I forget what the twenty-first-century-crisis of our military is, but his obligation to this country was simple: freedom, survival, and peace.
“I came back and was a truck driver for forty years,” he said. “I was all over the country. I just used my own truck wherever people needed things to go, I took them.”
I couldn’t help but look at him in a different way as he spoke about his life. It wasn’t looking at him delicately as I leaned closer to hear his quiet voice. As he unveiled his life, I felt that all the words he left with me where my responsibility. All his stories seemed to mean more to me than any other stranger, simply for the fact that he was living history of so many events that I had only skimmed the pages of. I felt vulnerable that he could die at any minute and would leave me with his final thoughts.
“I couldn’t drive as I got older,” he said. “It was too much to be gone all the time so I work on my farm.”
“Well you look like you’re in great shape, good health?”
“I just had heart surgery. They replaced one of the valves,” he said. “The doctors said that if I had smoke or drank much in my life, at this age surgery wouldn’t have been plausable.”
He gave a little laugh at this last thought almost as if playing with possibilities of death were entertaining. Maybe at ninety, death was something you laughed about. After all, the thought of his wife dying of cancer came and went in one fluid breath. It forced me to image all the friends that he had buried, all the family that were now just a momentary memory. At what point do we develop an acceptance of what is inevitable in life.
“Never saw the point in drinking, always thought it was a slow way to die.” He said. “I used to know a guy that came to work every day hung-over or still drunk. I used to tell him that if he’s really trying to get the job done he should use a gun it would be quicker and he’d stop wasting his money.”
His anecdote felt risky toying with delicate ideas of death. He conjured a valid point in the larger scheme of things and his age allowed him to bypass any sensitive issues against suicide.
I wondered if surviving WWII and Vietnam had something to do with his attitude towards dying. His views about the value of life had been shaken when he turned up from two devastating wars with all appendages, but I could only imagine how many people were not so lucky. He could see it too. Life was something you were privileged with, not something to be fucked with and strung along. To him, alcohol was a distraction from the purity of living. Not that it was immoral, just a waste, disruption from the moments we’ve been given to live. It was a refreshing take on something so trivial and overrated. A dignified resistance against something society over looked.
I noticed that as we sat next to each other, he clutched a thin box that appeared to hold a tablet.
“New tablet?” I said.
“Well, I’ve had it for a few Christmases now. It’s running slow,” he said pulling the box to his lap and holding it with attentive care, ready for it to fall and break. “But my niece messed with it and now I can’t find my stocks.”
His niece was probably in her forties, primal to the present technology, but imagining him trying to figure out how this screen could produce all the information he could ever want only turned out complicated and frustrating. He just had to figure out how it worked and which series of buttons would get him there.
When the attendant turned his attention to my neighbor I discovered that his name was Robert and that his problem was simple, simple in terms of someone who was raised on the internet.
Robert had over two hundred tabs open, all the same pages: Goggle, Yahoo’s news feed, and his e-mail. His stocks, as he deciphered was his only reason for checking his tablet, was simply through Yahoo, where he kept saying the page wasn’t the way he remembered it. He just needed to place his fingers to the link which would bring him to the larger page where he could survey the details of his stocks.
Simple, but entirely frustrating when the instruction manual is on the very device you don’t know how to use.
Robert would have been in his early seventies when the internet was born. Though in good condition I’m sure, the internet bloomed faster than the generation, who fought for its freedom, had the opportunity to learn. Retired from the demands of labor, Robert lived through the maturity of technology and now sat in a corporate office at ninety struggling to figure out how to log on to something called a “search engine.”
Browsers, search engines, and even the broad term of the internet caused his face to question what the representative was alluding to.
The man took Robert’s tablet. He maneuvered his fingers quickly to configure whatever solution he saw for fixing the problem, but he didn’t show Robert. It was like he felt that in the interest of time it would be quicker to fix the problem for Robert rather than show him how things were working.
Maybe he saw Robert as a lost cause. The fact that he couldn’t close his web browser indicated that it was pointless to teach him how to find his own stocks on Yahoo. Robert didn’t oppose. Just like with the water bottle, he’d accepted that help was inevitable and this man had the power.
It came my turn for assistance in the store.
“Well, good luck with your stocks, it looks like I’m up on the list,” I said getting up, leaving him alone with the geek and the technological box strapped to his arm.
“Good luck with your writing young lady.”
“Thank you, it was a pleasure chatting with you.”
No real goodbye occurred as I set up a plan for my new phone and realized he didn’t even know my name. I didn’t catch him as he left through the door I’m sure carefully and with his own pace. But I can’t help but feel I have an unwritten story about a man named Robert who has harbored Greeley’s evolution in his memory along with WWII and Vietnam.
The power of the internet hasn’t allowed me to find Robert again. You can do essentially anything, inform yourself with a multitude of viral resources, purchase items from across the world, communicate live between computers, download books, learn to cook- yet I can’t find one individual Veteran ninety years of age named Robert, resident of Greeley for nearly a century.
(Ending needs revision and some attention. I’d like to find him again and do a follow-up to expand but I don’t have a last name)